31 Oct
2011

The Values We Live By: a new reader-friendly version of George Lakoff’s morality systems

In his book Moral Politics, Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff sets out the two opposing value systems that he believes are predominant in Western society: Strict Father and Nurturant Parent. As part of my mission to make Lakoff more accessible I have drafted an “easy language” version of what he calls the Moral Metaphors and the Categories of Moral Action. I am also substituting “Nurturing” for Nurturant Parent and “Authoritarian” for Strict Father, as we’ve been doing elsewhere on this blog. I believe the new versions below are powerful everyday expressions of the moralities the world lives by.

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23 Jul
2011

More Weasel Words Misunderstood: Foreign “Investment”

I found myself having drinks and dinner the other night in Bolivia’s old capital city with an Italian man whose work is, like mine, in communications. Except that he works for the World Bank. It’s funny who you end up meeting while travelling.

With my friend adjudicating we ended up arguing about the idea of “foreign investment”, which I immediately claimed wasn’t investment at all. My friend felt that it was, and after all it’s tempting to believe that investment is whatever is called “investment”. But this single word highlights neatly the power and danger of frames. I wish to argue here that “investment” is a disputed concept to the extent of being fundamentally misleading; which seems especially critical when we’re talking about such a huge feature of the global economy.

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16 Jun
2011

More values analysis of Britain’s Alternative Vote referendum: Lakoff’s categories of moral action

In my last post I identified the metaphors at work in George Lakoff’s two opposing morality systems of “Strict Father” (Conservative Authoritarian) morality and “Nurturant Parent” (Progressive Nurturing) morality, and applied them to Britain’s failed referendum on the Alternative Vote. This post goes further, exemplifying the way Lakoff applies those metaphors to create “categories for moral action”. This post will be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about Lakoff or for a persuasive explanation of why the Alternative Vote failed.

In chapter nine of the book Moral Politics: how liberals and conservatives think, Lakoff lists the two sets of categories for moral (and hence political) action.

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16 Jun
2011

A Constructive Critique of the Common Cause Handbook

The Common Cause Handbook is a timely, accessible and important contribution to its field. We’re not quite sure what that field is: it could be called “values theory”, “values campaigning” and it is part of a larger field that is – at least in the States – called “cognitive policy”.

But in short, it’s a new and extremely exciting way to understand the communication of politics, campaigning and public engagement. The handbook’s sub-title is “A Guide to Values and Frames for Campaigners, Community Organisers, Civil Servants, Fundraisers, Educators, Social Entrepreneurs, Activists, Funders, Politicians, and everyone in between”. If you’re any of those people, you should definitely read it.

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07 May
2011

How we might better have framed ‘Yes to fairer votes’?

Let the post-mortems begin. Because we need to know how to do much better next time. The next referendum – on PR – may be as little as 5 years away… And we should be pressing immediately for PR for the upper house, which would be a historic accomplishment.

Let’s get some obvious and crucial points out of the way first:

  • Clegg was of course an albatross around the Yes side’s neck.
  • The right-wing-press decided that it wasn’t going to tolerate AV, and that made a huge impact.
  • The No side had more money (it hasn’t declared how much more – that’s exactly how we know that it had more, because otherwise it would certainly have declared otherwise), and money buys votes in a ‘democracy’.
  • The plain lies of the No campaign and of senior Tories, and the strategy of ‘Confuse the voters as much as possible’, seem to have paid off.
  • The official Electoral Commission document that everyone received didn’t help.

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27 Apr
2011

The No campaign is appealing to deep principles of natural justice. The Yes side list AV’s interesting features

For over half a decade now my Green communications colleagues and I have had the mantra “benefits not features” to steer us away from becoming too policy wonkish in how we communicate our positions. An example from the commercial world would be “this car has seatbelts with pretensioners and energy management” (features). Translation “it’s really safe” (benefit). A political example would be “our party is seeking to bring CO2 emissions down by 75% by the year 2050” (feature). Translation: “we’ll make sure you’re not going to die from catastrophic climate change” (benefit).

The Yes to Fairer Votes campaign however, has fallen into the trap of expressing the features that our electoral system would have under the Alternative Vote.

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02 Apr
2011

“Make it 50” will come back to haunt the Yes to AV campaign

How do you make a slogan? It might surprise you the key rule of slogans is the public need to already like your slogan even before they’ve heard it.
Cognitively-speaking, you need to be activating an area of your audience member’s brain that is already associated with good and positive things in their mind, and then associate yourself with that.

Unfortunately, that cannot be said for “Make it 50”, the cryptic slogan unveiled today by Yes to Fairer Votes.

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29 Mar
2011

AV is …[blank]… The Yes campaign are still missing the answer to “What is AV?”

“What is AV?” is the essential question that the official Yes to Fairer Votes campaign is not yet answering for me, and, it seems, the British public at large.

I don’t mean an explanation of how AV works. I mean the very simplest association in people’s minds of “What is AV?”.
And I don’t even mean just for the 16% of people who have never heard of it [YouGov, 9-10 Mar] or even the 37% of people who have heard of it but aren’t sure how it works.

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