Saturday, August 5, 2017

#217 / Metaphorically Speaking

In a little essay called "Dancing With Fear," Robert Koehler has this to say about metaphor: 

Metaphors do not equal reality, but good ones illuminate it. The wrong metaphor about what’s going on, however, makes us stupid.

In "Dancing With Fear," Koehler's immediate target is a recently-proclaimed "Battle Against Childhood Obesity." Known as a "peace journalist," Koehler does not favor metaphors that are war-related. He denounces, for instance, George W. Bush's "War On Terror." That was a real stupid-making metaphor, in his opinion. Mine, too

The difference between a metaphor and a simile is found mainly in the phrasing, but both literary figures of speech imply, or actually state, a kind of "equality" that says that one thing, essentially, "is" another thing. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines "metaphor" as: 

A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness ... (as in drowning in money).
A "simile" is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as:

A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses).

If you click the link I am providing here, and track down "Metaphors (The Ultimate Guide)," you'll get even more information about metaphors and their uses.

Believing that one thing "is" another thing is certainly a way to make ourselves stupid; or at least it is an invitation to act stupidly. All things are discrete and different. Highlighting similarities may, as Koehler says, "illuminate" reality, but figures of speech can be misleading if we seek to place too much weight upon them. Going to "war" with terrorism, for instance, by killing people in the Middle East with drone strikes, is a good example of metaphor converted to a stupid idea, converted to stupid actions.

There is another reason, too, that putting too much weight on figures of speech is what might be called "bad practice." The truth about "reality," in our human-created world, is that "reality" does not exist independently of human action. In every case, WE make reality, so by stating a presumed "reality," through a metaphor or simile, we actually "create" the reality we speak about. 

This is a case analogous to the situation in which we need to "be careful about what we wish for." As we use war-based metaphors to define the "realities" we confront, we turn our world into a battlefield in fact, and this reality, in the real world, is not just a "figure of speech."

Watch your metaphors, folks! What you say can come back and kill you. 

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