Wednesday, June 8, 2011

In A Metaphorical Sense

Written on: June 2, 2011

Just so you know, this isn't necessarily directly movie/TV show related. However, the metaphors I'm going to explore have all been referenced in some form or the other in something I watched.
As a general rule, I find metaphors hilarious, but not always the best form of communication.
Because, quite frankly, the ox being in the ditch doesn't make much sense without the original context.
The person who does not have said context is left with “ox?. What ox?. What ditch?. What does that have to do with why we can't go bowling on Friday?. AAAH!!!”
It also causes the person without context to question the other person's sanity.
By the way, the context of the ox in the ditch can be found in the Bible. Luke 14, if my frazzled brain remembers the correct area. I know that will at least give you a bit of context to work with anyway.
And don't say “but I don't have a Bible handy”. Look it up. You've got a search engine, haven't you?.

Anyway, there was a point to this.... ah yes. Metaphors.
They often make no sense without context, much like references to movies nobody's ever heard of.
But that doesn't stop people from using them, now does it?. No.
Being a person on the Internet, I frequently come across references and short-hand that would be utterly bewildering to the uninlightened people who inhabit the world of actually having something better to do with their time.
And even I am sometimes baffled and have to search high and low for clues as to what that one person was talking about when they said whatever it was they said.
This is normal. We're all weirdos here. It's fine if we reference something no one but the ogres under our bed have heard of.
Now, don't think I've got the terms “metaphor” and “reference” confused. There are, of course, things which are similar in nature to metaphors, but actually aren't. And there are references that are, in fact, also metaphors. They frequently blur together to confuse the heck out of you and infuriate the literal-minded people of the planet (hehehehe :D.).
So, basically, I'm saying metaphors exist. Not only that, but they're everywhere.
Actually, even describing the Internet as a place is a metaphor of some sort, but let's not go there.
So, let's tackle the first metaphor/story/reference/whatever it is on my list.

The Scorpion and The Frog
Yes, it requires bold lettering. Shut up.
So I first encountered this story as a kid on some show who's name I no longer recall. I have sense encountered in several movies and TV shows in various forms.
Sometimes as The Scorpion and The Turtle or The Scorpion and The Fox.
But really, for the meaning of the story to work, it could have been The Tarantula and The Egret.
You should be familiar with at least some version of this story. And, if you're not, go look it up. It's easy. Just type in the title up there ^. You'll find it. I did.
So.... this story is usually told by an older character to a young character who has an affection or friendship with someone the audience knows to be evil. The old and young characters usually argue first, but for some reason the younger character listens in silence as the whole “it's my nature” thing is explained to them in true “Tortoise and The Hare” format (if you don't know that one either, you have been living under a rock and probably aren't reading this).
So... sure enough, one of two things happens.
One: the evil character is (duh!) evil. Because it's his nature. You should feel sorry for him. It's like he had a bad childhood, only he was just born demonically-evil and power-hungry. Give him a bagel.
Two: He overcomes his evilness by way of young character talking him out of it. Because talking always stops serial killers and ax-murderers and terrorists (SH!. Those don't exist!). Sorry (you should be *slap*). Ow. Ahem, moving on. Anyway, he disproves the story, firmly ingraining the valuable life-lesson of giving people a chance into the somewhat sponge-like minds of children everywhere.
For some weird reason, it's been determind that this story should be told as a way of explaining the actions of evil people. Evil people don't need to be explained.
They're evil and want to kill you. Or steal your money. Whichever.
When viewed through this narrow scope, the story also unwittingly reveals that pathological liars are also victims of their own nature.
So what if it's true?. Is this the only possible way to look at the story?.
Sure, the real meaning of the story is pretty much that bad people are bad by nature and will drag good people down just because that's what they do (and, in most cases, wind up destroying both), but chances are there's more to it than that. After all, creative writers often put multiple layers in their stories. And future creative writers sometimes even invent layers that weren't there.
And it's up to the reader to interpret what it is they've read.
So.... let's sift through the obvious meanings first.

  1. Bad people are bad by nature.
  2. Bad people will, in the end, cause their own destruction along with everyone around them.
  3. Liars often believe the lies they tell at the time they tell them.
  4. Bad people will always exploit good people.

Honestly, I'm imposing the idea of morals and ethics just by using the terms “good” and “bad”. But that's really pretty much how it works. Especially where the telling and retelling of this particular story is concerned. Everyone understands the basic concept of good and evil.
And, for whatever reason, scorpions are regarded as evil. On the other hand, foxes often are too. And frogs, for that matter.
But, for the sake of the story, the scorpion is the villain. Even though, in the end, he's as much a victim as the frog/turtle/fox/other version I haven't heard of.
But let's take a step back and think about the scorpion as a cute lion cub who wanted to cross the river to get to his mother but couldn't swim and so asked a helpful gazelle (yes they can swim) to help him across. But, halfway there, his instincts as a predator made him bite the gazelle's neck, dooming them both. It's harder to think of a lion cub as evil, now isn't it?.
Now shut up and bear with me. I do understand good and evil and believe in the whole moral and ethical thing which most people want to ignore entirely.
But I want to look deeper into the story.
What is it telling us about people?. In essence, everyone is fairly similar. We all have thoughts and desires which could be looked at as being evil or in any case, wrong.
Now, we may not act on all such desires. But, sooner or later, we all will act on at least one of them.
Chances are, we do on a regular basis, even without thinking.
So, it's fair to say that any given person could wind up as either the scorpion or the frog, even though nobody wants to admit it to anyone, even themselves.
So let's look at it this way: we all have behaviors which define who we are.
We all have habits and experience and knowledge to help us along, sure.
But science has yet to prove that all behavior is a result of that.
In fact, lately, they've been trying to prove all behavior is DNA (which is stupid by the way).
If one is to be realistic and look at things in a real sort of way, one will realize that people have learned behaviors and born-in behaviors. And probably some behaviors caused by something as yet unknown (because that's how everything works. There's ALWAYS something we don't know).
I could go on about behavior, since I find it fascinating in a real way, though I hate virtually all books about the subject. They're too narrow-minded and interested in their viewpoint, rather than the real in-front-of-you sort of things which most people use to survive encounters with other people.
So what happens when the scorpion meets the frog?.
He comes up with various reasons and assurances that he will not kill the frog.
Because he has no reason to and, in fact, many reasons not to.
The frog eventually believes him and agrees to carry him across.
Yet, the scorpion kills the frog in the middle of the river, which kills him as well.
Because it's his nature?. To be evil?. No.
Switch the scorpion with the cub and the frog with the gazelle.
Is the cub evil because he killed the gazelle?. No.
The nature which is being spoken of is not the nature of evil, but the nature of a predator.
It's why many dogs chase cars and cats hunt birds even when they aren't hungry.
Their nature is to chase that which runs. Just as the scorpion's nature is to sting whatever resembles food or danger in their mind.
Again, I'm not throwing out the concept of good and evil. Nor am I throwing out the idea that the author was writing about good and evil.
I'm just throwing in my own interpretation of the story.
So what does any of this have to do with people?.
Well, most people are stubborn by nature. If they think something, they have the need to argue their point if they feel that someone is “threatening” them by having a different opinion.
Even if their opinion is completely discredited, the person still defends it.
Why?. Because it is in their nature to do so.
People defend what they believe, and I'm not just talking about religion.
Even when it is clearly futile to do so, and often argues against them, still they go on.
This is a generalization for your benefit, not mine.
Everyone has their own “nature” which goes beyond habit and experience.
And they will always follow that nature, even when it's pretty obviously foolish.
Nothing will change their nature, even if their beliefs change and they try to learn to control their temper. They will always be a scorpion, even if that ends up being as obviously bad for them as stinging a frog in a river when you can't swim.
So... now I've kicked this around for awhile and I can't figure out anything new to say, just more ways to say the same thing. And, if you're not following, just think about the story on your own and find some other ways to interpret it. You may be surprised at how many meanings and ways you can see the same story, just by considering it.
On to metaphor two.

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
“You can't have your cake and eat it too” is a pretty common phrase.
So common, in fact, that the average Internet goer has called it into question.
Doesn't everyone want to eat the cake they have?. Don't you have to HAVE the cake to eat it in the first place?. This makes no sense!.
Yet, they continue to use it left and right, and sometimes in contexts it makes no sense in.
I tend to think of the phrase in this way:
If you ate your cake, you would no longer have it.
Thus, you cannot have your cake and eat it too.
You might say “well then it should be: you can't hold your cake in your hand and have swallowed it too”. I would say “yes, you could. But that would sound dumb”.
Thus, it makes sense that you can't have your cake and eat it too.
Because that sounds far less stupid. It actually almost makes you sound wise, just because of how old and commonly used the phrase is.
And it's not like I'm the first person to have come up with this. Apparently, the phrase wasn't English originally (no surprise there) and roughly translated: you can't eat your cake and have it too.
That actually makes a lot more sense, even though it's the same words in different order.

You Can't Burn A Candle From Both Ends
Well, obviously Harpo Marx disagreed. So clearly the statement itself is false, right?.
Not so much. Usually, the phrase is used when convincing a person who's working too hard that they will burn out (ehehe... metaphor ;)...) quickly if they try to keep that pace.
But the fact is, you can burn a literal candle from both ends.
However, the candle will burn twice as fast and, since nobody bothered to invent the kind of holders for both-end burning candles, you'll probably burn your fingers from holding it.
But, if one thinks about it, burning a candle from both ends could probably have plenty of other meanings as well.
I won't bother with it, as it's quite similar to having your cake and eating it too.
Basically, both metaphors are telling you that you can't have it both ways.

And, on that note, I do believe I'll stop. I need to do some stuff before bed and I would like to get an amount of sleep tonight.
And I certainly know I can't burn a candle at both ends.
Even though it's my nature to be a night person ;)

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