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Don't Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  5,581 ratings  ·  619 reviews
Don't Think of An Elephant! is the antidote to the last forty years of conservative strategizing and the right wing's stranglehold on political dialogue in the United States.

Author George Lakoff explains how conservatives think, and how to counter their arguments. He outlines in detail the traditional American values that progressives hold, but are often unable to articula
Paperback, First Edition, 144 pages
Published September 2004 by Chelsea Green Publishing
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Jun 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Trish by: Betsy Robinson
This slim handbook subtitled “Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives” was originally published in 2004. It is slightly more than one hundred pages that recaps the large ideas Lakoff had written about in his role as cognitive scientist, in a book called Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, first published in 1996 by the University of Chicago Press. Moral Politics is on it's third edition (ISBN-13: 978-0226411293), published in time for the 201 ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Trigger warning for progressive politics!
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: ALL
Recommended to Natalie by: Kathy D'Amato
Shelves: politics
Have you ever pondered why people driving old hoopdee mobiles plaster George W stickers on their bumpers? Or...Why do people struggling to pay their rent vote for Republican candidates?
Personally, I've always wondered how any teacher in a public school could ever support any conservative nut. It undermines everything we work for!
How? Why? We'll as an educator, I should have known, because I studied the way people learn in college. The basic research reveals that people learn from stories. Give
I read the original version of this when it first came out. I was working as an industrial officer in a trade union at the time and the idea we needed to start finding a way to reframe the debate to make social justice more relevant seemed pretty urgent. I don't remember being all that impressed with the book to be honest. But I think I'm much more impressed with it now. I've a feeling that is because I've read much more by the author and now know he isn't just a 'self-help' kind of author, alth ...more
Betsy Robinson
Jun 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although it is only 168 pages and subtitled "The essential progressive guide for the issues that define our future . . .," cognitive scientist George Lakoff has written an opus, not a quick-fix, sound-bite-loaded little guide. Often it suffers from too much detail, but I'm giving it five stars for the sections that explain the brain science of why facts don't matter to many voters and they will vote against their own interests, and the last chapter (which is worth the cost of the book), "How to ...more
Nov 26, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: politics
I just finished reading George Lakoff’s don’t think of an elephant: know your values and frame the debate. Published in 2004, it appears to be a collection of essays and thoughts he has pulled together over the years. Frankly, it could have been reduced to about a 30-40 page primer that might get a wider audience. However, at 119 pages, it’s a quick read.

The book is about frames, i.e. how we understand the world, how we know what we know. Frames control how we deal with new facts that are presen
Apr 04, 2007 added it
I use this book in the bullshit class as a foil for the Orwell. It's really pretty terrible.

Lakoff has some reasonable claims to make about conservatives manipulating language, but his positive proposals for how the Democrats should revise language are preposterous and the cognitive science background for his recommendations makes it seem like Democrats and Republicans can't understand each other because their brains are wired up differently.
Jack Wolfe
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is still relevant, and I'll prove it:

"By presenting a laundry list of issues, Clinton and other Democrats fail to present a moral vision-- a coherent identity with a powerful cultural stereotype-- that defines the very identity of the voters they are trying to reach. A list of issues is not a moral vision. Indeed, many Democrats were livid that Trump did not run on the issues. He didn't need to. His very being activated the strict father model-- the heart of the moral vision of conserv
Elizabeth Wallace
Aug 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Elizabeth by: Nathan
My brother-in-law (who gave me this book in response to my request: "I NEED BOOKS THAT TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON") told me this book is a must-read for any liberal who wants to debate intelligently. Now, before you click on to a different book with the thought "Gah, snore.." this is ALSO a book for non-political people. I hate politics, I'm bored by them, and sometimes scared half to death by them, but what I REALLY hate is not knowing what's going on, and not being able to join in the d ...more
Jan 28, 2009 rated it liked it

The question this book poses is a very good one. In the US, Democrats and Republicans disagree on almost everything. Why is that?

Lakoff's answer is that it all goes back to different ways of thinking about the concept of the family. Republicans assume that people are fundamentally bad. They think in terms of an authoritarian father-figure, who expects to be obeyed, and in return protects the family both from a hostile outside world and from their own mistaken desires. Democrats assume that peopl
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A game-changer for anyone who wants to understand how to frame their values in public discourse and understand why / how others frame theirs. Powerful, practical, applicable to political discourse as well as for activists in progressive movements. Animal activists take note!
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
I enjoyed this book for the most part, although it should be updated again in 2024. Lakoff has changed how I view debate as a whole. The discussions with the many conservatives I work with will hopefully be more constructive from now on. However, my experience reading this book was not without criticism.

While Lakoff explains frameworks and dissects the mindsets of voters in a refreshing way, he also toes dangerously close to the “blue good red bad” partisan argument.

Lakoff says that outside of
Apr 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This slim volume on political framing by George Lakoff is sometimes referred to as a 101 to his many other publications. It goes a long way in explaining why the left and right struggle with meaningful conversations. This is another incarnation of a book originally published in 2004. Lakoff is a cognitive scientist and linguist who has been teaching at Berkley since 1972. (Sidelight: "Berzerkly" as my brother would fondly call it. My bro moved there to complete a second master's degree in the 70 ...more
Jul 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is an unsettlingly convincing analysis of a frame that unifies the Republican's political platform: the government as a strict father. He explains a decades-long strategy to train bright minds and coach leaders to use coherent language and dominate the media. Consequently, the argument goes, the Republicans define our concepts of most important issues, while the Democrats are left to argue against them, still using their language. He advocates that the Democrats evolve their own langua ...more
Mar 01, 2008 rated it it was ok
I had heard the book discussed a fair amount prior to reading it and do not feel that actually reading it added much to my understanding. This must have been a collection of essay because some ideas are just repeated over and over. The concept is actually not very hard to grasp, so even this very short book seemed too long! Frankly, practical tips rather than just the concept would have made it more useful. I found the model of the "strict father" versus "nurturant parent" a bit insipid. The PC ...more
Annette Bowman
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the book anyone in the "resistance" should be reading.

Beverly Diehl
Nov 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: politics, non-fiction
This was a spectacular book which has changed the way I think of engaging in conversations about political and other hot-button issues, both in person and online. If you identify as liberal or a SJW, you MUST read this book.
This 2014 update of the 2004 first edition is even more badly needed than that original book. George Lakoff expands on his practical and philosophical message in response to the advances of the reactionary movement in the intervening years.
The failure of the establishment on the left to learn and apply these lessons, I believe, is one of the reasons Donald Trump became president of the U.S. I suspect Lakoff - like many other progressives - felt like beating his head against the nearest wall many
Jun 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
Okay, I went in knowing this was democratic propaganda, but I figured there would be a few good points, and I was right, there were a few good points, and the rest was democratic propaganda. He accuses the Republicans of always framing conversations in their language, but meanwhile he demonizes them every chance. Good thing that 'some of them aren't liars'. Also, where did he get the idea that if you raise taxes all your problems will go away. Ever heard of the Laffer curve? It may have its own ...more
For as long as I can remember, political discourse has been dominated by conservative ideologies and ideologues. Being a progressive myself, I have found it difficult to express my own political beliefs in a way that could be understood by my conservative friends. This book has changed my perspective entirely. Using the language of framing and reframing issues, Mr. Lakoff shows that the place progressives need to start is not with the facts, which can always be denied or ignored, nor with an iss ...more
Melinda Brinkman
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
While not the most exciting thing to read, it does give you a lot to think about.
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Must read for anyone trying to make sense of how and why people appear to vote against their own self interest.
Elizabeth Henderson
May 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
We're all doing it wrong!
Thought provoking and required reading for liberals and progressives alike about how to reframe and take back the political discourse in America.
Jul 08, 2009 marked it as to-read
Lakoff, a cognitive scientist, looks at 30 years of scientific research on the human brain, and asks some political questions. What he finds is the political divide is “not just in geography, religion or even power”, it in our heads (no pun intended).

Our country was born from the age of Enlightenment when reason was king, and emotion was irrelevant. Emotions were seen as just cluttering the issue at hand. The idea an educated, well informed, rational society will make rational, logical, fact bas
May 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: communications strategists, pro or amateur
This is the easier-to-digest-for-the-masses version of Lakoff's lengthier Moral Politics. It's stated purpose is to explain to the progressive side of the aisle how to effectively frame the debate in order to win hearts and minds. I am not sure that Lakoff is able to tear himself away from his incredibly academic style in order to teach this to average folk. Most "civilian" politicos I know who have read this came away with a very poor understanding of how to apply the theory. A lot have chosen ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
see this review for a good discussion of usa 2 parties from an outside perspective.
author's most basic and blanket principal is that repubs 'philosophy" is that of the forceful, patriarchal 'father' letting one do as they wish just so long as they don;t sin or step out of line. demos see all as fundamentally 'good' and that through discourse and logic, and humanism, people and politics will eventually do 'what is right".
book is supposed to be used as a primer for liberals to learn how to talk '
Henrik Akselsen
Feb 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read this book hoping it would be in the vain of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion but while reading all I wished for was to get this author to read The Righteous Mind.

Although he tries to make the reader understand how conservatives tries to frame their politics, his holier-than-thou attitude makes the book almost unreadable. In Lakoff's mind he is clearly on the team of the moral superiours, it's just that the conservatives are better at the actual fram
Jonas Hjalmar
Jun 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
George Lakoff has written an easy to read introduction to the use of metaphors and language in political debate. Although it is aimed at American progressives, I can take some value from it in understanding the debate climate in Sweden.

Biggest takeaway: the aha-moment when Lakoff describes the different conceptual metaphors that guides our political values. We tend to see “nation as a family” but while conservatives use the “strict father” concept, progressives use the “nurturing parents” concep
C. Scott
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A pretty short volume, but I thought it was fantastic. Lakoff's dissection of the "strict father" model alone (pages 7-11) was worth the price of entry. I laughed my ass off and at the same time was struck by the internal logic that he was laying down.

I love the idea of applying rationality and metaphor to understand the conservative movement. I think Lakoff is really on to something. The discussions about framing issues for your own benefit are also crucially important - lessons that the right
Feb 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
The author seems very condescending.
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George Lakoff is Richard and Rhoda Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at UC Berkeley and is one of the founders of the field of cognitive science.

He is author of The New York Times bestseller Don't Think of an Elephant!, as well as Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think, Whose Freedom?, and many other books and articles on cognitive science and ling

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