On the subject of figures and literalities . . .
There's a semi-famous etching (I think it's an etching, maybe it's a painting): an image of a pipe, and below it a caption reading "This is not a pipe." The immediate response is obvious. "Well, what is it, if it's not a pipe?" The answer to this is also obvious, reread after the colon and you'll be enlightened.
Our life is full of these little images, so full, in fact, that we don't even notice them as representatives of what they're meant to represent. Life has become a puzzle, a never-ending pictogram. We sometimes need to solve them by utilizing the literal part of our brain, as in the above instance, or by using the figurative part of our brain, like when a stoplight doesn't just go green, but illuminates an arrow pointing up. It doesn't mean "go up." It means "go forward," or "go straight." I kind of wish it did mean "go up." There's been an unspoken promise of jetpacks and flying cars since at least the fifties. Where is my jetpack? Where is my flying car?
Anyway, this world is slowly building itself to be the world of shadows Plato or Aristotle (or both or neither) talked about. We no longer get things that mean what they are, but often have to decipher what they mean, which often isn't what they are. The more "enlightened" we become, the further from the world of ideals we get. But, that's not terrible, the world of ideals isn't ideal, as it were. A world of only one each of everything? Bleh. I'd prefer shadows, in that case. Diversity can beautiful. Engaging our brains is good. Not having to think about things can lead to complacency and death.
But when people use representatives of things to obscure the thing itself? This goes back to my many beefs with the state of journalism today. Often, because of problems of length, journalists use short-hand from a perspective they think everyone shares. But this short-hand is in words, and words don't mean one thing, alone. Words strung together in phrases and sentences and paragraphs and all can mean all sorts of things. One man can read "Wherefore art thou, Romeo?" and come away with something completely different than another. What it's supposed to mean is "Why are you a Capulet?" Or "Why are you a Montague?" It doesn't matter. Nowadays, because English is a living language, people think she's asking where Romeo is, and I believe that Shakespeare could have cleared it all up by using the family name and not the surname, and it wouldn't have ruined the meter, after all, since they're all three syllables.
But back to journalistic shorthand: the usage of this shorthand is bad for many reasons, not least of which is that it's editorializing under a different name, a journalistic no-no. Before anybody jumps upon me, this isn't soulless hypocrisy here because this journal isn't a news service. It is, up front, my opinions on things. It's the editorial column of my own personal webage. I get to do it, while deriding journalists who do it when they shouldn't. No, it's not fair. Who said it would be?
When people use language not to communicate but to obscure, we're falling under the worst parts of the world of shadows garbage: one cannot see what is when the lighting's too dim to see it correctly. Defense lawyers actually don't mind eye-witnesses because they are, each and every one of them, people. People make mistakes. Was the lighting really bright enough for you to discern telling features of my client? Are you sure your own preconceived notions colored your perceptions of the events. If I spin a cohesive and believable narrative for you, would you change your perspective? Isn't it possible? Isn't it? This is why defense lawyers are often bywords for the major problems with the system. They use their mastery of language and the rules of law not to elucidate but to obfuscate. They get a finger pointed at them in accusation, too.
But there's nothing inherently wrong why figures taking the place of that which they represent. We all just need to keep an eye on whether they represent what we think they do or not.
Aaron "The Mad Whitaker" Bourque