Posts Tagged 'Lakoff'

There’s Something Bigger than Phil: On the Rule of One Law

In his classic 2000 Year Old Man, Mel Brooks played a character who has lived for 2000 year old man with an old-school Yiddish accent and Carl Reiner interviewed him as the straight man. Her is a short introduction:

In this amazing “interview” they explore the origin of faith:

INTERVIEWER: Did you believe in anything?

OLD MAN: Yes, a guy – Phil. Philip was the leader of our tribe.

INTERVIEWER: What made him the leader?

OLD MAN: Very big, very strong, big beard, big arms, he could just kill you. He could walk on you and you would die.

INTERVIEWER: You revered him?

OLD MAN: We prayed to him. Would you like to hear one of our prayers? “Oh Philip. Please don’t take our eyes out and don’t pinch us and don’t hurt us….Amen.”

INTERVIEWER: How long was his reign?

OLD MAN: Not too long. Because one day, Philip was hit by lightning. And we looked up and said…”There’s something bigger than Phil.”

I love this as a Rabbi, student of religion, and most interesting as a parent. I was thinking about this last Shabbat when Libi, who is 7 years old, asked me a law of Shabbat. Without getting into the details she asked me if X is permissible on Shabbat can she do Y. I love intellectually as it shows he facility and ownership of Jewish law. I also love it because it demonstrates that she understands that there is something bigger than Phil and I am not Phil.

I was I do thinking about that this week reading the start of Tzav, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.

Leviticus 6:1-2

What do we make of this language of being commanded? For many modern people the notion of command is complicated by the notion that there must be an Commander. But I think that misses the point that this command was not just said to Aaron or from Aaron, but rather there is one command for Aaron and his sons. What do we make of the command being to both the Father and the sons?

This question brings be to one of my favorite ideas by Prof. George Lakoff in which he juxtaposes the intellectual frame of conservative vs liberal thinking through the metaphor parenting styles. Lakoff described conservative voters as being influenced by the “strict father model” as a central metaphor for such a complex phenomenon as the state, and liberal/progressive voters as being influenced by the “nurturant parent model” as the folk psychological metaphor for this complex phenomenon. According to him, an individual’s experience and attitude towards sociopolitical issues is influenced by being framed in linguistic constructions.. He writes:

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are different models of the family. Conservatism, as we shall see, is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered around a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems and different discourse forms, that is, different choices of words and different modes of reasoning.

In this context God might be the commander, but Aaron along with his sons of equally commanded. I am intrigued at this notion that there is something bigger than Phil, meaning that we have no value of the Strict Father. God might know best, but daddy foes not. This has huge implications for us here today in the United States, Russia, and Israel. No one is above the law; not Trump, Putin, or Bibi. We need to evolve out of the looking for Phil. We need to strive to be nurturing parents equal under the law. And yes this even includes me with Libi regarding the laws of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom- to all of us equally.


Brothers Above All

In Toldot, this past week’s Torah portion, we read  the story of Rivka who after struggling to conceive is blessed with twins. During her turbulent pregnancy she sought out God. There she learned:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. ( Genesis 25:23)

JANUARY 11- DAILY READING THROUGH THE ONE YEAR BIBLE -Genesis 24:52-26:16;  Matthew 8:18-34; Psalm 10:1-15; Proverbs 3:7-8

In explaining “shall be separated from your bowels” Rashi writes:

As soon as they leave your body they will take each a different course — one to his wicked ways, the other to his plain life (Genesis 5:27)

And sure enough soon after the twins are born this happens.  Esav is born first and close at his heel is Yaakov. It is noteworthy that Yaakov’s name comes from holding on to his brother’s foot. Esav the older one is favored by Yitzhak while the younger son Yaakov is Rivka’s favorite. This tension is a throw back to Cain and Abel. While this does not end with one brother killing the other, it is not a model of fraternity. Where is the love between brothers?

What can we learn from this tension for our times? George Lakoff says that political messaging is all about framing. Once your concede to your opponents’ frame for the debate you have lost the debate.

A good example of this is taxes. When Republicans add the word “relief” to the word “tax”, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. And as soon as the Democrats are using “tax relief” they are shooting themselves in the foot.

That is what framing is about. Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.

Yaakov will always be living in reference to his brother ( or more specifically his brother’s heel), until he reframes the debate with changing his name. He is not limited to playing second fiddle to his brother when is renamed and reframed as Yisrael, the hero wrestling with God.

From “lock her up”, to “fake-news”, to “Kong Flu”, to questioning the very essence of fair and free elections, we have so much work to do to repair our society after Trump’s reframing of our modern partisan politics. We need to put the good of the country above the good of the party. The most critical reframing is to remember that at the start we are all siblings above all.

Framing the Narrative: Lakoff and the 10th of Tevet

As of late I have been taken with George Lakoff’s writing. Recently I read his The Political Mind. There he discusses the nexus between brain science, linguistics, and politics. There he writes:

One of the things cognitive science teaches us is that when people define their very identity by a worldview, or a narrative, or a mode of thought, they are unlikely to change-for the simple reason that it is physically part of their brain, and so many other aspects of their brain structure would also have to change; that change is highly unlikely. ( The Political Mind p.45)

Or simply put, when people get set in their thought patterns they are unlikely to change them. In this way the frame of the debate is the debate.

I was thinking about this today Asarah B’Tevet, the 10th of Tevet which commemorates when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, began the siege of Jerusalem (588 BCE). 18 months later, on the 17th of Tammuz his troops broke through the city walls. The siege ended with the destruction of the Temple three weeks later, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av), the end of the first Kingdoms and the exile of the Jewish people to Babylon. The Tenth of Tevet is thus considered to be the beginning of the end of the Jewish world as it was known during the First Temple period.

While anything that points to Tisha B’Av gets us thinking about one of my favorite topics being camp, I actually am much more interested in the ideas around what it means to be besieged. Seeing that the conclusion of this story is the end of Jewish sovereignty on Tisha B’Av, what is the significance to of starting with our people being pent-up, confined, and the subject of other people’s aggression. The end of our autonomy started with shutting us in and limiting our mobility. This day marks the shift in narrative from us writing our own story to us being the subjects on other empires’ stories.

To bring us back to George Lakoff, “Unless you frame yourself, others will frame you — the media, your enemies, your competitors, your well-meaning friends.” (How to Frame Yourself: A Framing Memo for Occupy Wall Street by George Lakoff, October 19, 2011.) Today Asarah B’Tevet is a sad day.

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