Why my recent obsession with reframing the political debate? Free will is something I value more than almost anything. However, we can’t have free will if we don’t understand what our choices are. George Lakoff writes, “At stake here is the deepest form of freedom — the freedom that comes from knowing your own mind. If you are unaware of your own deep frames and metaphors, then you are unaware of the basis for your moral and political choices…”
As a far-left progressive, I’ve tended toward the idea that compromise is weak. We should stand up for our beliefs and not apologize—Americans deserve freedom from harm and, therefore, the government should provide high quality healthcare for all. Recognizing the need to reframe the debate ties into my no-compromise positions, but it allows for the more pragmatic among us new freedoms, too. The freedom to know our minds and make informed choices. Perhaps more importantly, this new information also helps me realize that real freedom is progressive (systemic, empathetic).
Understanding that someone next to me can hear the words freedom, liberty, opportunity, or harm and those words will have entirely different meanings than they do for me is essential. Even more urgent, though, is realizing how much the radical right over the course of my lifetime (in the last 30-40 years) has co-opted the language using uncontested notions of the words to change how even I hear the words. For example, when I hear “fairness,” now, I automatically think “but life isn’t fair, we can’t require or expect fairness.” That’s not what fairness used to mean to me.
Some highlights I’ve been returning to as I work to reframe ideas in my own mind:
- There are no “self-made” men or women in America. We all depend on the commonwealth’s infrastructure.
- Historically, American freedoms are progressive freedoms.
- Our military is an occupying force in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- We need freedom from religion. No individual or institution has the right to force feed their religious views onto me or my children.
- Guided by empathy, progressives are responsible for themselves and others recognizing the deep connections among individuals and systems.
- Progressives support freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from injury or abuse.
- The uncontested metaphors for freedom are freedom of movement and freedom from restriction. Progressives know that if our neighbor’s freedoms are restricted, we all suffer.
Progressives need to take back the meanings of freedom, opportunity, and liberty. We can only do this not by screaming about the immorality of the radical right, but instead we need to reframe the debate. We mustn’t use their language in the discussions. Going on the defensive only reasserts the validity of their frames.
Freedom isn’t free. We invest in freedom with our tax money. We are blessed to live in a country where every person has a right to live a free life thanks to the commonwealth we all provide.