BT et C

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


As an expert in English and Philosophy, sorta, I love a good metaphor. So delicious... at times, so clarifying. One of my faves of all time, which I never get tired of linking to, is Moglen's Metaphorical Corollary to Faraday's Law. Anyway...

A metaphor that I'm kinda iffy about is the "War on Drugs". This, of course, conveys the seriousness of the drug problem in America, the expensiveness maybe, and the determination of our leaders to protect people, etc. etc. But we can all pretty much agree that this metaphor can be carried too far; for example, should dealer, or even just a user, of drugs be considered an enemy combatant in this war, and deprived of hisher rights as a citizen?

Probably not. We instinctively know that the metaphor is being taken too-literally there.

But no one is really suggesting such things, so I'm relatively indifferent to the "War on Drugs" metaphor.

A less "violent" but more pervasive metaphor that I think should basically be discarded is "intelleectual property". This one has wandered so far afield that many people don't even realize it's a metaphor anymore.

To test whether it really is a metaphor, try to prosecute somebody under theft or vandalism laws for (respectively) stealing or damaging your ideas or words. It won't work, because at the very least most of our courts remember that it is a metaphor.

Many of our citizens, and even some senators have forgotten, and this is really pretty unfortunate. A metaphor understood as such is generally not too dangerous, but when a metaphor comes to be taken as reality a curious thing happens: metaphors are built upon it.

Once you've lumped artistic output, "business methods", and trademarks into the "intellectual property" metaphor and forgotten that the symbol doesn't "map" exactly, it's not long before you start speaking of this property's "owners", of buying/selling/renting it. Of "thieves" and so on.

Now I don't contend that one is a horrible person for using these metaphors, but I caution against using them too loosely. I personally avoid them and try to be as exact as possible when talking about this stuff.


  • Right, there are better, more specific terms for pieces of the metaphor - Copyright, Patent, Trademark, Trade Secret, etc.

    It's getting to the point where the distinction between each is more important and pertinent.

    By Blogger luke, at 9:04 AM  

  • How about cross-posting this?

    We miss you.

    By Blogger jobsanger, at 12:00 PM  

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