15 July 2013

metaphor: the downhill dribble of mind and politics

Today The Guardian carries a column from John Naughton of The Observer, on metaphor in intelligence systems combing everyday discussion searching for metaphorical mindsets, contriving to link it using a metaphor to the Chinese Government's approach to managing the media with a measure of subtlety, as one might manage engineered water systems. Article entitled:
The great firewall of China gets metaphorical: The Chinese government's increasingly sophisticated approach to censorship demands a new interpretation
 I offered a comment, then a followup comment, you will see I manage to return to my despond about Australian politics too:
The notion of metaphor can move the brain either to opening or to clickclacky simplification and dogma; The latter more evident in this discussion than the former.
I am very conscious in broader historical context (and it's quite useful to consider this metaphorically in terms of water if we keep the natural river and ocean and atmosphere water movement in view, not just human engineering) that for Chinese leaders and most [Chinese] citizens there is not much example to follow as sociopolitical model. Where to flow, where to break banks and sea walls; where and how to limit and control.
Metaphorically we might constructively describe much of the preoccupation of the developed world's polity as bottom pimple comparison and ridicule. Along with tsunamis of absurdism in avoidance of blindingly obvious critical problems.
Can we get enough empathy to see how difficult it is to run and ameliorate a country with 1.3 billion people .... without the help of R Murdoch, S Berlusconi, etc.
Pursuing the aqueous progress metaphor and its evidence of downhillism of the cerebral potential of Homo urbis, the evidence is there not just in the comments sections but also in those cute sections or footers which draw us, like the flush of toilet bowls to what is most popular.
Were I to have command of a large and complicated country just for any moment I trust I would try a bit to keep the citizen brain away from self-destructive addition to useless water flows by dribbling behind the levee banks of wankerie.
I am carried forward towards a national election in Australia by media which by and large, vaguely insightful that we will get a leader choice between hubris and mucus, fail to see in the mirror that that is about what most of them offer themselves.
My second comment more elevated perhaps:

It is rewarding to go back to John Naughton's earlier article to which he links and to which this is also a link.
This article by Ray Peat is insightful on metaphor:
Academic authoritarians, language, metaphor, animals, & science
When something new is noticed, it excites the brain, and causes attention to be focused, in the “orienting reflex.” The various senses participate in examining the thing, in a physiological way of asking a question. Perception of new patterns and the formation of generalizations expands the ways in which questions are asked. When words are available, questions may be verbalized. The way in which questions are answered verbally may be useful, but it often diverts the questioning process, and provides rules and arbitrary generalizations that may take the place of the normal analogical processes of intelligence. The vocabulary of patterns no longer expands spontaneously, but tends to come to rest in a system of accepted opinions.
So, generally, even the new must fit the old moulds. How should we proceed to awareness of the moulds by which our brains are strangled daily.
To imagine that reporting in some idealised western circumstance is somehow pure suggests we should at least metaphorically revisit the tabloid sub-editor's table around which I trembling crept as a copy boy, fifty years ago, and to which journalists approached with varied degrees of courage, their stories written one sentence per single A5-ish piece of butchers' paper, loosely pinned together, for subeditors to throw in the bin, re-order, part-remove, rewrite, calling in the miscreate at some point to explain comparative wisdom, authority and marketing insight.
What Ray describes is the inevitability of spin, conscious, subconscious, unconscious; denied or contrived . Who says who should have charge of that? That's the question.
 I wonder why I write comments... I suppose I have some notion that anything that goes to the internet trickles down eventually somewhere and may kick a neurone usefully, maybe not. But we outside the spheres of notoriety can expect no more, failing public indecency, a heavy price for notoriety.

When I had a tractor I would pass the time while driving hither and thither composing letters to government ministers and auditors general; seldom later sent. Like those composed in the restless night, they were often less meaningful if one attempted later transcription. I suppose that in terms of management of my frontal lobes, like other people theirs, offering comments is thus valuable, especially now I am 70, uncommitted to any employer, needing to do something definitely different from Sudoku.

It is important, I think, when writing, to say something new. Including neological contribution to the language.

As to providing supplementary comment, there is that thing that happens when you press 'send' or equivalent: The "oh-I-should-have-said" phenomenon.

When I trained for the foreign service, an eminent (within those walls) senior diplomatic figure gave us some golden rules. I relate three, to give the third of them proper context:

[1] "If yew mest merry, merry menny." (I offer accent to show superciliousness, say it aloud with curled lip, a tad pizzicato with a little timbre of inharmonicity and nasalisation.)

[2] "When you are planning the dinner party, ensure you have the right mix of tall poppies and short poppies. Remember tall poppies are never comfortable unless they have some short poppies with whom to compare themselves."

and thirdly, he said

[3] "Beware of esprit d'escalier. Write what happened in the foreign ministry, not what you thought of going out the door." Note that when spoken, this has great impact given the pizzicatoliness of [1] and extension of that through pronunciation of repeated poppies in [2]... this flows into a contrapunted slithery sound of scathing cadence in [3]. +++

Nowadays I don't have to worry about [3] because most of the people I've been talking to are in my head.***

As regards that esprit d',  Sir Harold Nicolson once said, as I once read but can't find citation, he had never seen a record of any conversation in any foreign ministry archive in the world in which the author of the record did not win the argument.

For fun, see the high dudgeon of Herbert Highstone regarding Nicolson here and the diversity of his commentary here. And see, see, he learned to think about a thousand rageable things while working on the farm, I'm sure.And Herbert always wins, same glorious fate of most others who write comments. I have, to put Nicolson around another way, seldom had a discussion with anyone who was wrong.

I think that the plaster on the wall will be dry enough for me to go and paint now... :-)


+++ how you say things is almost everything, as the actress may have said to the bishop.

***The novelist's privilege. Great chance of avoiding the straight jacket or psychopharmacologist:
 "No no, you don't understand, the voices are OK, I'm a novelist!"