The Weaponized Nonsense of George Lakoff

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George Lakoff

Sometimes you read a newspaper column that starts off so pointless and insipid you can’t tell whether it’s supposed to be a parody of bad writing, or the writer just wants to introduce a humorous idea but can’t find the right hook to hang it on. This happened a few days ago (April 10) in the Washington Post, with a column by one Steven Petrow.

Petrow, who appears to specialize in matters of “gay etiquette,” spent half his column rattling on about how people are hurling new insults at him these days, and they’re words he doesn’t even know. New words like . . . “libtard” . . . and . . .”SJW.”

…SJW? I had no clue. In a personal ad it might mean “straight Jewish woman,” but two of those don’t apply to me. So what was this snarky new gem of an insult?

Petrow probably intended to write to cute little glossary of Alt Right terms, then found out that idea has been done to death. So he went in another direction entirely and told us these “new terms” are actually a Nazi-like “coded language” that the Alt Right came up with to “control discourse.” At least, according to an authority at UC Berkeley by the name of George Lakoff. 

You may never have thought of “SJW” or “libtard” as specifically Alt Right, but you’ve probably heard of George Lakoff. This emeritus professor of linguistics was one of those oddball pundits who went against conventional wisdom and predicted Donald Trump’s victory last year. Lakoff supposedly based his prediction on close analysis of Trump’s speeches and tweets, which he says were carefully crafted to tug at the authoritarian heartstrings of American voters.

And according to Lakoff, Alt Right terminology is designed along similar principles:

These new words are intrinsic to the alt-right’s rise, according to Lakoff… He connects this to the Nazis and the coded language (prime example: “the master race”) that eventually allowed them to topple governmental institutions. “The strategy is to control discourse,” Lakoff points out. “One way you do that is preemptive name calling . . . based on a moral hierarchy.”

All this scary talk of Nazis and Herrenvolk gives the game away, of course. Lakoff is less interested here in linguistic analysis than he is in painting the Alt Right as dank and sinister. When he explains what he means by “moral hierarchy,” it’s equally unhinged, as though he’s trying to troll poor Petrow with ineffable nonsense:

“God above man, man above nature, men above women. The strong above the weak. Christians above gays,” he said . . . Lakoff emphasized that [Alt Right name-calling] is different from the Democrats’ labeling some conservatives racist, sexist or homophobic — which they do — if only because that usage is not as “canny” or strategic.

Is Lakoff just kidding around here? No, he’s perfectly serious. He really, truly is maintaining that leftists don’t strategically weaponize language when they bully and name-call with such cant words as “racist” and “homophobic.” And while this argument is preposterous, Lakoff is one the biggest, bullying offenders of all. The whole thrust of his esoteric, impenetrable theories of political language is that traditional “right-wing” values ought to be regarded as pathological. In this respect he’s a throwback to leftist and Jewish community-relations propagandists of the 1950s and 60s, always detecting “neuroses” or a “paranoid style” among Joe McCarthy fans, Birchers, segregationists, Barry Goldwater, and even National Review-style conservatives. 

Last year’s Presidential campaign gave Lakoff renewed prominence, with a golden opportunity to apply his cockeyed theories to the public character of Donald Trump. He revisited this subject again recently, on the Marketplace program on public radio. (Link here; Lakoff begins about 18 minutes in.) In this radio talk, Lakoff describes Donald Trump as a master salesman who deliberately chooses words and catch-phrases to win over voters who have a certain type of personality aberration. This aberration leads Trump voters to prefer authoritarian personalities, particularly candidates who have what Lakoff calls a “strict-father morality” way of speaking. He estimates this segment of the electorate at about 35%, and notes that it’s close to the percentage who like President Trump in approval-rating polls.

For Lakoff, that strict-father morality theory is his Grand Unifying Principle of political behavior. It sounds interesting, but alas, whenever he tries to illustrate what he means by it, it comes out like psychobabble from a street-corner prophet. From the radio interview:

If you look at history, you see that strict fathers win… So you see religion won out, you have God above man, and we have conquered nature, we have man above nature, we can take anything we want for our use. Uh, you have the strong above the weak, you know, we need a strong army and so on. And that hierarchy follows from one idea, it’s not a bunch of different ideas, it’s strict-father morality as applied to all aspects of life.

The main thing is if that is your world view and that’s your morality, that defines who you are a person, it’s self-definition. And people don’t vote against their self-definition. Not only that, but it doesn’t matter if Trump lies to them, and they know he’s lying, because there’s a Higher Truth, which is strict-father morality itself… That’s why there are “Alternative Facts”!

On his website and blog, Lakoff’s thoughts are just as indecipherable. It’s like stepping into a bottomless pit of quicksand, leftist murk and clichés closing in about you from all sides, unbroken by any ray of reason or good sense. Last July he wrote a long essay called “Understanding Trump,” and it is little more than collocation of all the anti-Trump, anti-nationalist stock phrases we heard over and over. Trump is a bully, says Lakoff; and he appeals to people because he attacks Political Correctness and promotes easy answers to problems. If there are 11 million illegal aliens, Trump says they should be deported, and Lakoff is aghast at such simplicity; though he fails to propose alternative solutions to this, or any other issue.

Lakoff simply dismisses all pro-nationalist ideas, à l’outrance, on the grounds that they are popular, common-sensical, and appeal to traditional values. Again and again he locates the blame in his mystical bugaboos of “moral hierarchy” and “strict-father morality”:

There are at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict-father morality and its moral hierarchy. . .  For many years, such bigotry has not been publicly acceptable, especially as more immigrants have arrived, as the country has become less white, as more women have become educated and moved into the workplace, and as gays have become more visible and gay marriage acceptable. As liberal anti-bigotry organizations have loudly pointed out and made a public issue of the unAmerican nature of such bigotry, those conservatives have felt more and more oppressed by what they call “political correctness”. . .

Donald Trump expresses out loud everything they feel — with force, aggression, anger, and no shame. All they have to do is support and vote for Trump and they don’t even have to express their ‘politically incorrect’ views, since he does it for them and his victories make those views respectable. He is their champion. He gives them a sense of self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.

Does anyone take George Lakoff seriously? On the Left, his reputation has ranged from guru to wacko. In the early 2000’s he was a popular speaker at Democrat candidate conclaves, brimming with theories and linguistic magic tricks that would help them start winning again. Howard Dean pronounced Lakoff “one of the most influential political thinkers of the progressive movement” in a 2004 book-blurb endorsement. But then the Dean campaign tanked, the John Kerry play-it-safe candidacy got Swift-boated, and Lakoff was out of favor.

Recounting the ups and downs of Lakoff’s fortunes, Andrew Ferguson wrote in 2006 that Lakoff was now a “stock figure of fun” in the pages of the American Prospect, while The New Republic had just “trashed” Lakoff’s latest book. Ferguson recalled that Lakoff had first reached a widespread audience in September 2001, with his bizarre essay (“Metaphors of Terror“) about the sexual symbolism of on the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon:

“Towers are symbols of phallic power,” Mr. Lakoff explained, “and their collapse reinforces the idea of loss of power.”

And if you think the Twin Towers were symbolically profound, wait till you get a load of the Pentagon: “Another kind of phallic imagery was more central here,” Mr. Lakoff wrote. “The Pentagon, a vaginal image from the air, was penetrated by the plane as missile.”

Ferguson noted tartly that a man who could write such things “may be suited to many tasks, but counselor to a major political party . . . is not one of them.”

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The Weaponized Nonsense of George Lakoff

Willis A. Carto (July 17, 1926 – October 26, 2015): An Overdue Tribute

carto1960Willis Allison Carto died Monday night in Virginia, full of years (89), achievements and honors. But this memorial tribute is nevertheless way overdue. If you know the broad outlines of Mr. Carto’s life (biography review here) you know that he was, for well over a half-century, the founder and patron of those political movements we now variously call Paleoconservatism, Race-Realism, White Nationalism . . . or Alt Right.

Pause and consider. When you imbibe the heady sophistication and philosophical analyses here at Counter-Currents—or laugh at the mordant humor of Mike Enoch’s The Right Stuff; or addictively check out The Occidental Observer and Radix Journal every day; or appreciate the rich, deep lore available at such sites as Inconvenient History and Euro-Synergies—then you must give a tip of your mental hat to Willis Allison Carto, the old pioneering strategist who made this Alt Right possible.

Lest we forget, Mr. Carto himself had quite a few titles, imprints, websites, in his long life. Right. Western Destiny. The American Mercury (which he owned in the 60s and 70s). The Washington Observer. The Spotlight. The Journal of Historical Review. The Barnes Review. American Free Press. The Noontide Press. Independent Publishers.

The Anti-Buckley

Back in the Fifties, when Bill Buckley and his National Review crew were trying to reinvent American conservatism by casting it as something cutesy and sanitized and nice-to-the-Jews, Mr. Carto, a Purple Heart recipient (once shot by a Jap sniper on Cibu Island, May 1945) looked the enemy in the face and did not flinch. He did not balk or cringe when they called him an anti-semite, a racist, a crypto-nazi.

Nicey-nicey folks of the National Review stripe get shirty when you call them names. So it’s appropriate that in 2015 we now have a fine snide name to call them. Cuckservatives! I don’t know if Willis Carto paid attention to that word when it was making sound and fury in the political blogosphere this summer, but I like to think that he did.

Of course he did. He must have heard about it. And must have had a great big triumphal end-of-life belly-laugh. Bwah-hah-hah!

(The comeuppance of the cucks! National Review goes down hard. Willis Carto lives to see it. Oh what a world! What a world!)

William F. Buckley, Jr. and Willis A. Carto sparred continuously, in print and in the courts, for much of their adult lives. Initially, in the early- and mid-Fifties, they swam in the same waters, along with such luminary confederates as G. L. Rockwell, Russell Maguire, and Revilo Oliver. After National Review got launched in 1955, however, Bill Buckley began to disavow his old associates, along with the teachings of his upbringing and religion. Willis Carto founded Liberty Lobby the same year, but unlike Buckley built his enterprise into a sturdy multi-million-dollar organization, with a townhouse a block from the Capitol.

National Review assiduously ignored Carto until September 1971. Then it published a “hit” piece on him, bylined by one C.H. Simonds and full of formulaic denunciations about “anti-Semitism” and Carto’s deep sympathy for the American Fascist philosopher Francis Parker Yockey. Where did this come from? Well, it appears that the rising popularity of Yockey’s Imperium (published by Carto’s Noontide Press) and bearing an Introduction signed by Carto, was the probable trigger for this smear job. Imperium was then being widely distributed by the National Youth Alliance—formerly Youth for Wallace, later National Alliance. (((Someone))), presumably the ADL, decided this new Danger on the Right was both fearsome and—better yet!—an attractive fundraising opportunity.

Thereafter Willis Carto and Liberty Lobby made regular appearances in the mainstream press—National Review, the New York Times, and a strange, short-lived 1981 magazine backed by political journalist Jack Anderson, called The Investigator. An article and accompanying sidebars in this publication depicted Carto as the leader of a bizarre cult that worshipped the memory of Francis Parker Yockey, a “Nazi” who (according to an accompanying illustration) committed suicide in a San Francisco jail in 1960, clad only in boxer shorts and jackboots. Carto and Liberty Lobby immediately sued for libel on the grounds that they were therein described as “neo-Nazi, fascist, anti-Semitic, and racist,” and these allegations were based entirely on one-sided reports from biased sources. Antonin Scalia of the US Circuit Court eventually found for Carto and Liberty Lobby in 1984.[1] Meanwhile, The Investigator was long gone from the newsstands, having folded after that lurid pilot issue.

In an even more protracted case,  1971-85, Carto and Liberty Lobby sued Buckley for the hit piece by “C. H. Simonds.”  The court agreed that the Simonds article was “a muddled smear,” but agreed with Buckley that Liberty Lobby should not have reported Buckley’s “close working relationship” with George Lincoln Rockwell in the 1950s. [2]

Meantime, from 1978 to 1983, there was a libel suit between Buckley pal (and Watergate co-conspirator) E. Howard Hunt and the Liberty Lobby. A Wilmington, Delaware newspaper and The Spotlight (then published by Liberty Lobby) both claimed that CIA operative Hunt had been present in Dallas at the time of the JFK assassination. Hunt decided to sue Liberty Lobby but not the Delaware paper. Carto’s attorney Mark Lane was able to show that Hunt had indeed been in Dallas at the time of the assassination; and was almost certainly one of the suspect “tramps” arrested (and swiftly released) by Dallas Police on November 22, 1963.

Operational Security

Willis Carto and his wife Elisabeth were friends of mine. We first met at a Liberty Lobby function on Capitol Hill in 1985. Thereafter I saw them frequently for about ten years, first in DC, then in Southern California. I wrote occasionally for The Spotlight, and worked freelance for book-editing projects at the Institute for Historical Review in Costa Mesa.

In March of this year, 2015, I decided to look up my old friends. I hadn’t seen them since their Christmas party in Escondido in 1995. (I remember I brought a bottle of pinot noir, and that I had a dangling tailpipe and dented muffler. Willis advised me I really ought to get that muffler replaced. Which I promptly did.)  Then I moved out of the country [3] and the Cartos lost their mountaintop house through the actions of some very erratic, ungrateful employees.

I knew that Willis and Elisabeth had recently (February 2015) moved their editorial headquarters (The Barnes Review and American Free Press) from Capitol Hill in DC to a spacious office-park suite in the wilds of Prince Georges County, Maryland. From California I remembered Willis’s fondness for cheap, anonymous business estates with lots of room to store shippable books and back issues of magazines. The Cartos’ enterprises in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa had been set up this way. Neverthless I was quite unprepared for the long, almost impossible trek it was from Largo Station at the end of the Washington DC Metro, to their offices many miles to the north.

The Largo end of Prince Georges County is almost entirely negro. There is a Metro station and a bad shopping mall; otherwise, not much there there. You get out at Largo station and discover there is virtually no public transportation beyond. I had to pay a Guinean cabbie $50 to drive me to the Cartos’ office park some ten miles away. Once I got there, it took them a while to remember me (we were all twenty years older) but when they did they were full of useful information, such as Elisabeth’s recommendation that I rent a car from Enterprise next time I come up from Washington—much cheaper than Metro and taxi. They told me how they now had a home in Orange County, Virginia (over an hour’s drive away), and how they, and most of the editorial staff, came into the office only once each fortnight.

I gathered that these new, remote offices were taken in consideration of Operational Security. Back in California, they had once lost a warehouse of books through (Jewish) terrorist bombings, and some years later they got forced out of their premises at gunpoint by greedy, disgruntled employees.

But that kind of swindle was Willis’s Achilles heel. Like King Lear, Willis Carto was repeatedly done in by deceitful “heirs” and underlings. He never went mad on the Blasted Heath, and he always sprang back with new enterprises, but still it was disconcerting to watch him make the same mistakes over and over.

Tragicomedy and Hope

The classic, central saga about Carto in this respect is l’affaire IHR: the mind-numbing, seemingly endless lawsuits between him and his former employees at the Institute for Historical Review (roughly 1993-2000). This is a tale that the ADL, SPLC and Antifa groups never tire of recounting with gleeful Schadenfreude.

Briefly, an heir of Thomas Edison had left Willis Carto (or one of his enterprises) a legacy of about seven million dollars. Some senior employees at the IHR discovered this, declared that part of the legacy had been siphoned to Carto’s other enterprises, and proceeded to evict him from the organization’s board as well as from the premises of the IHR [4] Later on, the IHR employees obtained a court judgment against the Cartos and seized their Escondido house (which the Cartos supposedly made semi-inhabitable by disconnecting all the mains and filling the bathroom commodes with cement). [5]

aceNone of this should have been a surprise to Willis. His first director of the IHR, 1978-81, William David McCalden (aka “Lewis Brandon”) was also the first to turn traitor. Very energetic but egotistical, David took his personal contacts and mailing lists from the IHR, and set up a sort of rival, one-man, operation called Truth Missions, which consisted of little more than a monthly newsletter making fun of Willis Carto and his successive employees. David’s young successor, Keith Stimely, came aboard at age 23 and helped turn the Journal of Historical Review into a serious, scholarly publication; while also helping Willis amass a devastating “dirt file” on McCalden (distributed c. 1984 as Dossier on a “Revisionist” Crank). Then Keith too turned against Willis, and wrote up his own dirt-file: Willis was an opportunist, a huckster like Kirk Douglas in Billy Wilder’s Ace in the Hole. Someone who signed his name to the Introduction to Imperium, even though Revilo Oliver wrote it! A philistine, someone who couldn’t sit through a Bruckner symphony without squirming! [6]

What always baffled me about Willis is that he did not spot this repeating pattern, and thereby foresee the 1993 IHR “coup,” when his four senior employees, with the assistance of the IHR’s outside counsel, seized control of the premises and forced Willis and Elisabeth out of the offices at gunpoint. This time the situation snowballed to the point where the Cartos and their other organizations (Liberty Lobby, The Spotlight) were forced into bankruptcy.

The Cartos were amazingly resilient, and recovered even from this disaster. But it still beggars belief how Willis got himself into this tragicomic predicament again and again.

Perhaps you just can’t build a successful nationalist, racialist organization, unless you are able to maintain a high-trust mentality, the kind of trust Willis took for granted growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. If this is the case, then we’re just all going to have to take our risks and take our knocks. Trust everyone but cut the cards. In the meantime…

Farewell then, Willis, comrade. Many lessons learned!

Notes

1. Carto and Liberty Lobby sued, won a judgment. The case was appealed. Judge Antonin Scalia of the US Circuit Court upheld the findings that Carto and LL had been defamed and that Anderson and his writers had acted with malice.

2. The one finding against Liberty Lobby has a very contemporary ring: ‘On two counts of the magazine’s charges, Judge [Joyce Hens] Green ruled that Liberty Lobby committed libel by saying National Review favored allowing ”militant sex deviates” the right ”to molest your children,” and that the magazine was a ”mouthpiece” of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith.’ NY Times, Oct. 26, 1985.

3. Willis was disappointed when I moved to London for some years on business. He was a real old-fashioned Midwestern Anglophobe.

4. Some employees would stay with or visit me while plotting with IHR board members. Like Mrs. Surratt, I “kept the nest where the plot was hatched.” Except in this case I really did believe that this nice Mr. Booth was merely a charming young actor.

5. Personal anecdote.

6. Keith Stimely, 1986 memoir about the IHR and Willis Carto.

Willis A. Carto (July 17, 1926 – October 26, 2015): An Overdue Tribute