The Irish author John Connolly in his book The Wolf in Winter quite rightly writes that one should “know a man by his metaphors”. (Undoubtedly in this gender ideology driven times the same can be said for women.) The thesis of George Lakoff, the well-known American cognitive linguist, is that lives of individuals are significantly influenced by the central metaphors they use to explain complex phenomena.
In his 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives think Lakoff applied his theory to politics while reviewing and critiquing the metaphors used by both political camps in their political discourse.
Of particular interest to the topic of today’s commentary is chapter 12. In line with the general tenor of the book, he looked at environmental issues as moral issues.
He then went on to analyse the metaphors conservatives employ to describe their relationship to nature and the environment. Conservatives, according to his theory, look at nature as a resource, a property or as an adversity to be conquered.
He suggested the use of alternative metaphors of nature as mother, as a divine being, as a living organism, as a home, as a victim to be cared for and as a whole with us serving as parts inseparable from nature and from each other.
In a recent article published in Alter News, Lakoff analysed Pope Francis’s encyclical from the perspective of the metaphors used. The Pope did not go as far as Lakoff, who considered nature as a divine being, but Francis did use metaphors which definitively put him miles apart from the conservative mentality.
It is no surprise then that Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, the darlings of the Catholic American right-wing, and Republican contenders for the American presidency, vociferously criticised Pope Francis.
In my commentary of June 28, I wrote that the mantra of the encyclical is “everything is connected”. The Pope could use this mantra only because in the subtitle of Laudato Sì and in the rest of the encyclical, the underpinning metaphor for the environment is our common home. The use of this metaphor implies that as in every other home the physical and social environments have to be nurtured.
Moreover, the inhabitants of the common home should behave in the same way as those who live in the family home. Ideally, such inhabitants should be guided by the common good and not by unbridled egoism and exploitation of the weaker members of the nuclear community.
A home is something inherently worth maintaining and protecting. The use of this metaphor enabled the Pope to follow up his encyclical by very strong pro-environmental speeches delivered last Tuesday to the students of the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador and, later, to members of civil society.
“We can no longer turn our backs on our reality, on our brothers and sisters, on mother earth... it is no longer licit for us to ignore what is happening to our surroundings as if certain situations did not exist or have nothing to do with our reality.
The interests of speculative developers will now be enshrined in the law of the land
“Again and again comes the strength of that question of God to Cain: ‘Where is your brother?’” Francis said. “I ask if our response continues to be: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’”
The Pope’s references to Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel in the primordial family of Adam and Eve is a strong statement that humanity is destroying the earth but is not taking responsibility for its destruction.
Francis told the civil society leaders last Tuesday that the goods of the earth “are meant for all and even though some might claim property, they are always under a social mortgage”.
“Exploitation of natural resources, so abundant in Ecuador, must not seek immediate benefit. Being administrators of this richness we have received, we have an obligation towards society as a whole and towards future generations, to which we cannot hand down this heritage without a proper care of the environment,” he told those at that event.
The words of Francis take on added significance because the Catholic Church and civil society in Ecuador are fighting against President Rafael Correa’s plans to open mining in a nature reserve.
They openly took the side of civil society. Once more he has taken a stand against the theory of market fundamentalism which has become a kind of alternative religion lauding the primacy of self-interest and the conservative belief that if everyone pursues his own profit, the profit of all will be maximised.
Within this perspective, wealth is the measure of the good: an overall increase in monetary wealth is a moral triumph. Pope Francis clearly states that this philosophy creates enormous wealth for some, disaster for the many and the terror of global warming for the earth.
Those in Malta who use Pope Francis as if he is some empty brand justifying their whims and plans should note that the pro-environmental words he spoke in Ecuador and his umpteenth condemnation of market fundamentalism are also relevant to Malta.
Events of the past week confirmed once more that the interests of speculative developers have taken the upper hand. The lip service given to the pro-environment lobbies before the 2013 election was just a cynical ploy to attract their support and vote. To make matters worse the interests of speculative developers will now be enshrined in the law of the land.
Lorry Sant never dreamt that things could turn out to be so good for land grabbers.
• We are rapidly becoming progressive every other day. The Minister of Justice has just informed us that we will soon be able to publicly vilify God and every religion to our hearts’ content.
We can now publish cartoons, for example, showing the founders of different religions or God himself committing horrific acts of violence or perverse sexual acts.
But, as progressive decency demands, we will not be able to produce the same cartoons depicting the President of Malta.
And if you dare call certain politicians incompetent clowns, you risk being dragged to court.
It seems that in the liberal/progressive firmament some gods are more equal than others.
Plus ça change.