We think with metaphor, myth and analogy

This post is largely an elaboration of a response to an important post by John Woodcock on metaphors and thinking or being – John’s post is probably better.

John reminds us that we think and feel with analogy, myth, metaphor and feeling.

Some of that feeling will arise because of our patterns of thinking, and of interpreting what happens in the world, but some will arise because of unconscious processes. Indeed we could suggest that the processes of thinking themselves are largely unconscious, because the forms or patterns that guide that thought, or that the thought and feeling takes in manifesting, are not conscious. Thoughts and feelings are likewise not separable – thoughts generate feelings, and the feeling reinforces the thought, or the type of thought likely to come next. (For example, if you are angry, you are thinking thoughts that make you angry, and that anger then limits the range of thoughts likely to arise for you).

As a result, we often let our symbols (and their patterns and dynamics) do our thinking for us, and that is a problem for both political and personal life. Once the metaphor is announced a particular result becomes probable – and the more it is used, the more that result is reinforced, or becomes a settled pathway. I suspect that the experts on propaganda know this well, and that this cultivation of metaphors (this art of metaphors) has been part of the activity around Trump.

Trump’s talk appears to have been powerful and resonated with, or raised anger present in, his audiences, but it could mean whatever you wanted it to mean. If you did not trust Clinton because of the 30 year smear campaign and the feeling/sense that something must be wrong about her (even if you could not point to anything real), then you could select what you wanted to hear from Trump’s metaphors, or take what could have been literal as ‘only metaphor’. And his metaphors tended to be repeated to reinforce them.

His phrase ‘drain the swamp’ (exampled by John) sounds good because it says he is going to remove the icky, sticky stuff that you can get lost and die in. Its a visceral image involving bringing light into darkness and solidity from squelch. It implies a simple set of dichotomies: swamp/non swamp; bad/good; action/stuckness. Who can resist this? Who will say this is bad?

Some kind of awareness of analogy helps, us to navigate our way here.

Extracting ourselves from auto-thinking and feeling takes effort and rebellion against the norm. It takes awareness of the analogies we are using, their connotations and our automatic responses to begin with, as well as the knowledge that our thinking is not always voluntary or right, and that our feelings are not always accurate or real. We are potentially partially conscious creatures, not automatically fully conscious – we can be misled and wrong (even in our sense of being misled). Becoming conscious, might be tedious.

This is a place in which depth psychology and science can possibly help, by setting up exploration, experiment and reality testing.

Trump’s usage is definitely not depth psychological (there is no sense the darkness and stickiness is something to be faced, possibly explored and projections removed) and it is not ecological (swamps can host whole families of creatures, and store and purify water, they can protect. They are places of bounty as well as danger). Outside of these psychological or scientific frameworks, the metaphor does its thinking for you, and that is the natural way. It is a metaphor encouraging avoidance, which sums up fear, and puts virtue with the cleansing group.

Given the election is over, it will be interesting to see how the so called “alt.right” defend the president elect’s apparent attempts to fill the swamp with far worse, but openly visible, creatures who are completely beholden to the corporate elite, and who do not mind poisoning workers in the name of profit. I presume the swamp will now become portrayed as a field of light, clarity and genius (perhaps even ‘spirit’) – because light dazzles the critical faculties. Perhaps they will simply continue to attack everything else, because the good/evil dichotomy seems so real, that if the others are bad, then they must be the light.

Perhaps, disillusionment will settle in, but I doubt it for one prime reason. People on the right in general, tend to cultivate a perception of themselves as living in a world in which they have no say, and are oppressed. They think the media is leftist, they think Marxists rule academia and education, they think gay people and Jews run the entertainment industry as propaganda, they think all scientists are communist conspirators, they think unions control and hobble business. Judging by some of the remarks I’ve heard recently, some think that Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George H and W, Bush etc. were raving socialists, who actively suppressed free enterprise and right wing dissent. In this view, any information which can be branded as official is probably a lie, unless it agrees with this fundamental truth that they are the victims of the evil left. So we can assume that the loving alliance of Trump with parts of the corporate sector will not be recognised, for who will report it but the evil left?

Trump’s apparent lack of control in his expression also promised that he would allow the expression people thought was being suppressed.

While non of this may seem real to those of us who identify as being on the Left, it is the starting point for much of the Right. They see themselves being oppressed, hence the anger. In their own minds they are heroic, fighting the triumphant forces of darkness against amazing odds. This of course may be the position that others wish to assume, by assuming *all* people who vote for this right are deliberate racists or nazis or whatever. It is a monotheistic position that blames the world for evil, and feels right. All of us may feel the forces of darkness are triumphing and that we fight against them. We seek scapegoats to blame and expel for whatever we perceive is going wrong, and as long as this benefits those in power (by identifying some group that is relatively powerless), then this will probably be encouraged.

If we do understand this position and its appeal to all of us, then maybe we can start trying to free ourselves. First of all by observing our own metaphors and patterns and their consequences and testing them out, finding pain, and perhaps eliminating our own binaries, or bringing them into open confrontation within. And then attempting to communicate, not by appealing to reality or attempting to refute the other’s delusion, but by entering into the fantasy and undermining its binary nature. We all feel repressed.

But again, this suggests going out into the field (which may seem a swamp) and doing some exploratory work ourselves.


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