July 4th, 2003

breaking bad

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.

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

the baddest books ever

Have you seen this list of the most freqently banned books of the nineties.
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I must confess I am bewildered by this selection. Some are obvious of course. Stuff about witchcraft I can see why that would be challenged, dreary as that is. But Tom Sawyer?? In the Night Kitchen??

The latter is a fantastic kids' book, BTW, it's a picture book by the author of Where the Wild Things Are. Cripes, I just realised why it was banned - the little boy falls out of bed, and into the night kitchen, and I think you see his bare backside in one picture. That must be it. How pathetic.