Communicator (communicator) wrote,

Sapir-Whorf rides again

We are a conflict-oriented society. We use metaphors based on human conflict to describe the non-human world. These metaphors then permeate our discourse so that it seems as if the various dynamics of nature are more like human conflict models than they actually are.

Here is an interesting article about the use of human metaphors in ecological writing, and how they may carry an inappropriate rhetorical freight, which can go unnoticed, and yet can influence ecological policy. As an example, the fact that species are described as 'natural enemies' but not as 'natural allies'. Why is one expression 'scientific' and the other 'sentimental'?

I believe social metaphors are a vey powerful tool for our species to use, because the primate brain evolved primarily to process social data. It would be insane to try to limit the use of those metaphors. Instead we ought to be more ciritical of the metaphors we use, and broaden the range of social metaphors which are acceptable to use in scientific discourse.

As a good antidote here is a link to Mutual Aid by Kropotkin. This is an early anarchist ecology . It is somewhat dated, as he was writing about 100 years ago, but in many ways very prescient in his critique of how Darwinism has been hijacked by conflict based metaphors.

It will probably be remarked that mutual aid, even though it may represent one of the factors of evolution, covers nevertheless one aspect only of human relations; that by the side of this current, powerful though it may be, there is, and always has been, the other current -- the self-assertion of the individual... taken as a progressive element.

It is evident that no review of evolution can be complete, unless these two dominant currents are analyzed. However, the self-assertion of the individual or of groups of individuals, their struggles for superiority, and the conflicts which resulted therefrom, have already been analyzed, described, and glorified from time immemorial...while, on the other side, the mutual-aid factor has been hitherto totally lost sight of; it was simply denied, or even scoffed at, by the writers of the present and past generation.

It was therefore necessary to show, first of all, the immense part which this factor plays in the evolution of both the animal world and human societies. Only after this has been fully recognized will it be possible to proceed to a comparison between the two factors. To make even a rough estimate of their relative importance by any method more or less statistical, is evidently impossible. One single war -- we all know -- may be productive of more evil, immediate and subsequent, than hundreds of years of the unchecked action of the mutual-aid principle may be productive of good.

(from robotwisdom - an unusual site, but one with a lot of interesting stuff on it)

  • Phew what a scorcher

    I see Gove has backed down on climate change and it's back in the curriculum again.

  • GCSE Computer Science

    My book is now for sale

  • LJ Settings

    At the moment I have set up this journal so that only friends can comment. I hate doing this, but I was just getting too much Russian spam.

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