Friday, March 24, 2017

#83 / Metaphor And Obligation

John Herrman has written a thoughtful article in the March 19, 2017, edition of The New York Times Magazine. Titled "Up in Arms" (at least in the print edition), Herrman issues a warning about the increasing use of military metaphor and the use of the "language of war" as a way for journalists to describe for the public what is happening in the world of politics. 

Herrman's point is well-taken, and I agree that "when just about anything, from tweets to drones, can be 'weaponized,' we risk obscuring real sources of violence." I definitely recommend his essay.

What most struck me, when I read the essay, though, was Herrman's very first line: 

Politics is something like an art, if you ask those who practice it, and it’s something like a science, if you ask those who study it. But to the journalists who cover it, it has always been something like ... a sport.

Seeing politics as a "sport" is, indeed, a journalistic tradition. We commonly read about political  campaigns as "horse races," in fact, as candidates compete to be winners. Herrman goes on to talk about how journalists have now seized upon the "language of war" as a chosen metaphor, when they discuss political topics. I had another thought, though, upon reading Herrman's first sentence. 

Those who "study" politics are observers. So are the journalists who "cover" politics, whatever metaphors they use to describe their observations. Those who Herrman says "practice" politics, are not observers, but actors, but Herrman is clearly talking about "politicians," when he lists those who "practice" politics. Left out of the list are citizens, and citizens, in a democracy, must also "practice" politics; citizens must "act," not just "observe," if politics is to be "democratic."

I would add a listing to Herrman's first sentence, including "citizens" in the list. How should their relationship to politics be described? Here is the addition I suggest: 

For citizens, politics is both an opportunity and an obligation

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