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 about 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 that are communicated to children can play 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 also 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 about how family values connect with major political philosophies and behavior read this article and tell us what you think.




This entry was posted in Understanding violence and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Who knows why we fight? George knows.

  1. Svetlana says:

    Our personality is shaped throughout our lives and lies on the core of the values and beliefs we learned from our family and the ones that are closes to us, especially in critical periods such as childhood and adolescence. In those critical periods, in one way or another – we choose the way or love or the way of war as a form of interaction with others. Our interactions with our parents and siblings hold both great benefits and risks; whereas parental abuse is being largely discussed, sibling abuse is greatly unrecognized and under-researched (Chapter 10, p.330). Abuse in this context may have severe long-term consequences in almost every aspect of ones’ life, but due to the fine line between ‘normative’ sibling rivalry and sibling abusive relationship is being highly underestimated (Chapter 10, p.331). Sibling maltreatment includes physical abuse (pushing, kicking, biting), sexual abuse (incest), and psychological abuse (beyond “teasing”) – all form might contribute to severe future outcomes (Chapter 10, p.332-335).
    Research shows that violence between siblings is quite common (Chapter 10, p.332),
    but how can we differentiate among sibling rivalry and abuse in time to intervene? The best indicator is the presence of another type of abuse, that is sexual/physical/psychological. Furthermore, in the microsystem level, children who abuse or being abuse by their sibling typically come from families in which the parents engage in any form of abuse towards their children or each other, while most predictors of abusive behaviors on other levels apply (Chapter 10, p. 336-337).
    Victims of sibling abuse often suffer from severe psychological distress. In some cases, parents fail to intervene, further victimize the child, minimize, or ignore the abuse, which results in the worsening of the traumatization (Chapter 10, p.338). Victims of sibling abuse, as in any other type of abuse, live in constant fear of future abuse. Even as adults they experience poor self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, abnormal relationships with partners, distressful and suspicious feelings toward family members, and are more prone to abuse alcohol or drugs (Chapter 10, p.339). Because this issue is not widely recognized, the options for innervation are quite limited, but one of the first steps we nee to make is raising this issue into public awareness, while offering family therapy as a solution (Chapter 10, p.340). Parents need to be instructed to coping techniques and form actions plans, they need to set an example of their children, teach them the way of love, not war.

  2. Jyothi Nair says:

    Children are born as blank slates, ready to be molded and shaped into the new generation. And the biggest influencers of this are their parents and families; as George Lakoff stated, family values play a role in shaping children. There are endless outcomes of child rearing; one cannot really predict what a child will turn out like. But there are certain predictors that could determine whether children are ready to make love or make war.

    Lakoff claims that conservatives value a “strict father” morality in which the father uses punishment to establish respect for authority. It has been found most consistently that children who assault their own parents were also victimized by violence from the very parents they are now attacking. The more frequently children witness of experience violence from their parents the more likely they are to hit them. Maltreatment of parents by children has been the least researched type of family violence, one reason being the reluctance to use the term “abused” because if the parent has power over the child, then how is it possible to for the child to take over and abuse the parent? However, the numbers don’t lie. The 1975 NFVS showed that 180 out of every 1000 children aged 3 to 17 committed a violent act toward them in the previous year and 90 out of every 1000 children aged 3 to 17 committed a severely violent act. Parental maltreatment is a very real problem that can be caused by parental aggression toward their own children, which is the sort of lifestyle Lakoff describes as conservative.

    Exposing children to violence from a young age, can more often than not, shape them into violent beings themselves. Most children who grow up to perpetrate violence were victims of aggression. And when these violent children become violent adults, they are more likely to make war, not love.

  3. Nicole V. says:

    Within a child’s microsystem, is where George Lakoff’s concept of ideas with a strong emotional component, are formed. A microsystem is defined as the child’s strongest, most influential and most important relations are formed. Individuals such as immediate family members, a guardian, and/or a close friend become a part of the microsystem as the child continuously experiences moments that allow for a bond to be created and strengthened between him and significant support systems. Despite the positive connotation implied in the microsystem, these bonds can just as easily become destructive, facilitating the infliction of abuse or maltreatment upon a child. Abuse towards a child can appear in the form of emotional, sexual, physical abuse and neglect, or any other destructive behavior that affects a child’s nurturing and development. Lakoff states that strong emotional components can become associated with ideas due to the way it is presented, the language surrounding it, and the effects of the language. Thus, a destructive relationship between a strict father who uses “punishment to establish respect for authority,” needs to be analyzed through the lens of the microsystem. This implies a closer look at how the father grew up, his relationship with his parents and other close loved ones, and whether he has a genetic predisposition for certain mental illnesses, to name a few. For example, in Moore & Florsheim’s Systems Theory (a microsystems theory) aggression between partners in a relationship predicted young fathers to implement physical punishment as part of disciplining his children. Although this theory refers to the aggression between partners, when analyzing the young father’s microsystem, it could very well be that he learned to model aggressive behavior in his relationship with his wife, and later his children, from his own parents’ relationship.

  4. Ariana Simonelli says:

    George Lakoff highlights an extremely important issue when he identifies the way white conservatives value a “strict father.” This brings to mind how values in this country alone help perpetuate strict parenting, which in some cases allows parents to justify hitting their children, because they still consider it moral. In reality, a strict parenting style perpetuates the idea that it is okay to hit a child, even though there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that suggests there are extremely negative impacts from physically maltreating children.

    To demonstrate this idea effectively, in class we discussed the case study of Will Hunting from the movie Good Will Hunting, specifically the two scenes regarding Will and Skylar’s fight, and when Sean famously tells Will, “It’s is not your fault,” referring to the abuse he experienced as a child. Clearly based on the first scene choice with Will and Skylar’s fight, Will has an insecure attachment and has a difficult time forming new relationships. When he gets close to someone he pushes them away. In fact, children who are physically maltreated tend to develop an insecure attachment style called disorganized/disoriented, and this inability to relate to parents also affects the child’s social performance. Based on the area he lives in and hints from the movie, one can insinuate he may have gotten into to trouble as a child. He also has not left his lower class neighborhood and continues to work at lower paid jobs such as a janitor and contraction worker, even though he is intellectually capable of much more. Low income and poor neighborhood quality are both macrosystem factors of child physical maltreatment. His home situation is also briefly referenced in the second scene, and Will was adopted and lived with his nonbiological father, and he had a difficult temperament as was evident when he described spitefully choosing the weapon his father would beat him with. These are all microsystem factors. Additionally, Will’s father is described as an alcoholic and has poor parental coping strategies, and these are both individual level factors.

    In regard to protective factors, Will is extremely intelligent, which is what ends up getting him noticed in the first place to find the help he needs. He also had supportive friends growing up, one in particular, and although peers can also be considered a risk factor in terms of encouraging maladaptive and negative behavior, this friend helped Will throughout his life and was always encouraging him to commit to his full potential. Also, he is able to overcome his inability to form securely attached relationships through therapy with Sean and is able to start fresh with Skylar at the end of the movie. Even though he might have had a troubled past as a child, Will is able to maintain a job and make a living for himself, and does not engage in criminal activity or abuse substances as an adult. All of these protective factors help Will and reduce the overall negative outcomes as a result of his childhood abuse.

    In the scene with Will and Skylar’s argument, their relationship ends as a result of Will’s emotional incapacity to commit to a relationship. If Will was forced to continue this relationship the way he was here without resolving any of his emotional issues, it is possible he could be an abusive partner. It is estimated that 30% of children who grow up in violent homes will go on to maltreat their own children. However, in Will’s case, he knows he has issues he needs to fix, senses the pattern and this allows him to finally open himself up to Sean. Finally having that cathartic moment with Sean from the second scene finally allows him to break from the cycle and start fresh with Skylar, although we know it is only the beginning and unrealistic that someone who experienced severe physical abuse as a child could be completely healed in such a short period of time.

    Will’s case may be slightly dramatized towards the end, but his case demonstrates the potential that these physically abused children possess, but do not have the capacity to access it as a result of the abuse. These children need help, and CPS programs are simply not efficient enough. The parental training for tertiary intervention does not have evidence to decrease child abuse or even improve parenting. Empirically supported treatment methods exist, such as Parent-Child Interaction therapy or PCIT, but these methods are not available to all CPS agencies. If these programs exist, I think it’s vital that if they are going to be intervening at a tertiary level, they should be using effective strategies. Secondary prevention methods are also significant with regular checkups in the event a parent is considered at risk for abusing their child to avoid situations such as Will’s foster care situation. As Will’s case exemplifies, the value of a “strict father” and parenting style as Lakoff identifies can only lead to negative influences for the effected children. Given a more “nurturant family,” as Lakoff suggests, and implementing loving, care-based parenting style and morals, less children would be exposed to the physical maltreatment that results from the current emphasis on strictness and punishment.

  5. Courtney G says:

    The posts begins by discussing the ways in which family values communicated to children can influence their readiness as adults to make love or war. I feel like this also has implications for family violence, especially when it comes to children’s’ violence against siblings and parents. For example, children who abuse siblings generally come from families characterized by parental physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse of the children, and violence between the parents (Chapter 10 pg. 336) suggesting that the abuser has learned this behavior from their parents. Sibling abuse has several negative consequences, such as low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness and has problems with relationships (Chapter 10 pg. 339), however it is considered “the most underrecognized and underressearched forms of family violence” (Chapter 10 pg. 330). One reason for this lack of research could be that the victims of sibling violence often comes from homes characterized by abuse where parents may not intervene and may also perpetuate the violence and deny the suffering of victims, ignoring evidence of abuse (Chapter 10 pg. 338). This is compounded by the fact that violence among siblings is qute common (Chapter 10 pg. 332-333) and so abuse may be mistaken for normal sibling rivalry. Family values can also contribute to children’s violence against their parents. Research consistently has shown that children who commit violence against their parents were victims of violence from the parent they are now aggressive towards (Chapter 10 pg. 343).

    There is currently a lack of research into preventing and intervening in children’s violence against their siblings (Chapter 10 pg. 340), however it seems that from Lackoff’s perspective and from some of the research pointed out above that educating parents about the effects of their violence on their children as well as better discipline strategies than corporal punishment may help to prevent many cases of sibling abuse. When it comes to children’s abuse of their parents, parents are often not believed when they seek help and are often blamed for their children’s violence (Chapter 10 pg. 348). While their children’s violence may in fact be a result of their own violence towards their children and family and violent modeling, instead of using the punitive United States approach, we should educate and help those parents rather than scolding them.

    *All citations from “Family Violence in the United States: Defining, Understanding and Combating Abuse” by Hines, Malley-Morrison, and Dutton.

  6. Sarah N says:

    I am particularly interested in Lakoff’s book The Political Mind because of the idea that with strong emotional component people 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. This seems to relate to sibling maltreatment. “Abuse in these relationships may have severe and long-lasting consequences for several reasons: sibling relationships are among the longest lasting and most influential relationships in one’s life; children spend more of their time growing up with their siblings than almost anyone else; these relationships involve intense and ongoing contact, and the abuse in these relationships is over perpetrated by another child who – because he/she is a child – is impulsive and unrestrained in their aggression (H&MM ch.10 pg.331).
    I myself have three older brothers and I understand this topic. I know from experience that the way information and language is framed can affect a person. I think that Lakoff’s book and his ideas can be compared to psychological maltreatment, which may be the most excused type of sibling abuse. There are certain types of “teasing” that’s effects can last a lifetime, for example, name-calling, ridicule, degradation, fear arousal, destruction of personal possessions and more (H&MM ch.10 pg.336).
    I also wanted to consider Lakoff’s ideas that conservatives value a “strict father” morality, using punishment to establish respect for authority. This idea can be compared with sibling violence because sometimes siblings consider birth order a type of authority. There is generally a 5-year age differential between the perpetrators and the victims (H&MM ch.10 pg.332). I assumed that the perpetrator was usually the older sibling. Female children may be more at risk for sibling physical abuse victimization, as are younger children and step-siblings (H&MM ch.10 pg.343). The idea of respecting authority in a sibling setting is upsetting. Being the youngest of four I understand that my brothers are older than me but how does a two-year age difference make them my authority?
    Another idea of Lakoff’s that interests me is the ways in which the family values are communicated to the children, and how they can influence the readiness of adults to make love or war. Children are so easily influenced. “Children abused by their siblings typically come from families characterized by parental physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse of the children, and violence between the parents” (H&MM ch.10 pg. 336).
    Prevention and Intervention are extremely important in the context of sibling maltreatment. A major issue is that Sibling abuse is often over-looked and considered “normal sibling rivalry” (H&MM ch.10 pg. 329). The first step is to bring these behaviors to public attention. Hopefully after that Child Protective Services will then take these reports seriously and intervene (H&MM ch.10 pg. 340).
    Many of Lakoff’s ideas about wars between values and nations can be closely linked to family violence and other issues in the world today.

  7. Se June Han says:

    George Lakoff writes a great deal about the difference in values between the liberals and the conservatives, which supports a nurturing family and strict parenting respectively.
    Lakoff mentioned how strict parenting used “punishment to establish authority” which is supported by “95% of parents who use physical discipline” but they lead to long-term effects such as aggressiveness and other antisocial acts. This conservative thought, which Lakoff mentioned, may result in a future generation that is broken and violent since the frequency is currently underestimated. To counteract this, a push to make various prevention programs were set in place to teach abusive parents alternative techniques to raising children. It is of utmost importance to change this attitude since it teaches children that violence is the appropriate way to deal with problems and weakens the relationship between the child and the parent. George Lakoff brought up an important question: the reason why we fight may be rooted in the mindset of the people who raise children. Humans naturally learn through observing and if the subjects that children observe show that violence is the solution, it is no surprise that then the leaders turn to violence in foreign policies.

  8. Michaela Buckley says:

    I can definitely understand how Lakoff’s idea of this “strict father” morality that conservatives subscribe to could lead to violence in society. This belief in punishment as a means towards creating a moral society is widely held in our country, but should it be? In the case of corporal punishment, for example, research has shown how this widely accepted form of punishment teaches children that violence is an appropriate way of dealing with problems, and actually weakens the child’s bond with the parents. Additionally, corporal punishment has been shown to correlate with less moral internalization, more aggression, more delinquent, criminal, and antisocial behavior, poorer quality of parent-child relationship, poorer mental health, greater likelihood of abusing one’s own spouse or child, lower IQs, and greater likelihood of being a victim of physical abuse by the parent. Knowing this, we should be shocked that 95% of of parents have used physical discipline on their children at some point.

    This “strict father morality,” though intended to foster respect for authority figures, can actually lead to even more violence towards these same authority figures. Unbeknownst to many, child-perpetrated abuse towards parents is an issue in the United States. Corporal punishment could play a big role in this abuse, since children who witness or experience violence from their parents are more likely to hit their parents. In fact, the research shows fairly consistently that children who assault their parents were victimized by the very parents they are now aggressing against. This finding is supported by the fact that mothers are actually much more likely to be victimized by their children than their fathers, and mothers are also more likely to use corporal punishment with their children. With all these violent repercussions, this strict father morality within the home does not seem to make much sense.

  9. Michelle P. says:

    George Lakoff states that family values communicated to children can play themselves out in the readiness of adults to make love or war. In a way, Lakoff is leaning towards the nurture side of the classic nature vs. nurture debate. In particular, he is saying that children are very much influenced by their families. But what happens when parents mistreat their children, for instance, sexual abuse. Will these children be able to make love? Or will they end up making war? First lets consider the parent’s personality before we consider the consequences the child will suffer from sexual abuse. The abusers normally have higher rates of psychopathology, arrested psychological development, suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, and have a lack of empathy for their victims. If the child’s parents have this negative personality type, the chances that they ‘re highly influenced by this are extremely high. These children are very influenced by their parents and are exposed to them in ways that many other children are not, causing them to be affected more by their parents personalities. The consequences of child sexual abuse also have a strong impact on a child. As a result of the abuse, children are more depressed, anxious, suicidal, and aggressive than others and suffer from PTSD as well as engage in developmentally inappropriate sexual behaviors. Although these consequences are prevalent, we cannot say there is a direct link between CSA and adult psychopathology and this cannot be generalized. But, when considering the effect that their parent’s personality may have on them and the possible psychopathologies, we can say that sexual abused children will probably end up making war rather than love.

  10. Laura C says:

    Lakoff touched upon how much language affects people’s cognitive perception of an issue at hand, how the language is embedded and the emotional outcomes. Sibling abuse is an area that hasn’t been explored and the research is lacking (H&MM, ch. 10, pg. 330). We think that conflict between siblings is normal and that things like teasing is expected. However, as Lakoff said language does affect us on a psychological level and psychological abuse, teasing in more extreme forms, can result in long-term consequences (Family Violence in the United States, ch. 10, pg. 335).
    Furthermore, it has been shown that “abuse in these relationships may have severe and long-lasting consequences for several reasons: sibling relationships are among the longest lasting and most influential relationships in one’s life; children spend more of their time growing up with their siblings than almost anyone else; these relationships involve intense and ongoing contact, and the abuse in these relationships is over perpetrated by another child who – because he/she is a child – is impulsive and unrestrained in their aggression (Family Violence in the United States ch.10 pg.331). This kind of teasing, which includes “name-calling, ridicule, degradation fear arousal,” should be taken more seriously as not just teasing, as they will affect the child inevitably (H&MM, ch. 10, pg. 336).

  11. Alex Siladi says:

    Dr. Malley-Morrison quotes Lakoff in saying “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 a way, the above quote parallels a possible rationalization for the maltreatment of older adults and people with disabilities who may be seen by some to revert to a dependent, incompetent, child-like state. However, industrial nations are really the (younger) newcomers to the scene, and the justification of other nations being more primitive in many ways inhibits our ability to benefit from their culture and knowledge.

    One macrosystem contributor, ageism, parallels Lakoff’s metaphor in that it
    exhibits prejudice. Ageism may contribute to maltreatment as a rationalization where older adults are seen as “needing to be taught a lesson”. We have many stereotypes of people from other countries which has a huge impact on how we interact with them, which is particularly true in instances where our prejudices justify war. Many wars are motivated by fear of people who are different and I think this is particularly important in the discussion of people with disabilities, who often face prejudice and discrimination. War also ties in because characteristics of the victim and perpetrator lead to abuse. For example, the prejudices of the United States, and the inability of many non-industrialized nations to protect their interests against the U.S.

    A lot of industry moves from country to country as labor costs increase in a given area which relates to “frailty of the victim”. That the commodities these countries sell to “industrialized” nations can be produced elsewhere means that they are frail, because at any time their industry can be eliminated. In addition to frailty of the victim, there are obvious parallels to financial abuse which results from the interchangeability of the industry in many countries. Just like in financial abuse towards older adults and people with disabilities, it is easy for industrialized nations to take advantage of this weakness to maintain a downward pressure on labor costs and economically exploit the non-industrialized nations. The involvement of the United States in “Oil Interest” countries relates to the maltreatment of older adults by caregiving relatives, because the United States is economically exploiting these countries while it says it is pursuing venerable goals. Furthermore, the United States seems to see itself as a protector of other countries. Involvement in nations such as Iraq create a precedent for the U.S. giving aid to other countries, which creates and expectation for aid and also the potential for neglectful behavior if that aid is not delivered. According to Hines and Malley-Morrison “neglect means the refusal or failure to provide an elderly person with such life necessities as food, water, clothing…. and other essentials included as a responsibility or agreement”.

    One final parallel is the silence of the victim. In the case of maltreatment of foreign nations we do not receive nearly the level of unbiased media attention that might help us understand the reality of the situation and the ways in which our involvement can be abusive. There are many issues regarding the maltreatment of older adults. For example older adults “fear that their families would not be supportive of their efforts to end maltreatment” and there is a fear of “unsupportive clergy responses, negative criminal justice responses, and fear of being placed in a nursing home.

  12. Jyothi Nair says:

    George Lakoff’s article “What Conservatives Really Want” discusses the desire for conservatives to change the moral basis of American life and spread conservatives ideas to all aspects of our lives. He goes on to describe the idea of the strict father family; the father is the ultimate authority figure in the household and must not be challenged. He should protect his family and play the provider role and if he must use physical force when they do wrong, then so be it. In fact in this situation, “the use of force is necessary and required.” Conservatives also strongly believe in individual responsibility over social responsibility, meaning that the government should not care for its citizens and citizens should not care about other citizens. In this sort of world, those who are different and less able tend to get lost and tossed aside. A major victim is the elderly and disabled but it is difficult to really define this type of maltreatment.

    It’s been a problem to define what is abusive when it comes to older adults, mainly when it comes to the term neglect. The word is mainly applied to children so in what ways can one neglect an adult in an abusive way? And since most adults are functional and able to care for themselves, if they fail to do so is that self-neglect labeled abusive? (H&MM, 294). There are also some blurred lines when it comes to finances and family members taking advantage of an older member’s money; some would consider it abuse while others would call it family obligation (H&MM, 294). There are three more well defined types of maltreatment: IPV of older adults, caretaker stress, and dependent adult child.

    There are several predictors and correlates of the maltreatment of older adults at each level of the ecological model. On the macrosystem level, ageism is a very real prejudice that promotes negative stereotypes against older people. This prejudice depicts older adults as frail, incompetent, cranky, and unproductive; essentially they contribute nothing to society. These negative perceptions allow family members to rationalize their maltreatment (H&MM, 303). Financial status is another factor; older adults who have a low income are at greater risk of abuse (H&MM, 303). On the exosystem scale the biggest factor is living in a disadvantaged area. Most factors lie in the microsystem level: the frailty of the victim, the gender, age and race of the victim, those who were victims of other maltreatment, cohabit with their perpetrators, and are widowed or divorced (H&MM 303-305).

    Several consequences come of maltreatment towards older adults. They are at an increased risk for injuries, malnutrition, dehydration, decrease of mental health,depression, suicidal ideation, shame, guilt, and significant more distress (H&MM, 307). Prevention of maltreatment is difficult however because there are numerous reasons older adults are sometimes unwilling to free themselves. They feel self-blame, compelled to protect the family, a reluctance to turn in a loved one, and a feeling of hopelessness (H&MM, 309).

    Maltreatment of older adults is a very real, serious problem but research is lacking in this area because this group of people tend to slip through the cracks. And the problem will only become worse in the conservative world that Lakoff describes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

wp-puzzle.com logo