Beliefs matter. Our thinking and behavior are shaped by core beliefs and assumptions (deep frames) that are largely below awareness. Cognitive science teaches us that even when these deep frames are wrong or dysfunctional and lead to bad decisions, we cannot change them until we know what they are.
George Lakoff in his book Whose Freedom describes how deep frames affect our political thinking and how those frames have been molded without our being aware of it. If we become aware of our deep frames, we can choose more reasonable ones.
Our current conservative frame is based on a strict, authoritarian father model, which assumes that government’s role is to maintain order, provide absolute moral authority that cannot be questioned, require obedience, emphasize discipline, and provide protection only from external threats of violence. A conservative leader never shows weakness or indecision, never yields authority, never allows himself or herself to be manipulated, thinks everyone can succeed with only self-discipline and individual effort, and believes that individual misfortune can usually be blamed on personal weakness and lack of moral discipline.
Progressives prefer a nurturant parent model, which values unity and common effort and believes that success thrives on cooperation based on empathy, compassion, and generosity. The best leaders are open, honest, trustworthy, empathic, and dedicated to the public good.
Our government is not an evil entity to be minimized, but is a means of doing what we cannot do individually. Government employees who serve with dedication, competence and integrity should be held in high esteem. The role of government is to nurture citizens, provide security from many forms of harm (e.g., physical violence, product & environmental hazards, economic calamities, workplace hazards), manage national resources for the common good, provide a public infrastructure that makes individual success possible, and advocate fairness, cooperation and empathy for others.
Taxes are not a confiscation of assets to be avoided if at all possible. Taxes are a pooled investment that affords freedom for individual pursuits by providing a public infrastructure and services that individuals cannot provide on their own. No one can succeed without a communal infrastructure – roads, transportation, banking and finance, law enforcement and courts, communication, education, etc. Wealthy, successful people have benefited the most from our infrastructure and should pay proportionally more for it. Those in the lowest paying jobs are much more essential to our economy than their compensation would indicate, and they deserve more than they are paid.
Our US Constitution is a compass, guiding us as we move forward. Our nation’s founders, some of whom owned slaves and who restricted voting to white males, could not have imagined how far freedom could advance. Our greatest national achievements have been when we extended freedom and civil liberties to slaves, women, workers, children, ethnic minorities, and homosexuals. Each step forward had to overcome strong resistance from those dedicated to standing still.
Large corporations operate like governments without public accountability. They are highly bureaucratic and impersonal, can be extremely wasteful, and can use vast amounts of public money through tax breaks and subsidies. Corporations can control health care decisions, communication systems, news, energy, transportation, the quality of our air and water, and the availability, safety and nutrition of our food. Corporations and economic markets are not divinely inspired, sacrosanct, and self-regulating, but are human creations that must be regulated for the benefit and protection of the public.
Becoming aware of these and other deep frames is essential for advancing American values. Each election gives us a new opportunity to reframe how we think about our nation and our government. We must form our core beliefs wisely.