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Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Political Mind: tidbits

Just a couple of notes I know I'll want to keep track of from Lakoff's "The Political Mind:"

p. 40-41. "In the October 17, 2004, New York Times Magazine, Ron Suskind wrote of his encounter with an unnamed aide of George W. Bush: 'The aid said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about Enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now and when we act we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors ... and you, all of you, will be left to study what we do."'" It's a powerful arrogance that doesn't even think it answers to reality.

p. 101. "Configurations of face and body muscles correlate with emotions through a two-way pathway via the insula, to the reward and punishment centers in the limbic system: we have facial expressions for happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, and so on. Via mirror neuron circuitry, we can feel what it is like to have those muscular configurations. That means that you can not just sense the musculature of someone else else experiencing emotions, you can also feel what someone else feels; that is, you can feel the emotions that go with the musculature. We have the physical capacity to feel the joy and pain of others in ourselves physically. There is a neural mechanism that says in your very nervous system: You will feel better if you do unto others as they would have you do unto them." And in the next paragraph: "In short, we are not just pre-wired for empathy, but for cooperation."

p. 148, Chapter 8: "Fear of framing." Change the frame or lose the argument, and perhaps the nation.

p. 184. "Fairness is fundamentally about equality of distribution, even in capuchin monkeys! The following experiment was performed at Yerkes National Laboratory in Atlanta. Pairs of capuchins were trained side by side to do the same task for the same reward (a piece of cucumber). Then one, but not the other, got a better reward (a grape). The monkeys who got only the cucumber rebelled. They often refused to participate in the experiment any longer, refused to eat the cucumbers, and in some cases hurled the cucumbers back at human researchers."

p. 198. "Political Conservatism as Motivated Social Cognition," by John T. Jost and colleagues. "They found that the conservative personality was marked by a need for authoritarianism and dogmatism (or an intolerance of ambiguity); that the epistemic and existential needs of a conservative person included a need for closure (in order to avoid uncertainty), regulatory focus (in order to cultivate discipline), and terror management; that the typical ideological rationalization was one of social dominance and system justification. in short, their research indicates that conservatives show a higher personal need for order, structure, and closure."

Beyond that, the final chapters go into theory of language. As I raced through it, I'm not sure I digested it all. His primary notion seems to be that without bodies, without feelings, we have nothing to communicate; that language is not just a series of abstract symbols and their structure, but a consistent pattern of "embodied" metaphors and scripts. I'll have to ponder that some more.

All in all, I find the book illuminating. There's more than brain research here, there's also philosophy. Page 266: "But philosophy is important." Changing people's mind takes time, repetition, consistent framing -- and to bring it full circle, the occasional checking in with reality.

It reminds me of a haiku I wrote:

would reality
be better if it did what
I wanted it to?

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