A group of Omahans has begun to meet in a monthly discussion group to come up with ways to respond to the Right-wing attitudes dominating local political conversation.
The organizer, Curtis Bryant, MSW, has taken some of the ideas of George Lakoff Don't Think of an Elephant, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision and Moral Politics : How Liberals and Conservatives Think and developed an open discussion format to help Progressives create talking points on key issues of the day - for example, transportation, immigration and health care.
The first meeting dealt with the topic of transportation; , more particularly, how to promote the value of public transportation over our current absolute dependence on private automobiles.
Both Progressives and Conservatives proceed from a foundational metaphor of society as family.
(The following are my notes from the meeting and thoughts afterwards.)
For the Conservative, the family is a strict-father-led, hierarchical, hard-and-fast gender role structure whose main duty is to raise strong children who succeed in a dangerous and treacherous world.
For the Progressive, the family is a nurturing-parent-led, protective and empathetic structure which doesn't really worry about gender roles and whose duty is to develop the full potential of everyone in the family and raise children who love and protect themselves and others.
As Lakoff points out, most of us carry around both metaphors in our heads at the same time and employ one or the other in different situations. The goal of Lakoff and of this workshop is for Progressives to activate Progressive metaphors/values in the minds of those we discuss politics with.
To do so, it helps to understand both the Conservative and the Progressive stands on any given topic.
For instance, transportation.
For a Conservative, transportation, like most everything else, is an individual responsibility. The private automobile fits this mindset perfectly.
It provides Personal Freedom, Independence and Control: to go whenever and wherever
No Interference: no waiting on someone else's schedule
Safety: it provides a pretty effective barrier to the outside world.
For a Conservative, there are also cons -
Expense: A private automobile is very expensive – gas, oil, repairs, Insurance; tax subsidies for oil, rubber and other automotive industries that the individual ends up paying; parking.
Traffic: traffic jams, rush hour, etc.
Dangers: parking tickets, speeding fines, accidents. Reduced national security because of foreign oil dependence.
There are also Pros and Cons with Public Transportation for a Progressive:
Cost: Almost all the expenses of the private automobile drop away. Many people in cities with good public transportation simply do not bother owning cars.
Convenience: The commute to work by bus or light rail is a relaxing experience and can be spent like any other leisure time.
Common Good: Properly laid-out bus or light rail routes benefit everyone equally without distinction of race or class.
Environment: Reduced carbon footprint, reduced oil dependence
Community Revitalization: Neighborhoods and businesses along fixed bus routes and especially along light rail routes are assured of popularity. Cities can reduce or eliminate fares in areas where they want to promote travel (downtown, for school children, elderly).
Expense: Buses are expensive and are an ongoing expense. Light rail is hugely expensive at start-up.
There are also four themes that Western story-telling generally uses: The Triumphant Individual (Helen Keller), The Benevolent Community (barn-raisings), The Mob at the Gate (the Tea Party), and Rot at the Top (the BP oil spill).
Big Business media tends to stick to themes that do not challenge the status quo: The Triumphant Individual and the Mob at the Gate; they will use the Rot at the Top theme as long as they make it clear that there are only a few bad individuals at the top who went wrong and that the system itself works.
However, These themes can also be used by Progressives. Using transportation as our example, the concerted effort over decades by the automobile, oil and rubber industries to eliminate public transportation in this country fits in with the theme of Rot at the Top.
(So when we are discussing alternatives in transportation, it might be interesting to bring up the notion that perhaps the public is owed reparations for the destruction of a public resource for private profit.)
To return to the Progressive/Conservative difference, what we find in the conservative world-view is a profoundly individualistic approach to society where social forces play almost no role, there are just good and bad people. Adverse social forces are to be overcome and helpful social forces are to be ignored. Providing government services is actually immoral because it encourages individuals to be lazy; good people instead rise above their circumstances by sheer willpower. If they don't, they just weren't strong enough and it is their own fault.
Progressives acknowledge the reality of good and bad people, but also recognize that various social structures/forces have a lot to do with where a person starts out in life, let alone where they end up.
We must acknowledge, however, that the Conservatives operate out of a moral system. It does not make sense to deride hard-line conservatives as bad people, or ignorant or stupid; they are not.
But most people are neither all Conservative or all Progressive; we carry around bits of each which we activate in different situations.
Our job as activists is to clearly articulate the moral basis of our reforms and activate that framework in the minds of the people we discuss politics with.
And as a postscript, let me clarify that Progressivism has nothing to do with Democrat (or Republican) party politics. Big Business owns both parties; Progressives propose a human economy and a human society for human beings; and if the economy is not providing for the welfare of human beings then we need to look to scrapping it (or at least the parts of it that are anti-human) and replacing it with one that does.