Tag Archives: Strict father model

Prison Rehabilitation Needs Rehabilitation

Yesterday’s Morning Edition story about NY governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to reinstate a program to allow prison inmates to take college classes is a fascinating study in framing.

Let’s examine the story’s arguments for and against the proposal:

For Against
“‘Forget nice; let’s talk about self-interest,’ Cuomo [said]. ‘You pay $60,000 for a prison cell for a year. You put a guy away for 10 years, that’s 600 grand. Right now, chances are almost half, that once he’s released, he’s going to come right back.’Cuomo says helping inmates get a college education would cost about $5,000 a year per person — chump change, he argues, if it keeps that inmate from bouncing back into prison.” “What do you say to a Yoko Ono if Mark David Chapman [who killed her husband, John Lennon] says, ‘I want a college education?’ ” the reporter asked.
Cuomo also says, “Let’s use common sense, the economic cost, the human cost — let’s invest and rehabilitate people so they have a future.” “[T]axpayers just won’t stand for inmates getting a free college education, while middle-class families struggle to pay for their kids’ tuition, housing and books.”That is the vast majority of feedback that I’m also getting from my constituents,” [NY State Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D)] says. “You know, ‘Where is the relief for the rest of the law-abiding population?'”
“There must be no doubt about whose side we’re on,” [President Bill] Clinton argued [in 1994]. “People who commit crimes should be caught, convicted and punished. This bill [eliminating student aid for inmates] puts government on the side of those who abide by the law, not those who break it.”
“Club Med” for inmates

Note that all the arguments against the proposal are about fairness, not money and self-interest. While the fiscal argument is strong, it doesn’t touch hearts. When made, as in this article, without being framed in values, it seems to inaccurately reduce justice to dollars.

The moral argument against touches both minds and hearts. Unless a strong moral argument in support is made over and over, I expect the nos will have it.

The argument against comes from what George Lakoff calls the strict-father worldview: prisoners are bad people who deserve only punishment. Their rehabilitation is solely up to them, not the state.

The argument in support comes from Lakoff’s nurturant-parent worldview: We are all in this together. Despite having done bad things, prisoners continue to be Americans and human beings and should be helped to return to society as productive citizens when possible and sensible. That is what we would want in their shoes, and rehabilitation makes the community stronger and safer.

Have I been fair in presenting the strict-father and nurturant-parent worldviews?

Framing the Political Spectrum

Framing political opinion as either left or right puts people into boxes that often don’t fit them. George Lakoff identifies basic two systems of moral reasoning, which he calls the “strict-father model” and the “nurturant-parent model.” His books about politics and many of his blog posts describe these, and I strongly recommend reading Lakoff. So far this seems to support the left-right political spectrum, right?

Ah, but Dr. Lakoff’s research has found that many–if not most–Americans use both systems of moral reasoning on different political issues. For example, I want government to be a nurturant parent toward citizens most of the time but a strict father toward misbehaving corporations. All of a sudden, we’re not just one or the other.

I think a better metaphor than the left-right political spectrum is the Political Compass. This makes left and right one axis and authoritarian-libertarian a second axis. Take its test and see what you think!

A potential problem for this system in America is that the term libertarian refers to a specific set of ideologies and even a political party. I do think that progressives should talk about authoritarianism when appropriate. But if we don’t want to advertise the libertarian movement, what term should we use as the opposite of authoritarian?