10.8.08

NON-ABELIAN TALK. I had some time between trains in Chicago and picked up George Lakoff's The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain. (Yes, as if I didn't have enough stuff to read on the train already, that, plus it's all got to be schlepped). I did finish the book, somewhere in western New York, and it gets a quick Book Review No. 31. Professor Lakoff continues to peddle his advice to Democrats (he prefers the "progressive" conceit, but we all know who the audience is) to "frame" policy issues in such a way as to appeal to peoples' methods of thinking in ways that can counteract Republican frames. I have never been impressed with the approach, and one reason the book was a quick read was that it revisits familiar ground. The professor is still using his "tax relief" argument (the cleanest "frame", which he doesn't develop well, might be "membership dues", but that, too, is incomplete as it neglects all sorts of principal-agent and public choice problems that might make a voter receptive to limiting the government's tax take, and sympathetic to reducing its power.) His japes at the surge are dated.

The few parts I found much more compelling were the references to the technical work in linguistics and in mathematics. Hence the group theoretic title. Consider one of Professor Lakoff's examples: affection being measured by temperature (cool to the advances of another, warms up over time, whether plied with good conversation or with strong drinks goes beyond the model.) But the reverse mapping (temperatures being described as more or less affectionate) does not exist. I'm looking for an accessible treatment of the intellectual cross-fertilization between linguists and mathematics, as the logical puzzles strike me as fun. The public policy analysis fails to convince and the professor appears to know just enough about game theory to be dangerous.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge).

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