Moral Politics: What Conservatives Know That Liberals Don’t

ISBN: 0226468054
ISBN 13: 9780226468051
By: George Lakoff

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Moral Politics takes a fresh look at how we think and talk about political and moral ideas. George Lakoff analyzed recent political discussion to find that the family—especially the ideal family—is the most powerful metaphor in politics today. Revealing how family-based moral values determine views on diverse issues as crime, gun control, taxation, social programs, and the environment, George Lakoff looks at how conservatives and liberals link morality to politics through the concept of family and how these ideals diverge. Arguing that conservatives have exploited the connection between morality, the family, and politics, while liberals have failed to recognized it, Lakoff explains why conservative moral position has not been effectively challenged. A wake up call to political pundits on both the left and the right, this work redefines how Americans think and talk about politics.

Reader's Thoughts

Andrew Webb

I read this book for a logic class my sophomore year of college. Following is the paper I wrote in hopes of defusing Lakoff's argument. In Moral Politics, George Lakoff gives us two models for running a family—the strict father and the nurturant parent. He then attempts to show that these are also the conservative and liberal models for government, and explains why the nurturant parent/liberal government model is superior to its counterpart. This paper will attempt to show that his underlying suppositions are false and that the conservative model of government is in fact superior to the liberal model. After more than five sections and three hundred pages of reiterating the difference between the two family models, and how these models fit various political issues, Lakoff finally makes an argument for a liberal form of government in pages 335-388. However, almost half of this argument is a chapter entitled “Raising Real Children” in which he shows that that the nurturant parent model is the superior one for raising a family. He may very well be correct in this, but the time he spends discussing family reveals a major weakness in his argument regarding government. On page 258, Lakoff uses the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden in a metaphorical sense—it represents being sheltered in infancy, while the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents leaving home and reaching independence. Whether his interpretation of the book of Genesis is correct is irrelevant. However, he is absolutely correct in saying that in childhood we are protected and cared for by our family, and that in later life we reach a state of more freedom, but also responsibility. This brings to light a major problem in his “family” models of government—what works in a home to raise children may not necessarily work on the vast scale of government. To begin with, children and adults are very different. Parents should be nurturant and forgiving and tolerant to their children; their children are young, innocent, naïve, and need a lot of help, love, and instruction. But later in life, when the children reach adulthood, they are no longer able to have their parents fill all their needs. Should they therefore go to the government as a kind of “new parent” when their biological or adoptive parents have passed away or are no longer able to provide for them? Of course it seems apparent that eventually adults must learn responsibility. That is not to say that the government should not help people who are truly in need and have no means of livelihood, but the role of the government is to protect its citizens and give them opportunity, helping when it is necessary. But, its role should not be that of a “parent.” Another challenge to Lakoff’s argument lies in the “dependence” problem. That is, if the government takes the role of a loving parent, people will adapt and learn that they do not have to work to survive. Though he brings up the problem as a complaint from conservatives, no where do I see a response to it—he instead dismisses it as being unimportant next to the virtue of kindness. The problem with a government whose main aim is to be kind is the question: kind to whom? It may be kind to give money to the poor, but if that means raising taxes, it is also taking money from someone who has earned it. Whatever laws are passed, some parties will benefit and others will suffer. Of course there must be compromise, and the government must take taxes and help those who are unable to provide for themselves and their families, but Lakoff almost seems to imply a “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” manner of rhetoric. Lakoff creates yet another contradiction on page 254 when he says, regarding the conservative and liberal interpretations of the Bible “if you have a Strict Father interpretation, you need not use the Nation as a Family metaphor to project Strict Father morality onto the public domain.” If this is true, it defuses the very basis of his argument; isn’t the point of the book that morality and religion are the backbone of American politics and government? That it is truly impossible to separate morality, religion, and politics into separate spheres? Why is the conservative model of government superior to the liberal model? Referring back to Lakoff’s interpretation of the Genesis story, and his demonstration that nurturance is the best policy for raising children, the answer can be put very simply: the government concerns adults. It is true that there is no one way to be a parent; if there was, surely everyone would know of this wonder method and practice it. As it is, there are thousands of books describing as many methods for raising children— empathy, reward systems, physical discipline, non-physical discipline, etc. With that said, in the chapter “Raising Real Children,” which is essentially the first half of Lakoff’s real argument, he sets forth a very solid argument for the nurturant parent model of child rearing. But generally, children are reared by their parents (or close relatives, or step-parents, or adoptive parents). And, also generally, the only authority to which an adult ultimately answers (other than his conscience and his God) is the government. And so, the family should be organized in a manner conducive to the rearing of children, and the government should be organized in a manner conducive to the regulation of the activities of adults. Lakoff presents many issues in Moral Politics, and they are too many to cover here. But perhaps explanation of a few key issues will serve to demonstrate why a government should behave differently than a family. For example, he accuses conservatives of spending too much time and effort on military defense. In a family following the Strict Father model, this translates to the father’s number one priority being the physical defense of his family, at the cost of helping them in other ways. Now, a suburban father stockpiling guns and other home defense mechanisms might be damaging to a child’s upbringing, and would certainly seem somewhat paranoid, or at least eccentric. But a major reason it would seem strange is that suburban neighborhoods are generally safe places. There are better ways to be a parent than simply waiting to shoot someone who threatens your child. But when applied to government, spending on defense makes much more sense. After all, there are always threats to the country, recently during the Cold War, and now because of the threat of terrorism. To acknowledge a very real danger is not paranoid; we know very well that a large part of the world would like to see our country destroyed. True, our military seems so huge and powerful that it could probably scare off an attack by a coalition of five or ten other countries’ militaries without a fight… but isn’t that what we want? If the government failed to protect the country from physical danger from communists, terrorists, or other parties who would seek to destroy the country, all other freedoms and government benefits—from freedom of business, to welfare, to the most basic freedoms of speech and expression—would be meaningless. Thus, it makes perfect sense for a government’s major priority to be the physical defense of its citizens, rather than their nurturance. Another major issue of the book is that of government aid to the poor. Of course, both sides agree that someone incapable of providing for himself (the handicapped, the recently laid off, etc.) should be given some help by the government. But for how long? Should the government give money to everyone who wants it, or only to those who are in deepest need? Lakoff says that children need to be helped, and by continuous helping they can be trained to succeed. This is very true. Nonetheless, when the issue concerns adults, and not children, the conservative views on limited welfare fit much better than the liberal views. That is to say, children are inexperienced and need constant help and reinforcement. Adults, on the other hand, are usually physically and mentally capable of helping themselves. The conservative, and much hated, “Welfare to Work” act passed during Clinton’s administration is a good example—is a few years of welfare insufficient time for a capable adult to get back on his feet after a job loss or other crisis? In short, Lakoff’s argument is flawed on a very basic level—the models of family he discusses are a good way to discover they most effective ways of raising children, but not regulation of adult activities, simply because children and adults are very different and should be treated as such. A liberal, nurturant, method of raising children is probably preferable to a strict, conservative method. But, when the child grows up, he will be ready to live as an adult under a government which treats him accordingly.


A great book proposing a radical new way to view the political landscape. Rather than the typical left-right grid, Lakoff proposes that our politics represent the fundamental paradigm by which we view the world. This makes it difficult to effectively communicate between the different ideologies, because the same words mean different things--ie, we speak different languages. In order to be more persuasive in promoting our ideology, we must understand the language of the other sides, so that we can frame our positions more effectively. Lakoff is very comprehensive is sketching out the primary paradigms of both liberals and conservatives ("nurturant parent" and "strict father"). The case is very compelling.


This came out in 1996, and I've seen it, or its core idea, referred to so many times in newspaper articles that I felt as though I'd already read the book. Probably would have rated it higher and enjoyed it more if I'd read it when it first came out.Basic concept is that liberal vs. conservative political views on specific issues are best understood as emanating from different metaphors for government as family -- the Strict Father (conservative) or the Nurturant Parent (liberal), not some of the dimensions that supposedly account for them (relative importance of freedom vs. equality, individual vs. collective, states' vs. federal rights, less vs. more government, etc.).The case is elaborated in numbing detail and is fairly persuasive, though he doesn't deal much with how to account for people whose views do not agree with one side or the other consistently across issues (or as one of my brothers would say, whose ideas do not come by the six-pack).The author strains through most of the book to be even-handed, though it comes as no great surprise at the end that he thinks the liberal view is correct and superior. Somehow I'm not confident that conservatives are going to read the chapter on negative effects of corporal punishment and then deduce (via strict father metaphor linkage) that they must be wrong about the need for robust national defense and stricter anti-abortion laws.Also, it's not relevant to the utility or accuracy of his ideas, but I find it a slog getting through books in which the author is greatly impressed with his own insights -- there is a good deal of stuff along the lines of "consider this quote that shows how analyst or politician X fails to understand the way people think or where their politics come from - now let's consider my superior analysis".


Though I found the writing style arduous and plodding, this book really pushed me into understanding the underlying (and rational, each given their own premises) philosophy, ideology, and world views of the Conservative and the Liberal minds.


this is a favorite of mine. as i've gone back and read it more than once (one time in particular taking extensive notes/reactions) i certainly consider it very worthy. i very much enjoyed cognitive science as applied to political ideology. of course, i believe there is much, much more to flesh out in that regard, but this book functions as a worthy foray into that area. i hope more cognitive scientists take on this subject matter: contradicting it and expaning upon it, etc, etc. this one stays in my library into the foreseeable futurre as it doesn't just collect dust.


Fascinating concepts (analysis of how liberals & conservatives use different family-based mental models to think about politics, & why liberal thought and conservative thought tend to cluster around the same sets of beliefs), but drily written. I've read later books of his that expand on these topics or address more specific applications, and they were much better. I wanted to read this one to understand the foundation of his ideas, but it wasn't really necessary.

Peter Davis

Great introductory concept: moral politics is based on what clusters of conceptual metaphors we subscribe to. But, the whole middle is too confident in his attempt at guessing and stretching his descriptions of the dominant metaphor clusters. Read the start and the end for the best insights.

Michael Villasenor

I lost interest in this book about half way thru which is why it took me two years to finish. An interesting topic and Lakoff's theory is easy to understand. It became repetitive but I suppose this was a tool he used to hammer home his main thesis - conservatives view the world through a strict father morality model of the family prism and liberals through a nurturant family morality model.The book becomes a PR manual for the Democratic Party towards the end, with the same conclusions as I've encountered in a lot of other recent poli-sci texts- conservatives are great at selling their brand; progressives not so much and this how they could do better. A decade later and not much has changed in the political landscape looked at by Lakoff's in 2002. Would I recommend it to a friend looking for a theory as to why liberals/conservatives think the way they do? Sure, but only bits and pieces.


Lakoff reveals the paradigms that shape liberal and conservative points of view. It is astonishing to realize that we truly live in different worlds depending on the perspective through which we view the world and the values that shape that perspective. Lakoff draws parallels between different philosophies of childrearing and how these shape not only behavior and self-concept, but also political loyalties and economic realities.

Cooper Cooper

This book might change how you think about American politics. A worldclass cognitive linguist from the University of California-Berkeley, Professor George Lakoff analyzes liberal and conservative ideology in terms of his specialty—metaphor. In America, he insists, politics is all about morality, and American morality is grounded in the metaphor of the family: conservatives champion a Strict Father morality and liberals a Nurturant Parent morality. In Strict Father morality “father knows best”: the father rules and must be obeyed. The father’s authority derives from the Moral Order, a God-given hierarchy in which man dominates nature and exploits it for his own use, men dominate women and parents dominate children. With authority goes responsibility: to provide for, to protect against external evils, and to teach the self-discipline that alone will yield the moral strength for combating internal evils (temptations), and (in the case of children) the self-reliance needed for success in life. Among other things, this translates into a black-and-white politics with little middle ground, and policies that favor the successful and militate against life’s “losers” (the unself-reliant). This brief description scarcely touches the surface of a metaphor that Lakoff treats at great depth, and which makes sense of many apparent inconsistencies in conservative politics—for example, being against abortion but in favor of the death penalty. In fact, Lakoff devotes many chapters to demonstrating the moral consistency of apparently inconsistent political views of both conservatives and liberals. The Nurturant Parent morality of the liberals is based on moral nurturance. This includes protection as a prerequisite but is primarily based on empathy: being able to walk in other peoples’ shoes, see what they see and feel what they feel (remember Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain.”). Nurturant Parent morality emphasizes social ties, community, interdependence (“We’re all in this together”), self-development, happiness, fairness. Nurturant Parent moral authority stems not from the “Moral Order,” but from respect earned through nurturing and setting a good example. For instance, when enforcing standards, the Nurturant Parent shows respect for the child by patiently explaining the rules and reasons and by encouraging the child to ask questions and state her views. Politically, these beliefs translate into policies that respect the voices of all Americans, and that seek to “level the playing field” so every American has a genuine (not merely rhetorical) opportunity to pursue his own version of the American Dream. These are ideal models; Lakoff discusses many variations on the “central metaphors.” He describes both normal and perverse versions, the latter including abuse by strict fathers and over-indulgence by nurturant parents. Lakoff is a liberal. In the interest of analytical rigor he attempts to suppress this personal predilection in the first portion (about four-fifths) of the book, then explains why, from a meta view (rising above the Strict Father and Nurturant Parent metaphors), the Nurturant model makes more sense and is more effective in light of what is now known about child-rearing and how the human mind works. Scientifically, according to Lakoff, the Strict Father model is not only out-of-date but counterproductive. The first edition of this book appeared in 1996. The second edition (2002) includes an afterword that discusses, in terms of the Family Metaphors, the Clinton impeachment and the 2000 election. I think it’s fair to say that if Al Gore and his advisers had read and taken to heart the first edition of this book, George W. Bush would never have made it into the White House. Conservatives, on the other hand, have (as Lakoff says) for some time intuitively understood the power of these metaphors and have developed coherent policies around them; liberals, including John Kerry, suffered incoherence for not doing so. I have little doubt that the GOP’s Frank Luntz (and probably Rove and Mehlman) read the first edition of this book with great interest. I think Lakoff got quite a bit of attention from the Obama campaign. A disturbing implication of this book: since politics is based on morality, on many issues compromise may be well nigh impossible. This is especially true for conservatives, for whom in some cases any yielding is considered immoral—giving in to evil. According to Lakoff, at core there’s really no such thing as a “moderate”: at core you’re either a liberal or a conservative—you favor either Nurturant Parent morality or Strict Father morality. Does this mean that “moderates” and “independents” should quit waffling and choose sides once and for all? Read this book. It will teach you to x-ray right through the partisan bickering and obfuscation and propaganda to the heart of American politics.


In Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, George Lakoff uses the methods of cognitive linguistics-a field in which he has worked since its infancy-to explain the different worldviews that shape liberal and conservative thought, and why what seems like common sense to one seems like bunk to another. In doing so, he hopes to begin a national discussion of morality and politics and, more specifically, prove why the liberal viewpoint is better for America. In both attempts, he ultimately fails. But first, why cognitive linguistics? In the simplest terms, it is the study of how humans conceptualize the world, particularly through language. What most of us consider "common sense" is actually a complex series of metaphorical connections we subconsciously make between different categories of experience. For example, our Western understanding of morality is connected to our understanding of finances, where moral credits (receiving kindness) can lead to moral debts (owing a favor). One of the most common metaphors people use to think about the nation is the family. It follows that different conceptions of the "ideal" family lead to different conceptions of the "ideal" nation. According to Lakoff, these differences are at the heart of conservative and liberal thought. Understanding the logic behind his family models allows us to understand, as the title promises, how liberals and conservatives think. On its broadest level, Moral Politics is convincing. That morality has its roots in the family seems clear, as does the connection between morality and political beliefs. Lakoff's two models of the family-the "Strict Father," based on dualism, moral strength, and self-sufficiency, and the "Nurturant Parent," based on pluralism, caring, and cooperation-also explain certain sets of conservative and liberal beliefs reasonably well. However, Moral Politics ultimately overreaches in its attempt to explain all possible political and prove the superiority of the liberal model. Lakoff's models cannot explain the diversity of political opinions, nor can he prove that the liberal worldview is superior. Arguing for a particular world view isn't strange, of course. It goes on everyday in op-ed pieces and talk radio. In a book of supposedly unbiased analysis, however, it is problematic. To make his case, Lakoff oversimplifies modern political thought. Although he acknowledges that political views vary widely, Lakoff still places them on a linear scale. This is a common-sense understanding of politics, but it does little to explain a political landscape that includes ideologies, pragmatism, issue- and identity-based politics, and old-fashioned self-interest. All of these shape our political identities, but lose their meaning in Lakoff's dualistic scheme of politics and the family. More importantly, though, Moral Politics removes politics from their historical and cultural context. A conservative living in 2004 bears little resemblance to a conservative who lived in 1904, or even 1984. Differences in historical context, not to mention race, class, and gender, have a significant effect on political views, both individually and nationally, but Lakoff ignores them in favor of his more unifying theory. Sacrificing the effect of such differences in favor of a more elegant (but simple) theory is both unrealistic and dangerous. In fact, in trying to fit the entire political universe into its simple model, Moral Politics violates some of its own rules. For instance, Lakoff argues that a person need not apply the same model to their family and their politics. Despite this, he states that "[m]any elementary school teachers are women, often nurturant mothers, so nurturant they want to nurture other people's children. That is why conservatives are attacking the infrastructure of public education in the country…They are up against an infrastructure full of nurturers." Even if his large generalizations are true, Lakoff still assumes that the nurturing women in education have nurturing, i.e., liberal politics, and that political conservatives have an equally conservative attitude toward schooling, but these aren't assumptions that cognitive linguistics allows him to make. Such an insistent attempt to fit all situations into the model indicates that Lakoff hasn't been as objective in his analysis as he claims. Even more disturbing, though, are the causal links Lakoff makes between conservatism and violence. He argues that "there is a slippery slope from one model to the other, from normal law-abiding conservatism to violent conservative vigilantism." To argue that the end product of mainstream conservatism is violence is not only reductive, it is a dangerous demonization. Plus, it ignores the violent excesses of the Left, from the Weather Underground in the 1960s to radical environmentalists today. Political violence exists among all ideologies, and Lakoff's attempts to link it strictly to conservatism hinder, rather than help, the political debate he hopes to foster. Ultimately, though, its Moral Politics' insistence on proving the superiority of a liberal world view that does it in. Although I agree with his politics, I can't agree with Lakoff's methods. Psychological studies might indicate that a Nurturant Parent family model is better for children, but this doesn't mean that a liberal world view, or the policies that go with it, are better for the country. Despite the convenient metaphor, running a country isn't raising a family, and liberals are going to have to win on the issues, not on spanking, if they want to convince the country of their world view.

Lisa de Jong

Why are liberals against the death penalty but anti abortion and conservatives vice versa? Lakoff gives fascinating insight into how the mind works from a political point of view and where these morals come from. Politics meets cognitive science and holds hands with semantics. Great read!


George Lakoff is out to explain the political behavior of AmericansFor the first third of this book, I wearily turned the pages as he built the foundation upon which he would defend his theory that it is our moral worldview that determines our political view, not the objective facts upon which arguments for or against some policy might be made. In several cases he shows conclusively how the logical conclusions on an issue have little to do with how policy on the issue is decided. Gut feelings count for far more than logic. Lakoff is looking for the basis of the remark we have all made that "it just doesn't seem right to me" or "that's just plain wrong!" when discussing politics. What, exactly, makes something wrong? Where do these feelings that drive our votes come from?But the author has to be forgiven the dry and (I thought) boring first third of he book because he must present the basis for the writing that follows, if it is to hold together logically and not simply be his unsupported opinion.This is the only reason I don't give the book five stars - because I think many readers might give up reading before they get to the very persuasive last two thirds, that starts with the chapter called "The Hard Issues". Feel free to skip the first third - you can go back to it if you are as intrigued as I was.So what's his argument?He says we don't view issues on the actual practical merits of experiential reality, but from the metaphors that we use to make sense of reality; our worldview. The common political metaphor that holds sway is that of the nation as family. This metaphor portrays the country as a large family within which morality exists, may be flouted and must be supported. How citizens should be treated by the government and the function of government are seen through two different ways of looking at the nation as family.Underlying conservative thought, Lakoff identifies what he calls the "Strict Father" metaphor. In this model, being upright and forceful, setting a strict standard for behavior, competition as an unqualified good, punishment for misbehavior/reward for good behavior and "tough love" are thought to mold the morals of the citizenry as it is claimed to do for the children in a family headed by a strict father. Just as a child under this paradigm is spanked, so should citizens who do wrong be punished, because retribution is right.Underlying liberal thought, Lakoff presents the "Nurturant Parent" metaphor of the nation as family. In this worldview the cultivation of the person is the priority. A child is not punished physically but shown by example and explanation, with reasoning, when bad behavior occurs. The government exists not simply to protect the citizenry but to aid it in full realization through fair treatment. Here, it is cultivation and fairness, not retribution that are key.Calmly and clearly, Lakoff shows how these two worldviews tie together all the stands on different issues such as abortion, the environment, welfare, the military, feminism and more, that define conservatism and liberalism.Though Lakoff identifies himself in the introduction as a liberal, he respects and even admires the way that conservatives in recent years have been able to frame political arguments to make it appear their stand on each issue is a natural consequence of what is right and wrong. He brings the reader up through the the Supreme Court ruling on the election of George W. Bush to show that political actions follow the belief in the metaphorical concepts he discusses.In keeping with any good theory, this one should allow one to predict the conservative and liberal views on almost any political issue, though Lakoff is careful to say that many individuals are variants of the conservative/liberal dichotomy...and he illustrates this with convincing analyses of the libertarian and feminist variants. I will not reveal the closing argument that he makes that confounds the Strict Father metaphor, but it certainly seems irrefutable to me.Two thoughts were prominent when I finished the book:1) I grasped that "the way things are" is by no means the only way they can be, or the way they must be, or the way they should be. It is the metaphorical worldview we have that seems to be firmly set in a concrete of the mind that is harder to chip away at than any rock found on the ground.2) he who frames the issues, wins the debate.It's Lakoff's goal to break the conservative framing within which American political discourse is trapped. I found his presentation convincing.


This book is about cognitive frameworks, or, more precisely: about two frameworks that plausibly explain many of the differences between liberals and conservatives.Oddly enough, I'm still struggling with how this book interacts with my own cognitive framework. I have several pages of notes that should eventually go into a review, but Lakoff's focus on those two political perspectives was so ultimately frustrating that the book left me incredibly frustrated.As far as the book goes, it is a fascinating dissection at how personalities can share deep similarities across a broad spectrum of society due to those frameworks.But so many questions: are these supposed to be the innate two? Or are these just the current dominant pair due in our evolving culture? If the latter, what other frameworks have been used by, say, the founding generation of the United States? Or of the Socratic Greeks? How does one research such questions?In our own time, do these dominant two account for 99% of everyone in the United States? Eighty percent? Fifty-one percent? I know it isn't 100%, because I'm certain I don't fit either framework. How many hyper-rationalists like me are there out there?The problem is that I've left the book sitting on my desk for so long un-reviewed that I have to return it to the library tomorrow: no more renewals.So some notes that might help me do a better job after I've read Lakoff's Philosophy in the Flesh, currently holding down my bedside table.» Refer to cognitive frameworks implicit in supreme Court decision, cf.» P. 72: Morality is Strength (thus, Meta-morality is morality): "One consequence of this metaphor is that punishment can be good for you, since going through hardships builds moral strength. Hence, the homily, 'spare the rod and spoil the child'. By the logic of this metaphor, moral weakness is in itself a form of immorality. The reasoning goes like this: A morally weak person is likely to fall, to give in to evil, to perform immoral acts, and thus become part of the forces of evil. Moral weakness is thus nascent immorality, immorality waiting to happen." What does this say about the myth of pure evil? Is the prospect of moral weakness and nascent immorality illuminated in Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray or Conrad's Heart of Darkness?» P. 76: Moral Authority: "... Within the Strict Father model, the parent (typically the father) sets standards of behavior and punishes the child if the standards are not met. Moral behavior by the child is obedience to the parent's authority...." This incorporates the profoundly disturbing implication that the parent is always right. Actually, the model has the caveat that the parent must be acting in the child's best interest and have "the ability to know what is best for the child", but these still blithely ignore what happens when the parent is well-meaning yet wrong. My personal framework demands that all authority is contingent, and that a very high priority goes to every individual's responsibility to be capable of evaluating the demands of authority and considering, when necessary, whether the consequences of denying such authority is worth the entailed costs. While I believe I see evidence of Lakoff's "Strict Parent" model throughout society, my personal framework directly contradicts it. What framework is the "Question Authority" bumper sticker a reflection of?» P. 109: Nurturant Parent Morality: "... Open, two-way, mutually respectful communication is crucial. If parents' authority is to be legitimate, they must tell their children why their decisions serve the cause of protection and nurturance. The questioning of parents by children is positive, since children need to learn why their parents do what they do, since children often have good ideas that should be taken seriously, and since all family members should participate in important decisions. Responsible parents, of course, have to make the ultimate decisions and that must be clear." Sounds good (and consistent with "Question Authority") but also sounds incredibly naive, much like communist idealism. This completely ignores the less mature reasoning abilities of children, and ignores the limited patience of normal parents. Seems like a caricature.» P. 112: "What does the world have to be like if people like this are to develop and thrive? The world must be as nurturant as possible and respond positively to nurturance. It must be a world that encourages people to develop their potential and provides help when necessary. And correspondingly, it must be a place where those who are helped feel a responsibility to help others and carry out that responsibility. It must be a world governed maximally by empathy, where the weak who need hep get it from the strong." Oh, please, what world are we living in? Human nature is both cooperative and competitive. ('What's so great about being among "the strong" if that just means you have to do more work', he was heard to whine.) What about when people don't want to "develop their potential"? Plenty of people spend hours online, but how many of them are taking the free online classes at the Open University, etc.? Folks don't seem to optimize themselves to meet society's needs; free-riding behavior kicks in far too easily. Always remember: we've all descended from the people that won their wars; genes that say "turn the other cheek" are too easy to take advantage of to last long.» P. 127: "In Nurturant Parent morality, the virtues to be taught—the moral strengths—are the opposites of the internal evils: social responsibility, generosity, respect for the values of others, open-mindedness, a capacity for pleasure, aesthetic sensitivity, inquisitiveness, ability to communicate, honesty, sensitivity to feelings, considerateness, cooperativeness, kindness, community-mindedness, and self-respect." Again the caricature of the liberal. This reminds me of the "always cooperate" tactic used in iterative Prisoner's Dilemma: a naively nice strategy that is quickly wiped out by any predators. Of course, the Strict Father morality is paranoid and easily falls into predatory patterns — and we know who wins that battle. Will Lakoff ever find elements of a cognitive framework that mimic the best PD strategy, tit-for-tat? Actually, *generous* tit-for-tat beats tit-for-tat in a chaotic environment, and it is that element of generosity that appears to have been seized upon as the core of the NP morality. But this only survives in a highly benevolent environment, and probably isn't stable even then.» P. 242: Re: the culture wars and the possibility teaching pluralism: "There may be a problem in taking this route to teaching morality and avoiding partisan moral and political indoctrination. Many conservatives believe that there is only one possible view of morality—Strict Father morality. Many religious conservatives believe that teaching both moral systems is itself immoral." Well, no duh. Witness the quote I found while reading Founding Myths: Stories That Hide Our Patriotic Past:An officer of the Daughters of the Colonial Wars, for instance, complained about books that “give a child an unbiased viewpoint instead of teaching him real Americanism. All the old histories taught my country right or wrong. That's the point of view we want our children to adopt. We can't afford to teach them to be unbiased and let them make up their own minds.”Ecumenicalism logically can't include zealots that want to burns the others at the stake.» P. 261: After a somewhat labored exploration of how Christianity as each of the two paradigms interpret it: "Finally, the two forms of Christianity have very different understandings of what the world should be like so that such ideal persons can be produced. Strict Father Christianity requires that the world be competitive and survival difficult if the right kind of people (strong people) are to be produced and rewarded. Nurturant Parent Christianity requires that the world be as interdependent, nurturant and benign as possible, if the right kind of people—nurturant people—are to be produced." Sounds like Warriors for Christ versus Mother Teresa, eh?» P. 269: In the chapter on Abortion, Lakoff points out the variants of each model exist. For example, if the "Men are dominant over Women" aspect of the Strict Father model is removed, one gets conservative feminism. Lakoff plausibly argues that this indirectly removes a crucial condition for requiring opposition to abortion, and thus these conservatives "are not bound by the logic of their morality to be either pro-life or pro-choice. In short, the model predicts that there should be conservatives who are pro-choice, and that they should be those who do not rank men above women in the moral order." One of the glaring holes of Lakoff's book is the lack of empirical evidence or even a research program that would produce testable hypotheses. This is understandable, since research on human ethics and morality can't easily be separated from the messy world in which we live. The book is largely a thoughtful exposition based on plausible initial assumptions, and is no more scientific than Plato's Dialogs. That Lakoff shows that this model can explain or predict counter-intuitive beliefs is the only sign of scientific rigor I recall.» P. 280: Liberal often castigate the conservative morality for whipping up anger and outrage, thus creating social conditions that foster immoral behavior. The relatively recent assassination of a doctor who performed abortions is one example; another is even more recent example of the militant who flew his small plane into a government building, killing himself and one government employee. "To the conservative, immoral behavior is attributable to individual character, not to social causes: What is right and what is wrong are clear, and the question is whether you are morally strong enough to do what is right. It's a matter of character. Conservatives believe that if an extreme conservative commits a crime, say killing people, in the name of vigilante justice, then conservatism itself cannot be held to blame, nor can those who spew hate over the airwaves. The explanation instead is that that individual had a bad character, that is, a bad moral essence. ...explanations on the basis of social causes are excluded."» P. 296: Good example of when the cognitive frameworks can be intermixed even within one person.Consider someone who is a thorough going liberal, but whose intellectual views are as follows:• There are intellectual authorities who maintain strict standards for the conduct of scholarly research and for reporting on such research.• It is unscholarly for someone to violate those standards.• Young scholars require a rigorous training to learn to meet those scholarly standards....• Students should not be "coddled." They should be held to strict scholarly standards at all times....» P. 356: In his chapter "Raising Real Children", Lakoff discusses research that shows strongly that children raised within the Strict Fatherr morality tend to be more dysfunctional than those raised in the Nurturant Parent morality, even by the standards of the former: "This overall picture is quite damning for the Strict Father model. That model seems to be a myth. If this research is right, a Strict Father upbringing does not produce the kind of child it claims to produce. Incidentally, this picture is not from one study or from studies by one researcher. This is the overall picture gathered from many studies by many different researchers (see References, B2)." Yes... but...Lakoff starts his book claiming he will be as non-partisan through most of the book, only explaining his conclusions the beliefs fostered by those conclusions in the final chapters. Yet, despite being a liberal myself I couldn't help but feel throughout the book that his bias was evident. I had the impression that his examples were chosen to highlight the failures of the Strict Father model and hide, or at least not address, those of the Nurturant Parent model.Moreover, the picture Lakoff presents is that of a strict dichotomy, and I have reasons (someone eccentric ones) to think this is fundamentally flawed. Years ago I read a book on game theory which hinted that the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma was a thought experiment that provide astonishing insight into the eternal conflict between cooperation and competition. Sophisticated iPD models shows that blind "niceness" fails quickly in the face of predation; it also shows that predation fails more slowly, but no less inevitably when there are no more nice "suckers" around to prey on; the winning strategy is nice, but cautious, and strikes a middle ground between the two poles.That Lakoff has formulated a model of cognition that somehow manages to completely ignore this golden mean makes me deeply suspicious. Certainly our genetic heritage from millions of years of cognitive development should provide the underpinnings that assist not just in "Strict Father" competitiveness or "Nurturant Mother" cooperation, but what lies between, what has allowed us to muddle through eons of flawed civilizations.These comments, lengthy as they are, don't even tap into the several pages of notes I've got. They are only comments triggered by the post-it-note bookmarks I use to highlight specific passages.It should be clear that this is, at least to me, a very important book. It is very flawed as well; even beyond the preceding complaints, Lakoff's style is pedantic and verbose, and often repetitive. I wish he had written a better book, however what he gave us still will be a source of deep thinking and surprising insights for those willing to wade in.­


This is one of the best works of non-fiction I have ever read. For the first time in my life, I feel like I actually understand why conservatives think the way they do. I still don't agree with their values or views at all, but I do recognize now that it is an internally coherent worldview. Conservatives are not going to go away in America, so we better learn how to live with them and engage in dialogue that actually resembles communication, not just a trading of insults.The basic thesis of this book is that humans live and think by relying on metaphors. These metaphors guide the way they perceive themselves, their families, their career, and their government. Lakoff argues that conservatives rely on a "Stern Father" model, and liberals look to a "Nurturing Mother" model.Does it make sense that millions of Americans can be pro-life, pro-military, pro-death penalty, pro-wealthy, anti-poor, anti-social justice, anti-peace, anti-environment? Liberals usually dismiss these views as stupid, selfish, and prejudiced, but this conclusion reveals liberals' own ignorance: they don't understand the way that conservatives think! Using a liberal lens, the conservative worldview is completely wrong, but the reverse is true, too. Once you understand the principles of Stern Father morality, all the social and political issues simply fall into place.While I think this book is a resounding success for enlightening liberals about how conservatives think, I'd be curious whether conservatives think they've been fairly characterized, and whether they were enlightened about the liberals' Nurturing Mother morality.Please read the book and tell me what you think!

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