Talking to Strangers

November 1st, 2005

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. ...

Entry Filed under: citizenship,let's digress


  • 1. Beverly Richman  |  November 8th, 2005 at 5:50 pm

    I noticed that you have been showing some repeats lately (not that I couldn’t watch Adonal Foyle many times). Is it because you need some new people to interview? If so I think you would have a winner with Jan Richman. Yes, she is a relative, but she is a published writer and poet and is very clever and funny. I think you may already know her. And that’s all I have to say.


  • 2. Lloyd Scott  |  November 9th, 2005 at 12:11 pm

    Hey Josh I remarried and living in Texas for over a year, ouch, no jokes please. I’ll see if I can see your show either on PBS out here, or on line.

    I’ll be back in SF very soon, hard to find work here in San Antonio, TX, such a different place let me tell you.

  • 3. Josh Kornbluth  |  November 17th, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Hey, Beverly: Yes, I’ve known Jan for a long time — she’s a great poet, as well as a great person. A wonderful idea — I’ll share it with my producers!

    Hey, Lloyd: I just performed in Texas a little while ago — but in Austin, which I understand is quite different from San Antonio. When you come back to the Bay Area, could you bring along some members of the NBA champion Spurs to help out my beloved Golden State Warriors? Thanks! (And if you haven’t seen the show on-line yet, just click the “TV Program” link at the top of this page.)

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