Sunday, June 04, 2006

What I've been reading...

I haven't been reading that much lately, at least nothing worth mentioning. A lot of work stuff.

But in the last week or so, I've read A Patchwork Planet, by Anne Tyler. What can I say? I'm not much of a reviewer of fiction...I'm more of a "yeah, I read it, it was good" kind of person. And yeah, I read it and it was good, but not the best one I've read. If I were making recommendations - I'd say, don't start with this one if you haven't read Tyler before. Ann Tyler's books, mostly, are absorbing in a way that few authors really achieve...I really enter the Universe of the character. Anyway it certainly beat the book I'm currently reading...a Spanish murder mystery, where as yet I can't distinguish between the characters and in the first chapter the author used the voice of a rat eating on the corpse of the first of what promises to be several more murder victims. Yuck. I may have to give up on that one fairly soon.

The other book I finished recently was George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant. I picked it up because I thought it might teach me, in 5 easy steps, to frame arguments. I wanted it as much to be convincing at work (where I spew half-truths for money) as in my personal political life.

Of course, Lakoff didn't promise to do this on the dust jacket, so I can't blame the author for failing to teach me some critical debate skills. But still my hopes were dashed. Here's what was promised:

In this book Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold, but are often unable to articulate. Lakoff also breaks down the ways in which conservatives have framed the issues, and provides examples of how progressives can reframe the debate.

Lakoff's premise was that American Right are framing all the current policy debates, by setting the semantic frame in which ideas are discussed. For example: tax relief. You can't argue with tax relief, can you? So Lakoff says don't argue against it. Re-frame the debate by saying "investment for the future" or something like that. And somewhere in between lies the truth - some people probably are paying too much tax (e.g. the aspirant lower middle-classes) and taxes do make sense in that we club our money to invest in our future through building things like roads, tackling public health issues, or providing for the common defense.

George Lakoff also talks about the key differences between conservatives and progressives. And it's down to the whole approach to life and particularly parenting. Conservatives favor the "strict father model", whereas progressives favor the "nurturant parent". Lakoff frames this debate by avoiding feminising the progressive approach (sadly feminising is still seen as a dismissal.) But I'd seen this argument before in the framed "Republicans are the daddy party and Democrats are the mommy party." And it's true that Republicans do try to paint the Democrats with the "worst" aspects of "femininity" - e.g. shrill, emotional, vascillating, soft, weak, etc.

How about Bad Dad? Repressive, authoritarian dad. The dad who throws you out of the house for getting pregnant or coming out? How about Bad Dad? Daddy drank up all the money in a wild testosterone fueled spree in Iraq. Now there's no money for a prom dress. Irresponsible dad who fixes everything with duct tape (if at all), and when the pipes burst (or the levee's breached) the rest of the family is left to mop up the mess.

His assessment certainly does tie up with what seems to me like just plain meanness by many Republicans. How many times have you seen in editorials blogs "doesn't deserve any sympathy" or "have made their choice" or "must live with the consequences". I don't for a second think that this is the way that all Republicans think, but too many have left empathy behind. Leaving behind empathy and understanding for the way real human beings behave and are motivated makes for bad public policy.

Anyway, despite the book's many problems, I would still recommend it, it's cheap, it's short and it's a fast read - even if my main complaint with the book it's repetitive in places and certainly could have used some shorting editing. Oh yeah, and it would have been helpful if it had had some quick and easy tips to help me win all my arguments and write more persuasively.


Nicole said...

I just finished "Something Might Happen" By Julie Myerson. It's fantastic. I had 25 pages left to go last Friday before work- I went to a cafe to finish before work- was sitting there crying like an idiot.

I haven't read that Tyler- I've been meaning to pick up Digging to America.

I could also use a debate book. . . I find that I'm not good at discussing certain things- like my brain moves faster than my lips do.

KathyF said...

That's interesting that you think that book needed some editing. It's essentially the Cliff Notes for Moral Politics, which goes into much more depth. I have two copies if you want one, but you can't have the signed one.