Archive for January, 2019


Our life is what our thoughts make it. –Marcus Aurelius

Good morning, Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our exploration regarding some of the significant contributions that Cognitive Science has gifted us with.  Last time I introduced us to conceptual frames. This morning we will continue our exploration of conceptual frames. 

 *Frames have boundaries. To keep with our ‘war frame’: The soldiers, tanks, planes and leaders are inside the war frame – they fit the roles that the frame embraces.  What resides outside of the war frame are ordinary citizens – including those killed by the warring parties.  Outside of the war frame resides the country’s infrastructure, the jobs lost because of the damage inflicted upon the ‘innocent.’

What is crucial here is that when one thinks within a frame, one tends to ignore what resides outside of the frame.  History continues to teach us this and yet we humans continue to ignore or dismiss what lies outside of the frame.  By the by, Gentle Reader, this is true for any Frame.  Thus the frame of one political party is different – can be radically different – from another political party’s frame.

 *One way to re-frame a situation is via the use of language. To continue with our ‘war frame,’ the Iraq War provides us with an excellent example of how language is used to re-frame.  Initially the Bush Administration framed the Iraq War as ‘regime change.’  We were told that the country would remain intact except for those who ran the government.  A new democratic government would immediately replace the old tyranny.

It quickly became clear that this frame was inoperative and that a re-framing was necessary.  Thus, Iraq became the ‘main front in the war on terror.’  You might remember that during the 2004 election that three out of four Bush supporters believed that Saddam Hussein had given ‘substantial support’ to al-Qaeda – he had not; he did not.  However, the re-framing was successful.

 *Frames characterize ideas; frames are ‘deep’ or ‘surface.’  Deep Frames inform and form our moral system and our worldview.  Surface Frames have a smaller scope.  For example, the reframing of the Iraq War as a ‘front in the war on terror’ was a surface reframe.  Generally, words are defined mostly in terms of surface frames.  For example, labels like ‘death-tax’ or ‘activist judges,’ or ‘fake news’ or ‘politically correct’ are surface frames.  The goal, in these examples, is to instill fear, to challenge people to take sides, and, at worst, to sow seeds of revulsion by demonizing the other(s).

 *Deep Frames show us where the action is. Deep frames structure how we are to view the world.  They embed moral and political principles so deep that they become part of our identity.  Deep frames are the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain the Surface Frames.

Deep Frames are nearly impossible to change because they are, first, unconscious and second because they form and inform our very identity – and who wants to give up their identity?  Deep Frames are also nearly impossible to change because we are, by nature, social animals and if we change them, or even alter them a bit, we run the risk of being shunned by our group, community, or tribe.  Politicians, of course, run the risk of alienating their base and then of losing the next election.

The radical right’s re-framing of ‘freedom’ is a deep reframing.  The surface frames – the slogans, language and metaphors – are effective only if the deep frames have been embraced and integrated.

Speaking of Metaphors

Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary. –Reinhold Niebuhr

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Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of Democracy, therefore, is education. –Franklin D. Roosevelt

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This morning I will continue our exploration of our topic, ‘Whose Freedom?by focusing on what Cognitive Science has taught us – and what it continues to teach us.  As I look at my notes I expect that this exploration will require at least three postings.  In engaging this topic I am seeking to respond to Roosevelt’s ‘safeguard’ – ‘Education.’  Some of what Cognitive Science offers us to consider will not be ‘news’ to us; some of it will and some of it will intellectually challenge us [and that, it seems to me, is a major charge of ‘education’ to challenge us intellectually].

Cognitive Science has taught us – continues to teach us – that:

  • We think with our brains. Thought is indeed physical: neural circuits, once embedded/integrated do not change easily nor quickly.
  • Repetition of language has the power to change brains. Thousands of years ago Aristotle noted that we become our thoughts.  Consider that when a word or phrase (think: mantra, for example) is repeated over and over for a long period of time, the neural circuits that compute its meaning are activated repeatedly in the brain.  Thus, learning a word physically changes our brain and the meaning of that word becomes physically integrated in our brain.  The word truly becomes ‘real’ and our ‘identity’ is deeply connected to this word; we ‘become’ the word.  Given our topic, ‘Freedom’ is defined and redefined brain by brain.  Once embedded/integrated, we ‘become’ the definition.  Think: My definition of ‘Freedom’ becomes my identity and who wants to give up his/her identity?
  • Most thought is unconscious. Most of our thought is not easily available to us for conscious introspection. Many of us do not even know our own reasoning processes.  We are not aware of our deep tacit assumptions, prejudices, stereotypes, core values, core beliefs, core guiding principles and, given our topic, our core political beliefs.  Speaking of ‘education’: we have not been taught how to discern, emerge, name and challenge these.  In doing so we are, in a true sense, challenging our own identity and, again, who wants to do that?

Now, at this point, Cognitive Science becomes even more challenging.

  • All thought uses conceptual frames. ‘Frames’ are mental structures of limited scope, with a systematic internal organization.  For example, consider ‘war.’  A simple frame for ‘war’ includes these roles: the countries at war, their leaders, their armies, the soldiers and commanders of these armies, the weapons used, attacks, defenses, and battlefields.  This is the ‘traditional’ frame for ‘war’.  All words are defined with respect to frames.

Of course, this can get messy.  For example, our declaration of ‘war on terror’ against an elusive and amorphous enemy gave President Bush special war powers (war powers that we put in place for a ‘conventional war’).  These special war powers were extended and used (indefinitely it seems); even ‘we the people’ became suspect.  You might also remember, Gentle Reader, that the Iraq War framed Iraq as a threat to our nation.  One consequence was that anyone against the war was seen by the ‘Hawks’ as a traitor to our Nation.  In order to challenge even ‘simple frames’ ‘we the people’ must be educated and we aren’t and so we don’t challenge even simple frames.

  • Frames have boundaries. [To be continued…]

Freedom means responsibility.  That is why most mean dread it. –George Bernard Shaw

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Ignorance is the enemy of democracy. –Thomas Jefferson

Good morning Gentle Reader.  This morning we will continue our seeking to understand the two concepts of freedom that are tearing us apart rather than creating a space for us to come together and find common boundaries.  I am striving to be less ignorant.  I also assume, Gentle Reader that you, too, are also striving to be less ignorant.

By definition, the Radical Right’s acts do contradict the conservative-progressive concept of freedom – my concept of freedom.  What I continue to learn about myself and other conservative-progressives (and progressive-liberals) is that we seem to be engulfed in an illusion/fantasy.

We assume that our concept of freedom is the one valid concept and hence we deny that the Radical Right has any idea at all of freedom.  I still find myself mired in this illusion when I find myself saying things like: ‘He/She/They can’t really mean that!’ or ‘That just does not make sense!’ – Meaning: ‘Because it does not make sense to me then it is non-sense!’

Consider that this is one form of denial.  The consequence results in the view that the Radical Right is saying nothing (think: speaking ‘non-sense’) when they are speaking of freedom.  At worst they are cynical opportunistic anti-democratic demons who want to destroy our democracy.

When conservative-progressives (and other non-Radical Right folks) think this way we end up ignoring (or denying) the progress the Radical Right is making toward achieving their goal of Cultural and Political domination (by the by, I don’t want to be dominated by the Radical Left either but thus far in our history the Radical Right has become more powerful and hence requires more attention).

It is tempting to simply demonize the Radical Right – to do to them what they do to others.  It is more challenging to seek to understand them.  Sadly, in our Culture too often we equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement’.  Adolescents are great at this and capture the essence of this in the adolescent mantra: ‘You just don’t understand!’ – Meaning: ‘If you understood me you would agree with me!’

Consider, Gentle Reader that it is much more challenging and perhaps even scarier to think of the Radical Right as actually meaning what they say – by their words and by their actions.  Rather than becoming more and more ‘reactive’ it might serve us well to spend some time and energy in seeking to understand.  Then, given our understanding – confirmed by the Radical Right – we might then discern ways of being response-able.

It seems to me that too many of us believe that ‘freedom’ only has one meaning. Our disagreements arise not out of a difference of definition but out of a difference of ‘interpretation’ and ‘focus’ and ‘behaviors.’

Here is one example. A number of years ago a well-known liberal was a guest on NPR.  The topic was ‘Freedom.’  Two other guests, a conservative and a moderate were talking about how the Radical Right was re-defining the concept.  To my surprise the liberal noted, with some vigor, that: ‘Freedom is freedom is freedom.’  The next day a popular Radical Right radio host echoed this person’s comment when he agreed with the liberal (What?).  He said: ‘There is as ______stated yesterday, only one idea of freedom and only one.’  What he did not add, of course, was that his (think: Radical Right) idea was/is the right one.

We have to remember.  History tell us, over and over again, that the point of repetition is to change people’s minds – to change their brains.  Aristotle noted a few thousand years ago that we become our thoughts.  ‘Freedom’ is a product, then, of the human mind.  Cognitive science has helped me understand and so next time I will share some of what this science teaches us about understanding this concept we call ‘Freedom.’

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” ― Isaac Asimov

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Those who deny freedom for others deserve it not for themselves. –Abraham Lincoln

A major tap root that nurtures and sustains us as a Nation and as a Culture is the tap root of Freedom.  Freedom defines who we are and what we are committed to ensuring for everyone.  Our traditional concept of Freedom is being redefined by the Radical Right (remember, Gentle Reader, I am a follower of Lincoln, a ‘conservative-progressive’ and both the radical right and the radical left leave me with fear and trembling; luckily for us, the radical left [think: communism] is not a current threat to us – the radical right is alive and well, however).

The loss of freedom is a terrible thing.  The loss of the idea of freedom is worse than terrible.  How does the Radical Right influence us?  One of their most potent influencers is their constant repetition of the word ‘freedom.’

When the word ‘freedom’ is employed by the Radical Right the meaning shifts – gradually and continually.  Consider 2004 for example.  A significant year for the Radical Right for they were able to powerfully influence (‘manipulate’?) the Republican Party (and continue to do so in such a powerful way that the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump).  The words most uttered during the convention were ‘freedom,’ ‘free,’ and ‘liberty.’  George W. Bush, in his second inaugural address, used these words 49 times in a 20 minute speech – every forty-third word.

Today, how can Donald J. Trump mean anything by ‘freedom’ when he directly works against FDR’s ‘Four Freedoms’: Freedom of Speech and Religion and Freedom from Want and Fear?  Trump and the Radical Right’s direct attack on Freedom of Speech (via their direct attacks on the Free Press and upon Reporters) and by sowing and nurturing the seeds of Fear are prime examples.

It also appears as if Trump’s policies – or proposed policies – are working against ‘Freedom from Want.’  They are pushing more of us toward and below the poverty line.  Trump and the Radical Right are against raising the minimum wage (thankfully, as I type these words today a number of States are taking matters into their own hands and are choosing to raise or seek to raise the minimum wage – how many of these States ‘went for Trump and the Radical Right in 2016; not many, I think).

Trump and the Radical Right are also seeking to cut back, if not eliminate, Social Security (one of the great Progressive contributions to our Nation’s elderly) and Medicare and Medicaid (again, the poor are a major target; I could go on about the irony of the Good Christians, who seem to make up a majority of the Radical Right, refusing to follow Jesus’ words and ‘feed the poor’ but I won’t.  Jesus was clear and judgment day is coming).

Trump and the Radical Right are attacking our ‘Freedom of Religion’ when they single out Islam and tell us to be FEAR-FULL of Muslims.  They tell us, in many ways, that we must be fear-full of Islam because it wants to make the United States a theocracy (forgetting that their ‘good Christian members’ also want to make the United States a theocracy – which is directly anti-American according to our Constitution).

Perhaps most damaging of all is the Radical Right and Trump’s use of FEAR.  Their commitment to and ability to engender FEAR in us is, to say the least, over the top.  We are not only becoming more fear-full we are becoming our fear.  The consequences of our becoming our fear are beyond the pale.

How, conservative-progressives, ‘true’ conservatives, moderates, progressives, and liberals ask, can the Radical Right and Trump possibly mean what they say when they claim that such thinking and such actions actually promote ‘Freedom’?

Has the word, the concept of, ‘Freedom’ become meaningless?

Well, let us explore this a bit next time.

I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.  I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have. –Abraham Lincoln



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Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. –Abraham Lincoln

Good morning Gentle Reader.

I am a follower of Abraham Lincoln.  That is, I am, like Lincoln, a conservative-progressive.  As I also noted in my previous postings: ‘We the Nation’ have also, historically, traditionally and philosophically been a Nation rooted in the conservative-progressive ethos.  As I also noted last time, the rise of radical conservatism in our Culture is a direct threat to this major tap root.  At best it is a reversal and at worst it is a death knell for democracy as Lincoln, for example, viewed democracy (from the eyes of a conservative-progressive).

This reversal has proceeded at a rapid pace.  Here are a few of the consequences – many of them, I believe, are unintended; some are purpose-full.  Voting rights continue to be threatened – voter suppression is, sadly, a norm in some States; Work of all types continues to be exported; benefits continue to be eliminated; public education continues to be drastically under-funded; the free-press continues to be demonized; ‘regulations’ that were put in place to protect us continue to be eliminated; health-care costs increase and health-care benefits decrease; and the middle-class has become class-less.  There are more indicators, but these will have to suffice for now.

What is crucial for us to understand is that for radical conservatives, all of these developments are NOT movements away from ‘freedom’ – they are movements toward ‘freedom;’ toward their version of ‘freedom.’

What makes them ‘conservative’ is NOT that they want to conserve the achievements of those who have worked to ensure and deepen our Founders’ vision of – and Lincoln’s commitment to conserving – ‘Democracy.’  Their vision is the reverse: to go back to a time before our progressive freedoms were established (which is, by the by, one reason we now have a President who acts like a King, or worse, a Dictator – a person who demands loyalty to himself first and then, perhaps, to Democracy).

The radical conservatives want to go back to giving ‘some’ not ‘all’ citizens the right-privilege of the vote.  They want to go back to a time when the worker (think: Unions) did not have power-influence and were at the mercy of the ‘owner’ (think: stock-holder, for example).  They want to go back to a time when there were few, if any, laws-regulations that would help ensure the health of our environment and thus eliminate cost-profit (the view: profit is the only reason for an organization to exist).  They want to go back to a time when Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid did not exist – again, because these hinder profit-making-first.

These combined help us to understand why they also promote and support a narrow reading-understanding of our Constitution – the letter not the spirit is what is crucial.  ‘Activist’ judges who view the Constitution as a ‘living will’ are condemned.  It is as if they believe that our Founding Fathers believed that no progress would be made and that things would always remain the same – there is no hint that our Founders believed in simply ‘maintaining’ and there is plenty of evidence in believing that they believed in a ‘progressive nation’.  Again, Lincoln continues to be our guiding light when it comes to what it means to be a ‘conservative-progressive’ (I am, not talking about Lincoln being ‘perfect’ – this is a trap set by radical conservatives).

Our Founders knew that in order for Democracy to survive and thrive that the populace (‘WE’ the ‘PEOPLE’) must become inherently activist and embrace both being conservative and progressive.  ‘Freedom’ requires both.  To put it another way: We must be committed to BOTH the well-being of the individual and the community.

‘Freedom’ has always defined what the United States is – and ‘Freedom’ is now up for grabs.  Remember, he who defines a term and whose definition is accepted has the power (power = one’s ability to determine actions).   Remember, that each of us chooses which ‘Freedom’ every time we vote, or refuse to vote.  ‘Freedom’ is threatened with each voter that is suppressed (the ‘Freedom’ that Lincoln envisioned for us).

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. –Abraham Lincoln

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