What is the form this mental organization takes? Dr. Lakoff believes our personal morality is framed by our family structure as children. There are two rough types or classes of family: the “strict father” paradigm and the “nurturing parents” paradigm.
The “strict father” is a definite patriarch of his family, in control of his dependents in order to create good citizens out of egotistical, self-centered infants. He must teach morality through discipline and punishment. The rules are there for a reason, and are absolute. If you strive enough, you will succeed, and just as surely, if you do not succeed it is directly attributable to your lack of discipline and morality.
The “nurturing parents,” on the other hand, believe in a more equal and caring perspective. In order to create and nurture within a family or group, there must be freedom and fairness. This requires empathy, strength, and cooperation. Everyone works together to help each other be fulfilled, improve, and grow into being trustworthy, responsible nurturers.
Only he who handles his ideas lightly is master of his ideas, and only he who is master of his ideas is not enslaved by them.
— Lin Yutang
Dr. Lakoff did an excellent job of presenting both perspectives rationally and without bias, I thought, and then clearly showed how each viewpoint could lead to a more conservative or more progressive attitude towards the complex life issues we all face. Indeed, he took the time to also delineate some of the arguments against being a progressive, which he noted he was. I wish he’d had more time to talk — he was quite fascinating and rational to listen to.
He even had really good questions phoned or e-mailed in, much to my pleasure. One of them gave him the opportunity to point out we are exposed to both models through our culture and we’re not irrevocably programmed. It’s possible for someone to be so disgusted with their childhood experiences that they decide to rebel — to live within the other style of mental organization. A strictly raised child might forswear corporal punishment for their children; a permissively raised child might long for more structure in life.
The unprejudiced observer will rely on the statement of Carl Jung, that understanding is difficult, but condemnation is easy.
— Arno Borst
Another question was framed by a psychology professor at the University of Massachussets in Boston, who’d done a study which had given him puzzling results. He’d found a strong, direct correlation between harsh punishment as children, and an extremely punitive adult viewpoint on some social/political issues. What he found confusing was why asking these people to reflect on their childhood experiences negated their conservative reaction to the public opinion questions.
Dr. Lakoff pointed out that doing so (asking respondents to reflect on the painful punishment received as children) probably was causing neural inhibition of the “strict father” model — or, phrased the way the psychologist put it, the emotional displacement of insisting on punishment for wrong-doing in others was negated by remembering past pain.
To me the experimental results made excellent logical sense — if you’re asking someone to consider the pain of punishment in childhood, aren’t you also asking them to empathize with the potential pain of others? -to, in effect, think more with a “nurturing parents” perspective?
I don’t know how Dr. Lakoff comes off in real life, but on the radio show he was quietly thoughtful, logical, and nonjudgmental about both sides of a difficult and contentious situation. It was such an incredible relief to listen to someone who wasn’t demanding we froth brainlessly about those “eeeee-vile Others.” Why can’t more folks talk calmly and rationally like this?