Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Framing the Debate : Part 1

Framing the Debate : Part 1
Framing the Debate : Part 2

Framing – What is it?
Framing is an aspect of argument which takes advantage of the fact that words evoke frames (such as images or other information). Even negating a frame results in invoking it, thus telling someone not to think of an elephant results in them. . . thinking of an elephant.

Linguist and Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff , who teaches at Berkely, California (and has a distinctly Democrat leaning political view point), uses this exact example as the title of his book , “Don’t think of an elephant!” (Pub: Chelsea Green) and gives the practical example of Richard Nixon who, during the Watergate crisis, memorably said “I am not a crook” at which point everybody thought of him as a crook !

Lakoff describes this as a key aspect of framing- When arguing, do not use the language of the other side- it will use a frame and that frame won’t be the one that you want.

Another example given is that of the phrase “tax relief” used by George W Bush. Lakoff considers the framing for the word “relief” and comments that “For there to be relief, there must be an affliction, an afflicted party, and a reliever who removes the affliction, and is therefore a hero. And if people try to stop the hero, those people are villains for trying to prevent “

Furthermore, “A conservative on TV uses two words, like tax relief. And the progressive has to go into a paragraph-long discussion on his own view. The conservative can appeal to an established frame, that taxation is an affliction or burden, which allows for the two-word phrase “tax relief”. But there is no established frame on the other side. You can talk about it, but it takes some doing because there is no established frame, no fixed idea already out there.”

Perhaps, if the Democratic party had been airing adverts for years to construct their frame, it would now be easier for them to argue their case. Lakoff gives an example of the kind of ad that might have put across a different perspective on taxes, ““Our parents invested in the future, ours as well as theirs, through their lives. They invested their tax money in the interstate highway , the internet, the scientific and medical establishments, our communications system, our airline system the space program. They invested in the future, and we are reaping the tax benefits, the benefits from the taxes they have paid. Today we have assets – highways, schools and colleges, the Internet, airlines that come from the wise investments they made.”

Or the following :
“Taxation is paying your dues, paying your membership. If you join a country club or a community centre, you pay fees. . . otherwise (it) won’t be maintained and will fall apart. People who avoid taxes, like corporations that move to Bermuda are not paying their dues to this country. It is patriotic to be a taxpayer. It is traitorous to desert our country and not pay your dues”

Lakoff comments that if you are faced with an opponent who is being disingenuous, you should point out what their real goal is and then reframe. For example, suppose he starts touting smaller government. Point out the conservatives don’t really want smaller government. They don’t want to eliminate the military, or the FBI, or the Treasury and Commerce departments, or the nine-tenths of the courts that support corporate law. It is big government that they like. What they really want to do away with is social programmes – programs that invest in people, to help people help themselves. Such a position contradicts the values the country was founded on – the idea of a community where people pull together to help each other.”

In a nutshell, Lakoff recommends the following four guidelines for political debate:
Show respect, Respond by reframing, Think and talk at the level of values, Say what you believe

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