So tonight my wife and I tagged along to a meeting with a guy who’s running for the chairmanship of the Democratic party at the county level. He told us what his plans were, how he believed he could improve things, and why we should vote for him. I’m not used to anything related to local politics, so rather than talking about why we should preserve Social Security, or the dangers of teaching creationism, the discussion centered around whether the calendar should have more fundraisers than Valentine’s Day potluck. However, before we left, he told us that the one essential book everyone had to read was George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant because the future of the Democratic party depended upon it. He then gave one of the worst examples of reframing I had ever heard.
What I found humorous about this was that last month Mark Schmitt wrote a post about this very book and the cult that has sprung up around it. Here’s what he said:
The deeper problem is in liberals’ search for a guru, which inevitably leads to a cycle of over-expectation and disappointment, with Lakoff one day and someone else the next. What happened to the ability to take some insight like Lakoff’s, and some insight from a historian like Alan Brinkley or Kevin Mattson, and some insight from an economist like, say, Edward Wolff, and a sociologist here and a journalist or three, and put them in perspective and integrate them? Why is that so difficult? Perhaps the problem is that too many of the people in the fawning audience for this don’t have a solid, multi-disciplinary liberal arts education that enables them to do that. They’re political science majors with masters’ in public policy, and the world of linguistics is mysterious and enthralling, and the fact that it seems to be based in “neuroscience” (oooh!) makes it somehow an extra-powerful secret code.
It was funny to see this very phenomenon in action in the real world tonight. Fixating on the new fad is not something that’s unique to politics. In the world of software development, we see this very same thing regularly. Whether it’s object oriented design, model driven architecture, test driven development, extreme programming, dynamic languages, object-relational databases, or one of any number of three letter concepts, software engineers are always looking for that silver bullet, never realizing that it doesn’t exist. It’s sort of reassuring to be reminded that it’s a human being thing rather than a programmer thing.