A recent report in Salon quotes Frank Luntz as being “very scared” of Occupy Wall Street. Luntz, for those who don’t know, is the GOP “messaging” genius who came up with terms like “death tax” to rebrand the estate tax, and who urges Republicans to abandon use of the word capitalism in favor of terms like “economic freedom.” His concern about OWS is obvious: the movement threatens to re-frame the debate–to shift the focus to the undeniable hardships created by lax regulation coupled with unbridled greed.
As George Lakoff demonstrated in “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” framing is a powerful tool. We all have mental “frames,” culturally transmitted worldviews that act as lenses through which we view reality. Those of us who teach try to expand those mental paradigms, enlarge the lens, so that students can see and consider facts they might not otherwise encounter. Understood as an inevitable consequence of human socialization, the act of framing is descriptive of our mental processes–and morally neutral.
What isn’t morally neutral is the use of framing to distort reality, to push people’s “buttons,” to obscure relevant information and harden, rather than relax, our worldviews. The hired guns who do this for the political parties are not concerned with reality–they are concerned with winning. So social programs become “giveaways,” feminists are always “strident,” and concerns about social justice are “socialism.”
I think it was Tallyrand who said that “words are given to man to conceal his thoughts.” The ability to name things is an essential tool of communication. The ability to mis-name things is a weapon employed by the amoral.