of the Images
As a metaphor analyst, I want to begin with the power of the images.
The images we see and recall interact with our system of metaphors.
The results can be powerful.
There are a number of metaphors for buildings. A common visual metaphor
is Buildings Are Heads, where windows and doors are openings in the
head like eyes, nose, and mouth. For many people this metaphor interacted
with the image of the plane going into South Tower of the World Trade
Center, producing via visual metaphor the unconscious, but powerful
image of a bullet going through someone's head, the flame pouring from
the other side blood spurting out.
Tall buildings can, via visual metaphor, be people standing erect. For
many the falling of the towers activated this metaphor. Each tower falling
was a body falling.
We are not consciously aware of the metaphorical images, but they are
part of the power and the horror we experience when we see them.
Each of us, in the prefrontal cortex of our brains, has what are called
"mirror neurons." Such neurons fire either when we perform an action
or when see the same action performed by someone else. There are connections
from that part of the brain to the emotional centers. Such neural circuits
are believed to be the basis of empathy.
This works literally when we see plane coming toward the building
and imagine people in the building, we feel the plane coming toward
us; when we see the building toppling toward others, we feel the building
toppling toward us. It also works metaphorically: If we see the plane
going through the building, and we unconsciously metaphorize the building
as a head with the plane going through its temple, then we senseunconsciously
but powerfullybeing shot through the temple. If we metaphorize
the building as a person and see the building fall to the ground in
pieces, then we senseagain unconsciously but powerfully
that we are falling to the ground in pieces. Our systems of metaphorical
thought, interacting with our mirror neuron systems, turn external literal
horrors into felt metaphorical horrors.
Here are some other cases:
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.
A Society Is A Building. A society can have a "foundation"
which may or may not be "solid" and it can "crumble" and "fall." The
World Trade Center was symbolic of society. When it crumbled and fell,
the threat was more than to a building.
We think metaphorically of things that perpetuate over time
as "standing." Bush the Father in the Gulf War kept saying, "This
will not stand," meaning that the situation would not be perpetuated
over time. The World Trade Center was build to last ten thousand years.
When it crumbled, it metaphorically raised the question of whether
American power and American society would last.
Building As Temple: Here we had the destruction of the temple
of capitalist commerce, which lies at the heart of our society.
minds play tricks on us. The image of the Manhattan skyline is now unbalanced.
We are used to seeing it with the towers there. Our mind imposes our
old image of the towers, and the sight of them gone gives one the illusion
of imbalance, as if Manhattan we sinking. Given the symbolism of Manhattan
as standing for the promise of America, it appears metaphorically as
if that promise were sinking.
Then there is the persistent image, day after day, of the charred and
smoking remains: it is an image of hell.
The World Trade Center was a potent symbol, tied into our understanding
of our country and ourselves in a myriad of ways. All of what we know
is physically embodied in our brains. To incorporate the new knowledge
requires a physical change in the synapses of our brains, a physical
reshaping of our neural system.
physical violence was not only in New York and Washington. Physical
changesviolent oneshave been made to the brains of all Americans.
Administration Frames the Event
The administration's framings and reframings and its search for metaphors
should be noted. The initial framing was as a "crime" with "victims"
and "perpetrators" to be "brought to justice" and "punished." The crime
frame entails law, courts, lawyers, trials, sentencing, appeals, and
so on. It was hours before "crime" changed to "war" with "casualties,"
"enemies," "military action," "war powers," and so on.
Rumsfeld and other administration officials have pointed out that this
situation does not fit our understanding of a "war." There are "enemies"
and "casualties" all right, but no enemy army, no regiments, no tanks,
no ships, no air force, no battlefields, no strategic targets, and no
clear "victory." The war frame just doesn't fit. Colin Powell had always
argued that no troops should be committed without specific objectives,
a clear and achievable definition of victory, a clear exit strategy
and no open-ended commitments. But he has pointed out that none
of these is present in this "war."
Because the concept of "war "doesn't fit, there is a frantic search
for metaphors. First, Bush called the terrorists "cowards" but
this didn't seem to work too well for martyrs who willing sacrificed
their lives for their moral and religious ideals. More recently he has
spoken of "smoking them out of their holes" as if they were rodents,
and Rumsfeld has spoken of "drying up the swamp they live in" as if
they were snakes or lowly swamp creatures. The conceptual metaphors
here are Moral is Up; Immoral is Down (they are lowly) and Immoral People
are Animals (that live close to the ground).
The use of the word "evil" in the administration's discourse works in
the following way. In conservative, strict father morality (see my Moral
Politics, Chapter 5), evil is a palpable thing, a force in the world.
To stand up to evil you have to be morally strong. If you're weak, you
let evil triumph, so that weakness is a form of evil in itself, as is
promoting weakness. Evil is inherent, an essential trait, that determines
how you will act in the world. Evil people do evil things. No further
explanation is necessary. There can be no social causes of evil, no
religious rationale for evil, no reasons or arguments for evil. The
enemy of evil is good. If our enemy is evil, we are inherently good.
Good is our essentially nature and what we do in the battle against
evil is good. Good and evil are locked in a battle, which is conceptualized
metaphorically as a physical fight in which the stronger wins. Only
superior strength can defeat evil, and only a show of strength can keep
evil at bay. Not to show overwhelming strength is immoral, since it
will induce evildoers to perform more evil deeds because they'll think
they can get away with it. To oppose a show of superior strength is
therefore immoral. Nothing is more important than the battle of Good
against Evil, and if some innocent noncombatants get in the way and
get hurt, it is a shame, but it is to be expected and nothing can be
done about it. Indeed, performing lesser evils in the name of good is
justified "lesser" evils like curtailing individual liberties,
sanctioning political assassinations, overthrowing governments, torture,
hiring criminals, and "collateral damage."
Then there is the basic security metaphor, Security As Containment
keeping the evildoers out. Secure our borders, keep them and their weapons
out of our airports, have marshals on the planes. Most security experts
say that there is no sure way to keep terrorists out or to deny them
the use of some weapon or other; a determined well-financed terrorist
organization can penetrate any security system. Or they can choose other
targets, say oil tankers.
Yet the Security As Containment metaphor is powerful. It is what lies
behind the missile shield proposal. Rationality might say that the September
11th attack showed the missile shield is pointless. But it strengthened
the use of the Security As Containment metaphor. As soon as you say
"national security," the Security as Containment metaphor will be activated
and with it, the missile shield.
The reaction of the Bush administration is just what you would expect
a conservative reaction would be pure Strict Father morality:
The world is a dangerous place. 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 doctorsthe 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
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. I was reminded recently of Gandhi's
words: Be the change you want. The words apply to governments
as well as to individuals.
There are (at least) three kinds of causes of radical Islamic terrorism:
Worldview: The Religious Rationale
Social and Political Conditions: Cultures of Despair
Means: The Enabling Conditions
The Bush administration has discussed only the third: The means that
enable attacks to be carried out. These include: Leadership (e.g., bin
Laden), host countries, training facilities and bases, financial backing,
cell organization, information networks, and so on. These do not include
the first and second on the list.
The question that keeps being asked in the media is, Why do they
hate us so much?
It is important at the outset to separate out moderate to liberal Islam
from radical Islamic fundamentalists, who do not represent most Muslims.
Islamic fundamentalists hate our culture. They have a worldview that
is incompatible with the way that Americans and other westerners
live their lives.
One part of this worldview concerns women, who are seen as "pearls,"
objects of value and beauty to be hidden from all men but their husbands.
They are to hide their bodies, they have no right to property, no
right to travel on their own, and so on. Western sexuality, mores,
music, and women's equality all violate their values, and the ubiquity
of American cultural products, like movies and music, throughout the
world offends them.
A second part concerns theocracy: they believe that governments
should be run according to strict Islamic law by clerics.
A third concerns holy sites, like those in Jerusalem, which
they believe should be under Islamic political and military control.
A fourth concerns the commercial and military incursions by
Westerners on Islamic soil, which they liken to the invasion of the
hated crusaders. The way they see it, our culture spits in the face
A fifth concerns jihad a holy war to protect and defend
A sixth is the idea of a martyr, a man willing to sacrifice
himself for the cause. His reward is eternal gloryan eternity
in heaven surrounded by willing young virgins. In some cases, there
is a promise that his family will be taken care of by the community.
Social and Political Conditions: Cultures of Despair
Most Islamic would-be martyrs not only share these beliefs but have
also grown up in a culture of despair that leaves people vulnerable
to the idea of martyrdom: they have little to lose. Eliminate the conditions
of despair and you eliminate much of the breeding ground for terrorists.
When the Bush administration speaks of eliminating terror, it does not
appear to be talking about remedying cultures of despair and the social
conditions that lead one to want to give up your life to martyrdom.
Princeton Lyman of the Aspen Institute has made an important proposalthat
the world-wide anti-terrorist coalition being formed address the causal
real-world conditions as well. Country by country, the conditions (both
material and political) leading to despair need to be addressed, with
a worldwide commitment to ending them. It should be done because it
is a necessary part of addressing the causes of terrorismand because
it is right! The coalition being formed should be made into a long-term
global institution for this purpose.
What about the first causethe radical Islamic worldview itself.
Military action won't change it. Social action won't change it. Worldviews
live in the minds of people. How can one change those minds and
if not present minds, then future minds? The West cannot! Those
minds can only be changed by moderate and liberal Muslimsclerics,
teachers, elders, respected community members. There is no shortage
of them. I do not know how well they are organized, but the world needs
them to be well-organized and effective. It is vital that moderate and
liberal Muslims form a unified voice against hate and, with it, terror.
Remember that "taliban" means "student." Those that teach hate in Islamic
schools must be replaced and we in the West cannot replace
them. This can only be done by an organized moderate, nonviolent Islam.
The West may be able to help in some ways, but we alone are powerless
to carry it out. We depend on the good will as well as the courage
and effectiveness of moderate Islamic leaders. To gain it, we
must show our good will by beginning in a serious way to address
the social and political conditions that lead to despair.
But a conservative American government, thinking of the enemy as evil,
will not take the primary causes seriously. They will only go after
the enabling causes. But unless the primary causes are addressed, terrorists
will continue to be spawned.
The Hon. Barbara Lee (D, CA), who I am proud to acknowledge as my
representative in Congress, said the following in casting the lone
vote against giving President Bush full Congressional approval for
carrying out his War on Terrorism as he sees fit:
convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international
terrorism against the United States. This is a very complex and complicated
difficult this vote may be, some of us must urge the use of restraint.
Our country is in a state of mourning. Some of us must say, let us
step back for a moment. Let us just pause for a minute and think through
the implications of our actions today so that this does not spiral
out of control.
agonized over this vote, but I came to grips with it today and I came
to grips with opposing this resolution during the very painful yet
very beautiful memorial service. As a member of the clergy so eloquently
said, ''As we act, let us not become the evil that we deplore.''
I agree. But what is striking to me as a linguist is the use of negatives
in the statement: "not prevent," "restraint" (inherently negative),
"not spiral out of control," "not become the evil that we deplore.''
Friends are circulating a petition calling for "Justice without
vengeance." "Without" has another implicit negative. It is not that
these negative statements are wrong. But what is needed is a positive
form of discourse.
There is one.
The central concept is that of "responsibility," which is at the heart
of progressive/liberal morality (See Moral Politics). Progressive/liberal
morality begins with empathy, the ability to understand others
and feel what they feel. That is presupposed in responsibility
responsibility for oneself, for protection, for the care of those
who need care, and for the community. Those were the values that we
saw at work among the rescue workers in New York right after the attack.
Responsibility requires competence and effectiveness. If you are to
deal responsibly with terrorism, you must deal effectively with all
its causes: religious, social, and enabling causes. The enabling causes
must be dealt with effectively. Bombing innocent civilians and harming
them by destroying their country's domestic infrastructure will be counterproductive
as well as immoral. Responsibility requires care in the
place of blundering overwhelming force.
Massive bombing would be irresponsible. Failure to address the religious
and social causes would be irresponsible. The responsible response begins
with joint international action to address all three: the
social and political conditions and the religious worldview and
the means with all due care.
I have been working on a monograph on foreign policy. The idea behind
it is this: There are many advocacy groups that have long been doing
important good works in the international arena, but on issues that
have not officially been seen as being a proper part of foreign policy:
the environment, human rights, women's rights, the condition of children,
labor, international public health issues (e.g., AIDS in Africa),
sustainable development, refugees, international education, and so
on. The monograph comes in two parts.
First, the book points out that the metaphors that foreign policy
experts have used to define what foreign policy is rules out these
important concerns. Those metaphors involve self-interest (e.g., the
Rational Actor Model), stability (a physics metaphor), industrialization
(unindustrialized nations are "underdeveloped') , and trade (freedom
is free trade).
Second, the book proposes an alterative way of thinking about foreign
policy under which all these issues would become a natural part of
what foreign policy is about. The premise is that, when international
relations work smoothly, it is because certain moral norms of the
international community are being followed. This mostly goes unnoticed,
since those norms are usually followed. We notice problems when those
norms are breached. Given this, it makes sense that foreign policy
should be centered around those norms.
The moral norms I suggest come out of what I called in Moral Politics
"nurturant morality." It is a view of ethical behavior that centers
on (a) empathy and (b) responsibility (for both yourself and others
needing your help). Many things follow from these central principles:
fairness, minimal violence (e.g., justice without vengeance), an ethic
of care, protection of those needing it, a recognition of interdependence,
cooperation for the common good, the building of community, mutual
respect, and so on. When applied to foreign policy, nurturant moral
norms would lead the American government to uphold the ABM treaty,
sign the Kyoto accords, engage in a form of globalization governed
by an ethics of careand it would automatically make all the
concerns listed above (e.g., the environment, women's rights) part
of our foreign policy.
This, of course, implies (a) multilateralism, (b) interdependence,
and (c) international cooperation. But these three principles, without
nurturant norms, can equally well apply to the Bush administration's
continuance of its foreign policy. Bush's foreign policy, as he announced
in the election campaign, has been one of self-interest ("what's in
the best interest of the United States") if not outright hegemony
(the Cheney/Rumsfeld position). The Democratic leaders incorrectly
criticized Bush for being isolationist and unilateralist, on issues
like the Kyoto accords and the ABM Treaty. He was neither isolationist
nor unilateralist. He was just following his stated policy of self-interest.
The mistaken criticism of Bush as a unilateralist and as uncooperative
will now blow up in his critics' faces. When it is in America's interest
(as he sees it), he will work with other nations. The "War against
Terrorism" is perfect for changing his image to that of a multilateralist
and internationalist. It is indeed in the common interest of most
national governments not to have terrorists operating. Bush can come
out on the side of the angels while pursuing his same policy of self-interest.
The mistake of Bush's critics has been to use "multilateralism" versus
"unilateralism" as a way categorizing foreign policy. Self-interest
crosses those categories.
There is, interestingly, an apparent overlap between the nurturant
norms policy and an idealistic vision of the Bush administration's
new war. The overlap is, simply, that it is a moral norm to refuse
to engage in, or support, terrorism. From this perspective, it looks
like Left and Right are united. It is an illusion.
In nurturant norms policy, anti-terrorism arises from another moral
norm: Violence against innocent parties is immoral. But Bush's
new war will certainly not follow that moral norm. Bush's military
advisers appear to be planning massive bombings and infrastructure
destruction that will certainly take the lives of a great many innocent
Within a year of the end of the Gulf War, the CIA reported that about
a million Iraqi civilians had died from the effects of the war and
the embargo many from disease and malnutrition due to the US
destruction of water treatment plants, hospitals, electric generation
plants, and so on, together with the inability to get food and medical
supplies. Many more innocents have died since from the effects of
the war. Do we really think that the US will have the protection of
innocent Afghanis in mind if it rains terror down on the Afghan infrastructure?
We are supposedly fighting them because they immorally killed
innocent civilians. That made them evil. If we do the same,
are we any less immoral?
This argument would hold water if the Bush War on Terrorism were really
about morality in the way that morality is understood by progressives/liberals.
It is not. In conservative morality, there is fight between Good and
Evil, in which "lesser" evils are tolerated and even seen as necessary
The argument that killing innocent civilians in retaliation would
make us as bad as them works for liberals, not for conservatives.
The idealistic claim of the Bush administration is they intend to wipe
out "all terrorism." What is not mentioned is that the US has systematically
promoted a terrorism of its own and has been trained terrorists, from
the contras to the mujahadeen to the Honduran death squads to the Indonesian
military. Indeed, there are reports that two of the terrorists taking
part in The Attack were trained by the US. Will the US government stop
training terrorists? Of course not. It will deny that it does so. Is
this duplicity? Not in terms of conservative morality and its view of
Good versus Evil and lesser evils.
If the administration's discourse offends us, we have a moral obligation
to change public discourse!
the change you want! If the US wants terror to end, the US must
end its own contribution to terror. And we must also end terror sponsored
not against the West but against others. We have made a deal with Pakistan
to help in Afghanistan. Is it part of the deal that Pakistan renounce
its own terrorism in Kashmir against India? I would be shocked if it
were. The Bush foreign policy of self-interest does not require it.
The question must be asked. If that is not part of the deal, then our
government has violated its own stated ideals; it is hypocritical. If
the terrorism we don't mind or might even like is perpetuated,
terrorism will not end and will eventually turn back on us, just as
our support for the mujahadeen did.
We must be the change we want!
The foreign policy of moral norms is the only sane foreign policy. In
the idea of responsibility for oneself, it is eminently practical. But
through empathy and other forms of responsibility (protection, care,
competence, effectiveness, community development), it would lead to
international cooperation and a recognition of the reality of interdependence.
I have a rational fear, a fear that the September 11 attack has given
the Bush administration a free hand in pursuing a conservative domestic
agenda. This has so far been unsayable in the media. But it must be
said, lest it happen for sure.
Where is the $40 billion coming from? Not from a rise in taxes. The
sacrifices will not be made by the rich. Where then? The only available
source I can think of is the Social Security "lockbox," which is now
wide open. The conservatives have been trying to raid the Social Security
fund for some time, and the Democrats had fought them off until now.
A week ago, the suggestion to take $40 billion from the Social Security
"surplus" would have been indefensible. Has it now been done
with every Democratic senator voting for it and all but one of the Democrats
Think of it: Are your retirement contributions and mine
are going to fight Bush's "war." No one dares to talk about it that
way. It's just $40 billion, as if it came out of nowhere. No one says
that $40 billion dollars comes from your retirement contributions. No
one talks about increasing taxes. We should at least ask just where
the money is coming form.
If the money is coming from social security, then Bush has achieved
a major goal of his partisan conservative agenda without fanfare,
without notice, and with the support of virtually all Democrats.
Calling for war, instead of mere justice, has given the conservatives
free rein. I fear it will only be a matter of time before they claim
that we need to drill for oil in the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge for national
security reasons. Senator Murkowski has already proposed a rider to
this effect on the appropriations bill for funding the war. If that
most "pristine" place falls, they will use the national security excuse
to drill and mine coal all over the country. The energy program will
be pushed through as a matter of "national security." All social programs
will be dismissed for lack of funds, which will be diverted to "national
Cheney has said that this war may never be completed. Newt Gingrich
estimates at least four or five years, certainly past the 2004 election.
With no definition of victory and no exit strategy, we may be entering
a state of perpetual war. This would be very convenient for the
conservative domestic agenda: The war machine will determine the domestic
agenda, which will allow conservatives to do whatever they want in the
name of national security.
The recession we are entering has already been blamed on The Attack,
not on Bush's economic policies. Expect a major retrenchment on civil
liberties. Expect any WTO protesters to be called terrorists and/or
traitors. Expect any serious opposition to Bush's policies to be called
has the courage to discuss domestic policy frankly at this time?