In Politics and Business – It’s All About Framing and Storytelling

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What professionals and experts don’t get:

  • It’s all about the feelings your message triggers
  • The most important are moral feelings
  • And the stories you tell.

This is about political discourse but all discourse is the same.  Replace the word “voters” with “clients, in this article.  Defenders of evidence-based knowledge and policy need to learn these simple strategies and tactics – or get used to losing in public discourse and policies. (excerpts below) Our comments are in […]

Take Aways

Here’s how public intimidation by framing works.  [It’s actually simple bullying, “framing” is a polite term.]

  • The mechanism of intimidation is framing, not just the use of words or slogans, but rather the changing of what voters take as right as a matter of principle.
  • Framing is much more than mere language or messaging.  A frame is a conceptual structure used to think with.
  • Frames come in hierarchies. At the top of the hierarchies are moral frames.
  • All politics is moral. Politicians support policies because they are right, not wrong. The problem is that there is more than one conception of what is moral.
  • Moreover, voters tend to vote their morality, since it is what defines their identity. Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, but for their moral identity.

The Use of 9/11 to Consolidate Conservative Power: Intimidation via Framing by George Lakoff 

On 9/11, Cheney understood that the attack was an opportunity to take control, and take control he did.  Colin Powell recommended calling the attack a crime.  But Cheney understood that if it were framed as an act of war, then Bush and Cheney would be given war powers.  So war it was, a metaphorical “war” on terror. The American people, intimidated by the vision of the towers falling, accepted the framing. Democrats, seeing the [fear-driven emotional, reflexive] reaction of their constituents, went along with the framing.

Terror meant everyone should be afraid of terrorists. Throughout the Midwest the predictable happened.  A highly memorable event raises one’s judgment of the probability that it will happen to them.  All over America people started being afraid of terrorists. Bush asked for and got unlimited war powers and the Patriot Act.

From 9/11 on, the American people have been subject to conservative intimidation by framing.  I’ve now written five books explaining how framing works in the brain and what citizens could do about.

Knowing well that morality trumps lists of policy details, lists of facts, and logic, conservatives won that framing encounter, and have kept winning.  Why? Because people, using their real reason, normally think unconsciously in terms of morally based systems of frames, metaphors, and narratives.

Not About Facts: Just Simple Right vs. Wrong and Stories
Since the 2008 election, America has returned to post-9/11 conservative intimidation by framing.  The intimidation does not use violence. It uses media.

  • When conservatives, using their moral system, are able to frame the main values that define public discourse, the media follows suit, because that is how “mainstream” public discourse has been defined.
  • The media, encountering more conservative language, picks up on that language and uses it.
  • Since conservative language evokes conservative frames and values, which are carried with it, the media (liberal or not) winds up helping conservatives.
  • Even arguing against conservatives, liberal pundits in the media first quote what they say. Liberals in the media help the conservatives by quoting their language, even to argue against it. [Atheists and pro-science folks make this mistake all the time.]

Here’s how public intimidation by framing works.

  • The mechanism of intimidation is framing, not just the use of words or slogans, but rather the changing of what voters take as right as a matter of principle.
  • Framing is much more than mere language or messaging.  A frame is a conceptual structure used to think with.
  • Frames come in hierarchies. At the top of the hierarchies are moral frames.
  • All politics is moral. Politicians support policies because they are right, not wrong. The problem is that there is more than one conception of what is moral.
  • Moreover, voters tend to vote their morality, since it is what defines their identity. Poor conservatives vote against their material interests, but for their moral identity.

[It appears morality has to do with early childhood, thus instinctive, notions of fairness and who gets what and when.  Thus, moral ideas and behaviors must adhere to our brain’s unconscious but very strong fundamental reflexes around fairness in resource access and acquisition, competition and negotiations.  So my brain will drive me to short-term resource loss, if it believes the same behavior will help me get more in the future.]

All Language Activates Frames in the Brain

  • Conservative language activates conservative frames, which activate conservative moral worldviews in the brains of those who hear the language.
  • The more those frames are activated, the stronger the conservative moral views get in people’s brains.

When Democrats are intimidated into using conservative language, they help conservatives, even if they are arguing against them. Here’s why. The main voters you want to affect are the bi-conceptuals, those who are conservative on some issues and progressive on others; that is, those who have both conservative and progressive moral worldviews, but on different issues.

They are sometimes misnamed as “the center,” “independents,” or “moderates.” But they do not have any single overriding worldview.  Instead they have two.

  • Given the way brains work, the activation of one worldview will inhibit the other worldview.
  • The more one is activated, the stronger it gets and the weaker the opposite one gets.
  • The worldview that is most activated by the public discourse they hear will most likely govern how they will vote.

What activates one worldview versus another? Framing. Conservative language activates conservative frames, which activate conservative worldviews. If Democrats use conservative language, even to argue against it, they are just helping conservatives.  [If you talk about your competitors, it is just giving them space in your client’s heads.]]

To a large extent, Democrats don’t understand this.

  • They think that language is neutral and that reason works by logic. If you just tell people the facts and reason logically, everyone should be convinced.
  • But they aren’t, because language works by framing and by brain mechanisms. Framing is just the normal way people think and talk.

Conservatives tend to understand this. They avoid using liberal language. They frame issues very carefully to fit their goals. Democrats need to do the same — avoid using conservative frames and instead frame the issues with their own values.

It is possible for Democrats to say what they believe and win, without giving in to intimidation tactics.

People Do Not All Think And Learn The Same Way
Some think on a purely intellectu­al level and some purely emotional (and of course most are scattered in between). Data shows this is not correlated with intelligen­ce, but there is a fairly strong correlatio­n with political viewpoints­. This may be due to the fact that conservati­ves have been targeting emotional thinkers for decades, while liberals shy away from those techniques­. This is a strategy for failure. To ignore the emotional side of an argument eliminates an aspect that nearly all people have to an extent; and for a significan­t majority it is their primary way of absorbing informatio­n.

The good news is that for most people the emotional arguments, if used correctly favor a more liberal view.

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3 thoughts on “In Politics and Business – It’s All About Framing and Storytelling

  1. Pingback: American Voter-Dupe or Informed Citizen? « A View From Montana

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