The Language of Social Change

Inspiring Positive Social Change 2017 > Community Peacebuilding > Communications & Media
Broadcast on July 11, 2017
With George Lakoff

Join renowned linguist and social thinker George Lakoff as he reports on the neural basis of the metaphorical frames through which people see their political choices. Understanding people's unique lenses can explain the otherwise puzzling divides between "red" and "blue" voters.

During this fascinating session, you'll discover:

  • Why so many red voters go against what is in fact their own best interests — & even their values  
  • That most thinking is caused by neural patterns in the brain created by childhood experiences

George Lakoff

During the 1980’s, George Lakoff was asked by various institutions to study various social and political questions from a cognitive linguistics perspective. In late 1990, just before the start of the Gulf War, he wrote Metaphor and War, analyzing the metaphors of both George H.W. Bush and Saddam Hussein, revealing a metaphor conflict that ruled out any compromise. The paper, which could not be published in the normal media, became the first paper on politics to encircle the globe via the internet.

In 1996, he published Moral Politics, which demonstrated that the worldview difference arose from the application of the widespread Nation-as-Family metaphor to two different idealized views of the family — a strict father family for conservatism and a nurturant parent family for liberalism.

Moral Politics was widely read, and led in 1997 to the formation of a small think tank, the Rockridge Institute, in which George joined with seven University of California colleagues in the social sciences. George began popularizing the application of morally-based conceptual frames in politics, analyzing why conservatives were outdoing liberals and how they might do better at communicating their moral views and positions on issues. 

In 2002, George published a second edition of Moral Politics, critiquing the Gore campaign of 2000 and analyzing Bush’s success. It also led to grants for the Rockridge Institute, which put out a large number of framing studies between 2003 and 2008. During that period, George wrote four books on politics: Don’t Think of an Elephant! (2004), Whose Freedom? (2006). Thinking Points (with the Rockridge staff, 2006), and The Political Mind (2008). Those books fleshed out in detail the analysis done in Moral Politics, adding crucial details.

The Rockridge Institute closed in 2008, having done studies on the framing of a large range of issues, mostly in the years between 2002 and 2008.