Smart and provocative—essential reading for political activists and policy wonks of any stripe.

THE POLITICAL MIND

WHY YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND 21ST-CENTURY POLITICS WITH AN 18TH-CENTURY BRAIN

Of neural modeling, X-schemas, neurotransmitters and Dubya—signposts on the culture war whose “main battlefield is the brain.”

Reality, Stephen Colbert famously remarked, has a liberal bias. Yet liberal think-tanker Lakoff (Cognitive Science and Linguistics/Univ. of California, Berkeley; Whose Freedom?: The Battle Over America’s Most Important Idea, 2006, etc.) sets out to prove that we are a great deal less rational than we believe ourselves to be. Sure, reality has a liberal bias, and “American values are fundamentally progressive,” but the radical right has been winning that culture war at least in part because its tacticians have had a better grasp of our reptilian, fear-driven, emotional inner demons and played to them. “Cut and run,” the author notes by way of example. “Can you not think cowardice?” Borrowing a page from the late sociologist Erving Goffman, Lakoff examines a series of “framing issues,” the ways in which stories are told and political objectives laid out such that the outcome cannot help but favor the framer. Consider Iraq, for instance: All it would take would be for a skillful narrator to rejigger the frame, and suddenly our occupying army has need to stay for decades, the measure of victory being the guarantee of the safe flow of oil to America. “If the country broke up into three distinct states or autonomous governments,” Lakoff adds, “that too might be ‘victory’ as long as oil profits were guaranteed and Americans in the oil industry protected.” The frame is everything: By one frame Anna Nicole Smith is a gold-digger, by another a rags-to-riches success story; by one frame George Bush is a white-knuckle alcoholic, by another a redeemed sinner. The task for progressives, Lakoff asserts, is to start framing the stories better, outside of the narrative confines of the “Old Enlightenment,” lest the right continue its work of dismantling democracy without the left making a peep. The task is also to find an identity—as, Lakoff notes, Barry Goldwater so successfully did as a “biconceptual” conservative—and live up to it.

Smart and provocative—essential reading for political activists and policy wonks of any stripe.

Pub Date: June 2, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01927-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2008

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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