One Thing Leads To Another

Siona started it, and I’m glad she did. What I’m about to post is lots of food for thought, and since I’ve not digested it all, I only present the material.

Siona has been thinking and writing about metaphors and how integrated they are in language, how they shape our worldview and actions.

In their later work, the authors [George Lakoff, Mark Johnson] make the case that it’s our essential embodiedness that make abstract concepts rely so heavily on metaphor. We can only use our experience, the fact that we’re bipedal, forward-moving, sighted creatures, to communicate; indeed, our experience is obviously primary to (rational) thought, and so it stands to reason that the latter would be so strongly influenced by the former.

–posted Friday, September 24

I was thinking today about my earlier ramblings on metaphor. What if I’d fallen for Lakoff and Johnson’s theory too readily? If someone says “I’m in a bad state,” or “He’s defending his position” or “That new theory reshaped my views,” why wouldn’t we take their statement literally? The debater might well be defending a very real, and very important, territory: rather than being a certain spot, though, the region he’s defending is his world, his entire picture of reality. The person who is in a bad state is, literally, in a bad state: her environment is disintegrating, the air she’s breathing is polluted, her city is awash in poverty and her government corrupt. Someone whose belief system was altered may “see things differently” in a very real, and very physical sense.

–posted Sunday, September 26

Laura asked, after reading my last entry, whether the difference between literal and metaphorical language was that important. My initial reaction was that it is: it’s important to be aware of how the language we use shapes our thoughts. It’s important to be aware of the the metaphors that affect our literal world. What I didn’t realize was how recognized an issue this was, and what a hot topic it’s been recently.

It is for this reason that George Lakoff (who’s more local than I’d thought) has become such a politically engaged character. I ran across an article that ran in the Berkeley news about a year ago; in it, Lakoff talks about the difference between conservative and progressive language use, and the role that he has taken on personally in bolstering the efforts of the latter.

It’s a fascinating interview. Lakoff’s discussion of framing was especially frightening.

The same paper contains some more recent articles as well; in them, Lakoff talks about the power of phrases such as “the war on terror” (he points out that terror is a state of mind, which is internal to a person; thus “‘the war on terror’ is not about stopping from being afraid, it’s about making you afraid”) and “tax relief” (which implies that taxes are an affliction rather than a responsibility or a right). Most of these can be found at the Rockridge Institute site. It”s an impressive resource, and an impressive analysis of the power of speech and phrasing in this year’s election, and in politics in general.

–posted Monday, September 27

If you visit the links provided, you will find links in her posts to the sources she mentions reading. Siona’s thoughts have generated much commentary. One of them, titled In Defense of Terror also sparked comments. [Edit 9/29: it was not written in response to, but concurrently. Ah, synchronicity.] I posted it here in the extended entry because the statements prickle, make me uncomfortable, encourage (demand?) me to question my assumptions, and that’s important. We need to remain aware. Obviously I’m restating other peoples’ thoughts without generating my own; with regard to this blog, I try to aim for being a conduit of information (admittedly not an unbiased one, because being human precludes objectivity most of the time). So if these words incite a reponse, feel free to leave a comment, but I won’t attempt to interpret further the authors’ intent. I put this here to catalyze your brain and mine.


Language, of course, serves the purposes of power.


“If avenging the killing of our people is terrorism then history should be a witness that we are terrorists. Yes, we kill their innocents and this is legal religiously and logicallyÂ… There are two types of terror, good and bad. What we are practising is good terror.”
-statement purportedly made by Osama bin Laden, on a video tape found in Kandahar.

Terrorism, as understood nowadays, came to prominence as a technique of warfare through the Algerian resistance movement against French colonialism between 1954 and 1962. The Algerian freedom fighters, aware of the extreme asymmetry of the resources in both sides of the conflict, sought to injure and kill French civilians in a sporadic and callous manner. They succeeded in committing many atrocities against their French oppressors, and the French responded in kind.

Eventually the French could no longer take the heat and left North Africa.

The word terrorism is a good description of what terrorists do: they strike fear, they provoke irrational responses, they cause terror. Many terrorists, even if they would not embrace the word, are aware that their campaigns are unorthodox, and that their success is measurable by how frightened and angry their targets become.

There’s a country currently waging a war on terror. This is stupid. Terror is simply war by other means. Terror is war.

Waging a war on terror would be like waging a war on militarism. It would be like “fighting for peace.” It would be like “fucking for virginity.”

Of course the terrorists won. Are we not terrorized? Their wildest dreams have come true: fear to their intended targets, blustery and ineffectual moves from their enemies, visibility for their cause, and notoriety for themselves. A remarkable victory.

The established states have had to spend a lot more and do a great deal more killing, and they have experienced only a tiny fraction of the victory.

The language that surrounds the description of modern asymmetrical conflicts serves one purpose only: to advance the power of established states. Sub-national concerns are crushed whenever possible. In reality, what is being fought (in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Chechnya, in Palestine) is not a war on terror. Terror, afterall, is only a technique used by those who have been deprived of more conventional means.


“There is no neutral ground — no neutral ground — in the fight between civilization and terror, because there is no neutral ground between good and evil, freedom and slavery, and life and death.”
-George W. Bush, March 2004.

What is being fought over is the right of sub-national concerns to wage war against established states. The states, naturally, believe that no such right should exist. The sub-nationals beg to differ, and are willing to die in the process of making the point.

Why is it that, after the French resistance suffered under the German occupation, the Algerians had to suffer under the French occupation?

Why do the Israelis, who were persecuted so horribly by the Italians, Germans, Austrians and Poles, in their turn persecute the Palestinians so horribly?

Damage breeds damage breeds damage.

Was the violent campaign to rid the United States of British rule in the eighteenth-century a terrorist campaign, or a heroic moment in the foundation of a great nation?

I support “our troops” neither more nor less than I support “the terrorists.” The attack on Manhattan and the bombing of Kabul were both acts of war. Neither was conducted with any regard to the rules of engagement.

The violence of the established state is civilized and is good and is life.
The violence of the sub-national concern is terror and is evil and is death.
Anyone who does not understand this clearly is standing on neutral ground, which does not exist. Any such person is therefore a threat and is liable to be punished accordingly.

There are no longer any rules. It is imperative for both the state and the terrorists to act lawlessly. All will do all they believe they can get away with. War is irreal, and the International Court of Justice is for sissies.

To speak of atrocities now is to speak of wetness at the bottom of the sea.

The established states have won only one notable victory: the battle over how people may speak about the events has been decided in favor of the military-industrial complex.

The big words now all mean what the state decides they mean: “freedom”, “civilization”, “evil”, “victory”, “enemies”, “threat” and “best.”

This, afterall, is perhaps a great victory indeed.

So, who’s winning the war on terror? Both sides.
Who’s losing? Let us not speak of loss.

And one says this in a country that is known to shoot messengers.

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4 Comments on “One Thing Leads To Another”

  1. Chad Says:

    (I know these aren’t your remarks, but I felt I had to respond. If what I say is too inflammatory for you or for this venue, feel free to delete this.)

    I just cannot get over this statement espoused by people who are against our efforts to thwart terrorism (a.k.a. the ‘war on terror’): War is terrorism.

    It never seems to dawn on these people that they have just scuttled their own argument.

    If war is equal to terrorism, then what is terrorism equal to?

    Terrorism is war. And if someone, a country, or some other entity makes war upon you, should you let them?

    We spend more money than the rest of the world on our national defense. What good is it if it doesn’t get used? Should we just up and quit? Give up, surrender and let them have their way with us? No? Then what?

    I’ve been terrorized all my life. I’ve been terrorized by a group of people that we did win a war of terror against. I refuse to be terrorized anymore.

    If war is terrorism then terrorism must be war. War is therefore war, and we are in this particular war, after all is said and done because Saudi Arabia asked us to keep troops in their country after the first war with Iraq. Now that American troop strength in Saudi Arabia is virtually nil, do you really think the terrorists care?

  2. elck Says:

    Kathryn: My post wasn’t actually a response to Siona’s. It was coincidental with it.

    Thanks for making this potentially volatile material available to a broader group of readers. (Of course, if I get arrested, I know who to blame…)

    Chad: Thanks for your comment. You wrote “We spend more money than the rest of the world on our national defense. What good is it if it doesn’t get used?”

    I suppose you’re right.

  3. Kathryn Says:

    Elck — if you get arrested, I may be sitting there with you. Thanks for clarifying regarding the timing of your post — I made an edit to mine.

    Chad — by all means, your comments are welcome. This is a volatile topic, and I willingly touched the third rail by posting on it.

  4. Chad Says:

    Thank you both for your supportive comments. I had seriously dreaded opening the comments this morning to see how the reaction would be to “Chad, the loose cannon”.