The Need for Progressive Heuristics

Ever since I encountered the idea of heuristics, I’ve been fascinated by their power and influence. It’s all about creating the shortcuts that allow people not to have to think out the whole process every time. Make it easy on ’em and they’ll come with you. That’s why I was really interested in this interview with George Lakoff titled “This is why conservatives win.”

Why do so many people cling to political beliefs that are out-of-touch with their own self-interest? Because heuristics were offered, and they gladly “got the memo.” Some brief form of the party’s agenda was organized, summarized and packaged in such a way that it was acceptable to and digestible by ordinary people, allowing these voters not to spend hours and days and weeks studying political theory and public policy so they could make truly informed choices in multiple races.

The lead-in to the interview proffers a briefing on three of George Lakoff’s books, published in 1980, 1996 and 2004. We learn about “Lakoff’s goal of educating the progressive community to stop shooting itself in the foot and start living up to its full potential.” It’s all about strengthening the message and giving in an accessible way, something Lakoff says conservatives are doing really well.

Why can’t progressives change the ossified politics of the Deep South? The linguistic shortcuts aren’t there. What Lakoff calls the “conceptual metaphors” aren’t there. The “framing” isn’t there. And I don’t see a long-range plan to put them in place. So “Christian,” “conservative,” “family values,” anti-federal government and pro-gun constitute the “framing” that moves people to action. Progressive candidates have no clear-cut set of terms to match those. And in my opinion, until Deep Southern progressives develop the terms, and entrench them – as Lakoff says, they’ve got to embrace cognitive science –  they will keep losing elections.

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