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Don’t Think of a Pig: Why ‘Corporate Greed’ Is the Wrong Frame

As the Occupy Wall Street enters its fourth week, the meta-narrative around the rapidly spreading movement is beginning to take shape. From CNN to Fox News to many protestors themselves, one central slogan is sticking: corporate greed.

During an inspiring visit to Zoccutti Park, we saw abundant posters with slogans like “Another Mother Against Corporate Greed” to “Corporate Greed is the Vampire.”

OWS has historic potential. It’s already succeeding in raising questions typically buried by the mainstream media. We want it to gain power fast, but much will depend on how its core message gets framed. As linguist George Lakoff argued in his seminal book Don’t Think of an Elephant, “frames” have enormous power.

Unfortunately, smashing “corporate greed” is not only limiting, but we fear it’s bound to fail. The “we are virtuous, you are evil” message is admittedly, a great way to get people fired up. But does it get us where we need to go?

Recall, by contrast, the Civil Rights movement. Dr. King didn’t rail against the racists; he demanded the end to laws that allowed racists to damage people. Going to great lengths not to demonize foes, he called on Americans to live up to our own ideals.

And, on a deeper lever, is greed really the problem?