More on Framing: Mistakes and Concepts

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4 for Now

My introduction to framing explained what framing is, two major worldviews, and why framing is important. This time, we’ll look at two common mistakes and two important concepts to understand regarding framing.

Two Common Mistakes in Framing

Conservatives have spent so much time and money studying framing, it looks easy. They use pithy slogans that are so catchy and evoke such meaning, they become part of everyday conversations. So when we try it (”Abortion isn’t murder” or “Climate change is real”) and fail, it can be a disappointing surprise.

Therein lies the first mistake: framing isn’t just a pithy slogan [TW/ uncensored n-word]. It must go hand-in-hand with the keys to framing: don’t use their language, connect our values to the message, and repeat, repeat, repeat.

Another thing conservatives do, which feels like it shouldn’t work but does, is use statistics or statements to “prove” an issue, even when blatantly false. Many of us counter these with actual facts, thinking if we correct someone, they’ll realize their error and change their opinions.

But that’s the second mistake. Presenting the facts—even in the most effective way possible—won’t change anyone’s opinion if they counter what’s already believed. Quoting a statistic won’t change someone’s brain structure.

How do slogans and false “facts” work for conservatives? They become part of the public discussion, repeated and sustained over time, and connect to conservative values.

Concepts in Framing: Reflexivity

Reflexivity refers to a relationship between an entity and itself or an action directed back on the subject (from Merriam-Webster’s definition of “reflexive”).

Reflexivity in research refers to observing how the researcher affects the research and how the research can also affect the researcher.

In framing, reflexivity refers to how the world is shaped by our understanding of it, and our understanding is shaped by the world. For example, if you understand the world is hostile to poor people, you will interact with the world as such. The world then becomes more hostile to poor people, strengthening your belief. Which I suppose creates a feedback loop, which is part of our next concept.

Concepts in Framing: Systemic Causation

We’re familiar with direct causation (cause and effect). We experience it daily, starting from infancy. If we cry, our parents feed us. When we pull the cat’s tail, the cat scratches us. We hit the brakes in our car, the car stops.

Systemic causation is harder to observe, so it’s not something we learn naturally. It involves a complex problem consisting of one or more of four elements:

  1. A network of direct causes.
  2. Feedback loops. (When the outputs of a cause-and-effect system become inputs to prompt a new cycle.)
  3. Multiple causes.
  4. Probabilistic causation. (When the causes change the probabilities of their effects.)

The example Lakoff uses in Elephant (and in this video on YouTube) is global warming, which includes all four of the above elements.

This is important to understand because many of the issues we face are results of systemic causation, but we talk about them as if they were results of direct causation, and therefore are not addressing all causes.


4 for Later

If these sound familiar, it’s because they’re the same as from the intro post. Practicing framing is imperative if we wish to shift society out of strict fatherhood and into nurturance.

  1. Learn more. New Economics has a PDF documenting results from a project about Framing the Economy in the UK. This YouTube Video explains framing pretty thoroughly. (1 hour and 20 minutes long. The link starts you off after the introductions.)
  2. Practice framing. This site has a list of political issues. Think about where you stand on each one. Why? Can you connect that to a value or moral you hold?
  3. Practice reframing. Think about popular conservative talking points. How can you present your view on that issue without using the same language?
  4. I’m still looking for an organization that dedicates itself to studying political framing for the left. If you know of/find one, let me know!

What do you want me to write about?

If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover, or something I’ve already written that you’d like to know more about, let me know!