I disagree with George Lakoff. Greenpeace knows propaganda

So George Lakoff is interviewed in the paper. This thread discusses (facebook warning). My opinion is requested.

“The progressive mindset is screwing up the world. The progressive mindset is guaranteeing no progress on global warming. The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, fracking is fine.’ The progressive mindset is saying, ‘Yes, genetically modified organisms are OK’, when, in fact, they’re horrible, and the progressive mindset doesn’t know how to describe how horrible they are. There’s a difference between progressive morality, which is great, and the progressive mindset, which is half OK and half awful.”

Really? Is it actually true that “progressives”, whoever they are, are saying that genetically modified organisms are OK? As far as I know they are not. It seems more accurate to say that campaigns against them seem to have done quite well in their own terms – who now remembers when Monsanto was the Google of the future? – through completely shameless shock propaganda.

Similarly, I wouldn’t count on many fracking projects ever getting to production in the UK or the rest of Europe. Rhetorically, the main reason is that it sounds a bit like a prude trying to not say fucking. As far as I know, the main objection is that in the US you can get away without saying what’s in the fluid. The laws of the US are here or there in Europe, and gas is a lot better than coal environmentally, which suggests to me that propaganda – i.e. framing – is doing the work, for good or ill.

I’m also not convinced that “progressives”, whoever they are, are losing on this issue – would you bet on a new coal-fired power station ever opening in the States again? In fact, the green movement is pretty effective at this stuff, for good and ill. I would actually rate them second behind the Tories.

Lakoff does have a good and interesting point in that people seem to always want to rehearse the opposition’s argument before attacking it. OK, take a memo.

I’m a bit concerned that his views haven’t changed a bit since 2004; since then, importantly, I think we’ve seen a subculture of evidence emerge (think Nate Silver or Jon Portes’ twitter feed) that wasn’t there before. It would be good to nurture it. Story is the point. The means are neutral. Also, omnishambles is a powerful political pattern.

In general, I can’t help but feel that everything in this piece is either obvious (don’t be defined by the enemy; don’t make their case for them) or else dependent on Lakoff’s caricatures, for example, of GM obsessives who think they’re OK. People who oppose GM don’t, and the fact that “GM” is a thing explains it all. Selective breeding, even with the aid of DNA sequencing, isn’t GM in some undefined way. GM is associated with intellectual property rights, but it’s not the IPR, it’s the GM. I could go on, but the point is that the thing, GM, which is unequivocally evil and globally understood to be unacceptable, has been successfully created. This is a practical example of effective framing and whatever.

The core expertise of being Green is projecting a vague aesthetic creepiness around a selected target, in the same way that the core expertise of being Conservative is projecting a vague scariness based in snobbery around your target.

One comment

  1. Guano

    “Is it actually true that “progressives”, whoever they are, are saying that genetically modified organisms are OK?”

    Lakoff is presumably using US definitions. “Progressives” presumably means “The Democrats” and in the USA this is “The Left”. Whatever is to the left of The Democrats is quite small (or largely invisible). The Blairites would like the Labour Party to be like the Democrats and they call their pressure group “Progress” but they haven’t quite managed to get a monopoly on the term “progressives”.

    So Lakoff’s term “the progressive mind-set” doesn’t mean as much in the UK context. The question of whether GMC or nuclear power or fracking constitutes progress is still contested, to an extent that they are not in the USA. The frame in the USA is a more extreme corporate domination of politics than in Europe. That might be the way we’re heading but we haven’t got there yet.

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