An Inclusive Litany

10/5/01

University of California linguistics professor George Lakoff, author of the Gulf War-era text Metaphor and War, in metaphorik.de, an online journal devoted to research of "metaphor and metonymy":
Control Is Up: You have control over the situation, you're on top of things. This has always been an important basis of towers as symbols of power. In this case, the toppling of the towers meant loss of control, loss of power.

Phallic imagery: Towers are symbols of phallic power and their collapse reinforces the idea of loss of power.

Another kind of phallic imagery was more central here. The planes as penetrating the towers with a plume of heat. The pentagon, a vaginal image from the air, penetrated by the plane as missile....

The reaction of the Bush administration is just what you would expect a conservative reaction would be—pure Strict Father morality: There is evil loose in the world. We must show our strength and wipe it out. Retribution and vengeance are called for. If there are "casualties" or "collateral damage," so be it.

The reaction from liberals and progressives has been far different: Justice is called for, not vengeance. Understanding and restraint are what is needed. The model for our actions should be the rescue workers and doctors—the healers—not the bombers.

We should not be like them, we should not take innocent lives in bringing the perpetrators to justice. Massive bombing of Afghanistan—with the killing of innocents—will show that we are no better than they.

But it has been the administration's conservative message that has dominated the media. The event has been framed in their terms. As Newt Gingrich put it on the Fox Network, "Retribution is justice."

We must reframe the discussion. Susan Bales reminds us of Gandhi's words: Be the change you want. The words apply to governments as well as to individuals.

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