Cage and frame

“ABORTION is a front, a shill issue, for those who are pushing a radical Evangelical Christian theocratic agenda. Those leading the charge against ABORTION are not interested in pragmatic policy options to that would bring about fewer abortions, they are interested in Christianizing American law, culture, and politics. Pragmatism is every bit as much an enemy to them as opposing ideology. It isn’t a question of helping women avoid unfortunate and undesired circumstances for them. ABORTION is the leading edge, the public face of their righteous crusade between absolute good and anyone who disagrees with them. They do not merely want to decrease the number of abortions, they want to make sure that unmarried people don’t have sex, they want to make sure that abortions are made illegal and punishable by law, they want their Dominionist worldview and the policies that they see as springing from it to be unassailably instantiated.

“Why use ABORTION for this? This requires understanding one of the most effective conservative rhetorical gambits of the last couple decades, what we can call the “cage and frame” strategy. Framing, as discussed by linguist George Lakoff, is the act of setting the parameters for discussion by choosing the language of the debate. What Lakoff shows is that words are not just “Hello, my name is” stickers that we put on things, they come with ways of seeing the world packed into them. Selecting certain words instead of others limits the discussion by putting certain topics on the table and others off the table. Both sides have done this in their choice of designators. ‘Pro-choice’ frames the issue in terms of liberty and who wants to oppose freedoms to choose? ‘Pro-life’ frames the issue in terms of the life or death of a fetus and who wants to be pro-death? The selection of the name is designed not only to designate which side one is on, but also to elevate (in a fallacious question-begging fashion) one part of the complex of inter-related moral issues in this incredibly difficult ethical question.

“But what we see is more than framing. We see another trick which I term ‘caging’ in which one takes a series of related issues that you do not want acted upon and then selects a small single issue to pull attention way from all the rest. Like magicians who will do something flamboyant and fascinating with their left hand to keep you from seeing what they are doing with their right hand, the idea is to make one insignificant issue the focus of all attention in order to make sure that all other related issues are ignored. As long as there is a raucous passionate debate around that issue and it is made to seem of paramount importance, then the assumption by most listeners is that a fair and open debate on all issues is taking place and no one will notice what you are doing with regard to the other issues.

“In this way, women’s rights have been caged by abortion. All the time, effort, and money that could be going into furthering women’s rights on a number of fronts are sucked into the abortion fight. Not only that, but how to cage the issue is determined by what issue is easiest to frame when let out of the cage. If conservatives chose to openly fight against voting rights or equal pay for equal work legislation, it would put them clearly on the side of immoral support of injustice and they would lose quickly and decisively. But by caging women’s rights and only letting abortion out of the cage, any possible advances on the women’s rights front are stopped in their tracks and pro-lifers can portray themselves as the defenders of families and innocent life, not the opponents of women’s rights.

“In the same way, civil rights issues have been caged with only affirmative action set outside the cage. We can bring the civil rights charge to a halt by focusing all attention only on hiring in a small set of cases. Again, this is made more effective when the caging is combined with framing — affirmative action is only to be addressed in terms of quotas. In this way, the advancement of civil rights legislation not only stops, but those stopping it do so by portraying themselves as opposing discrimination.

“Gay rights? Cage questions about hate crimes, workplace discrimination, housing discrimination,… only let out marriage. Then frame it in terms of “protecting the family.” Cage and frame.”
Why you can’t depoliticize abortion, Philosophers Playground, July 31, 2007

So we’re stuck, caged and framed, until… something.

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1 Response to Cage and frame

  1. janinsanfran says:

    All ever so true — except reality cuts through cage bars. Our rulers “made their own reality” until reality whacked them upside the head. Listen to those who are being caged — they’ll provide the cage cutting frames. Then spread ’em.

    Just a thought. Has worked remarkably for gay folks. Our opponents find themselves rapidly conceding most everything EXCEPT marriage. What if marriage was the last thing we wanted?

    Cheers.

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