Reinventing Newspeak – The Fatal Error at the Heart of The Little Blue Book

Most people who are passionate about politics wish to convince others to see things their way. To that end, the world-famous linguist and partisan Democrat George Lakoff has written the Little Blue Book:

Voters cast their ballots for what they believe is right, for the things that make moral sense. Yet Democrats have too often failed to use language linking their moral values with their policies. The Little Blue Book demonstrates how to make that connection clearly and forcefully, with hands-on advice for discussing the most pressing issues of our time: the economy, health care, women’s issues, energy and environmental policy, education, food policy, and more. Dissecting the ways that extreme conservative positions have permeated political discourse, Lakoff and Wehling show how to fight back on moral grounds and in concrete terms. Revelatory, passionate, and deeply practical, The Little Blue Book will forever alter the way Democrats and progressives think and talk about politics.

from publisher’s description.

At first blush this seems like a great idea to the passionate person – they’re sure to win all the arguments if they follow the books recipe! But the book’s recipe is not a recipe for winning arguments, but rather a recipe for preventing the reader from losing arguments – from being convinced by the person they are arguing with. How? By preventing them from actually being able to consider the opponents’ arguments by removing the opponents’ language from the reader’s brain.

The book starts off from a profound starting point, that people make decisions based on their moral frames of reference. But then it goes in a very unexpected direction. It instructs the reader to completely ignore the interlocutor’s own moral frames.

  • Use your own language; never use your opponent’s language
  • Be aware of what you believe and repeat it out loud over and over; never repeat ideas that you don’t believe in, even if you are arguing against them.

Let’s contrast these instructions with those of the late Dr Covey who has a great video that starts from the same premise – but argues that to communicate, you must adopt your interlocutor’s frame of reference and to try to understand where they are coming from.

As a method of convincing people, this book is a disaster; it purposes shouting down the non-progressive by denying them any legitimacy to their ideas. One the interlocutor figures out that what he is saying is being ignored, he will probably reciprocate by not listening to anything the reader has to say.

So what benefit is there to the reader to refuse to think like the person they are arguing with? George Orwell explained:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of IngSoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression  to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods.

The Principles of Newspeak – An Appendix to 1984 by George Orwell

The book is not a recipe on how to convince, but in fact is a recipe teaching the reader how to be intolerant and closed-minded.

Interestingly, this should not be a surprise. In a study of people’s ability to articulate political arguments, progressives had the worst performance when it comes to being able to articulate the ideas of people they disagree with. If you were to ask a Goldwater-conservative to provide you with the argument for Single-Payer Health-Care, he is far more likely to be able to do so than a progressive will be able to make the argument for a free market in health-care.

This book continues the trend, and if adopted by progressives will ensure the continued inability to attract new supporters to their movement… which is a very good thing.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.
  • tkc

    Michael Barone on the subject:
    “Liberals can protect themselves better against assaults from outside their cocoon. They can stay out of megachurches and make sure their remote controls never click on Fox News. They can stay off the AM radio dial so they will never hear Rush Limbaugh.

    The problem is that this leaves them unprepared to make the best case for their side in public debate. They are too often not aware of holes in arguments that sound plausible when bandied between confreres entirely disposed to agree.”

    This Blue Book thing reinforces ‘cocooning’ and will be bad thing for the left.

  • tkc

    OMG! In keeping with the Obama complaint that ATMs cost banking tellers their jobs the Kindle version costs more than the paperback version.


    And it is bundled with ‘The Communist’ for $25. I can’t stop laughing.

  • Seerak

    The fatal error in this blog post is misconstruing the Little Blue Book’s core feature as a bug, or “error”.

    The complete sabotage of rational discourse is the end-of-road of Leftist epistemology. When persuasion is no longer practical, all that remains is faith, and force.

  • tkc

    “Yet Democrats have too often failed to use language linking their moral values with their policies. The Little Blue Book demonstrates how to make that connection clearly and forcefully…”

    Yet the name of the book conjures up one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.

  • MingoV

    The progressives/left wingers reverse meanings continually. That’s why the word liberal today means almost the opposite of what it meant in the 19th century. Another great example is the left wingers’ confusing substitution of color labels (blue vs. red) for the traditional left wing vs. right wing. The left wing always had been portrayed as red to pink. The USA mass media (mostly left wingers) strongly supported the use of blue vs. red, and one rarely hears or reads about left vs. right. Now, the left wingers have their own “Little Blue Book” to dress-up their flaky beliefs with misused language and altered word meanings. (I wonder how many of them recognize the homage to Mao’s “Little Red Book?” Mao used the same principle of misusing language: his Cultural Revolution was all about destroying the educated individuals who supported China’s culture.)

  • Brendan
  • tarran

    Seerak, I considered the idea that the book was crafted on purpose to prevent the reader from listening, but decided not to make that assertion because it seemed a bridge too far.

    I decided to take their explanations at face value.

    But, as has been pointed out by others, there is a strong element of group-think-enforcement permeating this book, and I would be very unsurprised if that was done on purpose.

  • Adeela

    The review on the Little Blue Book is one filled with sort of negative connotations,but is not it politic same thing?! Instructions on how to ignore your opponent’s moral reasoning it is inevitably provoking intolerance and closed-mindness, so what is the new hue in the picture of how a politic works and the way that our politicians operate?!