Language, as commonly understood, is a primarily communicative device, despite views to the contrary in mainstream linguistics, where language is said to be an abstract manifestation of symbolic notation. This fact, coupled with its ubiquity, makes its study indispensable when attempting to understand almost any aspect of human nature.
It is through language that we are able to express intent, share what we feel, communicate facts and create art in various forms; this of course does not imply that language is the only means of doing so, but I give it precedence here because it is indeed the most widely used in the aforementioned arenas. Without language, our ability to conceptualise and categorise is severely compromised.
When we wish to convince someone of our viewpoint, we use language to do so. In so doing, we may choose to manipulate, lie, use words with specific connotations, designed to evoke a particular mind-set in the listener, etc. Win trying to win someone over to your side, so to speak (whether it’s a child trying to get his parents to buy toy for him, or a political party trying to convince you to vote for them), you may share certain selected facts with them, appeal to their emotions in various ways, and so on. These are some of the techniques used in spin and propaganda.
On this point, people like Steven Pinker try to minimize the influence language has on us because he is of the opinion that language is almost an epiphenomenon resulting from universal substratum, which is genetically based. In addition to this, he follows Jerry Fodor in postulating a “language of thought”, saying that language and thought are two separate things; an upshot of this position, as I said – and Pinker certainly agrees – is that language cannot influence thought in any substantial sense. He agrees that language can influence the way we think about certain things, but does not think that language can determine our thought patterns to the point that it frames an entire paradigm. I will not elaborate on his views here, but I would like to make it clear that I disagree with Pinker’s ideas almost in their entirety. His theory of language is seriously flawed, as is his conception of the human mind, and human nature.
The traditional approach to language use is based on ideas made popular during the Enlightenment period, otherwise known as The Age of Reason. This is a time which marks a dramatic shift in the Western philosophical tradition from fideism and mythology to the triumph of reason. The movement’s exponents, past and present, opine that logical thought should be the basis of all inquiry, ranging from academia to politics and everything in between. If something could not be justified rationally, then it is assumed that there is no rational or logical basis for it, and therefore no one is compelled to give it any serious thought. This modus operandi rests on the following assumptions:
- That all people think on a literally, such that there is a one-to-one correspondence between what we think and the thing we are thinking about,
- That thinking is a conscious process,
- That common sense is a particular way of thinking which is common (hence the name) to all members of the species, and following from this…
- That if the relevant facts are presented to a given number of people, they would all come to the same conclusions, because they are all assumed to be rational beings.
Whilst this may seem prima facie plausible, a closer look at each of these will show them to be problematic.
Firstly, the claim that we think ‘literally’ is actually meaningless, since most people cannot even tell us what is actually means to think literally; what I mean by this is simply that if we talk about this matter to a group of intelligent people, chances are that there would be variable understandings of what exactly ‘literal’ entails. The word is commonly used to imply the opposite of ‘symbolic’ or ‘figurative’, and this works fine when referring to sensory perception, as in I saw the car or I heard the music. But when we extend this notion to more abstract modes of thought, it gets tricky. For example, anything we say that has a spatial or temporal characteristic takes on a metaphorical raiment. In their book, Metaphors We Live by, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson go into detail on this matter, providing various examples of how we use metaphor in everyday speech to conceptualise the world. For example, when we say Time is running out, we somehow conceive of ‘time’ as an expendable entity, even though that is meaningless if we really think about it. We liken ‘warmth’ to ‘care’, when we speak of someone being a warm person, and the opposite when we say that someone is cold. We liken morality to direction, such that a low person is understood to be immoral. The examples are endless as we use hundreds upon hundreds of such metaphors on a daily basis.
Before I go on, I would just like to add here that even the idea that direct sensory perception, without any language intervening, is not ‘literal’, if by that word we mean a one-to-one correspondence between the subject and object. Ancient scriptures from the East, like the Vedas and the Upanishads tell us that the world is not really what it appears to be; the objects of perception are as unreal the ephemeral objects of the dream-state, if you assume the WYSIWYG principle. A snake sees the world as ultra-violet rays; a shark sees the world as a series of electrical impulses; a honey-bee sees the world as vertical and horizontal lines, which decussate. Humans see the world as such as a contingent upshot of their perceptual mechanisms. Modern quantum mechanics has us believe that the fundamental building blocks of nature are mass-less, sub-atomic particles, leaving a puzzle as to how the world as a solid body even exists. Physicists even contend that by merely looking at a particle we change its behaviour and possibly its structure. There are volumes of work on this topic, so I will not go into detail here.
Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, argues that we perceive and subsequently understand things in a way that is unique to humans by superimposing a spatio-temporal quality to it, and then conceptualizing the said percept according to the twelve categories, which he claims to have deduced in what he refers to as the “transcendental deduction of the categories”. The fact that we perceive everything in a unified manner is surprising, given the complexity of the task of perceiving, and is given the rather euphuistic label of “the transcendental unity of apperception”. Kant therefore concluded that the world consists of things-as-we-perceive-them and things-in-themselves, the latter being what the world really is. [Kant used the words phenomena and noumena (respectively) to describe these.] Schopenhauer pointed out that it is incorrect to refer to things-in-themselves as plural, since the underlying reality of the world needs necessarily to be a single, unified whole. This is in keeping with the Vedantic world-view alluded to earlier, which Schopenhauer was an avid advocate of, despite being both a pessimist and an atheist.
My point in referring to these philosophers is to emphasise the fact that even something as fundamental as basic perception is not to be taken for granted. When we give these matters serious thought, we notice that they are not only complex processes, but also largely unconscious.
This gets us back to the topic at hand. As mentioned, our predilection for metaphorical thought is something that is not only natural, but unconscious as well. A very young child who has only just acquired his language is said to have hundreds of metaphors available as part of his knowledge base. He does this by mapping source and target domains in various ways. For example, when a child’s mother holds him to her, he feels the sensation of warmth, and associates the feelings of love/protection/care with the sensation of warmth. Metaphors formed in this fashion are expected to be reflected universally in language. However, it would be equally plausible that some metaphors are unique in some way, perhaps to a particular culture, a given society, or may even be the idiosyncrasy of a family. Being clean may be deemed a good thing, and being dirty may be deemed a bad thing. Hence, by association of having a dirty mind would refer to the metaphor DIRTY IS BAD, and as such would refer to thinking something that is morally wrong. However, this is something that would have to be instilled in children by the parents; if not, the concomitant associations would be different. Even though metaphors of the latter kind are a result of conditioning, the conceptual metaphor itself is acquired unconsciously. We know this because children use and understand various metaphors without any problem, yet would not be able to explain it meta-linguistically.
So far we have seen that perception and conceptual metaphor are not conscious processes. Once we appreciate the ubiquity of metaphor, it follows that the majority of our thinking is unconscious. The idea that unconscious wills and desires affect us was made popular by Sigmund Freud, but he was certainly not the first one to speak of the unconscious. Schopenhauer wrote about that very topic long before Freud, which the latter actually acknowledges; and once again various Eastern traditions have spoken about such things as well before anyone else.
Now, conceptual metaphors form the basis of the way in which we think. Once we understand this, many things which would otherwise not make sense now do. The metaphors that we acquire slot in to various cognitive schemas, which are continually evolving, though we may assume that there is a saturation point. We have what we can call deeply ingrained schemas, and superficial schemas. The latter evokes the former. George Lakoff uses the terms deep-framing and surface-framing to describe this. For example, when someone says You are such a pig, one would have to have some knowledge of the negative connotations associated with pig: they are unhygienic, seen as potential disease-carriers, pork is forbidden in many cultures for various reasons, including its association with lack magic and evil, etc. The frame that this word evokes would depend on your understanding of it, but generally such a statement would be meant as an insult. This statement is a surface frame, but depends on a deep frame, which requires you to understand that DIRT IS BAD/IMMORAL, and that things associated with the dirt must also be bad in some way; pigs like to roll in dirt, and would eat anything, even rubbish, and therefore they are dirty...
Now imagine someone who grew up on a farm in Bloemfontein. Imagine that the farmer was a maize farmer, who kept sheep and pigs as well. The sheep are shorn twice a year, and the wool is used for various things. The pigs are kept more as pets, and not slaughtered for meat. The child grows up watching his father care of the sheep and pigs very lovingly, and watches him playing with the little piglets like you would little puppies. Imagine also that this child attends a local school which caters for the children of farmers from the surrounding farms. If this child goes to Johannesburg on holiday for the first time at the age of six, decides to eat the food at the restaurant with his hands, making a bit of a mess, and he overhears the child at the next table saying Look, he’s such a pig. Because pig would evoke a different frame (cute little animals whom he probably has names for), he would not understand what the statement means, insofar as its intention is concerned. Our farm child may not even have the deep frame DIRT IS BAD on which to hang the surface frame, because working in the mud and dirtying himself by helping his father may be associated with a virtue. This child would understand that being dirty is not always bad, whereas a suburban child would, who was continually chided for playing in the mud, would associate it as such.
Note that this is just an example, and possibly not a very good one. The point is simply that we all have frames, which are represented in our minds. We have deep frames which surface frames draw upon. Due to the way we go about acquiring conceptual metaphors, the resultant frames are generally the same within a particular speech community, but there are important differences and these differences (or more importantly, the consequences of these differences) are what I would like the reader to take cognizance of.
John Gray’s bestseller, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, spoke of the different ways men and women speak, and the miscommunication that ensues when they speak to each other. He refers to a myth at the outset of the book, where men once inhabited Mars, and women inhabited Venus, and upon learning of each other’s existence, agreed to tryst upon earth. However, they had difficulty communicating with each other, and despite improvements over the years, there is still much to be desired. The book aims to bridge this gap. He points out various instances whereby both parties need to understand what is actually meant when something is said, instead of just taking what is said at face value. For example, when the wife says We never go anywhere anymore, she is usually confronted with the retort But we went out last week for dinner! Then the wife gets angry, and the husband gets confused.
Why does this happen? This seems to happen because women in general have the frame LANGUAGE AS EMOTIONAL EXPRESSION, whereas men have the frame LANGUAGE AS CONVEYING ESSENTIAL INFORMATION. In the former frame, expressing your emotions to the people you love is seen as a good thing, and in the context of a relationship, is the primary aim of communication; in the latter frame, emotional expression is seen as effeminate, a sign of weakness. In this context, what is expressed should not be counter-factual, and should be preceded by a kind of brain-storming session where you think about what you’re going to say before saying it. Once this is understood, many things make sense that otherwise just seem unintelligible. Instead of conceding that there’s something at play that we don’t understand, we villainize the other party, and attribute our lack of understanding to stupidity, callousness, etc.
We understand religion in metaphorical terms as well. If you ever hear a strict Hindu having a debate with a strict Christian, what would strike you is not so much the differences in particular beliefs, but the fundamental ideological disparity. The particular beliefs pertain to surface frames, but what really distinguishes these two religions is the deep frame, which links religion to family. We superimpose the metaphor of family to any other institution which resembles it, being our first experience of governance, with our parents the ultimate authority from whom to get authorization, and whose approval meant everything.
George Lakoff speaks of two kinds of families: the strict father family and the nurturant parent family. With the former, what the father says goes without any question, just because he says so, leaving no room for negotiation. If you violate these rules, you will be punished. The circumstances which preclude you from following these rules are generally deemed irrelevant, and often ignorance of the rules do not suffice as an excuse to evade punishment. This is tough love, so that you will soon grow to be a responsible, independent person. If they do not learn within the required time-frame, they are forced to go out and learn on their own. With the latter, rules are not rigid and may not even apply in some cases; punishment is tailored to suit the wrong-doing, and children are allowed to develop at their own pace. If children do not learn or develop as expected, they are given guidance and assistance as long as they need, without any pressure, but with the knowledge that the parents will not always be there. In reality, most families are a combination of the two family types, meaning that when it comes to one kind of issue, parents would be nurturant, and in another they would be strict and impose a different set of policies. The degree to which they vary is more accurately viewed as a continuum.
On a literal level, this explains the differences between Eastern and Western family life, together with it implications for child-rearing. The details would be interesting to go in to, but not relevant to the discussion at hand.
Christianity adopts the GOD AS STRICT FATHER metaphor. This explains its intolerance of other religions, with its rigid rules and regulations. Circumstances precluding the ‘children’ from following the rules are not taken into consideration: ALL Hindus (including saintly souls like Mahatma Gandhi), Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other non-believers are going to hell to suffer for eternity. Some would say that this includes people who were born before Jesus started teaching, the people who were around when Jesus was around but had not heard of him, as well as people in remote parts of the world. They may all be good people, but the Bible says that we can only reach the Father through Jesus, by explicitly accepting him as your sole saviour, and that’s that. It is also not a coincidence that God within this frame is perceived as a male figure, who makes all the decisions and has all the authority.
The GOD AS NURTURANT PARENT metaphor is adopted by Hindus. This explains its acceptance of all people, regardless of the faith they practice. Rules and regulations are perceived more as guidelines which ought to be adjusted according to circumstances. This is why there are even various scriptures to suite these various circumstances. The belief in karma ties in with the idea that the punishment should suit the crime, and that God has the power to forgive at His discretion. (With the above frame you are forgiven once and then expected to obey, or else…) The belief in reincarnation shows that you are given opportunities to better yourself, instead of going straight to hell after one lifetime. If you have managed to become a virtuous person, through whatever means available to you, you are welcomed into heaven with open arms. Hindus also believe that God has a female aspect, analogous to the Yin-Yang concept in Chinese philosophy. Just as God is seen as a single, male figure in the above frame, here God is seen as a complex, multi-faceted being, and his creation is governed by multiple laws which can only be understood systemically and hierarchically, not in a linear if … then fashion.
In light of this, when a Hindu is befuddled by the Christian who sees God being omnipresent with room for hell, and His absence from hell as logically CONSISTENT, the Christian sees no problem with this because what Father says goes no matter what. The fact that God can send you to hell to suffer for eternity whilst still being all-merciful is also not questioned for the same reason. Hindus are perplexed by the fact that God should be feared, and that religion should be based on blind obedience with dire consequences, without concern for anything else. These people would be consistently talking past each other all the time, without understanding either side unless they are willing to step out of their frame and at least understand the side’s frame, and vice versa. This is slightly more complicated than seeing things from another person’s point of view, or stepping into someone else’s shoes, though it’s pretty much the same thing in principle.
It is through repetition and propaganda (and fear of damnation) that many are converted, and this is nothing more than getting the potential proselyte to accept your frame. In my experience, conversion to fideism is based on fear (with solace taken in the belief that He cares for you and that it’s for your own good), and is deemed necessary for various reasons by current practitioners, whereas ‘conversion’ to deism is seen as unnecessary, since God loves all of his creation, and a personal choice which not really necessary.
In general, the Eastern religions (deistic) embrace the GOD AS NUTURANT PARENT frame, whereas the Western religions (fideistic) embrace the GOD AS STRICT FATHER frame.
In American politics, there are two main political parties, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The republicans are labeled as conservatives, whereas the democrats are labeled progressives. The labels are self-explanatory, and we can understand their policies by seeing this too in terms of conceptual metaphor. Here we have a NATION AS FAMILY METAPHOR, with the republicans adopting the STRICT FATHER model, and the democrats adopting the NUTURANT PARENT model. (This spills over into their religious beliefs, with the democrats being more tolerant of other religions and cultures, and the republicans not.)
Let us consider the ‘war’ in Iraq:
The republicans believe they should use violence, and attack all opposition with a take no prisoners kind of attitude. Furthermore, they believe they know what is best for Iraq, and that they must obey or else… Notice, it is only within this frame that terms like ‘war’ and ‘surrender’ have any meaning. Here it must be known that the ‘father’ is tough, and if you mess with his ‘family’, he’s going to browbeat you. Democrats see this as an illegal occupation of sovereign territory, and that leaving is precisely that: leaving – withdrawing from a land they invaded under false pretences. When a republican accuses the democrat of being weak and wanting to surrender, the very phrase has no meaning within the nuturant parent frame. If a nuturant parent’s child gets beaten up, he would first ask the child what he did to instigate the fight. After ascertaining for sure whose fault it is, he would then talk to the parents of the other child. Likewise, a diplomatic understanding of the underlying causes which instigated 9/11 would help in finding a holistic solution, and a punishment which fits the crime, something like dealing with it as a criminal act. What the Bush administration did was tantamount to going and beating up the child accused of beating up your own child [Afghanistan] (no questions asked – you messed with a member of my family, now I will show you who’s boss), then beating up your child’s friend, since he has something your family could use and beating him up for this reason will give you an excuse to take what he has [Iraq and its oil resources]. For those who do not know, America is currently setting up a number oil companies in various parts of Iraq. A strict father would also, after all this, punish his child just to get the point across that he should steer clear of fights; America is punishing its own citizens with moves to allow random phone tapping and email hacking to try and catch the Judas. With the war powers Bush has given himself during this occupation, he has the right to detain without charge anyone accused of terrorism. Many have been detained, without even a doctored charge, and tortured in various ways in the notorious prison in Guantanamo Bay, deliberately set up there so it would be outside the world’s eye. Sami Al-Haj, a camera-man for Al-Jazeera is an example of this: he was held without charge for six years, and underwent extreme abuse and torture for no reason. Republicans would say that these are terrorists, and they do not deserve to be treated normally, or with dignity. Torture is necessary to gain ‘intelligence’ and to get them to admit what plans they are hatching, etc. Even if this were true, they would have to explain why they would torture someone who is arrested with NO charge, even after six years. If were told he’s accused of x, and that admitting x would stop the torture, he may have admitted it just to have some solace, but as I said in many cases there were NO charges! Indeed, many did ‘admit’ to crimes under torture, which the republican politicians are delighted with. This kind of policy seems inhumane and barbaric, and it makes us educated, civilised people wonder how things can happen under the auspices of such a developed nation. When you see the frame as a kick-ass ‘father’, like Rocky, going to some kid and saying Are you the one who’s messing around with my kid? He says no at first, until he pushed around a few times, followed by a slaps, etc.; then he comes around to see the light, apologise, and ‘admit’ guilt; this is their idea of victory.
In being steadfast, the republicans want to be perceived as being tough. However, they are not as resolute in their policies as they would like to be. For example, they do not speak to or work with terrorist organizations, and of course what counts as a terrorist organization is left to their discretion, and by the official definition, the USA falls under a terrorist state as well, in addition to actively supporting alleged dictators like Saddam Hussein. South Africa’s ANC was listed as a terrorist organization all along, until July 2008 (this was George Bush’s ‘gift’ to Mandela on his 90th birthday! ), yet the USA has always had good relations with South Africa ever since sanctions were lifted in the early 90’s.
There was a successful rescue mission conducted in the middle of 2008 by the Columbian army on the Farc rebels, who held many high profile hostages, including two US army officials and a former Columbian presidential candidate (she was campaigning when she was taken hostage) for many years. This was only made possible because they entered into negotiations with the rebels, and executed the rescue on that premise. Without this intervention, the hostages would still be captivity, including the US officials – this is further proof that conservative policy does not make much sense.
However, republicans are so successful because they own all the major media houses in the States, and they invest millions in setting up think-thanks, which churn out publications in non-peer-reviewed journals. Hence, they create their own frames, which are instilled in the minds of the people all over the world, and things that they hear outside this frame is either incorporated into this frame or not recognized as making any sense – you call them bigoted, or biased, or closed-minded, but really they are just trapped in a conservative frame. So when we talk of the ‘war’ in Iraq, we are already presupposing a republican frame: we immediately think of attack and defence, good guys and bad guys, state of emergency, and fear of espionage. When we talk of ‘occupation’, we frame the American troops as criminals! This is why the conservatives repeat over and over again WAR ON TERROR, so that this frame gets inculcated in your minds, not the liberals’ (more accurate) frame. If we talk of war, we are entering into a debate on republican turf. Liberals need to frame the debate in their terms, and like the republicans, repeat it and use surface frames that hinge on the deeper frame.
It makes no sense to say that Bush is an idiot, the Americans are evil, etc. because they know very well what they are doing, and they are good at it – which means they’re not so stupid after all.
When Obama suggested talking unconditionally to Iranian leaders, he was merely referring to a willingness to understand things from their point of view, to understand their frame of reference before assuming anything, then making their frame clear to Iran, and then finding a way forward. This is at least better than unilaterally declaring that America will attack unless all alleged nuclear plants are blown up in public. The republicans will not speak to them as they are the enemy. Instead they will issue an ultimatum: do what we tell you or we will attack you. From Iran’s point of view, this is bullying. Just as Iraq had no “weapons of mass destruction”, they say they have none either, and that they have the right to develop nuclear technology, which they say is for peaceful purposes. America is seen as a fickle yet dangerous threat, who once supported Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein when it suited them, and now turned against them as show of strength and virility to show the American people that their ‘father’ is tough. Hence, the difference in policy regarding Iran.
There is a younger generation of neo-conservatives who understand the problems with the status quo, and are trying to make their policies more reasonable. Their critics say they are just taking some liberal policies and calling themselves neo-conservatives, but it remains to be seen what comes of this.
In American politics, the frames are fairly clear, and we can more often than not predict which policies will appeal to which party.
In applying this theory to the South African context, it gets a bit more complicated. In using the NATION AS FAMILY metaphor, we need to bear in mind that there are other family types, including:
“Single mother” families
“Abusive parent” families
“All are equal”, families
Surely there are other family structures, but these seem to be the most prominent. I’ll call these type 1, type 2 and type 3 for ease of reference. I would imagine a type 1 family to have a strong, sturdy, resolute yet caring mother – who strives not to show her love too blatantly; perhaps Margaret Thatcher’s government would have fallen into this category.
A type 2 parent would not care for his children, and intimidate them to make himself feel more important. He would tell them things to make them believe that he is a great man, even if he knows this to be counter-factual. He would like to control who children hang out with, and what information they receiving, for if they become too educated and street-wise, they may rebel. You can see this as strict father gone wrong. One obvious example of this kind of government is the ZANU-PF currently ruling Zimbabwe.
Imagine a type 2 parent who abuses one child, and favours the other. One could draw an analogy with this government and that of apartheid South Africa, where White people were the favoured ‘children’, and the others were treated badly for being different. Now when the abused child takes over, they decide that we must all now be equal, but decides to surreptitiously get those who benefited in the old days back [affirmative action] and so on. The parallels we can draw are endless, but now we have a type 3 parent, who decides that he needs to make things right by apologizing to the abused children, and declares that all are equal, and all should work together as a collective to make the nation a better one and serve the government who now sees them as all equal. This type 3 parent feels that if one child gets a sweet, the others must get a sweet as well. Hence, the communist ideology of equal distribution of wealth, as so often bandied about in the ANC.
Now, the National Party, the archetypal symbol of apartheid and the concomitant abuse that went with it, was the opposition party during the elections in 1994, when we had our first truly democratic elections. Though the leader at the time was a “courageous and honourable man, in Nelson Mandela’s own words and a Nobel Peace Prize winner, few forgot what they stood for during the apartheid days, and the horror and pain they inflicted on their ‘children’. The NP was soon to be deposed, but still had the stigma of being a type 2 abusive parent, and now they were to be relegated to the MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY, and therefore still a threat. The NP recognized this, and eventually changed their name to the NNP, the NEW National Party, one that has realized its mistakes, and was prepared to make amends for the ills of the past by becoming a nurturant parent under its new leadership. But this did not work, because the type 2 frame was too deeply embedded in the minds of the denizens, and it is nothing other than their failure to eradicate that type 2 frame that led to the downfall and dissolution of the party.
When the Democratic Alliance (or the then Democratic Party) won the second most seats in parliament, deposing the NP, they slotted right into that type 2 frame without even asking for it. To make matters worse, they also accepted the label OFFICIAL OPPOSITION PARTY, as if it were a good thing. Now, in addition to unknowingly fitting into a type 2 frame (remember that this is something unconscious yet indelibly burnt into people’s minds), they hang on that frame the surface frame of “opposition party”. Now, the ANC, being a type 3 family, is known to promote equality, justice, freedom and a better life for all. They are also the ones who fought the oppressors with the iconic Nelson Mandela at its helm. If you are the party opposing the ANC, followers of the ANC are seeing you as opposing freedom, justice, etc. This is a direct upshot of slotting into a type 2 frame, and then accepting the label ‘opposition party’. This is precisely why the current ANC youth league believes that the DA is the enemy and needs to be wiped out – what’s wrong with eradicating someone who stands in the way of all those things all South Africans hold so dear? This is just taking the vengeance condoned by his ‘parent’ one step further. With this also comes the stigma of being perceived as the party who would oppose everything the ANC says and does on principle. When Tony Leon (the then leader of the DA) visited my university just under 10 years back, some students were shouting at him, telling him that he’s the “devil incarnate”. Having listened to his talk, and listened to him answering (some very antagonistic) questions on policy very eloquently, and very reasonably, and having shook his hand afterwards, and observing him meet with students and chat with in a very friendly manner, I did not understand why the animosity was so rife. My brother cites Tony Leon’s father as being an apartheid judge as his reason for hating Tony Leon and the DA; this being said without any knowledge of the kind of judge he was, or the kind of person he was. But things like this make sense if we understand that his party fell into a trap, so to speak.
At the time of writing, the ANC has reason to be rather concerned, as their leader faces corruption charges. The DA’s criticisms are brushed off and seen as inciting hate, and feelings of retaliation are justified as they were the ones who condoned the oppression of black people during apartheid – this is not true, but it fits in with the frame that the DA has unknowingly embraced. In reality, the DA adopts a nurturant parent frame, and bases its philosophy on the principles of an open society, in the Popperian sense. This is reflected in their policies, they way they reason things through, and the things they say when given the opportunity. This is only evident when you listen to what is said with an open mind, without shackling yourself into a frame. However, this is not easy as we unconsciously create frames based on various conceptual metaphors, so the “facts” only make sense within a frame. If a fact does not suit a frame, it is seen negatively, as treason, reversion to oppression and so on. A type 3 family owes allegiance to the father, who is fighting for their equality; in return, they are prepared to wipe out, kill and die for that leader. This is part of the type 3 frame, and if it is not understood as such, this can be as confusing as it is distressing.
Helen Zille, the current leader of the DA, has criticized the government’s Black Economic Empowerment policy (BEE), which is a way of giving preferential treatment to those who belong to previously disadvantaged communities. (It has more recently being upgraded to Broad Based Black Economic Empowerment, to include those who are not Black, but still belong a group that was once marginalized). Contrary to what we would expect, she does NOT criticize the fact that this policy is a kind of reverse discrimination, where a White person would not be considered for a job over a Black person, who actually might be less qualified. In fact, she points out that the policy is meant to assist the masses, who – before 1994 – have never had equal access to education and other resources. However, the in practice the policy is only being used to assist the middle-upper class Black population, and she thereby feels the term Black Elitist Enrichment would be a more appropriate label, which is a clever spin on the now hackneyed abbreviation, BEE. Her point here is that the poor Black people, who this policy is meant to help, and who it was designed for in the first place, are none the better as a result of this policy. Instead, already affluent Black businessmen are getting deals and tenders they would otherwise have to compete for in the free market.
Surely this point is not a criticism against the ANC per se, but a point made on behalf of the majority of the South African population. It is criticism which any member of the ANC should accept in principle, as it points to the failure of government implementation, and merely reminds them that their supporters are suffering as result of this.
However, common sense plays no role here, and the actual facts do not matter in the grander scheme of things. The fact is that Helen Zille represents the DA, who fits into a frame that on principle opposes everything that the ANC stands for, and therefore must oppose a better life for all. This fact cannot be over-emphasised, as the influence of cognitive frames are deeply embedded in our minds and unconscious. It takes thereby takes conscious effort to understand these frames, and then change them appropriately in a responsible manner.
This explains why people are not able to just look at the facts objectively, and use their common sense. Common sense does not exist, in that it is not common. We only have frames, and many of these are common, but many are not. If you talk about an issue that is embedded in a frame to another person who espouses another frame, your conversation will get nowhere; a DA supporter talking to an ANC supporter about Jacob Zuma’s trial will not get anywhere, just as the Hindu who argues with a Christian about the nature of God wouldn’t.
What the DA should have done, and should be doing still is not picking on particular issues. They should do what Barack Obama is doing in the States and work on changing the frames that are so indelibly burnt into the minds of the nation. It is only then that the people who count will listen, and of course I don’t just mean swaying voters in your favour. The stigma of being the NP’s replacement should be wiped out, and the DA should stop labeling itself the opposition party, because they do not oppose what the ANC stands for in THEORY. They stand up for what is right, and they stand up for the people whose tax money is being squandered unlawfully by the GOVERNMENT, of which the DA is a part. They should frame themselves as part of a whole, who are there to help care for the nation. If a member of the Independent Democrats does something wrong, it would be brought to the fore; if a member of their own party goes astray, it would be brought to the fore, and they would be dealt with.
This would be the first step in changing the negative frame that is in the minds of so many South Africans, people would listen more attentively, and they would earn the respect of their rivals. Without action based on an intelligent understanding of the situation, there is no communication, one party sees the other as being idiotic or rebellious, or whatever, when really what they are doing is quite consistent within their frame of reference.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Language, framing, and its relation to religion and politics
Language, as commonly understood, is a primarily communicative device, despite views to the contrary in mainstream linguistics, where language is said to be an abstract manifestation of symbolic notation. This fact, coupled with its ubiquity, makes its study indispensable when attempting to understand almost any aspect of human nature.