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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Two kinds of moral framing

Two kinds of moral framingBuckminster Fuller defined “wealth” (in contrast with money) as that which “nurtures” life.

George Lakoff says morality comes in two varieties: “nurturance” & “strictness”. (Remember Freud on “oral” and “anal” phases: nurturant breast-sucking, strict toilet-training).

Most media framing on jobs, welfare, “scroungers”, “dependency culture”, “hand-outs”, etc, reinforces (and derives from) what Lakoff calls “Strict Father Morality”. Central to this morality are self-reliance, self-discipline and “strength”. These are regarded as of primary importance. (They also feature prominently in “free market” ideology).

“Nurturant” morality, on the other hand, places empathy (or “care”, “love”, “compassion”, “community”, etc) in the primary position of importance (with things like self-reliance as secondary).

One can easily see “Strictness Morality” in religions which emphasise punishing father figures (eg Jehovah). And one can see a rationalist version of it in philosophers such as Kant, who wrote: “Accept no favours which you might do without. Do not be parasites nor flatterers nor … beggars. Complaining and whimpering … are unworthy of you”. (Kant, Metaphysics, ‘Concerning Servility’)

So What?

Both kinds of morality are established in our brains. Resisting either doesn’t really work, but an enormous amount of money is currently being spent on promoting Strictness Morality in areas that have long been located in the realm of nurturance. A “safety net”* (a virtue in nurturance morality) becomes “dependency” (a deadly sin in strictness morality), etc.

Understanding the two moral systems, and their underlying metaphors, can sometimes be more helpful than imagining a battle between moral people (our side) and immoral people (the other side).

* For more on the “safety net” metaphor, see this George Lakoff article.

Written by NewsFrames

September 21, 2011 at 3:26 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Similarly the morality of ‘hard work’ is framed entirely from an mythical traditional male point of view, so anyone (women and men) who do work (unpaid or paid) which is seen as nurturing is considered to be doing something of less or no value. See The Manly Mythology of Work

    Marilyn Waring wrote about this in Counting For Nothing and also in the NFB film Who’s Counting: Sex Lies and Global Economics.

    Livable4All (@Livable4All)

    September 22, 2011 at 2:45 am

    • Yep – it’s always seemed insane to me that the effort (“work”) involved in raising a child (nurturance) isn’t regarded as “wealth creation” in our culture. Unless you hire someone to do it for you, in which case it becomes part of GDP (or something).

      There’s very definitely a male/female aspect to this, although Lakoff plays it down a little (he talks of “Strict Father” and “Nurturant parent” moralities). G Rattray Taylor (‘Sex in History’) wrote about this matrist/patrist dichotomy, which seems to correlate with the oral/anal Freudian thing (Robert Anton Wilson comments on this at length in Ishtar Rising). Rattray Taylor also wrote books with the interesting titles: ‘Economics for the Exasperated’, ‘Conditions of Happiness’ and ‘Are Workers Human?’ (which I haven’t read). Then there’s Riane Eisler’s ‘The Chalice and The Blade’, etc… Hope to comment more on this stuff in later blog posts.

      The above material, the historical background (religious morality, and the violent “patriarchal” aspects of it) all, to me, dovetail beautifully with Lakoff’s more scientifically-centred work on framing. I also think Lakoff knows more than he’s letting on wrt this stuff… but that’s another story.

      Great to have you here, Livable4All, and I recommend your website to NewsFrames readers:


      September 22, 2011 at 8:25 am

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