Metaphors matter in the world of diplomats. In the following, I suggest three distinct ways in which they do matter. Each of these areas highlights a different take on the role of metaphors in language as well as in making sense of and creating the world. A skilful diplomat will be aware of all three areas and will be able to reflect on and use each of them when and where necessary. Here, I aim at reflecting on philosophy of science perspectives on metaphors and in a second blog post I will be aiming at suggesting a “user manual” of metaphors for diplomats.
A well known fable begins by describing how the cartographers of an Empire were asked to create a map. They create a map that is so perfect that it matches the Empire in every point. It not only matches the Empire, the map covers it in every point. With time, the Empire falls into ruins but so does the map. How can we be sure which one is real? (1)
In a very thoughtful piece titled “Don’t blame man, blame the Polynesian rat” Aldo Matteucci warned about the dangers of analogies (and metaphors for that matter). He did so in a reply to one of my blog posts in which I praised the usefulness of metaphors to make sense of complex and intangible entities or phenomena such as climate change.
Pictures and illustrations are an excellent tool to illustrate complexities because they allow us to incorporate metaphors and analogies more intuitively. And metaphors and analogies are, ultimately, what we use to make sense of the abstract and the complex. It’s a challenge to illustrate the complexities of climate change; it’s a challenge one must confront when teaching and advocating on climate change.
Just before the current climate change conference COP 17, in Durban, Diplo launched Translate Climate. The initiative aims to bring together illustrating and translating climate change. We started with our Climate Building Illustration that we launched in 2009 at the time of the climate negotiations in Copenhagen.