Why are we silent?

Paul Chilton P.A.Chilton at UEA.AC.UK
Fri Mar 28 11:33:21 UTC 2003

Here is a link to a paper by George Lakoff:

Also, here are some additional thoughts in the attachment, and copied below.

Brief thoughts relating to George Lakoff"s "Metaphor and War, Again"

Reaching the final days: metaphor, mind and how to make an ultimatum

In order to go to war in democracies, and even in dictatorships, you have to
give your people a reason--a casus belli and some reasoned justifications,
which may or may not draw in a general way on just war theory (present
threat to the nation, proportionality of means, etc.). When you've done
that, then you issue an ultimatum to the enemy, and if they do not do what
you want, you send in the missiles, bombers and foot soldiers.

All this is done by means of LANGUAGE. The aim is to get people's brains
into a state similar to that of the speaker. A good way to do this is to use
metaphors, as George Lakoff has pointed out. People store in their long-term
memory learned cognitive frames and other cognitive set-ups, plus the means
to manipulate them on-line in discourse-processing. One is of course free to
do what one likes with these cognitive resources. In principle. In practice,
especially in times of crisis, under all kinds of cognitive and emotional
pressures, many people simply assimilate the verbiage coming into their
minds from political leaders.

I say that in principle one is free to do what one likes with one's mind,
even if one's mind has already been modified by input from the verbal
environment. More than that, if Coismides (1989) and Sperber (2000), are
anything like on the right track, we humans possess a "cheater detector" and
a "logico-rhetorical" module that equips us to resist lies, distortions and
misrepresentations. Of course, this ability needs nurturing, and some
explicit tools to make us of. To some extent, linguists can help here. Being
aware of metaphorical and similar cognitive processes (such as blending) can
help people get a handle on what politicians, and others, say. Naturally,
metaphor isn't the only persuasive process we need to look at, but we might
as well start there.

George Lakoff (2003) has shown how the following metaphors are used in the
Bush administration's efforts to persuade the American people, and the world
to begin to massive violence against Iraq on March 20, 2003: a nation is a
person, the international community metaphor, rational actor model, the
self-defense story, the rescue story.

I would like to add a little more to our understanding of the cognitive
processes that constitute political decision-making and political
persuasion. Let's return to the question of issuing an ultimatum. If you
think about it, it is an extraordinary bit of human behaviour. I would guess
that our genetically near cousins, the chimpanzees, don't do ultimatums,
though they apparently get up to other kinds of machiavellian tricks. In
human societies, ultimata are literally the ultimate stage in the
step-by-step process of going to war. How do we do it? What mental resources
are tapped?

Of course, ultimata are not just aimed at the adversary. In the case of
President Bush's ultimatum in his Address to the Nation ( 8:01 p.m. EST,
March 17, 2003 ), the main point is to persuade the American nation, and
perhaps other listeners. Nor is it enough to simply say that ultimata are a
species of speech act, akin to Threatening and Warning. They are that, of
course. But there is more to it. Speech acts engage cognitive processes--how
else could they work?

Below I sketch some of the metaphors that constitute the cognitive process
"giving an ultimatum". Time is of the essence in ultimata. You have to show
that action is crucially time-sensitive. You have to show a sort of causal
connection between time and two events. The causal connection is, as a
number of semantic analyses have shown, frequently couched as a conditional.
If X does/does not do Y by time t, then A will do B after time t. Doing or
not doing Y in some way causes B.

That is a very abstract template. In practice, it seems likely that human
minds engage image schemata and other cognitive objects, including metaphor,
to grasp this sort of abstraction. In some curious way "grasping" it means
making it (seem) "real". So, we'd expect ultimata to involve metaphors for
time and action and causation.

If one looks closely at Bush's Address to the Nation that is exactly what
one does find. Here are a few examples, for others to follow up and check
whether I am on the right lines.


Evoking a particular frame by mentioning a part of that frame (a person,
object etc.) is commonplace--as we know from the famous example "the ham
sandwich wants his coffee". The cognitive effect is probably that we tend to
focus on the individual or item actually mentioned, and as in the case of
metaphor, put the associated frame together with its details and
implications into the background. If we attack "Saddam Hussein", we are
obscuring the rest of the cognitive frame of which he is a part--ordinary
Iraqis who would be harmed in the attack, perhaps 50 000 civilian deaths
according to Amnesty International estimates.

It can work the other way round too. That is to say, a category (or frame)
name can stand for the individual parts. So if we attack "Iraq", that too
takes the cognitive focus away from ordinary Iraqis. But category labels can
be actors, too. Early in his address, the President says:

"the world has engaged in 12 years of diplomacy

The ad hoc category label "the world" obscures a great deal. The
individuals, and even the individual states who might have been involved in
diplomacy, cannot be identified from this expression.

The pronoun we can also act as a label for ad hoc social categories, usually
when they are ill-defined ones. The pronoun we picks out a very vague
category, that can be filled out in different ways by different listeners.
President Bush says:

"we have passed more than a dozen resolutions
". Who exactly?

"the United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this

Who exactly passed more than a dozen resolutions? Who exactly are the
nations that are put into the category who are threatened yet do not deserve
it, i.e. are innocent? How many facts and questions do these representations


Things move. Generally things move when some force, typically coming from a
human agent, moves them. But language lets us talk as if things propel
themselves. It follows that, by the metaphor events are things, events too
can propel themselves. In other words things can "just happen":

"if war comes"

"every measure has been taken to avoid war".

Here the underlying image schema has a moving object--"war"-- approaching
us. Time, as we know from a great deal of research on metaphor, gets
metaphorically imagined as a moving thing, or as a landmark toward which the
observer moves.

The President opens his Address to the Nation by saying:

"events in Iraq have now reached the final days of decision

"before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this
danger will be removed".

"all the decades of deceit and cruelty have now reached an end"

"the day of your liberation is near.

So, without specifying exactly which events and which horror, we have a
spatial representation in which something has (on the President's assertion)
come to an end point. In the same representation, something that by
implication is on the same path, is coming towards us--as the word "come"
alone presupposes. Therefore, there's a space (of time) between the end
point and the approaching object--between the the "end" of one series of
events and the coming "days of horror".

What does a human do in a such a scenario? You can get out of the way, or
you can act to stop the approaching object. Since we gotta act (see below),
it follows--at least within the presidential discourse--that, well, we gotta
act to stop the approaching object. The causal link is not spelled out but
it is implied that the approaching object will be stopped. The implication
emerges through the other part of the scenario. There is a different object
approaching: liberation is "near".

This scenario plays an important background role in the President's address.
Setting up a time scale is crucial to doing ultimatum acts. Answering the
questions "why now?", "why at the time you say?" is crucial. The scenario
above, in which one thing has moved to a stop, and another thing is
approaching, gives the answers by defining what is "too late" and what is
"not too late". Thus,

"it is too late for Saddam Hussein to remain" (because his regime has
"reached an end").

On the other hand, "it is not too late" for the Iraqi military to surrender
to the American forces, before "war comes". Moreover, within the same
metaphorically defined scenario, the approaching object ("danger") will be
physically taken displaced--it will be "removed". So, it is not "too late"
to act.

In this way the scenario pinpoints "now" as the moment to act. It is forced
(or caused) by the oncoming object. Why are "we" acting now?

"We are acting now because the risks of inaction would be far greater."

OK, what does that mean and how do you make it "real"? Well, bearing in mind
that the threat-object is on a collision course with where we stand now

"We can choose to meet that threat now, where it arises, before it can
appear suddenly in our skies and cities".

The questions of whether any actual connection exists between Saddam
Hussein"s government and the potential for terrorist attacks on the USA, or
whether he possesses the potential for nuclear attacks on the USA or for
biochemical attacks on the USA--such questions are obscured by the
metaphors. Possibly, however, facts and reasons are unnecessary because the
entrenched metaphorical processes are so cognitively powerful.


We can have double metaphors, such that events are things and things are
persons. Since persons are intentional agents with desires and beliefs, so
are events. Persons make mistakes, too, and often fail. Hence, "peaceful
efforts", which only indirectly evokes persons who do things, may "fail":

"peaceful efforts 
 have failed

Whose efforts, exactly, and what were the efforts? The metaphors, built into
our lexical ways of speaking, obscure the details and obscure the questions.


Not surprisingly human actions are conceptualised as movements along a path
towards a goal. Our image schemata for Paths--i.e. our intuitive grasp of
moving around in space--inherently have locations, obstacles, etc. as parts.
There is strong pressure for politicians, especially national leaders, to
represent themselves as very active actors. Presidents and Prime Ministers
believe that they must be seen to be "doing something". They also believe it
is their job to get others to do things--or to "go in certain directions".
This why political leaders talk of "guiding", "steering", leading", "being
in the driving seat", and so forth. This is also why the "ship of state" has
been a profound metaphor in the political discourse of western nations:
ships have to have commanders to keep them on course. So, unsurprisingly

We find the President saying, for example:

"the United States and other nations have pursued patient and honourable

and, more graphically,

"instead of drifting toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety".

As if "tragedy" and "safety" were locations. In the case of "safety" the
intuitive feeling that "safety" is indeed a place, runs deep. But it is not
necessarily helpful. (cf. Chilton 1996). The ship metaphor has a range of
possible entailments. For example, if you are captain of a vessel, it is
certainly your duty to seek to stay on course. So , President Bush:

"No act of theirs [of enemies] can alter the course
of this country".


Cosmides, L. 1989, the logic of social exchange: Has natural selection
shaped how humans reason?, Cognition, 31: 187-276

Chilton, P. 1996, Security Metaphors, Peter Lang

Chilton, P. and Lakoff, G.. Foreign policy by metaphor. In C. Schäffner and

Wenden (ed.), Language and Peace, Harwood, 1995

Lakoff, G. 2003, Metaphor and war, again. www.alternet.org

Sperber, D. 2000, Metarepresentations. A Multidisciplinary Perspective, OUP

  -----Original Message-----
  From: Critical Discourse/Language/Communication Analysis
[mailto:CRITICS-L at NIC.SURFNET.NL]On Behalf Of Teun A. van Dijk
  Sent: 28 March 2003 10:49
  Subject: Why are we silent?

  Dear friends,
  Car at s amig at s,

  Why are we so silent when a war is going on?

  Is there nothing to say, to analyze, to theorize, to criticize?

  Are we too busy, too occupied with other protests in the streets, among
millions of others?

  Is there enough dissident discourse in the streets, in the media or on the
internet? Do we have nothing to add to that?

  Is any critique too obvious, too straightforward?

  Maybe, indeed, one need not be a critical linguist or discourse analyst to
understand, analyze and criticize what is going on, since the abuse of power
has seldom been so arrogant and blatant?

  Before the war we were bombarded with words from politicians who were
eager to bomb people with real bombs. Now, during the war, we are bombarded
with words that legitimate, prettify, deny or lie about the bombs and their
"collateral damage". That is, before, during and after the bombs, there are
always even more discourses that surround them. Do these discourses not
deserve extensive analysis? Do we really understand what is going on? Do we
know how our minds are managed by the discourses of war? Do we know all
their structures and strategies?

  The war and this conflict has been prepared was a long time. But where are
the papers for DISCOURSE & SOCIETY that critically analyze the discourses
that accompanied this build-up?

  There are vast domains of discourse that beg exploring; complex analytical
issues to be dealt with at the crossroads of many disciplines; fascinating
theorical roads to explore; some serious questions, if not some answers, to
formulate for those who have less insight in discourse and communication, in
persuasion and manipulation, than we are supposed to have. Do we have not
even some initial things to say about all that?

  Or is real war only about arms, and armies, and bombs and killing, engaged
in when words ("diplomacy") are declared useless by those whose arrogant
power is only based on arms and armies? If war is where words fail, does
discourse analysis become superfluous?

  Or is our only hope and future against arms and armies the counter-power
of talk and text, of negotation, of conflict resolution, of analysis and
fundamental understanding, of persuading world opinions, attitudes and
ideologies that finally will grow so strong that it will, forever, take the
toys from the boys?

  Will our dissident and analytical discourses be so strong that after this
war we will be able to say, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat: NEVER AGAIN
!!  ?

  Will our discourses and their analysis be able to change the world such
that we finally will be able to leave the primitive stage of having and
using arms and armies instead of waging wars only with words?

  When will our discourses be able to retire all military and send all arms
to the museum?

  How much text and talk does it take to change the minds of world opinion
in such a way that arms, armies, and their violence, become dirty words?

  Why is "pacifism" still a dirty or a dubious word?

  Who is interested in post-modernism, when we apparently are still living
in the pre-modern times of the right of might?

  Is Critical Discourse Analysis -- or any critical academic study --
asleep? Or do we simply have nothing interesting to offer?

  Do we remain silent even when hundreds --and soon thousands-- of human
beings, women, men, children, die gruesome deaths?

  Could our silence be interpreted as acceptance or acquiescence -- as
suggested by the Latin proverb Qui tacet, consentit ?

  Are there too many other lists against the war where we are publishing our
critical analyses?

  Does this list -- literally-- make sense?

  What more do I need to say to provoke serious contributions to this list,
articles for DISCOURSE & SOCIETY or ideas for books?

  Should I be "moderator" of a list when it is no time to be "moderate"?
Shall I become "activator", "provocator", "challenger"?

  What do you all have to say?

  Peace. Paz. Salaam.



  Teun A. van Dijk
  Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  Departament de Traducció i Filologia
  La Rambla 32
  08002 Barcelona, Spain

  E-mail: teun at discourse-in-society.org
  Internet: www.discourse-in-society.org

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