Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Deadly metaphors - II

The most common discourse form in the West where there is combat to settle moral accounts is the classic fairy tale. When people are replaced by states in such a fairy tale, what results is the most common scenario for a just war. Lakoff sketches the plot of such a fairy tale of the Just War whose cast of characters include a villain, a victim, and a hero. The victim and the hero may be the same person.
The scenario: A crime is committed by the villain against an innocent victim (typically an assault, theft, or kidnapping). The offense occurs due to an imbalance of power and creates a moral imbalance. The hero either gathers helpers or decides to go it alone. The hero makes sacrifices; he undergoes difficulties, typically making an arduous heroic journey, sometimes across the sea to a treacherous terrain. The villain is inherently evil, perhaps even a monster, and thus reasoning with him is out of the question. The hero is left with no choice but to engage the villain in battle. The hero defeats the villain and rescues the victim. The moral balance is restored. Victory is achieved. The hero, who always acts honorably, has proved his manhood and achieved glory. The sacrifice was worthwhile. The hero receives acclaim, along with the gratitude of the victim and the community.
The fairy tale has an asymmetry built into it. The hero is moral and courageous, while the villain is amoral and vicious. The hero is rational, but though the villain may be cunning and calculating, he cannot be reasoned with. Heroes thus cannot negotiate with villains; they must defeat them. The enemy-as-demon metaphor arises as a consequence of the fact that we understand what a just war is in terms of this fairy tale.
The metaphor of ‘state as a person’ and the fairy tale help structure the over-all metaphor of ‘war is politics pursued by other means’ which implies the metaphor ‘politics is business’ i.e. political management  is no different from business management. There is the favorite metaphor of economists and strategic relations experts of a ‘Rational actor’ who always acts in self-interest. Mathematics  of gambling with dice is used i.e probability theory, game theory, decision theory. Such metaphors are common and decision-makers often forget that they are just about simple dice games.

The Ludic fallacy - the use of the statistics of simple dice games to compute risk in complex social domains - was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in The Black Swan. According to Taleb, statistics is applicable only in some domains, for instance casinos in which the odds are visible and defined. Using this, many social scientists gravitate towards mathematical purity and fail to take various aspects into account like the impossibility of being in possession of the entirety of available information. They apply flawless statistical models to situations where they actually don’t apply.  This can result in the over-confidence in probability theory. Lakoff writes that viewed in this way, a war:
...requires a calculation of the "costs" and the "gains" of going to war. What, exactly, goes into that calculation and what does not? Certainly American casualties, loss of equipment, and dollars spent on the operation count as costs. But Vietnam taught us that there are social costs: trauma to families and communities, disruption of lives, psychological effects on veterans, long-term health problems, in addition to the cost of spending our money on war instead of on vital social needs at home, as well as the vast cost of continuing to develop and maintain a huge war machine.
Barely discussed is the moral cost that comes from killing and maiming as a way to settle disputes. And there is the moral cost of using a "cost" metaphor at all. When we do so, we quantify the effects of war and thus hide from ourselves the qualitative reality of pain and death. 
The rational actor uses the mathematics of gambles to minimize risks and losses and maximize gains. Dead bodies of your own soldiers are among the losses and bodies of enemy soldiers are among the gains.Here the rational actor doing cost- benefit  analysis is the State. Then there is a metonymy where the ruler stands for the state, eg. ‘We have to get Saddam out of Kuwait’. This allows a country to be seen as a single person rather as an amorphous state.

The metaphor system used to justify war may sound scientific and rational. What is missed is the moral dimension of war. When you remove all the fancy verbiage, you get the reality of war which would be considered serious crime in any other situation. The metaphor system promotes what psychologists call isolation: the dissociation of actions and feelings which allows actions to be pursued without being burdened by feelings. There is a dichotomy in the use of this metaphor system: it is used only to describe the enemy; when it comes to one's own side, the real horror is described. Lakof writes:
Reality exists. So does the unconscious system of metaphors that we use without awareness to comprehend reality. What metaphor does is limit what we notice, highlight what we do see, and provide part of the inferential structure that we reason with. Because of the pervasiveness of metaphor in thought, we cannot always stick to discussions of reality in purely literal terms.
There is no way to avoid metaphorical thought, especially in complex matters like foreign policy. I am therefore not objecting to the use of metaphor in itself in foreign policy discourse. My objections are, first, to the ignorance of the presence of metaphor in foreign policy deliberations, second, to the failure to look systematically at what our metaphors hide, and third, to the failure to think imaginatively about what new metaphors might be more benign.
As Ashis Nandy says in The Intimate Enemy, modern oppression "is a battle between dehumanized self and objectified enemy, the technologised bureaucrat and his  reified victim, pseudo-rulers and their fearsome other selves projected on to their ‘subjects’”.

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