Framing the debate.

George Lakoff has an important  post over at  Daily Kos.  It’s an analysis of  what’s gone wrong in the health care debate, but it also has a lot of relevance for anyone who is concerned about advancing some cause in an organization.  Among other things, it reminds us that changing the ways people think and act is no small matter.  That certainly includes the myriad of ways in which organizational actions affect women’s professional lives.

I’ve read the Lakoff in terms of one major point; do read it for yourself, since you may well want to focus on other things.  But here’s the one that caught  my attention.  It’s with regard to an approach the Obama people have adopted  that Lakoff calls “PolicySpeak”:

To many liberals, PolicySpeak sounds like the high road: a rational, public discussion in the best tradition of liberal democracy. Convince the populace rationally on the objective policy merits. Give the facts and figures. Assume self-interest as the motivator of rational choice. Convince people by the logic of the policymakers that the policy is in their interest.

But to a cognitive scientist or neuroscientist, this sounds nuts. The view of human reason and language behind PolicySpeak is just false. Certainly reason should be used. It’s just that you should use real reason, the way people really think. Certainly the truth should be told. It’s just that it should be told so it makes sense to people, resonates with them, and inspires them to act. Certainly new media should be used. It’s just that a system of communications should be constructed and used effectively.  (All stress mine; since I agree with Lakoff, I’m using italics for the nutty stuff and underlining the true stuff.)

Let me give an example from academia:  I have a close friend involved with one of the most despised organizations on his campus.  It is regarded as a fat cat that lives off state funding and never brings in federal dollars, which is the gold standard for success in science on most  US campuses.  However, in fact the organization has brought in millions and millions in federal money, and it has high standing in the scientific community.  So over the last several years he’s talked to administrators, prepared short handouts, long handouts, gone over the handouts with zillions of people.  He’s given powerpoint presentations, had people to meals, etc.   All the people he’s talking to are deans and above becausse they are the ones creating the most problems; they keep trying to shut it down or take resources from it.  They are highly educated people who have some experience in administering large organizations.   If Laykoff is right, his action probably did not have much effect.  And in fact they didn’t.  Probably he should consider hiring someone who does marketing.

So what do you do to get it right?  Well, language and what we select to describe are very important.  We’re not going to have much impact on the health care debate in the States, but the work is something we could well think about when we advocate that, for example, women are asked to be keynote speakers at conferences.  If Lakoff is right, then we might try to frame the message in a way that appeals to fundamental values in the philosophy profession.  For example, philosophers are close to obsessed with justice, fairness and true merit.  We could think about making sure that our concerns are seen in those terms.

Another value women philosophers share  for the most part is inclusion and cooperation, so I am not  for one second proposing this as a project for just a few people.  Have a look at the Lakoff and see if it inspires any ideas.  If so, please share them. 

His piece is long, but really interesying.  You probably could get a lot out of it by reading only parts of the second half.

“Hard and soft power”

Those are not my terms, but those terms are sometimes used in public policy contexts.  The contrast is one many of us might think of as a contrast between official and unofficial power. 

Those with official power may try to repress those with unofficial power, and sometimes they are so effective that the repressed can seem utterly powerless.

One way to deal with, e.g., terrorism would be to negotiate with – or go after – those with the hard power.  A very different project might be based on conceptualizing  the causes of terrorism – and many other highly negative features of human life –  in terms of the oppression of soft power that women ought to possess.  That different project is now a signature part of  Clinton’s and Obama’s foreign policy, according to an interview Clinton recently gave.  Here are some snippets:

[We in the Obama administration have] as a signature issue the fact that women and girls are a core factor in our foreign policy. … So it’s not one specific program, so much as a policy. When it comes to our global health agenda, maternal health is now part of the Obama administration’s outreach.

… the No. 1 thing most men and women want is a good job with a good income. It is at the core of the human aspiration to be able to support oneself, to give one’s children a better future. Microenterprise is uniquely designed to empower women because — through the trial and error of its development, going back to Muhammad Yunus’s invention of it in Bangladesh — women are much greater at investing in future goods than the men who have participated in microcredit have turned out to be.

If you look at where we are fighting terrorism, there is a connection to groups that are making a stand against modernity, and that is most evident in their treatment of women.

By making the arguments that I am making here — that so-called women’s issues are stability issues, security issues, equity issues. The World Bank and many other analyses have proved over and over again that where women are mistreated, where they are denied equal rights, you will find instability that very often serves as an incubator of extremism. 

A woman who is safe enough in her own life to invest in her children and see them go to school is not going to have as many children. The resource battles over water and land will be diminished. This is all connected. And it’s an issue of how we take hard power and soft power, so called, and use it to advance not just American ends but, in advancing global progress, we are making the world safer for our own children.   (My stress.)

Pankaj Mishra on Islamophobia

Pankaj Mishra has a fantastic article out in last weekend’s Guardian Review.  He takes on a shocking range of well-received books that seem designed to stoke fears of the scary Muslims taking over the world, or at least Europe.  So far, so depressing.  But reading the article, I discovered how many of my own beliefs about both Islam and Europe were false, and played into the stereotypes feeding the fears– despite my being a well-educated leftist who takes herself to keep up with things pretty well, and certainly not to uncritically accept right-wing myths.

For example:

I believed that the Muslim birthrate in Europe was rising.  I thought people were wrong to think this was scary, but I did think it was true.  It’s not.  The Muslim birthrate is falling.

I believed that French Muslims were very religiously observant.  Again, I wasn’t frightened by it, but I though it was true.  Only 5% of Muslims in France regularly attend mosque.

I believed that Europe had a history of tolerance.  Not sure how I managed that one, given that:

as the historian Tony Judt has pointed out, the modern idea of Europe – the presumed embodiment of democracy, human rights, gender equality and many other good things – conveniently suppresses collective memories of brutal crimes in which almost all European states were complicit.

Genocide during the second world war followed by ethnic cleansing were what finally resolved Europe’s longstanding minority “problem”, blasting flat, Judt writes, “the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated continent were then laid”. In Europe’s largest migrations of refugees, some 13 million ethnic Germans fled Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania after the war. The eviction of other ethnic groups (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks) brought many countries closer to fulfilling the Versailles ideal of national homogeneity.

I urge you to read this excellent article. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)

Thank Barney Frank

You may have heard by now that Barney Frank has finally done what we’ve all been longing to see someone do: respond to right-wing lies in the manner that they deserve.  You can watch him do so here.


And, if you’re like me, you’ll want to thank him for this rare Democratic show of courage.  You can do so here.  (Thanks, Jender-Mom!)

CFP: Adoption Conference

Adoption: Secret Histories, Public Policies to be held at MIT, April 29-May 2, 2010. You don’t need to submit a paper, only an abstract and CV *by September 1, 2009. *Our keynoters include Anita Allen, (U. Penn. Law), and we have invited panels on the birthmother experience, GLBT issues, law and adoption, and adoption activism. You don’t need to be a member of the adoption triad to present work! Feminist philosophy could benefit from more work challenging the bionormative family. And interdisciplinary adoption scholars could benefit from more contact with philosophers. Here is the website with more information about topics, speakers, how to submit, etc.