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Backside to the Future: coherence and conflation of dominant strategic metaphors


Backside to the Future
Contrasting clusters of operational meaning of "ass"
Configuring preoccupations with "ass"
Myth and transformation of "ass"
Concluding thoughts

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In these strange times vital decisions affecting the peoples of the world are being made at the highest level by people whose mindsets and priorities have been predominantly determined by their experience in the oil industry -- or their obligations to it [more; more; more; more; more; more], as well as the prospect of rapidly diminishing oil reserves. It is useful to review metaphors specially associated with those who work in such environments, including the military, that exemplify a very grounded and concrete aspect of human activity -- far from what they would see as the "egg-head" theories, speculations and resolutions of international policy-making regarding human rights, democracy, justice, environment and other preoccupations of the "weak". As bluntly expressed by a New Zealander, this is the world where men are men and the sheep are nervous. According to Edward de Bono, for example:

The skills of action are every bit as important as the skills of knowledge.We need to change our conceptions about thinking and action.... To effect this change we need a concept such as operacy which gives status to the thinking involved in doing. We need to appreciate effectiveness and not just intellectual games.[more; more; more]

A valuable point of departure is the image-rich language associated with many strategic and practical decisions. In the case of informal oilfield jargon: "Almost all the terminology can be taken two ways" -- a "dual use" terminology -- one of which has sexual connotations [more]. In what follows the focus is provided by the very widespread use of the term "ass" (or "arse" as it is spelt and pronounced in British and Australian English [more]). The two spellings are often interchangeable. In American English, whether signifying a donkey or the buttocks, the two are pronounced identically (as specified by the American Heritage Dictionary).

This paper is an exploration of the unconscious implications of the confused relations between these terms with respect to how they frame the primal action-oriented driving force of many -- from the highest executive level down to the worker in the field. This follows an earlier exploration of the strategic implications of a lack of distinction in the pronounciation of "Terror" and "Terra" in most American dialects, and a second on the pronunciation of "Iraq". The concern is how these terms may frame thinking about practical options for the future.

Although the focus of this paper is most distasteful to polite society, it does recognize the operational reality of large numbers of people whose actions are affecting the future of the world. It recognizes the framing of the social reality with which they so effectively engage. The fact that such language is primarily characteristic of the "smoke-filled rooms" and field sites where real decisions are taken -- and tends to be excluded from public discourse -- is part of the problem of the times. In the USA, for example, habitués of the Executive Mansion are known to "yell and swear" and many presidents have used "locker room jargon" [more] -- as is evident from the Nixon tapes [example]. George Bush was widely reported for his use of the term "asshole" in public dialogue with Dick Cheney -- both from the oil industry -- during his 2000 election campaign [more].

A brief argument between Vice President Cheney and a senior Democratic senator led Cheney to utter a big-time obscenity on the Senate floor this week [June 2004] ... A chance meeting with Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, became an argument about Cheney's ties to Halliburton Co., an international energy services corporation, and President Bush's judicial nominees. The exchange ended when Cheney offered some crass advice. "Fuck yourself," said the man who is a heartbeat from the presidency. [more]

Part of the problem also derives from the fact that the association of terms is peculiar to the English language -- as the vehicle of global decision-making -- and especially to its American variant. Another aspect is that the terms in question tend to be restricted to a mode of discourse that is considered by some to be inappropriate "in front of the ladies" or in religious groups -- problematic when both are now intimately involved in key decisions. As a kind of "secret discourse", it points to what might be termed the "backside of decision-making" -- recalling Elise Boulding's extensive study on The Underside of History: A View of Women through Time (1976). Hence the title of this paper: Backside to the Future (which, coincidentally but appropriately, is also the title of a porn movie). No wonder the disempowered, especially the young and women, occasionally resort to "mooning" ("baring their asses") to express their disdain for the "globalization" proposed by the "suits" for their future.

If the world's future is to be conceptually grasped and framed through the backside, then there is a case for understanding what this may imply.

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