The Green Words Workshop is an open incubation-lab for reframing & popularising progressive political thought. We draw on the latest research into political decision-making & the role of identity, emotion, narrative, frames & values.
Or does it?
Amidst some of the more obvious placards at the Trafalgar Square protest of Margaret Thatcher's funeral (such as "Tory Scum" and "Rest in Shame") I found a photograph of this plaintive placard:
"Society Says Farewell"
Have a look at the original post here on Buzzfeed. It is number 5, under the title "the ironic rejoinder".
But what I found interesting was the question of how indeed the placard was written and was meant to be interpreted. I can think of at least three ways. Number one, that it is a sincere yet naive offering of actual sympathy on behalf of society (I think we can rule that out). Number two, that it is primarily a quick joke, turning a famous quote against her in the spirit of the other snide comments of the day. Number three, that it is, with reference to number two, making the implicit analysis that society - contrary to Margaret Thatcher's hopes - has out-lived her, and that Society has always remained alive and healthy contrary to her efforts to kill it.
The true story of a marketing campaign that sparked a revolution: what we can learn from Chile’s struggle for democracy and the new movie about it: “No”by Matt Wootton | Tuesday April 16 2013 | in
It was fortunate that a Chilean friend last week asked me to go see the new film “No” starring Gael García Bernal (who played “Che” Guevara in The Motorcycle Diaries).
“No” dramatically tells the story of the national referendum that took place in Chile in 1988. A bizarre proposition by Western standards, the question boiled down to whether to continue with dictatorship: “yes” or “no”. To me the film itself is extremely well done in a way that makes its subject completely relevant today: its authentic details do not detract from a fast-moving storyline; the characters and language are realistic and believable, the dilemmas understandable and well-illustrated, the drama never under or overplayed. Excitingly, some real historical figures play cameos of their younger selves, as the film blends historical campaign footage with fiction (for this reason the whole movie was shot with late 80s TV news cameras). Partly because of the presence of historical figures in an advisory capacity, the movie’s faithfulness to real dramas is extremely impressive.
And the lessons that it holds are even more compelling, especially given the success of the Chileans compared to - say - the 2011 British referendum on electoral reform.
It’s a tricky business talking about political enemies, and indeed simply addressing most political issues, which are saturated with questions of who’s wrong/who’s right/what’s wrong/what’s right. In order to ensure we are championing our values, and not those of our opponents, it’s necessary to keep in mind at all times what our values are, and how their variations function. I’ve already made an everyday-language reinterpretation of George Lakoff’s Strict and Nurturant values, which I repost directly below. But below them I have extrapolated some new personal characteristics of their opposites, to make it clearer what us progressives need to do, and what to not do. Here are the positive statements of the two moral systems:
Strict, Authoritarian, Conservative morality
1. Always do what you should.
2. Be strong. Life is a struggle. Be self-disciplined, responsible & don't rely on people.
So, UKIP came second in Eastleigh, pushing the Prime Minister's Party into a humiliating 3rd: http://www.channel4.com/news/eastleigh-by-election-result-lib-dems-ukip
The Tory fantasy has been that by focussing on Europe they could neutralise UKIP. The opposite is true. As anyone with a decent understanding of framing knows, by stoking interest in the opposition's issues, one stokes support for them too. Every time the Tories talk about Europe, NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY, they increase likely UKIP support. In particular, promising an in-out referendum on the EU certainly INCREASED the basic 'salience' of UKIP.
I’ve been at sea for a while, literally; on a sailboat in the islands of the South Pacific. It was a strange contrast to be under the tropical sun reading George Lakoff’s latest book, co-authored with a student of his, Elisabeth Wehling. But although the context is almost exclusively US, the lessons of George Lakoff’s work are universal and, in my view, essential reading for any wishing to change the world for the better. I’m speaking of Lakoff’s work in general. This new book, unfortunately, as the review here shows, is somewhat of an exception.
The races are run, the results are in. But what was and will be the cognitive cost of the London Olympic Games? And in what way might the games influence the moral and political attitudes of a generation?
At the Green Words Workshop my colleague Rupert Read and I explore how moral values are generated and communicated, and how they move from the outside world into the depths of the human brain.
We want to be positive about the Olympics, but it seems likely that the deep unconscious frames and metaphors that they subtly transmit will have real consequences in moving political beliefs to the Right. Here’s our analysis.
Conservatives always make sense. Even talking about "legitimate rape". They just make "conservative-sense".by Matt Wootton | Monday August 20 2012
This weekend brought us a particularly shocking example of how different conservatives can be from progressives. His Democrat opponents and the left were outraged at a US Republican congressman's insensitive comment that victims of "legitimate" rape do not get pregnant. Here's what he said:
"From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare," Todd Akin said of pregnancy caused by rape. "If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let's assume maybe that didn't work or something. I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be on the rapist and not on the [unborn] child".
To progressives, greens and those on the left this statement is almost incomprehensibly vile, if not downright wicked. What we as progressives need to get to grips with however, is how in the Conservative mind the comment makes perfect sense. And if we don't understand this, we cannot tackle the roots of its power in the public's mind.
1) ‘Sustainability’ > One-planet-living.
[The terms ‘sustainability’ is vague; ’One-planet living’ is not]
2) ‘Sustainable development’ > Limits to growth; steady-state / dynamic-equilibrium economy.
[’Sustainable development’ is basically a nice way of saying ‘economic growth’; and is unbelievably hubristic (are we really a model? Have we really developed?]
3) ‘The environment’ > Ecosystems, ecology; the Earth / our living planet (thoughNOT ecosystem-services).
[’The environment’ is not us. WE need to be a part of what we are saving.]
4) ‘Human being’ > Human animal / humanimal.
[We need to remind ourselves constantly that we are animals too. (How do you like my neologism, ‘humanimal’?)]
5) ‘Future generations’ > Future people.
[See my recent article in THINK for why…]
I just want to quickly draw people's attention to this excellent anti-rape campaign in California, entitled "My strength is not for hurting". To my mind it takes the key Authoritarian value of Strength and couples it with normally opposing Nurturing priorities. An excellent way, to my mind, to appeal to men's strength and egos whilst chanelling them into doing the right thing.
The campaign's use of the idea of Strength also enables them to maintain a theme that runs through their website, with pages entitled "Share your Strength" and "Resources of Strength" etc. The website is www.mystrength.org I've archived some more of their posters on flickr, here. Good, values-based framing, for a good cause.
In his "radical rethink" of Britain's benefits system in "A William Beveridge for this century's welfare state", the Labour Party's Liam Byrne has produced a spectacular and instructive example of the failing of contemporary politicians to understand how the human mind works, and consequently to understand how to do politics.
The lessons we can draw from it show how values, not policies or issues or attitudes, are the real framework behind how voters think, and the real key to understanding them, communicating with them and changing society for the better.
It also shows us how the Labour party is not only mimicking the Conservatives in a way that will only harm them and society, but how it is dangerously close to engaging in hate speech.
As part of Britain's contribution to the ongoing investigations around the speed-of-light controversy generated by the discovery of apparently faster-than-light neutrinos at the Cern/Gran Sasso super-collider laboratories, Prime Minister David Cameron today unveiled a new package of reforms aimed at helping light make its contribution to science and grow to meet the challenge of its newest competitor, the neutrino.
After news of our latest Green Words Workshop report on the New Zealand referendum made it to the South Pacific I've been asked by Kiwi campaigner Benjamin Knight to add some specific recommendations for ways in which the pro-MMP campaign could reframe their arguments to counter each of the six myths listed by the Campaign for MMP.
In the British referendum on the Alternative Vote, I ended up recommending five key pro-AV messages that should be gotten across by whatever wording:
• AV is a British answer
• AV is simple
• AV is honest and allows you to vote with your heart
• AV lets you take your power back from the politicians
• AV keeps fascists out
I don't know the New Zealand context as well for obvious reasons, but I would recommend, having seen some of the "Vote for Change" messages and the short-comings of the current "Campaign for MMP" messages, something like this:
The New Zealand electoral referendum: we analyse the values and narratives, and find the Conservatives storming aheadby Matt Wootton | Wednesday November 9 2011 | in
New Zealand’s referendum on voting “reform” this month poses a major threat to anybody who cares about New Zealand’s democracy. Here at the Green Words Workshop we’re concerned that the progressive side is losing ground to a more emotionally and psychologically intelligent right wing. And we’ve seen this happen before. Like in Britain’s disastrously-run and heavily-defeated referendum in May , the question is essentially between a more democratic inclusive voting system (in this case “Mixed Member Proportional”) and the backward 19th century First Past the Post. There are a number of extremely worrying signs - many of which we watched with horror in the UK referendum - that MMP’s historical lead in the polls could be reversed, with disastrous consequences that would include the decimation of the Green Party in New Zealand, the marginalisation of Maori voices, and a return to minority conservative rule.
Our newest, 30-page report, which you can download below, analyses the messages from both sides, and recommends how the progressive side must change tack - quickly - or be swept away by an expert conservative understanding of values and the human mind.
One of the most controversial words in green & progressive politics is "growth". Conversely "growth" is totally uncontroversial in mainstream economics. The need for growth is probably the single foundational principle upon which the global economy is built. Nothing is more important. The US Federal Reserve's repeated attempts to "re-start" economic growth are at the centre of the narrative about the current economic "crisis". In fact the crisis itself can be centrally defined as a crisis of lack of growth.
My colleague here on the Green Words Workshop, Rupert Read, has lately blogged articulately over on Rupert's Read about Compass's latest initiative "Plan B", which advocates "green growth". Rupert sets out very clearly why green economic growth is an oxymoron and why any economic plan that is based on economic growth - as defined by the growth of Gross National Product - will be making our planetary problems worse not better.
My contribution is aimed at a different level: to examine the cognitive associations that we, other politicians and the public have with the word "growth". My concern is that simply saying "we can't have growth because economic growth is bad" will not work: it will not be an attractive message to the public and it will not do greens/progressives any favours. This is a difficult line to tread because rejection of the anti-growth position sounds like tacit acceptance of the pro-growth position. But below I explain why it is not, how we are currently falling into a trap of being too literal and too intellectual (traits which the public does not share) and how we can instead have our linguistic cake and eat it.
In his book Moral Politics, Berkeley cognitive linguist George Lakoff sets out the two opposing value systems that he believes are predominant in Western society: Strict Father and Nurturant Parent. As part of my mission to make Lakoff more accessible I have drafted an "easy language" version of what he calls the Moral Metaphors and the Categories of Moral Action. I am also substituting "Nurturing" for Nurturant Parent and "Authoritarian" for Strict Father, as we've been doing elsewhere on this blog. I believe the new versions below are powerful everyday expressions of the moralities the world lives by.
First, here are Lakoff's original "Moral Metaphors":
Strict Father Moral Metaphors
1. Moral Strength
2. Moral Order
3. Moral Essence
4. Moral Self-interest
5. Moral Nurturance
Nurturant Parent Moral Metaphors
1. Morality as Nurturance
"Historical Responsibility" for dangerous greenhouse gas emissions should not be the most significant determinant of a just international agreement on how to prevent dangerous climate changeby Ruth Makoff | Monday September 26 2011
This is a longer-than-usual guest post from Ruth Makoff, which concerns the framing of the question of the responsibility for preventing more dangerous anthropogenic climate change.
It seems intuitive that those who are responsible, historically, for climate-dangerous emissions should pay for mitigation against dangerous climate change. This echoes the widely-accepted ‘Polluter Pays’ frame, a central and very-influential principle of green thinking for the past generation. But does this frame actually work, when applied to climate-dangerous emissions? Emissions many of which took place a long time ago; emissions, more crucially, which are not always correlated with ability to pay; and emissions which come from individuals and from the whole economy, rather than just from particular firms (as is the case in paradigmatic ‘Polluter Pays’ cases). Emissions, finally, which are due to the actions of firms, individuals, countries which have undergone huge amounts of change (including quite literally deaths and births) since they took place.
This thinkpiece makes the argument that, counter-intuitively perhaps, historical responsibility is not of primary significance, in assessing who should pay for mitigation of manmade climate change. The frame that should dominate in communications and in policy is, rather, capacity to pay.
It's time to drop talk of 'consumerism'... Check out my new piece on this:
There is a deep need for a deep reframing of politics. Politics needs to be understood as about making the world a better place, about saving our common future.
I found myself having drinks and dinner the other night in Bolivia's old capital city with an Italian man whose work is, like mine, in communications. Except that he works for the World Bank. It's funny who you end up meeting while travelling.
With my friend adjudicating we ended up arguing about the idea of "foreign investment", which I immediately claimed wasn't investment at all. My friend felt that it was, and after all it's tempting to believe that investment is whatever is called "investment". But this single word highlights neatly the power and danger of frames. I wish to argue here that "investment" is a disputed concept to the extent of being fundamentally misleading; which seems especially critical when we're talking about such a huge feature of the global economy.
The Common Cause Handbook is a timely, accessible and important contribution to its field. We’re not quite sure what that field is: it could be called “values theory”, “values campaigning” and it is part of a larger field that is - at least in the States - called “cognitive policy”.
In my last post I identified the metaphors at work in George Lakoff’s two opposing morality systems of “Strict Father” (Conservative Authoritarian) morality and “Nurturant Parent” (Progressive Nurturing) morality, and applied them to Britain’s failed referendum on the Alternative Vote. This post goes further, exemplifying the way Lakoff applies those metaphors to create “categories for moral action”. This post will be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about Lakoff or for a persuasive explanation of why the Alternative Vote failed.
Here is the link to it!:http://rupertread.fastmail.co.uk/Sustainable%20development%20%20%20%20The%20very%20idea
Warning: it will take a few minutes to download...
Let the post-mortems begin. Because we need to know how to do much better next time. The next referendum – on PR – may be as little as 5 years away… And we should be pressing immediately for PR for the upper house, which would be a historic accomplishment.
Let’s get some obvious and crucial points out of the way first:
· Clegg was of course an albatross around the Yes side’s neck.
A Values Analysis of Yes and No to AV reveals a strong conclusion: Yes could have “gone negative” and wonby Matt Wootton | Saturday May 7 2011 | in
It was predicted early on that we would lose the referendum on the Alternative Vote. But how many of us realised we would lose it just so badly? A seven to three split is a pretty damning rejection. How did this happen?
John Sharkey - the ‘Yes to Fairer Votes’ campaign director and a LibDem Lord - was heard to say in a speech at the Yes campaign’s defeat party yesterday that he and his team had run a good campaign. It just “wasn’t our time”, he said. My conclusion is - as you might suspect - that that’s simply not a good enough answer, and that it could have been their time if they had only understood better who they were trying to appeal to. Specifically, if they had better understood the values of the British electorate, and that those values weren’t necessarily their own.
The No campaign is appealing to deep principles of natural justice. The Yes side list AV’s interesting featuresby Matt Wootton | Wednesday April 27 2011 | in
For over half a decade now my Green communications colleagues and I have had the mantra “benefits not features” to steer us away from becoming too policy wonkish in how we communicate our positions. An example from the commercial world would be “this car has seatbelts with pretensioners and energy management” (features). Translation “it’s really safe” (benefit). A political example would be “our party is seeking to bring CO2 emissions down by 75% by the year 2050” (feature). Translation: “we’ll make sure you’re not going to die from catastrophic climate change” (benefit).
The Yes to Fairer Votes campaign however, has fallen into the trap of expressing the features that our electoral system would have under the Alternative Vote.
Over Easter they revealed their poster campaign, into which a lot of work had obviously gone: it is a poster with the words “Cut Safe Seats For MPs”, and the campaign logo. Now, “Cut Safe Seats For MPs” sounds like an invocation, an imperative, perhaps to some even a rallying cry, but actually it’s just another feature of life under AV: “under AV, there will be less safe seats in Parliament” (feature). It does not state any actual benefit to the voter.
How do you make a slogan? It might surprise you the key rule of slogans is the public need to already like your slogan even before they've heard it.
Cognitively-speaking, you need to be activating an area of your audience member's brain that is already associated with good and positive things in their mind, and then associate yourself with that.
Unfortunately, that cannot be said for "Make it 50", the cryptic slogan unveiled today by Yes to Fairer Votes.
The boring technical reason that "Make it 50" is problematic is that it's not necessarily true. And that's assuming you know what it means, which we should probably explain:
“What is AV?” is the essential question that the official Yes to Fairer Votes campaign is not yet answering for me, and, it seems, the British public at large.
I don’t mean an explanation of how AV works. I mean the very simplest association in people’s minds of “What is AV?”.
And I don’t even mean just for the 16% of people who have never heard of it [YouGov, 9-10 Mar] or even the 37% of people who have heard of it but aren’t sure how it works.
The problem is that when people - even who know about AV - are asked the question “What is AV?” they can’t give a clear answer. It’s not simple. It’s not easy. At the moment, for almost everybody in the British public, AV is …[blank]… And for that reason, the Yes campaign will lose.
If - despite their advertising, their TV slots, their phonebanking volunteers, their street stalls, their canvassers and their red batphone to the national media - the official Yes campaign can’t find the simple, honest straightforward truth about what AV is, it will still all be for nought.
When the No2AV campaign chose to lie last month about the costs of the coming referendum, Yes campaigners found there was no real arbiter of truth in British politics. Sunny Hundal’s complaint was batted back and forth between Advertising Standards and the Electoral Commission. Yes to Fairer Vote’s campaign to petition the authorities fell on deaf ears. It turns out referenda are somewhat loosely regulated, and the No campaign wasted no time in taking advantage of that.
But if we’ve learned anything from the art of reframing, it’s to take your opponent’s apparent strengths and turn them against him. In this instance I mean not bemoaning the lack of regulation (as we constructively criticised the Yes campaign for doing ) but turning that unavoidable fact into an advantage.
One way is to use the power of the crowd. Since there are so few campaigning rules in the referendum there is nothing to stop people sitting at home on their computers sending campaign postcards to each other, liking them on Facebook, tweeting them and generally pursuing their own online pro-Yes campaigns. Nor should there be. That’s simple freedom of expression. Even more, there is nothing to stop people sitting at home on their computers from setting up their own campaign postcards website, hoping that their messages (not vetted by any official campaign or logged with any regulatory authority) can be taken viral by other Yes supporters. So that’s exactly what two of us have done, and launched Yes! Postcards
I support the Yes to AV campaign for British electoral reform. My colleague here on the Green Words Workshop, Rupert Read, does too (and he’s written a couple of excellent recent pieces supporting AV here and here).
Unfortunately I’m concerned that the No campaign is leaving the Yes camp far behind, in terms of their framing, emotional appeal and general communication. The Yes camp just don't know how to do cognitively-informed communication. The No side clearly do.
Martin Kettle rightly identifies the British people’s annoyance with politics in his Guardian piece last week “Public hostility to politics will deliver a yes to AV”.
He’s right to say “the mood is for change”, but the question is “what kind of change?”. Kettle’s opinion is that public hostility to politics will deliver a yes vote. I’m not so sure it won’t do the opposite. And by the look of the way the two opposing campaigns are conducting their communications, the No side is streets ahead of the Yes camp in capturing the public’s hostility and mistrust towards politics.
This has a potentially tragic outcome for the Yes campaign. They will have the people on their side, but if the people don’t realise that they’re on that side, they will still lose. Have a look at the skill and cunning with which the No campaign is deploying their communications:
Click on the baby for more examples. Some of these ads are too "stock" in their photography, and bordering on cheesy, but their message is clear.
It’s impossible to look at my friends’ Twitter updates these days without seeing at least one reference to Melanie Phillips (American readers can simply substitute the name “Glenn Beck” - you’ll get the same idea). This Daily Mail columnist is a crusader against “the homosexual lifestyle” that is “destroying” Western civilisation, the evils of multiculturalism, and the “utter garbage witch-hunt” that is climate change science. She believes the Church of England is anti-semitic, that Barack Obama is almost certainly secretly a Muslim and that his administration is forwarding what she calls a “revolutionary Marxism”. She argues that evolution is “merely a theory” and supports the teaching of Intelligent Design in British schools. And she feels that the NHS - Britain’s national health service - needs “a bullet through its brain”.