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Comprehending an Ecology of Cultures

Articulation through a dynamic system of metaphors

Comprehending an Ecology of Cultures
Cognitive function of metaphors
New inspiration: the spiritual function of metaphors
Importance of keystones
Transcendental cultural identity
How to proceed?
In search of an adequate system of metaphors

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 Prepared for the Institute for Cultural Research essay competition on "Cultures: clash, symbiosis and fusion" [PDF original]

Towards an image-based language: the current socio-political function of metaphors

The implications of a pattern of cultures are more and more a challenge to comprehension. In order to clarify understanding of such complexity, statesmen make use of notions which are both simple and symbolic. "The House of Europe" and "European Space" are examples of this approach. Such metaphors serve as vehicles to suggest approaches with many strategic implications. They fulfil the function of codes to communicate among cognoscenti and as key phrases in the interaction with public opinion.

The fundamental problems of cultural integration raise the question of the extent to which metaphors currently used are of adequate richness to articulate strategic options which are both useful and viable. The dilemma remains the necessity, on the one hand, to reflect the richness of the complexity of which any cultural strategy must take account, and, on the other, to make available an integrative image capable of "enchanting" people seeking some sense in the development of their personal and professional lives. This dilemma is made all the more problematic by the multiplicity of cultures and schools of thought, as well the diverse marginal groups.

Why this emphasis on metaphors instead of relying on the language of models? In part this is because in the elaboration of strategic policy it seems less and less useful to employ the old language in which so many reports have been presented. Despite the level of expertise and the complexity of the models, such reports have tended to be "forgettable", in the words of the Economist in describing the recent South Report (1990). We are being overtaken by events.

Media communicability has become increasingly important to the life of political and social initiatives. It is the ultimate constraint in social and political transformation. It is therefore useful to note the developing role of metaphor in articulating or opposing social transformation. Boris Yeltsin chose to describe Mikhael Gorbachev's compromise reforms as a "marriage between a hedgehog and a snake". Such imagery, of which there are many examples, easily undermines the best of initiatives. It would seem that the struggle has shifted from the world of ideas to the world of images. Commentators everywhere remark on the sterility of proposals in the eyes of the general population, and especially of voters. Instead of the "power of imagination , there is a bankruptcy of imagination.

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