George Lakoff, Explaining Complex Systems to Non-specialtists
Our first expert is cognitive linguist George Lakoff, who did groundbreaking research on the embodiment of thought and language and the way people think using metaphors. For Lakoff, language is not a neutral system of communication, because it is always based on frames, conceptual metaphors, narratives, and emotions. Political thought and language is inherently moral and emotional. The basic phrases journalists use every day—words like “liberty” “freedom” “immigrant” “taxes”— are essentially contested concepts that have radically different meanings for different Americans.
Excerpts (Via Explain.net)
“A lot of reason does not serve self interest, but is rather about empathizing with and connecting to others.”
On Framing Words
“When you say public, it means ‘government’ to conservatives,” Lakoff explains. “When you say ‘option,’ it means two things: it’s not necessary, it’s just an ‘option,’ and secondly it’s a public policy term, a bureaucratic term. To conservatives, ‘public option’ means government bureaucracy, the very worst thing you could have named this. They could have called it the America Plan. They could have called it doctor-patient care.”
According to Lakoff, because of the conservative success in shaping public discourse through their elaborate communication system, the most commonly used words often have been given a conservative meaning. “Tax relief,” for example, suggests that taxation is an affliction to be relieved.
Objectivity, Does Not Equal Balance, and ‘The Center ‘
Lakoff has two further sets of advice for improving explanatory journalism. The first is to ditch journalism’s emphasis on balance. Global warming and evolution are real. Unscientific views are not needed for “balance.”
“The idea that truth is balanced, that objectivity is balanced, is just wrong,” Lakoff says. Objectivity is a valuable ideal when it means unbiased reporting, Lakoff argues. But too often, the need for objectivity means that journalists hide their own judgments of an issue behind “public opinion.” The journalistic tradition of “always having to get a quote from somebody else” when the truth is obvious is foolish, Lakoff says.