Monday, November 06, 2006

Lakoff, Hofstadter, and Rev McTigue at coffee hour

An email to a fellow UU following a chat about Lakoff at coffee hour yesterday.
We chatted about Lakoff yesterday? I'm having a hard time matching names and email addresses.

Here is a link to the column on Lakoff by Jesse Walker in Reason Magazine. Here's the key quote for me,

It would be interesting to see some real research on the relationship between political and family values, and perhaps some day some admirer of Lakoff will confirm, refute, or complicate the correlations the linguist has extrapolated from James Dobson's childrearing manuals. For now, we're left with an elaborate variation on the ancient libertarian joke that Republicans want the government to be your father, Democrats want the government to be your mother, and libertarians want to treat you as an adult. Except that Lakoff's frame doesn't have room for the third option, or for any variations of the left or right that call the parental metaphor into question.

I feel like were being hoodwinked by a guy replaying an old joke and dropping the punch line on us because the reality is everyone wants the government to treat them as adults.

Here is the link to E. J. Dionne's column on David S. Brown's "Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography". Let me quote what I find the key point and a profound failure that's contributed to the decline of Liberalism, both politically and theologically.

Many progressives and reformers, he argued, represented an old Anglo-Saxon middle class who suffered from "status anxiety" in reaction to the rise of a vulgar new business elite. Hofstadter analyzed the right wing of the 1950s and early 1960s in similar terms. Psychological disorientation and social displacement became more important than ideas or interests.

Now, Hofstadter was exciting precisely because he brilliantly revised accepted and sometimes pious views of what the populists and progressives were about. But there was something dismissive about Hofstadter's analysis that blinded liberals to the legitimate grievances of the populists, the progressives and, yes, the right wing.

The late Christopher Lasch, one of Hofstadter's students and an admiring critic, noted that by conducting "political criticism in psychiatric categories," Hofstadter and his intellectual allies excused themselves "from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation."

Lasch added archly: "Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds."


That's the danger I find with Lakoff's kind of analysis. It's not empirical as Walker points out and simply offers a way to avoid the difficult work of judgement and argumentation of issues by just grouping people as nurturers and authoritarians (which side are you on?).

I stumbled on a glaring example of it with Rev McTigue from the UU Church in Hartford. She was on O'Riley talking about a bill board she and others had purchased in Hartford accusing Sen Lieberman of Torture.

O'Riley asked her define torture and she said she didn't know what it was. Then O'Riley asked her should captured combatants --who are fighting outside the Geneva Convention rules-- be held to the convention requirement of only having to disclose name, rank, and serial number. If there was more that could be asked of them? If there was more that could be coerced and if so, how?

She admittedly had no answer on these questions. She said that and then rambled about what Jesus would do. Which was also vague but it sure sounded like Jesus would be a nurturer and not an authoritarian.

I found her appearance a hugely embarressing failure to articulate a position on a serious issue. (She also wore a clerical collar I wish should would have chucked!) She just avoided the difficlut work of arguing her case.

William Safire wrote early on about the conflicts between Rumsfeld and Gonzales (then a White House counsel) as they argued the same issue early on. They anticipated getting POWs for whom the Geneva Convention wouldn't apply and the issue became what is torture (something wrong that we cannot do) and what is permissible coercive interrogation which is something we can do to those captured fighting outside the rules of war in the convention (if we chose too, maybe we should just hold them to name, rank, and serial number).

The administration undertook a hard debate our own Rev McTigue has failed to sort out herself years later.

It speaks so poorly for us that we're silent or worse: we protest yet have no answers to hard, but straightforward questions.

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