Category Archives: B

Riding the Bus: Back to Childhood or Forward to Transit?

Transit bus
This bus is part of the public transit system.
Photo Credit: Seluryar via Compfight cc

Although America’s largest cities tend to have robust transit systems that include rail in addition to buses, the transit systems of smaller cities often use only buses. Therefore, residents of these cities often refer to the transit system as “the bus,” as in, “I’m not taking the bus! No way!”

School bus
Is it partly because we rode buses like this as children that some don’t want to ride them as adults?
Photo Credit: redjar via Compfight cc

Although this negative attitude comes partly from limitations that their city’s transit system may have, I think it’s also connotations of the phrase “the bus.” As I child, I took the bus to school. I got so tired of riding the bus that it was a relief to be able to walk to high school.

Many of my classmates, though, rode the bus until graduation. That made not having to ride the bus seem like a step toward adulthood. Riding “the bus” as a adult to get around town, then, may feel like a developmental step backward. We may unconsciously think that riding the bus is for kids.

Speaking of transit systems, including bus-only systems, as transit avoids this connotation. Transit is a characteristic of a big, grown-up city, and good transit systems are used by people of all ages and walks of life with pride.

Transit consultant Jarrett Walker, author of the Human Transit blog, offers many posts that discuss transit and language.

Framologists should dignify their city’s transit system by calling it transit rather than the bus. But do you think it makes a difference?

Framing Big Government: Who Governs and to What End?

Extreme conservatives label many government efforts they don’t like as big government. This frames the issue as the size of government–with smaller seeming more desirable, of course.

Big Brother is watching you.
According to the Principle of Conservation of Government, corporations could be the tyrant to be feared.

To me, the phrase brings to mind the all-knowing, all-powerful Big Brother from George Orwell’s novel 1984.

Instead of defending “big government,” progressives should reframe the debate as about who governs and to what end, not size. According to George Lakoff,

There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit…. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

Smaller Governement = Corporate GovernmentSo when extreme conservatives say they want smaller government, progressives could reply that their opponents are advocating government by corporations. Instead, we want the people to govern the nation, including corporations. A bumper-sticker version could read, “Smaller government = corporate government.”

Many of the laws government regulations that extreme conservatives want to abolish are intended to protect us from abuse by corporations. Examples include the Clear Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the minimum wage, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and on and on. If they succeed, the corporations would make the rules for their own benefit, not ours.

That’s unacceptable, and We the People should say so.

Framing Babies

What dark times these are when the plain Anglo-Saxon word baby has to be reclaimed from politics! But as George Lakoff points out in The Little Blue Book, baby is one of several important English words that have to be reclaimed from the anti-women’s rights crowd.

Life begins at conception. This means a  fertilized egg is a baby. Babies are children and citizens. Therefore, personhood, childhood, and citizenship begin at conception. Therefore, ending pregnancy for any reason  is infanticide.While no one disputes that “life begins at conception,” what needs to be disputed is the radical claim that this means that personhood, citizenship and childhood begin at conception. This is false and dangerous.

Although we sometimes speak affectionately of an unborn child as “baby” and sometimes even name it while in the womb, it becomes a baby at birth when the umbilical cord is cut. That’s why we call birth “having a baby.” We do not call conceiving a child “having a baby” because we don’t have it until it’s born. That is when personhood, childhood, and citizenship begin. That has always been my understanding of the word baby.

Why does this matter? Because it is the false claim that the unborn are already babies that is the basis for the emotionally powerful but logically untrue slogans “Abortion is murder” and “It’s not a choice; it’s a child.” The claim that the unborn are already babies also is the basis for efforts to pass laws defining citizenship as beginning in the womb. These efforts threaten the rights of women to make important choices about their lives that belong to them and not to state or church.

Drew Westen, author of the excellent The Political Brain, points out in that book that logically refuting such an argument isn’t enough.

Imagine the following: I’m running for office and debating my opponent. My opponent thunders, Abortion is murder and I reply, No, it isn't because it isn't a baby until birth. I lose, hands down. This is because my opponent’s slogan carries moral, emotional power that arouses even people that don’t agree with it. My reply is a factual quibble that stirs no one’s soul.

For this point to have moral force that moves people’s hearts, it would have to be made in a story that frames the issue in terms of progressive values. Drew Westen accurately describes the fetus as a potential person that becomes more like a baby as pregnancy progresses and notes that this evolution is why Americans are more supportive of restrictions on late-term abortions than on earlier ones. He proposes the following as a principled stand on abortion:

Abortion is a difficult and often painful decision for a woman to make. It’s a decision only she can make, based on the dictates of her own conscience and faith, not on the dictates of someone else’s. But except under exceptional circumstances, such as rape, incest, or danger to her health, she should make that decision as early as she can, so she is not aborting a fetus that is increasingly becoming more like a person. (The Political Brain, p. 184).

This avoids the word baby and emphasizes the woman’s conscience, faith, and responsibility to decide early. What do you think? Is it important to be careful about the using the word baby, or am I overreacting? What do you think of Westen’s statement above?