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Framing: Thug, Terrorist, Pirate, any Difference?

Printed From: History Community ~ All Empires
Category: Scholarly Pursuits
Forum Name: Philosophy and Theology
Forum Description: Topics relating to philosophy
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Topic: Framing: Thug, Terrorist, Pirate, any Difference?
Posted By: coberst
Subject: Framing: Thug, Terrorist, Pirate, any Difference?
Date Posted: 23-Apr-2009 at 21:37

Framing: Thug, Terrorist, Pirate, any Difference?


I have been reading some articles about the problem of introducing to the public an idea about which they are unfamiliar.  I think that one problem we have and one that political parties has mastered, as displayed in recent elections, is how to better manipulate public opinion.


Data acquires significance only when it is mapped into some kind of pattern.  The pattern consists of facts and ideas bundled in a format know as scripts, frames, and schemata.  These frames (I will use this label) are data and ideas that are attached to a general idea.  An example might be the word ‘relief’. . “Here's the frame: In order to give someone relief, there has to be an affliction and an afflicted party -- somebody who's harmed by this affliction -- and a reliever, somebody who gives relief to the afflicted party or takes away the harm or pain. That reliever is a hero. And if someone tries to stop the person giving relief from doing so, they are a bad guy. They are a villain. They want to keep the affliction ongoing. So when you use only one word, "relief," all of that information is called up. That is a simple conceptual frame.” Quotes from George Lakoff


“Then there's metaphorical thought. We all think metaphorically. When you add "tax" to "relief" to give you the term "tax relief," it says that taxation is an affliction. That's a new metaphor. Then, using the metaphor, anyone who gets rid of the taxation -- the affliction -- is a hero, and anybody who tries to stop him is a bad guy.”  Quotes from George Lakoff


It is psychologically difficult to disturb an established mapping because of habit and it is difficult to start a new mapping because it is difficult to remember a new mapping and it is difficult to recognize the new relationships.


We are all subjected to habitual thinking.  Information that does not fit into some established frame tends to be easily forgotten.  Information that fits well into an established frame will be remembered well.


The “War on Terror” is no more. It has been replaced by the “global struggle against violent extremism.”


The phrase “War on Terror” was chosen with care. “War” is a crucial term. It evokes a war frame, and with it, the idea that the nation is under military attack – an attack that can only be defended militarily, by use of armies, planes, bombs, and so on. The war frame includes special war powers for the president, who becomes commander in chief. It evokes unquestioned patriotism, and the idea that of lack of support for the war effort is treasonous. It forces Congress to give unlimited powers to the President, lest detractors be called unpatriotic. And the war frame includes an end to the war – winning the war, mission accomplished!


The war frame is all-consuming. It takes away focus from other problems, from everyday troubles, from jobs, education, health care, a failing economy. It justifies the spending of huge sums, and sending raw recruits into battle with inadequate equipment. It justifies the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians. It justifies torture, military tribunals, and no due process. It justifies scaring people, with yellow, orange, and red alerts. But, while it was politically useful, the war frame never fit the reality of terrorism. It was successful at consolidating power, but counterproductive in dealing with the real threat.


Colin Powell had suggested “crime” as the frame to use. It justifies an international hunt for the criminals, allows “police actions” when the military is absolutely required, and places the focus and the funding on where it should go: intelligence, diplomacy, politics, economics, religion, banking, and so on. And it would have kept us militarily strong and in a better position to deal with cases like North Korea and Darfur.


But the crime frame comes with no additional power for the president and no way to hide domestic troubles. It comes with trials at the international court, giving that court’s sovereignty over purely American institutions. It couldn’t win in the administration as constituted.


The abstract noun, “terror”, names not a nation or even people, but an emotion and the acts that create it. A “war on terror” can only be metaphorical. Terror cannot be destroyed by weapons or signing a peace treaty. A war on terror has no end. The president’s war powers have no end. The need for a Patriot Act has no end.


It is important to note the date on which the phrase “war on terror” died and was replaced by “global struggle against violent extremism.” It was right after the London bombing. Using the War frame to think and talk about terrorism was becoming more difficult. The Iraq War was declared won and over, but it became clear that it was far from over and not at all won and that it created many new terrorists for every one it destroyed. The last justification – fighting the war on terror in Iraq so it wouldn’t have to be fought at home — died in the London bombing.


We have a similar problem with the use of the word “pirate” when speaking of the bandits taking control of ships and their crews and then demanding ransom from the ship owners.  How do we now take the romanticism framed in the word “pirate” from these thugs who are really just common criminals?

Posted By: edgewaters
Date Posted: 23-Apr-2009 at 21:56

The pirates do rob their victims at sea, but I am mostly concerned about deaths and loss of basic necessities.

What's gone unmentioned in the press is how all this started. 

When the Somalian government collapsed, illegal fishing vessels from China and Europe moved in and stripped the region of its marine resources, in violation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. To compound the problem, companies from affluent nations with strict environmental laws began using it as a dumping ground for toxic wastes, including radioactive wastes. The fish stock was practically destroyed, and when Somalia was hit with a tsunami, radioactive waste washed up on the shores causing hundreds of deaths.

Fishermen responded by inviting the militias of the warlords onto their boats to attack foreign vessels - often without regard to whether or not they were participating in the activities, but that is what initially motivated it. 

It is disgusting that only now does the international community see this as a problem. They didn't care when the Somalis brought this to the UN, before the piracy began. But now the navies of the world are to be mobilized (mostly because it is just too darn inconvenient and expensive to go the long way round). If they had chosen to deal with the problem and police their own commerical fleets, this wouldn't have happened in the first place.

Stealing resources that people need to survive (not just be wealthy) and killing hundreds to save a buck on waste disposal is "piracy" as much as anything the sea-raiders are doing (which has involved, I think, 2 deaths). It is thuggery, murder, and theft. It is on a larger scale in terms of the number of deaths and the dollar value of resources destroyed or stolen. We may need to find a new word for the pirates, but we need to find one for what foreign ships have been doing in Somali waters too. 

Posted By: coberst
Date Posted: 24-Apr-2009 at 12:24

I agree, however, in a form of government wherein the citizen is sovereign one must have a citizenry that comprehends the facts.  What we have learned is that the facts are often distorted by the framing of the issue.  I suspect that the definition of these terms is not what leads to the comprehension that we seek in the general population.  Citizens without Critical Thinking skills are easily manipulated by framing and are seldom moved by undistorted facts.


The problem is that few people understand the nature of frames and the force these frames have. When people do not comprehend they are unable to look behind the curtain. Another big problem is how to frame the issue to fit your value system. 


Another good example of the power of good framing was the success of the conservatives in reframing the inheritance tax into a death tax.


People embedded within an ideology have a point of view that to them is universally true and is natural.  They do not comprehend that they are using a linguistic frame.  Take the pro-life church going individual.  To that person the killing of a baby is not a frame but is reality.  Likewise the pro-choice individual considers that the only rational way to look at the matter is from the choice view point.  Ideologies are powerful because most of the individuals have the truth and the truth is whatever the truth of the ideology is.

Posted By: Zaitsev
Date Posted: 07-May-2009 at 15:04
I don't think you can really call someone embedded in an ideology, I would say it is more of an overlay. There are some basic fundamental social instincts that lie underneath, but external stimuli is interpreted looking through the lens of ideology.

Regarding framing - if people widely understood and could recognise how their views were being manipulated, they would not be being manipulated in that way. Manipulation, through various means, is a fact of life. It becomes more important in a democracy.

Regarding the specific issue of pirates, things, terrorists, well there are key differences in definition. These have been somewhat smudged by propaganda, but they remain nonetheless. If you are questioning whether labeling them differently would alter the public opinion, it probably would.

Labelling them thugs is quite simplistic but would likely remove the romantic connotations of pirates. Similarly, however, it may imply a degree of simplicity, ignorance and lack of seriousness. Thugs are typically considered unintelligent brutes that act violently without discrimination. The situation, however, calls for emotion more similar to kidnapping and organised crime to be called upon. Those discussing the issue would likely want to portray the issue in a way that it seems like the pirates are systematically attacking each and every western citizen in an organised manner. Labelling them as terrorists, however, brings its own problems. Personally I think people may have difficulty connecting the pirates directly to the phrase 'terrorists', as that has almost exclusively been linked to Al-Quaeda and Islamic extremism. Saying that the pirates, who have generally not killed many people and act solely on a secular level and small scale, risks diluting the connotations those in power want to remain with Al-Quaeda and may cause people to question the term more commonly.

Straw Man - a weak or sham argument

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