Framing the Argument

Progressives everywhere should read this interview with linguistics professor George Lakoff. If you don’t know why progressives need to listen to a linguistics professor, you need to read the interview twice.

You’ve said that progressives should never use the phrase “war on terror” — why?

There are two reasons for that. Let’s start with “terror.” Terror is a general state, and it’s internal to a person. Terror is not the person we’re fighting, the “terrorist.” The word terror activates your fear, and fear activates the strict father model, which is what conservatives want. The “war on terror” is not about stopping you from being afraid, it’s about making you afraid.

Next, “war.” How many terrorists are there — hundreds? Sure. Thousands? Maybe. Tens of thousands? Probably not. The point is, terrorists are actual people, and relatively small numbers of individuals, considering the size of our country and other countries. It’s not a nation-state problem. War is a nation-state problem.

What about the “war on drugs” or the “war on poverty”?

Those are metaphorical. Real wars are wars against countries, and in the “war on terror,” we are attacking countries. But those countries are not the same as the terrorists. We’re acting at the wrong level. Meanwhile, by using this frame, we get a commander in chief, as the Republicans keep referring to Bush — a “war president” with “war powers,” which imply that ordinary protections don’t have to be observed. A “war president” has extraordinary powers. And the “war on terror,” of course, never ends. There’s no peace treaty with terror. It’s a prescription for keeping conservatives in power indefinitely. In three words — “war on terror” — they’ve enacted vast political changes.

Here is the whole article.

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