26 December 2005

George Lakoff’s Nightmarish Vision

Drawn to the local Borders by the lure of a 50%-off second item coupon, I stumbled into a quite enlightening, if frightful, book. I left the bookstore, not unexpectedly, without cashing in the coupon for I am not quite ready to spend money on such spying expeditions into the mind of the hard, if not, atrified Left. And though in some sense I consider the 45 minutes I spent perusing the book and reading excerpts from it lost, I have gained a valuable insight into the true state of the nation. The book in question is George Lakoff’s Moral Politics (second edition, 2002).

Although Lakoff—a noted linguist at Berkeley in the sense of “noted” which generally detracts from the value of the noun it modifies—claims to give an unbiased look at both sides of the political aisle, his openly professed liberalism has clearly caused him to have a view of the world that I cannot agree with. Not only that, it is one which I am convinced is, to use a term he would expect from a conservative Christian, and abhor, wrong.

Lakoff describes politics in the early twenty-first century as building on two completely different understandings of morality. So far so good. Unfortunately, his way of defining these different moralities is skewed by his own preconceptions of right and wrong. This is ironic because as the expert socio- and psycholinguist, the main purport of his book is to uncover a ‘hidden’ mechanism of the human mind by showing how our preconceived notions, informed by our moral frameworks, causes us to frame debates in our choice of topics, viewpoints, and even vocabulary.

For Lakoff the US consists entirely of people who subscribe to either one or the other of two mutually contradictory moralities: Strict Father morality and Nurturing Parent morality. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of these two in Lakoff’s binary, I daresay, dualist universe is the yin and which the yang, which the good and which the evil. His caveat that there may be variations on the general pattern he describes does nothing to diminish his absolutist statement. Lakoff ordains ex excelsis.

In a lengthy treatment this expert then applies the two moralities to all the contentious political issues of our time and ‘proves’ that Liberalism is far superior to Conservatism. He shows the inner inconsistency of Strict Father morality, in that it does not apply to parenting. Conservatives are bad parents as scientific studies have shown, Lakoff claims. Liberals, who subscribe to the Nurturing Parent morality, which foreswears punishment of all kinds, churn out far superior offspring, much better prepared for a society in which all problems can be solved, even prevented, by just loving (nurturing) everyone, regardless of race, gender, age, sexual preference or criminal record or inclination.

That is, if they churn out any offspring at all and refrain from exercising their perfectly moral decision to abort their “clusters of cells” or “embryos,” who, Lakoff claims, are not identifiable and individually existing members of the species. In a ridiculously off-hand and short chapter, Lakoff deals with abortion, possibly the number one contentious moral issue of our age. Instead of dealing with actually used arguments or referring to any medical evidence, our linguist merely notes that there are two different vocabularies employed by our two main choruses.

There is the factual, scientific vocabulary of the medical world, used by the cowboys in the white hats, which includes words such as “embryos” and “fetus.” Use of these words indicates, our linguist notes, that one is engaging the situation in a rational way. Conservatives never use these medically correct terms but instead use the emotional—and factually incorrect—term “baby” to refer to all stages of pregnancy. Lakoff then proceeds (one almost imagines him doing some casual cartwheels as he treats this topic) to explain why it makes sense for conservatives to reason in such a way about abortion.

After all, Lakoff claims, conservatives see it from the Strict Father’s perspective: the unwanted pregnancy is the result of the woman’s stupidity or disobedience of well-rehearsed rules (beaten into her). Thus, the knee-jerk response of any consistent conservative must be to enforce the appropriate rule (punish). The much preferred liberal’s approach is, naturally, to sit down calmly with the distressed woman who is “in trouble” (this is the actual term Lakoff uses), and come to a rational conclusion. Any liberal will want to nurture this woman and do for her whatever she needs. Getting rid of a “cluster of cells” or “embryo” is, of course, a viable option, if not doing so would stand in the way of the woman’s full potential.

Yada, yada, yada. Lakoff goes on like this for a good many pages on many topics. His second edition includes an “afterword” in which he ‘explains’ to the poor befuddled liberal intellectual why the Republicans were after Clinton in the Lewinsky affair and why George W. Bush, the illegitimate president, used all means, fair and foul, much better to his advantage to beat the wooden Al Gore. The latter includes profiting from the five Strict Father worshipers on the Supreme Court who “arbitrarily” chose to elect him president regardless of the perfectly legal recount ordered by the Nurturing Florida Supreme Court that would have put Gore in the White House.

Perhaps his most jaw-dropping chapter is on Christianity. Of course, being the academic intellectual that he is, Lakoff has to show his respect for the diverse religions in the country and rescue the Bible from the clutches of the Strict Fathers in order not to upset influentual liberal Christian elites. Thus, conservative Christianity is merely the natural result of a Strict Father morality imposed on the Bible. The Bible alone, he argues, endorses neither morality—it is completely and utterly neutral morally.

Yes, that is what Lakoff actually writes.

If you happen to be a poor befuddled conservative picking up your jaw from the floor right about now, let this be a wake-up call. This truly is the extent of the lunacy of the Left and this is how influentual it is on American campuses. This reasoning is completely in line with what is preached in all the mainline denominations, except possibly Southern Baptists (who are not considered “mainline” by Lakoff), and in academia. After all, the deconstructionist movement in literature of the latter half of the twentieth century has pushed to the extreme the idea that texts only “come to be” in the interaction with the reader. Thus, the Bible, like any text, has no internal meaning. Only every individual reader can impose this on the text by means of his ideas, biases and preconceived notions.

I do not know whether Lakoff, being the trained linguist that he is, actually believes this ridiculous philosophy, but it is clear that he has no intelligent relationship with certain key passages in the Bible, such as, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal.” Sound morally neutral to you?

In short, Lakoff’s book is probably a must-read reference book, and I may have to go back and buy it after all (though my wallet groans at the idea of being used for this purpose). Lakoff is clearly completely loopy. He makes fun of conservatives who hold to such ridiculous notions as exclusive truth claims, yet his entire book is a neon sign testifying to his own belief that only liberalism is true and conservatives are just plain wrong. The book is a tissue of such undigested logical contradictions.

But then, the deconstructivists and post-rationalists who now populate America’s universities (no, these are not made-up names, there are real groups of academics who hold to philosophies by those names), have taken leave of sense: their senses, to be exact.

Movie Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

I do not venture into a movie theater very often, especially now that we have an infant in the house. Nevertheless, my wife and I joined a friend today to see The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I can heartily recommend the movie.

Some Puritan hotheads have already vented their complaints about the supposed blasphemous nature of the movie and C.S. Lewis’s heretical Christianity, but I am not impressed by their arguments. If Lewis’s Narnia series cannot be considered wholesome Christian literature, then I do not think there is much to read beyond the Bible and the Nicene Creed. It is a view of culture that I do not think is warranted by the Bible, since it leads to cultural withdrawal and monasticism.

The movie—the cinematic portrayal of the first in the series—is a great success. It is a sound product on various levels. The special effects are wonderful (done by the same crew that worked on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings), the casting is spot-on, and the movie is very faithful to the book.

That is not to say that one could not split hairs about some things in the movie. I will not render a verdict on the question whether it is theologically sound to have Christ portrayed as a lion. This allegation, from the conservative quarters mentioned, hinges on the supposition that the Narnia series are a straightforward allegory of the gospel and that author wrote it as an evangelistic tool. Seeing as C.S. Lewis categorically denied the accusation of allegory, I do not think we need go any further into this argument.

Of course, for those who carefully pick their theater visits, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe will be compared to Lord of the Rings. In that comparison, the latter is decidedly the better production. But it is important to realize that this is an unfair comparison. The Tolkien trilogy is a whopping one thousand pages, written primarily for adults, whereas Lewis’s Narnia series is a much lighter creation, aimed at children. If printed in comparable lettertype, all of Narnia is about a third the size of the Lord of the Rings.

Thus, it must be accepted that the Narnia series does not have the same realistic depth as Lord of the Rings. Indeed, the characters in the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, are not as well-developed as those in the Ring movies. Others might also cavil at the looser relation between book and movie, but one really must make allowances for the ‘padding’ the producers had to employ to make a feature-length movie out of a 100-page children’s book.

The great compliment that can be made in view of these minor defects is that Narnia really comes alive. What we meet really is the Narnia of the books, the Narnia I was longing to see. The stern rules about faithfulness to the book imposed on the producers, and the intimate involvement of Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s stepson, in the production, has paid off.

Anyone who, when seeing the film, does not have the feeling of meeting old friends and having come home, has been splitting too many hairs.