The old philosophical theory says that reason is conscious, can fit the world directly, is universal (we all think the same way), is dispassionate (emotions get in the way of reason), is literal (no metaphor or framing in reason), works by logic, is abstract (not physical) and functions to serve our interests. Language on this view is neutral and can directly fit, or not fit, reality.
The scientific research in neuroscience and cognitive science has shown that most reason is unconscious. Since we think with our brains, reason cannot directly fit the world. Emotion is necessary for rational thought; if you cannot feel emotion, you will not know what to want or how anyone else would react to your actions. Rational decisions depend on emotion. Empathy with others has a physical basis, and as much as self-interest, empathy lies behind reason.
This is part of a brilliant article by cognitive science and linguistics pioneer, George Lakoff (emphasis mine). His argument about what needs to be done to right the health care reform ship — and more generally in his administration — is to stop denying the above reality and craft a communications strategy that will achieve the (undeniably logical) goals:
As for language, the term “public option” is boring. Yes, it is public, and yes, it is an option, but it does not get to the moral and inspiring idea. Call it the American Plan, because that’s what it really is.
The American Plan. Health care is a patriotic issue. It is what your countrymen are engaged in because Americans care about each other. The right wing understands this well. It’s got conservative veterans at Town Hall meeting shouting things like, “I fought for this country in Vietnam, and I’m fight for it here.” Progressives should be stressing the patriotic nature of having our nation guaranteeing care for our people.
A Health Care Emergency. Americans are suffering and dying because of the failure of insurance company health care. 50 million have no insurance at all, and millions of those who do are denied necessary care or lose their insurance. We can’t wait any longer. It’s an emergency. We have to act now to end the suffering and death.
Doctor-Patient care. This is what the public plan is really about. Call it that. You have said it, buried in PolicySpeak. Use the slogan. Repeat it. Have every spokesperson repeat it.
Coverage is not care. You think you’re insured. You very well may not be, because insurance companies make money by denying you care.
Deny you care… Use the words. That’s what all the paperwork and administrative costs of insurance companies are about – denying you care if they can.
I was a fan of Obama’s unification approach when he was campaigning and was hopeful that his opponents would come around and see this as sincere (which I believe it is). At this point though, that sincerity is being abused by a small, selfish and powerful elite who are not interested in seeing the right to adequate health care universally applied. And these opponents are masters of the communications strategy Lakoff is suggesting, which is what has been fueling the town hall screamers, tea-baggers and FOX News “pundits”.
It’s impossible to unify with people who are not interested in unification. And I agree with Lakoff that if the administration adopts the necessary communication strategy to complement its logic and sensibility, it will have a much better chance of getting back support of the conservative public for the goals we should all be unified on.