Michigan Republicans' Corporate Servitude Law
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From the progressive perspective, the new Michigan law is a corporate servitude law, while from the conservative perspective, the law is a “right to work” law.
Language works so that the conservative name “right to work” evokes the conservative political ideology in the brains of those who hear it without wincing. The more an idea is activated in the brain the stronger it gets. Thus, the use of the conservative name strengthens the conservative ideology in the brains of the public.
The press is not being neutral in using the Republican name for the law. Journalists too, in just using the name, are supporting both the Republican framing of the law and conservative ideology. The press is not being balanced — which is what journalists typically claim to be. Balance would be to use both the names “corporate servitude law” and “right to work law” and to explain the differences in the progressive and conservative understanding of what the law is and does.
Of course, to do so would change a false view of language that journalists too often internalize, namely, that language is neutral. To see that it isn’t, just try speaking or writing of “Michigan’s corporate servitude law” and listen to conservatives scream bloody murder over a truth that does fit their view of democracy. And listen to them keep screaming because it is important to keep repeating the true name of the law if the public is to understand what the law really does.
George Lakoff is Goldman Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author, with Elisabeth Wehling, of The Little Blue Book: How to Think and Talk Democratic.