Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Book Review: Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea, by George Lakoff

First off, I tend to be conservative on most issues but I like to keep an open mind. I thought I might be persuaded to re-think some issues by a book written by a cognitive scientist who might lay out knowledge and insights backed up by research and scientific experiment. Lakoff's thesis is that people's political, ideological and other perspectives are ultimately shaped by on of two metaphors: the strict father family or the nurturant family metaphor. As I think back about the way I have developed my own views (coming from a strict father family background) and my often times knee-jerk reaction to some issues, I feel that there is a lot of credence to his model. However, I don't believe that the metaphors always trump logic and reason. Many of his statements and claims sound to me like standard left-wing slogans and cliches. Do I see them as that because that is what they are or am I filtering them through my strict father metaphor? I don't think one can assume that the latter is always or predominantly the case. I also wished that Lakoff would come out and state his premises clearly, rather then leave them to be inferred from the text. For example, he states that we humans are animals. Well, this premise obviously has a lot of implications for the arguments that follow, and the conclusions that derive from this premise have nothing to do with a strict father or nurturant family metaphor. This is where I think his arguments get seriously jumbled.

In the end, I find Lakoff's argument that the progessive idea of freedom is equal to the original idea of freedom that built this country unconvincing. His book says, basically, that any desire or want that liberals in general or the Democratic party specifically have, is a freedom tied to the real meaning of freedom. For example: socialized medicine? That's a "freedom to" have access to health care.

I also noted at least one major factual error: the United State's infant mortality rate is nowhere near what he claims it to be. I knew this immediately because I am familiar with that subject matter. Where else are there similar errors?

To be fair, there were some views that I found intriguing and valid. One was Lakoff's description of corporations as functioning in many regards outside the realm of public oversight and regulation, while having as much or greater impact on individuals' lifes than any government agency, in some cases.

It's an intersting book to read but far from the well-reasoned argument one would expected from someone of Lakoff's intellectual and academic caliber.

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