George Lakoff – Enlightenments, Old and New

April 25, 2011

George Lakoff is a cognitive linguist at the University of California at Berkeley. But unlike many of his scientific peers, he’s known as much for his work on politics as for his research.

Lakoff the famed author of many books on why the left and right disagree about politics, including Moral Politics, Don’t Think of an Elephant, Thinking Points, and most recently, The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st Century Politics with an 18th Century Brain.

Throughout these works Lakoff has applied cognitive and linguistic analysis to our political rifts, and his ideas about “framing,” “metaphor,” and the different moral systems of liberals and conservatives have become very widely known and influential.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, April 25th, 2011. 

Welcome the point of inquiry. I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs. And at the grassroots. My guest this week is George Lakoff. He’s a cognitive linguist at the University of California, Berkeley. And, of course, the famed author of many books on why the left and the right disagree about politics. Those include moral politics. Don’t think of an elephant thinking points. And most recently, the political mind. Why you can’t understand 21st century politics with an 18th century brain. Throughout these works, Legoff has applied cognitive and linguistic analysis to our political rifts and his ideas about framing metaphore and the different moral systems of liberals and conservatives have become very widely known and influential. 

George Lakoff, welcome to Point of Inquiry. Great talking to you, Chris. 

It’s really thrilled to have you on the show as well. And to start out, I wanted to ask you this question. You’ve been kind of at the very center of a trend that I might call uncovering the neuroscience of politics. And you’ve got many books in which you do this like moral politics. Don’t think of an elephant, the political mind. But there are other authors also operating in this area, like Drew Westen. What do you think the overall impact of this kind of analysis has been? 

Well, I think it’s slowly getting people to understand that the brain matters in politics, but it’s taking a while. What Drew did was get people to understand something very important. That emotion is not separate from reason, although a lot of people have interpreted what Drew has said as saying that emotion is important in politics and political language and that it’s irrational. But that’s not true. What Tony Damasio, one of our neuroscientists, discovered was that you can’t be rational without being emotional. And let me explain that. 

He studied people who had brain damage that rendered it impossible for them to experience emotion. For example, there are certain kinds of strokes or brain damage. You can have it just destroy those parts of the brain that allow you to link to the emotional regions of the brain. And when that happens, you might think that people become super rational, like Mr. Spock on Star Trek or something. 

But the opposite is true. And the reason is very deep. If you can’t feel emotion, you don’t know what to want. There’s like a lot like me, nothing to you. 

You don’t have any sense of what anybody else might like and like or not like about what you’re going to do. And as a result, you can’t choose any goals. Your notion of purpose disappears because you don’t know what you would like or not like. You can’t set goals for yourself. You can’t evaluate what you’ve been doing or what anyone else is doing. And the result is that people cannot live rational lives. They can’t make plans. They can’t figure out what goes wrong. They just do kind of random things. And, you know, sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t and they don’t know what’s happening. The result of this is that you have to be emotional to be rational. And we now have a good sense why that is the part of the brain that is mostly related to the control of judgment. The prefrontal cortex is also related to what it’s called the reward system. That is a system that releases different kinds of neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine. For example, for satisfaction. And that’s what it means to be satisfied. And it also has links to the emotional regions where you have parts of the brain which, when active, make you feel happy or satisfied or unhappy or anxious or fearful, whatever. And those emotions are not just raw emotion. They are linked to semantics. They are linked to practices that you do. They are linked to moral theories that you have. Are linked to narratives. Every every story that you hear has a built in emotional reactions. You hear a hero story. And if it starts out with the villain doing something horrible to a victim, you start feeling angry. If the hero encounters the villain, then you don’t know who’s going to win. You feel anxious and fearful. If the hero wins, you feel triumphant and happy. Those are are parts of the neural structure of the brain that link to emotional regions. And those emotional regions have to do with the neuro with the neurotransmitters that are put out into the brain. And so there’s a re very good reason why you can’t be rational without being emotional. So, you know, yes, you did something good there. What I’ve done is a couple of things. I’ve been able to get people aware of what is called framing, framing and just the normal way you think. It’s not it’s not just language. It’s not slogans. It’s not that at all. It has to do with the structures you use to think. And then it turns out that in politics, you’re framing structures have to do with morality and people that different have different moral systems. Conservatives and liberals just don’t have the same moral system. And that’s why it’s hard for them to understand each other. 

And one way of framing the kind of change that you’re bringing on here, if I can play with the word, is your call for a new enlightenment, particularly when it comes to how we think about politics and human rationality. So first, let’s define what the old enlightenment meant and what you think was not quite right with it. 

Well, first, the old Enlightenment did something wonderful, and I don’t want to diminish it in any way. The old Enlightenment said that, you know, feudalism, it’s time for feudalism to be over. It’s time. For religion to start dominating intellectual life, that instead we should be thinking rationally and rationality, as Descartes characterized it, had a certain set of properties, they assumed first that all thought was conscious. So Descartes said, I think therefore I am. And he was thinking about conscious thought. Secondly, it assumed that he assumed that you could reason directly about the world that your mind could the world. And in fact, one, when challenged about this, you know, Descartes said, you know whose challenge? How could something that’s abstract. He also some reason was not physical, that it was abstract. And when he was asked about that, you know, how do you how do you get something abstract to fit the world? He said God wouldn’t lie to us, which was interesting. He gave a religious reason for his theory of reason, which was supposed to overturn religious reasoning. But in addition to that, he assumed that reason was abstract, that it was mathematical, that it worked sort of like mathematical logic of the sort that Aristotle had outlined way back. That reason was unemotional, that emotions just got in the way of reason, that the reason was universal, that everybody used the same reason and that that was part of what defined being human, that people were rational animals with with a capital R for rational. And that language just fit the world. Language was neutral. It fit concepts and concepts were to be defined in the way reasons fit the world. These were seen as the defining properties of reason. With one more. And that’s a big one. It assumed that people were really rational and had reason for a certain purpose, and that was the proof fulfill their self interests. So that has come down to be the kind of thought taught to liberals. Mainly, that is, it’s something taught in universities, in political science departments and departments of economics, public policy, law. That’s what reason means there. And every part of that is false. What the cognitive and brain scientists have shown is everything. Every bit of that is false. In the following way, first, most reason is unconscious. It’s 98 percent is the best estimate we can we can make if if that makes sense. And there are ways in which you arrive at it. But, you know, it’s no more or less true. He most thought is unconscious. Consciousness is a tiny, tiny tip of the iceberg. Secondly, and by the way, it has to be unconscious because the brain that it reasons is mainly works in parallel structures and reason doesn’t work in parallel networks. In that theory, I mean, conscious reason is linear. So consciousness can only be a tiny part of the story ever. Secondly, we think in terms of frames, in terms of what are called conceptual metaphors, the linguistic metaphors are instances of metaphors you use in thought. And that we think in terms of frames and narratives, conceptual metaphors, all of which have emotions and other concepts. And that’s normal thought. And all thought is physical, as Descartes assumed that thought was not physical. And he reasoned that if thought were physical, we couldn’t have freewill because then physical laws would affect how you thought. And the fact is, physical laws do affect how you feel, how you think you know. And that sort of will is not radically free in the court sense. That is, once you have a brain structured in a certain way, that brain structure will affect your decisions and you have no control over that. That’s a very important thing to know for politics. Then there’s another part that’s very important, which is that the logics that are used to define what rationality is, the formal logics. And by the way, I’ve put my time in as a logician. The former logics don’t really characterize the logics of frames and metaphors, but they kind of work once you fix a set of metaphors, frames and narratives as. Soon as you fix them, then certain forms of logic kind of work. But across them, as soon as you shift from one to another, they fail. And that’s a very important thing to know. Next, you reason doesn’t fit the world directly. All meaning is embodied. Reason isn’t abstract. It’s not just that it’s physically in the brain and carried out by neural circuitry. That circuitry has to be tied to the body for the circuitry to be meaningful. Neurons aren’t meaningful in themselves. You know the neural circuits. Yet their meaning from the way in which they’re tied to the body. And we have a great deal of knowledge about how that works. And then via ties to the body, what metaphore does is take understandings about moving in space and picking things up and rethink seeing seeing things and feeling things and smelling things and so on, and tie them to what are called abstract domains, which are really not abstract at all. They are other embodied domains about, you know, how you communicate, how you think and so on. Then there’s the question of self interest is reason they’re just to serve self interest. And it certainly is in part there to serve self interest. But we also know about mirror mirror neurons, systems which are there to define empathy. That is, we are physically setup with neural systems that allow us to feel what other people feel to look at somebody and know what they’re about to do on the basis of what they’re doing now, or to see somebody writhing in pain and feel their pain and know what it means to be writhing in pain and to feel it yourself. This is the basis of all social life and social connection and that most of our reasoning is more about social life and social connection than just about carrying out self-interest, although that’s real, too. And then there are other parts of this that have to do with language. Well, words are defined in terms of frames and those frames are physical circuits in the brain. So that when you say a word, you’re activating a circuit in the brain and in politics. The question is, is the circuit that you’re activating tied to either a conservative or a moral or a liberal moral system? And if it’s tied to a and defined in terms of a conservative moral system, then you’re activating the conservative moral system that is the choice of a word that you use could activate a conservative or progressive idea in your brain. And that is how conservative communications works. Conservative communication has to do with a very remarkable, largely invisible communication system set up by conservatives that, you know, uses their language carefully chosen to activate their concepts. And just hearing them activate them in your brain. And so what happens is that you don’t convince people by so-called rational arguments in the sense of Descartes rational arguments, you wind up, quote unquote, not convincing people, but simply changing their brains. 

So then the new enlightenment would be following on that. It would be being conscious of the the unconscious nature of thought and the way it’s structured, not necessarily fully, rationally. 

And I guess also being conscious of, you know, I think what people know know best about your work and probably all of our listeners know it, is this idea of what one of the most dominant metaphors is, which is, you know, applying struct different structures of the family to politics. 

Right. Except for one thing you said, not fully rational. What rationality is, is the use of those metaphors and frames and narratives. You can’t think without them. That is that is human rationality. Even if you think you’re being classically rational, even if you think you’re using, you know, old Cartesian reason, you’re not unconsciously you’re making lots of assumptions and activating parts of your brain. They use frames and metaphors that you’re not even aware of. And so that real rationality involves all the things I mentioned. Real rationality has to do with emotion. It has to do with narrative structure. It has to do with metaphorical structure and framing. And the new enlightenment is to understand how real rationality really works and how communication really worked. That’s what it means to be enlightened these days. 

I mean, I totally understand how, you know, metaphors influence us, structure our thought and how in different language can put you in someone’s frame that you don’t want to be in. But it would seem that one implication of this is also, I think maybe you agree, is just at events that happened that we can’t control will favor a particular liberal or conservative outcome. For example, you know, it seems imply the conservatives will do well in times when everyone’s afraid, like 9/11 and liberals will do well in times when everyone’s feeling empathetic, like after Hurricane Katrina. 

Well, first of all, it depends on how you understand those things. Events in the world after 9/11, several things happened. One of them was that the country pulled together and they didn’t it didn’t have to be interpreted in terms of fear. It could be, you know, we could have said after 9/11. This is a wonderful country. We care about each other. We care about the people there. This is what what we should build on that strength. We should build on that togetherness. And the people who attack this are a minority. And we should deal with that in the world, certainly. But we should build on the fact that it’s not because, you know, all people who are Muslims are bad or anything like that, but rather that you have to isolate who is responsible and how to protect yourself and how we protect each other. But fear is not the way to do that. Changing democratic practices, not the way to do that. We should be proud of our practices and then continue with them. Had a president of the United States done that? I suspect that if Al Gore had won, that’s probably what he would have done. You know, had a president of the United States done that, we would have had a very different understanding of 9/11, not in terms of fear, but in terms of union, in terms of what drew us together by caring about each other. And the same thing with Katrina, that is Katrina led to empathy and caring, certainly. But, you know, it it might have been that the Bush administration had been on top of that. Had they been, you know, they might have been able to put some other interpretation on it. But the the main thing about all this is that the external events have to be understood. And the way they’re understood determine our reactions to them. And they can have very powerful effects for a deep reason. One of the ways in which the synapses that link neurons change to and which that’s how you learn, you learn when synapses change, one of the ways they they change is through trauma. Usually they change very slowly over time, what’s called hibi in learning. But there’s also a sort of a form of learning where you change something all at once when there’s a traumatic event. And that’s when when political leaders can use traumatic events in favor of their viewpoints, as the Bush administration did with 9/11, then they can control a whole lot of how people understand the world. 

Well, I want to remind our listeners that George Lakoff latest book, The Political Mind A Cognitive Scientist’s Guide to Your Brain and Its Politics, is available through our Web site Point of inquiry dot org. One important point about this is you don’t say that, you know, liberal or conservative or is somehow the, ah, essence, so to speak. 

You know, you say rather we have both within us and one moral system can become more powerful or less powerful. But you’re not, you know, forever necessarily going to be just one or the other. 

That’s a very important point. 

You turn. There are a couple of different terms for it. I started calling it by conceptualism and then that sounded too like bisexual. So I’ve been calling it dualism recently, but it’s a very important point. These views arise via certain metaphors for morality that we all experience and we all learn. And I think it’s important to start with morality in general. And to understand that you need to understand a little bit about how metaphorical thought works and how you learn metaphorical thought. When, let’s say a very simple metaphor or two. We think of more is up and less is down. So prices rise and fall. They don’t literally go up and down. But we think of them as such. Or you say. And the radio up or turn it down, you don’t move the radio physically up, you know, and so on. So, you know, that’s not how things actually work. The next thing is that the way they do work is this. When you, you know, learn something like somebody is a warm person or a cold person or prices are rising when you learn more is up or affection is warmth, the way you learn it has to do with correlations. In your experience, that is very simple. Think of pouring water in the glass every time the level goes up. You put more stuff on your desk. Each time the level goes up, your brain notices this, a baby’s brain notices this. Even though the baby may not be conscious of it, the brain registers an increase in verticality in the level of the water, in the glass and more water being poured in in terms of quantity as a part of the brain that registers quantity. Similarly, if you’re held affectionately as a child, you feel temperature, you feel physically warm from your parents and you feel affection, and those are in different parts of the brain. Now, when you have regular activation of different parts of the brain, an interesting thing happens. First, the regular activation strengthens each of those parts of the brain, but also that activation then spreads through existing pathways as each neurons connected to 10000 others. And there’s a cluster of neurons involved in registering each of those things in the brain. So what you get is a spreading activation. And as this happens over and over, that spreading activation gets stronger and spreads further. And eventually, as it spreads through the vent and the brain, all parts of the brain eventually have connections to every other part of the brain. But maybe through, you know, very distant connections, it will find the shortest pathway. And when the shortest pathway between these two spreading activations are linked, that is each of the activations will will hit each other. What will happen is that a circuit is formed and that circuit is the metaphor. That circuit is there. And the more that you experience this and the stronger the circuit gets and some of those metaphors, maybe hundreds of them become physically fixed in your brain. You’re always going to be thinking of quantity in terms of verticality. And you’re always going to be thinking of affection in terms of warmth and so on with hundreds of other cases. And this happens with morality as well. So you’re in general. Suppose you’re eating your food and you’re happy. Then what will happen is certain hormones will be released to the neurotransmitters like dopamine and others will make you feel satisfied. And if you eat rotten food, things will make you feel unsatisfied. The result of that will be that morality, which is understood in terms of well-being. Will, you’ll wind up getting a metaphor for that. Morality is purity and immorality is rottenness. That was a rotten thing to do. You have purification rituals around the world. That’s a very important thing. And there are experiments in which people who are in. Come in as subjects of the experiment and are told to do immoral things by saying nasty things about other people and so on. After the experiment, they are offered a chance to wash their hands or to do something else. And overwhelmingly, the people who do the nasty things want to wash their hands. That is, morality is purity. They want to purify themselves. This is a normal thing to happen. There are hundreds of these kinds of experiments that verify the existence of these metaphors. Now, two very important ones are these. Let’s suppose you’re a child and your parents presumably want to take care of you. So you’re better off if you listen to your parents than if you don’t. That is, you’ll feel more satisfied as a child. If you listened to them than if you don’t. And that gives rise to a metaphor that morality is obedience is also the case that you’re better off if your parents nurture you and take care of you than if they don’t. So that gives rise to a metaphor that morality is nurturance. These two metaphors for morality arise around the world. And they are the basis of what I call a strict father family and a nurturing parent family. And we all experience both of these. Both of these. Metaphors for morality. Both of these forms. And then the question is what kind of family, what kind of family life? Do you experience neither either in your home own home or do you see around you or in your community? And so on. Would you wind up doing is getting some ideal notion of what a family is. But often both of them a strict father family based on obedience to authority and a nurturing parent family based on nurturance. Now, there’s another very important metaphor that you learn, which is, again, physical circuit, because your first experience with being governed is in your family. As we know, it’s in your family that you’re told to do this and not do that for various reasons. And so that gives rise to a metaphor that a governing institution is a family and that occurs in many parts of the world. So you have things like Mother Russia and Mother India and the Fatherland and so on. Now, what happens here is that depending on the kind of family that you see as ideal, you’re going to have different views of what a governing institution should be. And the governing institution to be a church could be a team. It could be, you know, a class or it could be a nation or any other kind of government. And so we wind up with a view of the nation, which is a special kind of governing institution as a family. We have founding fathers. We send their sons and daughters to war. If homeland security and these metaphors are very deep, we can’t escape them. They’re there because they they are actual experiences in the world that we pretty much share are going to be there and they’re going to shape our brains. Now, what’s interesting is most people learn both of these metaphors. Not everybody. Some people just may just learn one. So these turned out to be the basis of conservative and progressive thought. And the result is that you have two opposite moral systems. Now, how can you have two opposite moral systems in the same brain? That is, these are physical systems. They have to do with neural circuitry. And you can for a very interesting reason in the brain. There’s a phenomenon called mutual inhibition, where one circuit, when activated, can turn off another. And the second one, when activated, can turn off the first. That is, each can turn off the other, depending upon which is activated more strongly. And you see this in moral systems. In a very simple example, think of Saturday night and Sunday morning morality. And you know that as people go out and they carouse on Saturday night with one kind of morality, then on Sunday morning, get up and go to church. It’s a different notion of morality and they don’t even notice that they’ve switched. You know, the switching has occurred in context because think the different contexts activate different circuits in the brain. And each one that’s activated inhibits the other. So what you would do on Saturday night, you’re generally not going to do in church on Sunday morning. And that’s, you know, just the way this happens with people who are conservative about certain things and progressive about others. And they can be in all kinds of configurations. You can be conservative about economic policy and progressive on social policy or conservative on foreign policy and progressive on domestic policy or vice versa. You can have all kinds of combinations here and they really exist for different people. What that means is there’s no such thing as a neutral, moderate worldview. There isn’t a general, moderate worldview. What is called a moderate is really somebody who is as a do, who has dual worldviews. They’re dual. They have, you know, both conservative and progressive worldviews applying to different things. And they may be all kinds of different sorts of different things. So there is no single thing called the center. What is called the center isn’t neutral. What is called an independent BI in voters isn’t neutral. It’s somebody who has both progressive and conservative world views usually applied to different things. Now, there’s another part of this that’s really interesting, which is that there are conservatives who have what is called ingroup nurturance. That is, they actually have a progressive worldview, but applied to a certain ingroup that they belong to. The military is a great example. You know, you have bands of brothers that people in your unit are people you care about and take care of and so on. You never leave a a wounded comrade behind. And so only in the military, the military takes care of people’s families. If you’re living on a base, you can get a place to live with your family. You can send your kids to a military school on the base. They get good health care for free. They get to get cheaper goods at the peaks and so on. In short, it’s a kind of socialist system within the military. And this happens a lot within conservative religion, where in many conservative churches, the people who belong to the churches are taking care of it. If they really needed to, there might poor people who are in a conservative church and they may have a strict father view of God. But on the whole and a strict father, politics in most things. But if you have a poor family that is very religious, that works hard, has a job but just doesn’t have money or they’re down on their luck in some way. The people in the church might build them a house or they might get financial advice for free, or they might get our child care at a church and so on for free. So what will happen is ingroup nurturance is there and this happens a lot in conservative communities where the people in the conservative communities care a lot about each other. That is, if you know there’s a flood, they all pull together and work for each other very strongly, as in group nurturance. So this is a very important part of conservative life. It’s not that conservatives never have any progressive thoughts in their head. 

Quite the opposite. But it’s usually in group nurturance. It’s not a case where they feel that moral obligation to people who are not their friends and neighbors, who are not in their families and were not in their churches and so on. They know they feel that there should be individual responsibility, not social responsibility in general. And that’s part of a conservative worldview. Whereas in the in progressive thought, you may have the opposite. You have what is called militancy. Militant progressives who use strict father means to in their trinian’s. And these are people who will you know, they’re the people who go out and break windows in demonstrations and create violence. And, you know, and argue strongly, not just strongly, but argue violently and so on. You have that on the left as well. And then you have people who are mostly one or mostly the other. So you have people who are mostly progressives, but they may be conservatives about some financial things or certain parts of their lives. And people are mostly conservative, but they may be progressive on a single issue like health care or the environment. And that is a normal thing. So in understanding our political life, we have to understand how these moral systems work, that there is no single ideology of the middle, where no single ideology of the moderate or anything like that. Rather, there are people who have both conceptual systems. They can be what are called duels or by conceptual, depending on which term you like. But the point is that that’s how they work. And it’s important for a very good reason. Let’s suppose you’re a conservative and you want to convince people who are, quote, moderates in the middle. You don’t start using liberal talk and you liberal arguments, rather, what you do is you talk even more strongly about your conservatism because you’re trying to activate the conservative parts of their brain, because when that is activated, the progressive parts of their brains will be inhibited and deactivated and made weaker. Now, what happens on the left is people don’t understand that. Democrats tend not to understand about how the brain is working. And so what they say is, oh, there’s a center. We have to move to the right to talk to people in the middle. Then what they do is they adopt conservative positions and conservative language, which just hurts them. It just helps conservatives. It activates the conservative parts of the brains of people who are who are not just one or the other, who may see themselves as moderates or independents. 

Let me, um. Well, there’s this leads to many, many questions. And I think when I asked about 9/11 versus Katrina, we hadn’t fully laid out the two moralities yet. So I hope that that was assumed. But, you know, if I could just throw one out there, I’m I’m personally liberal. I think, at least in most ways, I probably can think of the ways in which I’m conservative, but it makes me sympathetic to this analysis. What I want to ask, though, is do conservatives recognize themselves in your description of their morality or do they reject it? You know, do they say, oh, that’s me. I get it? Or is this itself contentious to them? 

It’s largely contentious, although I have had conservatives write me fan fan letters saying I never imagined that a liberal could describe my world view better than I could. But mostly they’ll say, no, we’re just being rational. We’re just being moral, because for them, their worldview is just part of the way they normally think about what’s right and what’s wrong. And they say, oh, well, you know, I’m right and so on. And they, like anybody else, don’t have access to their own unconscious thoughts. The you know, so in general. And the same thing is true of liberals. A lot of liberals who will, if you describe their world view to them, to them, they will say, oh yeah, I believe that. But then they’ll go into policy, talk or talk about, you know, some rational thing and think that, oh, we’re just rational on the other guys are irrational or stupid or greedy. And they know they want to recognize that they have a worldview. This is normal. It’s not at all strange that this happens because most of our thought is unconscious. 

Well, one thing are a lot of our listeners care about is science preserving its integrity. You and I have talked about this. 

How does your view of our different moral values and moral systems explain what we’ve seen when it comes to attacks on science and how those seem to be more concentrated, although they’re not exclusive, but they seem more concentrated on the right? What does this have to do with authority? What is do with different moralities? What does it have to do with different views of the Enlightenment has everything to do with it. 

For example, let’s start with a strict father family in that family. The strict father is the moral authority the strict father determines right from wrong. Nobody in the family has authority over district’s father. You know, kids are seen to be bad and they have to be made good by being punished. And B, they’re bad because they just do. It feels good. And that’s not moral. They have to you know, they don’t necessarily come out. They know when they’re born with the strict fathers who of the world. So they have to be punished when they don’t fit it. Now, that says that there can be no moral authority in the family above the strict father. You then map them on that basis on two different systems of governing authority. For example, in the market, the market is a kind of strict father. You’ve heard let the market decide. The market is the decider. The market itself is seen as moral because of the conservative interpretation of of what economic theory says. If everybody pursues their own interests, then the interests of all will be maximized. That says the market is moral and it assumes that everybody just works on their self-interest. That greed is good. That’s assumed to be natural. So the market seem to be moral and natural. It’s the strict father and it rewards fiscal discipline and punishes lack of it. That’s seen as appropriate. But it also, from this point of view, says there should be no authority above the market. That is, no government regulation, no government taxation, no worker rights, no tort cases and so on. And science should not be governing the market. And that’s important. In general, when you think about general conservative policies for the nation and everything else in our lives, there is in general conservatism. The idea that nothing should be above the conservative ideology itself. That is the conservative moral worldview is the most moral thing there is, and there shouldn’t be anything above it. And that includes science. So science is fine if it fits the moral worldview. For example, the science of drilling in the Gulf or the science of fracking or, you know, any form of science that fits what the conservative worldview is. However, if you have a form of science that doesn’t fit it, that contradicts the worldview. 

For example, part of the world view is that there’s man above nature and nature is that is to serve man’s desires. Period. Therefore, there should be no environmental regulations. The result of that is that any environmental science that said that there should be environmental regulations is just seen as nonsense. 

It doesn’t fit their view of the world. It’s going to be dismissed as ridiculous because it doesn’t fit it ridiculous or immoral. And that is very crucial in the conservatives war on science. Now, liberals have a different view. They think that, you know, that science should serve people, that science is good for people and that science is rational. So if they grew up with a rational actor model, they see science as rational and rationality as being good for people, and that science is being good for people and helping people. And therefore, you should listen to science and you have. And then if it turns out that the science if there is if there is science, it’s hard to think of any that goes against that worldview. 

If there’s science that says we should be cool to people and there has been some very, very bad science that turns out not to be real science. But there is no science that says. You know, there are inferior and superior people and the superior people should rule or something like that. 

You know, liberals will will naturally go against that. So all of the the old reports of IQ research saying that some races have higher IQ than others. It turns out that was a false, scientifically false, but it was one of the things that was argued against vehemently by liberals and in favor of by conservatives. And, you know, when the science was checked out, it turned out to be false. But it’s not always the case that everything said by every scientist is agreed with by liberals. 

Well, you could maybe take nurturance too far in the sense of environmental science, trying to protect against everything when some things are relatively low risks. And the liberals might just want to protect against all of them indiscriminately and maybe even exaggerate the risks to overprotect. I could see I could see how that would go. 

Well, that’s tricky, because the question is how what do you define? How do you characterize your risk? And this is something really important. If you’re going to look at the new enlightenment, you’re going to look at how we actually understand concepts like risk. There are systemic risks and systemic causation. And you have to think in terms of whole systems, not just in terms of direct causation, but also the risk is usually understood in probabilistic terms. And and the result of that is that you have certain models coming out of enlightenment, rationality that as opposed to real rationality that define risk in a certain way. Take, for example, cost benefit analysis, cost benefit analysis it has is a in certain in terms of a certain mathematics, the formula in general goes like this. It’s an interval. It’s like the sum over over some particular local effect. Like, you know, you’re asking should we build this. Theme park, you know, in this wetland or this motel in this wetland. And then they say, well, we then have to evaluate the cost of doing that to the environment versus the benefit. Well, how do you evaluate the cost of the environment? They have to figure out some way to put dollar terms on the environment versus the, you know, the cost to the investors in this program, which is some other dollar terms, then what they do is they sum that over time, but via a certain constant certain formula. The formula is called E to the minus DTN. That is E to the minus discount rate or interest rate times time. And what that means is the interest rate, as you know, goes up exponentially every year and the negative interest rate goes down. 

So since money is worth less in the future than it is now, if you put one hundred dollars in the bank and it’s got a certain interest rate and per year, you come back 10 years later and they just give you your hundred dollars back. You’re unhappy because you haven’t gotten the interest. So money in the future is worth less than money now. And the formula is either the minus the T. 

And what that says is that you have exponential deterioration of the benefit over time. That is, it goes down really, really fast. And Indian in environmentalism, that’s a disaster because the environment, the environment has to be there forever. It’s not supposed to be go down. This formula is great for short term profit. And that’s what is devised for it’s devised for making decisions about short term profit in corporations. But when you use it in environmentalism, it’s inherently anti environmental. It doesn’t just fit the world. And so notions like risk and cost and benefit have to be looked at via what the mathematics actually means and whether it’s used appropriately. And that’s that’s tricky. And once you do that, you get very different considerations. Now, what you’re bringing up is something real that within conservative thought and within progressive thought, within one of them, you get complexity. That is, you get contradictions depending upon what the issues are and what you consider more important. Environmentalists will go one way. And people who are interested in, you know, let’s suppose you’re interested in improving life for some ethnic group, they may go another way or if you’re interested in improving life. For farmers in some region versus the salmon run in that region, you will get contradictions and that’s inevitable. That will always happen. 

Our listeners are also, I think, very interested in the topic of religion. Some, you know, think it’s a really big problem, the root of a lot of problems. You know, it seems to be the case that conservative religion and strict father morality go together pretty well. But of course, there is also a liberal religion. So how do you fit that in? 

Well, basically, it’s actually pretty straightforward. The question is, what kind of a parent is God? Is God a strict father or a nurturing parent in conservative religion? God is a strict father. You do what I say. You go to heaven. If not, you go to hell. You know it. And that is a matter of individual responsibility alone. It’s what you do, your individual responsibility. And that’s what defines the central ideas of this conservative religion and progressive religion. And what you have is God is seen as as a nurturing parent. Children are seen as being good. 

And. And what you’re supposed to be doing is functioning in the world, you know, naturally and taking and caring about other people. 

Those are very, very different views of the world. What’s interesting about this is that conservative religion has gotten politically organized and liberal religion has not. And liberal religion used to be very politically organized. At the time of the Civil War, the anti slavery movement was a religious movement. It had to do with, you know, progressive churches. Being anti slavery had everything to do with religion. The women’s suffrage movement was a religious movement, a progressive religious movement and everything to do with religion. But sometime between the 20s, in the 30s, conservatives, a conservative religion, got political, began to get political. But for reasons I don’t really understand, the progressive churches began to become unpolitical. They got less and less political. Didn’t want to be politically involved. And that’s still largely the case, whereas the conservative churches were involved and then they got more and more involved in the 1970s and 1970s. You have, you know, conservative preachers coming out and working with conservative intellectuals to integrate conservative religion and other forms of conservatism in the 1950s. That wasn’t true in the 1950s. 

The financial conservatives hated the religious conservatives. They don’t want anything to do with them. You know, it took a long time before the religious and financial conservatives got together. And that happened, you know, around in the 70s. 

Mm hmm. Well, you know, this is really phasing in some more. So many more questions I’d want to ask. But I think we you know, we’ve we’ve used up a lot of time using a lot of your time. So if I could just ask you maybe one concluding thought it would be this. How will we know when the new enlightenment that we’ve talked about is here and all around us? What will be the indicators? Are the signs of that. 

The signs will be that people will be aware of this, that we will have a language of, let’s say of politics. We will say people will say, oh, so-and-so proposed this proposal. They might say strict father or not conservative thought proposal. And, you know, it starts with the morality of individual responsibility, but not social responsibility. And they think in terms of direct causation, not systemic causation. And that’s why they propose this. And the progressives who think in terms of people caring about each other and acting on that care, having both individual and social responsibility naturally propose this other thing which doesn’t fit it. And they’re thinking in terms of systemic causation, not just direct causation. And that’s why they have this. And then they will say, hey. And there is a kind of a concert, a communication system and a language that fits that this word here is fitting this one system. These words there are fitting this one. And here you could see certain liberal people helping the conservatives by using conservative language. I mean, when you when you see that, you’ll have, you know, begin to see that they’re taking science seriously, that you’re taking the science of the mind and the brain seriously. 

Wow. Well, I think we’re pretty far from that point, judging by the way we talk about things in Congress right now. You know, on. That note, George Lakoff, that has been incredibly enlightening and a pleasure to have you on point of inquiry. 

Thank you very much, Chris. It’s always great to talk to you. 

I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry. To get involved in a discussion about George Lakoff work, please visit our online forums by going to Center for Inquiry. Dot net slash forums and then clicking on point of inquiry. The views expressed on point of inquiry aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. Questions and comments on this show can be sent to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. 

One of inquiry is produced by Adam Isaac in Emory’s New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Waylan. The show also featured contributions from Debbie Goddard. I’m your host, Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney