What's the difference between a liberal and progressive and why does it matter to you?

Our friend Joe Brewer over at Cognitive Policy Works takes on an issue that’s been the subject of some discussion among those on “both” sides of the aisle. The answer is a little more complex than you may imagine, and Joe’s thoughts are well worth the read.

6 replies »

  1. A cognitive linguist.

    Oh God.

    Not that cognitive linguistics isn’t a useful concept that may someday yield important data. My problem with it is that much of it simply repackages cognitive psychology and semantics. There may be some there there. I haven’t read everything there is to read about the field by a long shot. Having said that, there is nothing in this guy’s write up that couldn’t have been said, and said better I think, using cognitive psychology with a dash of semantics.

  2. Anyone else notice that most commenters around here typically feel the need to look for faults in others and don’t seem to know how to be supportive to save their lives.

    JS Obrien,

    You make this claim as if you know what you are talking about. But if you knew anything about the history of cognitive psychology, you would already realize that a central tenet of it is the presumption that semantics is not part of science and warrants no significance. This was a central assertion of Noam Chomsky (the central figure in founding cognitive psychology), who believed the only thing worth studying in language was a mathematical formalism about the structures of grammar. He vehemently denied the value of studying semantics, much to his error.

    Cognitive linguistics emerged in direct conflict with this assertion in the late sixties. It has grown throughout the following several decades into a synergy of overlapping research in linguistics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, neurophysiology, and yes, some aspects of cognitive psychology.

    Cognitive linguistics is the study of human cognition through various aspects of language. Some of cognitive psychology is indeed about language acquisition and language processing, though much of it is not. The parts that are happen to reside in the field of cognitive linguistics, as their central purpose is to understand language through cognitive function.

    Perhaps you should look for the good in other peoples’ work instead of claiming things about things you know very little about. It is not very becoming of you to exhibit foot-in-mouth disease right off the bat.

  3. Joe:

    I have spent most of my professional life working as an organizational behavioralist dealing primarily with cognitive levers effecting changes in norms of mass behavior. As a result, I think I’m pretty well versed in cognitive psychology but have not ignored behavioral roots in Hull, Heider, and the expectancy/valence crowd. I have built and validated a questionnaire in a score or so of Fortune 500 companies that measures 12 factors affecting organizational behavioral norms that is still being used as a diagnostic to identify causes of behavioral dysfunction.

    I believe I’m deeply into the literature on drive/habit, expectancy/valence, and consistency theories, as well as cybernetics, game theory, neurology, learning psychology/andragogy, systems theory, and a few other fields I’ve found useful, including a brush with the triune brain and the promise of neuropsychology.

    As I said, “I haven’t read everything there is to read about the field by a long shot,” and I have not, mainly because most of what I have read so far could have been said better in the 1950s — and often was. My rather mild attack on the article in question is as much frustration as anything else. So much has been known about cognitions’ effects on mass behavior for so long (as Bernays and Goebbels successes demonstrate), and so few people in the mainstream know so little about them, that working in mass behavior in large organizations is like trying to explain the Copernican system to a Chaldean astrologist. It’s not that they can’t get it. It’s that too much of it seems counter-intuitive, and there is that false model in their way.

    As for cognitive psychology and semantics, I meant what I said and Chomsky be damned (I have little patience for him). Add semantics to cognitive psychology, as many, many people have done since the ’50s whether they had a particular name for it or not, and you essentially have cognitive linguistics. My frustration with CL is that I have rarely read anything new from the field that I can use in my work.

    Clearly, I have gored your ox, and I’m sorry I did that. It wasn’t intentional. I will make you an offer, though. If you can point me to a CL publication that doesn’t rehash old territory and that will be useful to me on a contingency basis, I would be most grateful. I love learning new things, and I love being wrong about something, because the two tend to go together.

  4. I’m not informed enough to enter this hair splitting debate about cognitive linguistics, et. al. So i won’t.

    I read the piece and see the point. I even see how it’s probably right and good. Except that it seems to be an argument for tribalism. And like many good ideas has the capability to be terribly perverted in the hands of those less capable than the thinkers who originated the idea. I’ll submit the United States of America as exhibit A.

    Aren’t we already operating in tribe vs. tribe mode? My worry is that be defining ourselves with a tribe we are likely to fall into the psychological trap of dehumanizing those of other tribes. It’s next to impossible to read an internet comment thread without stumbling over Dimocrat and Rethuglican…or similar.

    However, if we could get everyone to agree on joining the tribe of progress that would be grand…until the divisions over what constitutes progress crop up. I won’t question that tribes can change the world, but most examples i can think of tend towards the negative. Too often declaring a tribe and using the tribe to change world ends up with hundreds of thousands hacked to death with machetes.

    But please consider my criticism’s source. My mythological world view doesn’t accept progress as possible along a straight time-line…except the progression towards death, which is the only goal of life, and rebirth (the psychological sort). The fundamental problem that you’re addressing is, to my mind, a modern human inability to integrate psychologically with the larger world. But that integration is an individual act. It is the individuated hero’s journey.

    I do believe in “happily ever after”, but not in a literal sense. It is the state of transcendent integration of the individual after conquering the dragons that reside within us. For me, the goal is not to perfect the world but to perfect ourselves, because the horse needs to precede the cart.

    But this, i hope you see, does not really contradict your thesis. Without every last one of us working towards self-perfection, i fear that the tribe too often becomes a replacement for the individual – psychologically – and there is great danger in that. For the integrated individual, the tribe is an important part of carrying out our work in the world. Unfortunately, as i look around the world i see too few integrated individuals; too many who’ve never slayed their own dragons or made the trip into and back out of the labyrinth. It is this state that causes our problems and we cannot hope to cure the disease by treating the symptoms alone.

    We must mature individually before we can enter into relationships such as the tribe as full individuals. If we fail to do that, i fear that we’re just attempting to recreate the mother-child security relationship. It is a matter of the tribe reflecting a portion of the individual versus the tribe defining the individual.

    …or maybe it’s only a matter of me being a full-of-shit, habitual contrarian.

  5. Lex:

    I hope Joe will respond to me and, if he likes, I’ll deconstruct the arguments and terms I saw in his piece and in the video he embedded and ask him how they’re different from earlier arguments and terms. I don’t mind CL as repackaging. What bugs me is the idea that this is something new.

    I would also like to the explore the idea that everyone wants progress, or that everyone is trying to figure out how to make things better. Direct experience, experimentation, and consistency theory (adaptation level) strongly suggest that this is not the case. For instance, it is quite common for high fear-of-failure people to resist something new, even if it makes their jobs easier. They do this because they take comfort in knowing exactly how to do the tasks at hand and fear they won’t be able to do the new tasks. In addition, a famous experiment in the 50s or 60s (I forget which), repeated many times, took a group, gave them a task, manipulated the results so that the group failed the task every time, then told the group how to succeed. The group failed again, which is predicted by consistency theory. It would appear that it is sometimes more painful to act in ways that are inconsistent with self- or group-image than to act in ways that maximize outcomes.

    I also am not convinced that conservatives always look to change the status quo. I grew up in the segregated South, and I don’t recall the conservative resistance wanting to bring back slavery (well, not most of them). They just wanted to preserve things as they were. Conserve what was there, if you will. On the other hand, I think many who call themselves “progressives” are trying to conserve the right to an abortion, aren’t they? I think it’s situational.

    As for fixing ourselves, Lex, I think it’s a noble goal, but probably out of reach. Well, it’s out of reach for me, anyway. I do share your concern about tribal fragmentation, though, once again, I have serious questions about not just affinity, but the strength of affinity. The arguments put forth so far here seem to make no differentiation.

  6. After numerous studies, much thought and consideration I have come to the conclusion that the difference between Liberals and Progressives…is that Progressives are more “Butch” in their thinking and mannerisms.