Framing the Left

Posted: December 21, 2006 in Uncategorized

How can someone hold both progressive and conservative values at the same time? And how do folks on the Left communicate with them?

Trish Hennessy and Keri-Anne Finn address these questions in the December 2006 issue of the CCPA Monitor, in an article entitled Facing Some Hard Truths: Progressives need to relearn how they “frame” their message.

The key to unwrapping this apparent contradiction and effectively communicating a progressive message is to grasp that we have grown accustomed to placing people on a continuum — left-centre-right or progressive-moderate-conservative — or mainstream versus fringe. Unfortunately, such distinctions are misleading. Most folks just don’t fit neatly into tidy categories. Many if not most of us are “biconceptuals” — folks who can, for example, support unions and care about the environment on one hand and crave tax cuts and vote Tory on the other.

We respond to politicians (and presumably to activists) not so much according to the policies they espouse but to the values we perceive they represent. If their values overlap with ours we are more likely to support them.

We can have the most wonderful set of social or economic policies in the world, but if we do not “frame” these policies in terms of the values espoused by our fellow citizens, our policies will be misunderstood, opposed or ignored.

Finn and Hennessy draw on the work of Dr. George Lakoff and his new book Thinking Points. Lakoff is a senior fellow at the Rockridge Institute, which describes itself as “a non-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to strengthening our democracy by providing intellectual support to the progressive community.” At Rockridge, the stated mission is to use “research in human cognition to help progressives make arguments that make sense to their audience.”

I’m not going to recap either Lakoff or Hennessy and Finn’s treatment of his analytical framework. Follow the links and go directly to the sources. I think you will find their discussions interesting and compelling.

What I would like to do, though, is to invite a discussion on values — not the values of the teeming masses of “biconceptuals” out there who stubbornly insist on voting for the status quo. No, what I think we need to talk about are “our” values.

What values mark those of us who consider ourselves “progressive” or “on the Left” or however you want to characterize it? What do we stand for? What is the moral foundation for socialism, feminism, environmentalism, your-favourite-ism?

Try not to confuse “values” with “policies.” Dig deep into your core.

Why is this important?

Because, I don’t think we can begin to convince other people of our ideas unless we can empathize with them. And we cannot begin to empathize until we have a clear understanding of where we are coming from.

That’s the mission. I intend to take a whack at this, myself, in future posts. I hope you will join in.

  1. John Wunderlich says:

    How about this for a starting point:

    Progressives measure a society by how well it provides for the needs of the least able to provide for themselves in society.

    I would contrast this with the other view, which is that a society is to be measured by the opportunities mythologically available to all, as witnessed by the overwhelming success of a very few.

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