Archive for November 1st, 2005

Talking to Strangers

I'm incredibly excited about the show that we'll be taping this Friday. I'll be interviewing two brilliant political thinkers, Danielle Allen and George Lakoff, each of whose work has profoundly affected the way I think of myself as a citizen.

Allen, a dean and professor at the University of Chicago, has written a book called Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown v. Board of Education. It is a deep, yet accessible, meditation on what it means to practice democracy "on the ground" -- on street-corners, at our jobs, and elsewhere in our daily lives. A classicist and political theorist by training, she draws on influences as ancient as Aristotle and as recent as Ralph Ellison as she weaves a persuasive argument that laws alone are not enough: democracy can live only when all of us adopt the habits of political friendship that allow us to communicate meaningfully through our differences. ... One of the reasons I have found her book so inspiring is that it's helped pull me out of the very frustrating mental framework of waiting for all change to happen through the so-called political process. I am hugely interested in that process -- it was a thrill for me to chat with Sen. Barbara Boxer, the episode that's re-running this week -- but the notion that my involvement as a citizen does not begin and end in the voting booth is a very energizing one to me.

And speaking of frameworks: Lakoff, a professor of Linguistics at Berkeley, is the author, most recently, of Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. In recent years I've been puzzled about how complex subjects like taxation have been demonized, reaping great political benefits for their reframers. For example, as Lakoff points out, once "tax cuts" had been reframed by their proponents as "tax relief," the conceptual war had already been won: if you were against the cuts, then you were against "relief" -- and who in their right mind would be against relief? ... My resistance to framing has been that I don't want to reduce subjects on which I am ambivalent (and that's a lot of subjects!) to simplistic "frames" that may be effective in the political wars but don't capture how I honestly feel. Lakoff argues that to frame is not to oversimplify, but rather to be clear as to what you do believe. (And I know that in this brief description, I am oversimplifying Lakoff's ideas! Good thing he'll have a chance to speak for himself on the show.) ...

Tomorrow we'll be taping a little "Wandering Josh" segment that attempts to elucidate one or more of the political ideas propounded by Profs. Allen and Lakoff, and will accompany their in-studio interviews. I'm looking forward to figuring out what exactly that segment will entail. In fact, I should probably begin that figuring-out process right about now. ...

3 comments November 1st, 2005


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