October 20, 2011


Anyone who reads my blog posts will probably be happy when I finish George Lakoff’s book, “The Political Mind.”  I apologize for my compulsion to share its details on the human brain. Obviously, I’m fascinated.

Yesterday, for example, I came across a principle called Reactive Devaluation. The term is a fancy label to describe our tendency to value or undervalue information depending on our view of the source. In one experiment, Israeli Jews were asked to assess a peace plan they were told was proposed by Palestinians. Another set of Israelis was given the same plan and was told it was proposed by their government. The first group saw the proposal as biased; the second saw it as even-handed (“The Political Mind” pg. 228).

(Yahoo Images)

During my political life, I encountered this mindset more than once and sometimes with comic effect. When I served on a 5 member board of county commissioners in Oregon, the members were composed as follows: three were progressive; I was considered a moderate and the fifth was deemed to be far right. The three progressives spent a good deal of energy being furious with me because I always seconded the conservative’s motions. I did it as a courtesy. He represented several hundred thousand residents in our county, so I believed he had a right to speak to his motions. 

On one occasion, a group of pawnbrokers went to the conservative commissioner with a proposal to amend an ordinance concerning one of their issues. The suggestion struck the elected official as reasonable and so he brought a corrected version up for a vote. I also thought it was a good idea and supported it. But the progressives voted it down 3-2 with no discussion. The pawnbrokers were astounded and asked me what I thought they should do. As I was certain the progressives hadn’t read the ordinance, I suggested one of those members be asked to introduce the measure at the next session. This was done and, with no alteration to the original wording, the ordinance passed 5-0. 

I couldn’t invent a more a perfect example of Reactive Devaluation. For good or evil, sometimes our brains get in the way.