Deconstructing the Metaphoric Basis of Language, Or, Making Visible One of the Infrastructures of its Invisible Architecture

 

Using the methods of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By, I’m doing the following analysis to expose the metaphors that might slip through the unconscious as we read something as basic as the opinion page in the newspaper, in this case, my local newspaper, the Monterey County Weekly.  Granted, I specifically chose a piece that makes it easy to see the metaphors, as this is the first of this type of analysis that I am posting here.

Why expose the metaphors (note, the metaphor I just used is PROSE IS A CLOTHED BODY)?  Because, by and large, we don’t know that we’re using them.  We did not learn them explicitly; we picked them up by imitating how others used language. They structure our language (text, speech) just below the level of consciousness.  Mr. Greider, as a seasoned writer, might be more aware of using them than most people, but I chose his opinion piece because I could readily imagine people at a party or sitting around the kitchen table talking this way.

After I analyze his piece for the implicit metaphors, I will rewrite it using different metaphors, just to show that it is possible.  To inspire, not to say “these are better.”  No.  The point is to BE CREATIVE.  Get out of the clichés. In order to transform language (which is what this blog is about), we have to know how we are using language in the first place (and how it is using us). 

For a primer on this type of metaphoric basis of language, see my HubPage article, Creating Language for Peace. Also see the previous post about Language as an Invisible Architecture, if you haven’t already. Note that the words suggesting the implicit metaphor are highlighted and the metaphor is in ALL CAPS, following the form that Lakoff and Johnson used.

STEP 1: WHAT ARE THE UNDERLYING METAPHORS?

Will voters forgive Obama for cutting social security?

William Greider

Thursday, April 18, 2013

President Obama has riled Democrats by tossing Social Security onto the table in his poker game with Republicans.

POLITICS IS A (POKER) GAME

poker gameNot to worry. A year from now, when the 2014 congressional campaigns are underway, Republicans will be promising to protect Social Security from the bloodthirsty Democrats.

POLITICS IS HUNTING. HELPLESS VICTIMS (i.e., SOCIAL SECURITY) NEED TO BE PROTECTED FROM CARNIVORES.

By then, having lost on his too-cute strategy, the president will be reduced to lamely reassuring old folks.

THE PRESIDENT IS AN INJURED ANIMAL

Really, he didn’t actually intend to cut their benefits, really he didn’t. It was just a ploy to get tightwad conservatives to give in a little on tax increases.

POLITICS IS A GAME INVOLVING DECEPTION

Republicans can pull out the videotapes in which Obama and team

POLITICS IS A SPORT

explain their high-minded purpose

HIGH IS UP, GOOD, RATIONAL, GOD-LIKE, ETC

– sacrificing the Democratic party’s sacred honor

POLITICS IS RELIGION

in order to get Republicans to play nice.

NOT ONLY IS POLITICS A GAME, BUT IT’S A CHILD’S GAME

The president set this trap himself; now House Speaker John Boehner will spring it on him.

PRESIDENT IS A HUNTER (AN INEPT ONE)

Does Obama not remember how Democrats lost control of the House back in 2010?

CONGRESS IS A WILD ANIMAL

The party got very little credit for enacting health care reform because the Republicans had already demonized the accomplishment

POLITICS IS RELIGION

as a threat to the much-beloved program of Medicare.

MEDICARE IS AN IDOL

The rightwingers

RIGHT IS GOOD

promised to save Medicare from bloodthirsty Democrats

REPUBLICANS ARE HEROS

by repealing Obama’s new reform program. This was all a ridiculous lie, but the White House declined to call out the liars. Instead, Obama responded with flowers. This time, he is taking Republicans out to dinner.

POLITICS IS LIKE DATING

So who gets to tell folks their FICA deductions were a joke?

CITIZENS ARE GOONS /POLITICIANS ARE INSINCERE

So here is what I expect to happen. The elaborate and confusing charade of deficit politics

POLITICS IS A GAME INVOLVING DECEPTION

will continue through this year and next – both parties solemnly seeking to shrink the swollen federal deficits

POLITICIANS ARE DOCTORS

– and distracting Washington

(SYNECDOCHE: OUR CAPITOL/POLITICAL SYSTEM IS A PERSON)

from the real economic threat of stagnation or worse.

THE ECONOMY IS A BODY OF WATER

Social Security will not be cut. Nor will much else be accomplished.

Now you try it for yourself.  I highlighted some phrases that might have such underlying metaphors.  What might they be?  It is my hope that this is what people will do with their time when Sudoku finally bores the pants off of them.

These budget promises do not become real until Congress authorizes projects and appropriates the money. The appropriators have the real power and they can change the numbers and whatever else they wish. Depending on how senators and representatives feel at the time, they can embrace the promises and cut specific spending or totally ignore whatever the budget resolution had promised the public.

This is why I expect Social Security to survive the onslaught. When it gets to the money roll calls this year and next, individual members of Congress will have to swallow some big lies in order to vote for cutting Social Security benefits. The cost-of-living gimmicks Obama has proposed will not shave a penny off the federal deficits or debt. That is because the Social Security benefits are not paid by the federal budget. They are drawn from the Social Security Trust Fund – the money paid in by working people.

So who gets to tell folks their FICA deductions were a joke – only an accounting fiction? Obama’s so-called cost-of-living reform, it will be compelled to announce that whacking the old folks contributes not a penny to reducing the federal government’s deficits.

The debt to Social Security beneficiaries now totals nearly $3 trillion. The day is approaching when that money will be needed for its original purpose: paying Social Security benefits to the working people who contributed to the fund.

That is the real crisis that makes the financial barons so anxious to cut Social Security benefits. They would like to get out of repaying the debt – that is, giving the money back to the people who earned it.

The only way to do this is cut the benefits – over and over again. If the president and Congress succeed in this malicious scheme, they will come back again and again to cut more and more. If the politicians join this sordid conspiracy, voters should come after them with pitchforks and torches.

Veteran political journalist William Greider is national affairs correspondent for The Nation.

 

STEP 2: WHAT OTHER METAPHORS COULD WE USE?

The purpose for this next step is to consciously extricate ourselves from the “usual” metaphors.  Yes, politics has been described as a game, as religion, as war, ad nauseum.  If we want to reform our political system and/or our society, then we have to come up with other ways to think about politics, perhaps ways that have different implications: wars and games have winners and losers.  By couching politics in those metaphors we assume, by association, that there must be a winner and a loser.  And we hope that our party wins and the other loses.  Well, if we are all One, and we are all in this together, maybe we don’t want to polarize ourselves into winners and losers.  It keeps us in an infantile mindset and a destructive parent/child power dynamic.

So now I am going to rewrite this article using metaphors grounded in the notion that we’re all in this together, we’re all one, we’re all related, as in the Native American greeting mitakuye oyasin, “all my relations.” Why this metaphor? Because, according to George Lakoff in The Political Mind, a primary difference between conservatives and liberals is their view of the family.  He claims that conservatives have a more authoritarian “father knows best, everybody else serves the leader” view of the familyfamily, whereas liberals have a more egalitarian “hey, we’re all family, right, we look out for each other” view of the family.  And these different conceptions of family get projected as different outlooks onto the national political scene.

So, with kudos to Mr. Greider (I mean absolutely no disrespect)…

President Obama has upset those who love him and encouraged him to lead us by sharing Social Security—his beloved teddy bear—with those of us (we’re all one family, remember?) who want to rip the arms and legs off of it. Maybe even robotic arms and legs—a kind of droidbear.

POLITICS IS ABOUT SHARING YOUR TOYS

Not to worry. A year from now, when the 2014 congressmen and women are appealing to us to let them keep their jobs, Republicans will be promising to sew the arms and legs back on to the very same bear.

POLITICS IS A SOCIAL CONTRACT

By then, having lost on his too-cute strategy, the president will have to admit that he was just trying to show the people, especially the Grandmas and Grandpas that he didn’t actually intend to leave the Social Security bear limbless, really he didn’t. It was just a way to get those other family members to who only play with sticks and stones to give up their mean-spirited threats to strangle some of the not-so-rich family members.

POLITICS IS STRATEGIC NEGOTIATION

Republicans can pull out the videotapes in which Obama and his/our sisters and brothers

WE ARE ALL FAMILY

explain their overall intention– sacrificing one of their successful ways to keep the Grandpeople happy and healthy

POLITICS IS PITCHING IN

in order to get the Ones Who Say They Hurt to stop battering other family members.

CAN YOU SAY “STOCKHOLM SYNDROME”?

The president built this rope bridge himself; now House Speaker John Boehner will cut the rope and we’ll all fall down.

POLITICS IS BRIDGE-BUILDING/DESTROYING

Does Obama not remember how the bucking bronco of a House threw its rider back in 2010?

CONGRESS IS AN ANIMAL WITH ITS BALLS IN A CINCH, JUMPING AROUND A LOT, STIRRING UP A FUSS, BUT GOING NOWHERE

That part of the family got very little credit for enacting health care reform because the other part of the family had already thrown its own mama under the bus.

POLITICS IS LOYALTY/BETRAYAL

You get the idea by now.  Granted, I got a little silly, and that might have detracted from my point or it might have made it even stronger.  When we get away from the usual metaphors, which seem more literal than metaphoric simply because of how cliché they are, we can see the color of the lens we’re looking through.  Language provides the lens through which we see and say the world.  But unless there’s a speck of dirt in my eye, I forget all about the contacts I’m wearing.

Addendum: Further reading.  Here are some important reasons why this emphasis on metaphor is, indeed, important:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/why-are-spy-researchers-building-a-metaphor-program/239402/

The original study mentioned in the preceding article:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0016782

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