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Lakoff Speaks to Overflow Crowd on Political Discourse

By Pat Jacoby I October 24, 2005

An overflow crowd of more than 1,000 people, including some 500 students, filled the Price Center Ballroom Monday night to hear George Lakoff, professor of cognitive science and linguistics at UC Berkeley, speak on Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think.

The talk was sponsored by the Helen Edison Lecture Series at UCSD Extension.

The author-linguist was introduced by his older brother, Sandy Lakoff, UCSD professor emeritus of political science, who gave a humorous sketch of their father and mother and their young years. He noted that in his brother's current work "George is trying to improve our understanding of the way the mind works, and make us aware of what is going on in the way of political discourse."

George Lakoff began his speech by pointing out that the field of cognitive science started at UCSD, and it has "the best faculty" in the field.

In his talk, he used a family model to define conservatives and liberals, with conservatives representing a strict father family and progressives representing a nurturing family model, and detailed how these two notions of family values conflict in our society.

Based on the strict father model, he said, facts in politics aren't needed, just general ideas. Arguments proceed out of fundamental frames, such as the notion of "balanced" approach and "common sense" approach. Liberals, on the other hand, say facts matter, science matters, that we are all equal and can govern ourselves.

Turning to the Nov. 8 California special election, Lakoff said that "what's being done on the Democratic side is ineffective." He said all four measures endorsed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger-redistricting, union dues, teacher tenure and parental consent-are part of a single conservative national agenda. "This is in reality a national election," he said, "to see whether conservative Republicans can get their agenda adopted here."

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