Who knows why we fight? George knows.


Linguist George Lakoff lecturing on the relationship between words and politics. Flickr: Pop! Tech 2008. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

In the early days of this blog, we published a series of posts on George Lakoff’s views on wars between values and nations; we revisit some of those posts today.

Lakoff is an activist cognitive psychologist/linguist who devotes great attention to the conflict in values between liberals and conservatives, and the ways in which the family values communicated to children can play themselves out in the readiness of adults to make love or war.

For example, in his book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Lakoff argues that while conservatives value a “strict father” morality (using punishment to establish respect for authority), liberals value a “nurturant family” morality emphasizing empathy and democratic forms of conflict resolution.

Lakoff also emphasizes the role of metaphor in the decisions people reach regarding political issues.  Many judgments are propelled by a “nation-as-person” or “nation-as-family” metaphor in which industrial nations are viewed as “mature” and knowledgeable while other nations are seen as “primitive,” “backward,” and needing to be taught a lesson.

In his book, The Political Mind, Lakoff explains that ideas with a strong emotional component (e.g., regarding the extent to which wars are considered necessary and winnable) are influenced not just by information but by how they are framed, the language in which they are embedded, and the effects of that language on the brain.

To learn more about Lakoff’s views on the ways in which family values connect with major political philosophies and behavior read this article and tell us what you think.




Posted in Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Extolling WHOM????

The 10¢ Columbian. Columbus Presenting Natives, 2 January 1893, US Post Office
This work is in the public domain in the United States

Today I am enjoying what appears to be a disappearing commodity—the three day weekend.

But, I am not celebrating the “accomplishments” of Christopher Columbus, who chanced on the Americas in his quest for riches and found them in his own form of “brown gold”—i.e., the native peoples of the long-inhabited “New World,” whom he captured and sold or gave away in the thousands.

How can one honor a man who 

* On encountering the Native peoples on the island he named San Salvador, wrote, on October 14, 1492, “When your Highnesses so command, they could all be carried off to Castile or be held captive in the island itself because with 50 men they could all be subjugated and compelled to do anything one wishes.”

* On further exposure to the gentle native people, wrote on December 16, 1492,  “They have no weapons and are all naked without any skill in arms and are very cowardly so that a thousand would not challenge three.… Thus they are useful to be commanded and to be made to labor and sow and to do everything else of which there is need and build towns.…”

* On February 2, 1494, dispatched 12 ships with a cargo of slaves—nearly half of whom died during the voyage– to be sold in the slave market at Seville.

I find no honor in such deeds or the reign of terror Columbus unleashed about the people in the Americas. On this day, known in Berkeley, California, and elsewhere as Indigenous People’s Day, I join in honoring the native peoples who survived  Columbus’s assault on their homes and families. 

Time to apologize and make amends.

Posted in Genocide, slavery | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Military Sexual Assault: Toxic Masculinity Gone Viral?

The kinds of men who perpetrate military sexual assaults tend not to be discriminating—they will destroy the lives of other men as easily as those of women.

Indeed, because men enter the military in much higher numbers than women, the majority of military sexual assault victims are males.  In a 2013 report on sexual assault, the Pentagon estimated that 26,000 service members experienced unwanted sexual contact in 2012; 53 percent of those attacks were directed at men, mostly by other men.

It has been estimated that 38 military men are sexually assaulted every day; “the culprits almost always go free, the survivors rarely speak, and no one in the military or Congress has done enough to stop it.”  A few survivors did talk to Gentleman’s Quarterly; you can read their stories here.

To explain sexual assaults, one idea that clinicians and social scientists have advanced is “toxic masculinity,” which may be exacerbated by toxic environments.  Toxic masculinity has been defined as “the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence.”

Such traits appear to flourish in some environments—toxic environments—more than others.  Prisons constitute one such toxic environment, and—as you may have guessed—the military is another such environment.

Do the ideas of toxic masculinity and toxic environments sound valid to you?

Whatever your views on the extent to which traits and environments become toxic, I hope you will help steer all children away from bullying and recognize that neither our service men and women nor imprisoned men and women deserve to be sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or otherwise abused—in violation of international law.

Posted in culture of violence, Human rights, militarization, Prisons, Uncategorized, Understanding violence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments