As Described by President Obama

Metaphors are concepts we live by.    George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

By now you know how much I like metaphor. And I admit I like Obama. These two biases are influencing this blog. But I think the message of this metaphor is important. Remember, the medium is the message. Marshall McLuhan.

The following is taken from an article by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, May 23, 2016. Obama described how big democratic societies work: They are like ocean liners: you turn the wheel slowly, and the big ship pivots. Sometimes your job is just to make stuff work. Sometimes the task of government is to make incremental improvements or to try to steer the ocean liner two degrees north or south so that, ten years from now, suddenly we’re in a very different place than we were. At the moment, people may feel like we need a fifty-degree turn; we don’t need a two degree turn. And you say, Well, if I turn fifty degrees the whole ship turns over.

Adam Gopnik notes that the president wasn’t saying that big ships aren’t worth turning, just that it takes time. Their very bigness is what makes them turn slowly, but their bigness is also what makes them worth turning. He points out that what we have passed through in the eight years of the Obama presidency, is perhaps larger than we know. When an ocean liner changes course, the people on deck are often the last to notice.

This metaphor has helped me understand and appreciate Obama’s political views and practice. Obama explained his political view: Liberalism is a belief in radical change made through practical measures. My favorable bias to begin was expanded because of the message of the medium. The message of the ocean liner metaphor influenced both my understanding and appreciation.

In addition to political change, can you think of other changes the ocean liner metaphor could help us understand? I can think of global warming and aging.

The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. Einstein




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  1. Fontana says:

    Great metaphor. If only people would understand that he has done a lot to get the liner moving. I am so worried about this election. I should say I am very frightened!!

  2. Eugene Unger says:

    H, my friend. Your metaphor clarified things for me as well. Big ship, captain , nice man but good at speeches , bad at President/ being captain. This happens when ship captains talk a lot about course changing but don’t check on or know how to steer. We are are all on his ship, including all our enemies who wish to sink us! Are safer with him as captain? His captain elect, will we safer under her captaincy? She knows the rules of safe ship steering, but seems to think they don’t apply to her, ever! Are there other captains waiting to take over the helm? Yes! But they may be worse at being captain. Oh well, our ship seems to be in deep —- . Pray for the best and hope for a good captain

    Sent from my iPad


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