Metaphors can change the world

Metaphors play a large role in how we view problems and solutions. One of the most consequential metaphors I’m aware of is the difference between looking at society and the economy as organic vs mechanic.

Those who take a more organic approach see the society, economy and the institutions within it as disparate parts of a larger co-dependent body or ecosystem. Often times when your body exhibits symptoms such as fevers or colds it’s the result of the body adapting and healing making it a temporary discomfort that usually doesn’t require intervention which can often make it worse. Also as bodies and ecosystems heal they adapt and change to deal with similar events in the future without any central dictation to do so. This approach of seeing society leads to a more free market approach and thought process.

Those who see society as mechanic see it as co-dependent parts of something that had to be designed. Like a machine if left alone it’s parts don’t improve. Even worse, they depreciate overtime, so it’s up to its owners to replace parts when necessary and designers are needed to create better ones when faults are identified. Since the machine can’t fix itself this requires much more external intervention to maintain, this leads to a mindset much more willing to see governments intervene in society.

This is merely one example of how metaphors influence how we see the world around us. A metaphor I quite enjoy and use in explaining good vs bad regulation/rules is board games. When you look at simpler games with less rules like UNO it’s easier to catch cheaters, need less enforcers, and allows for more to be willing to play. While games with much more complicated and discretionary rules (dungeons and dragons) make it hard to catch cheaters, need people to be designated enforcers/adjudicators, and are so complex many people get discouraged from playing.

Another great metaphor geeks like myself usually enjoy is seeing our lives like a Role Playing Game where doing things earn you experience points so you can level up and be more effective. This metaphor often leads people to embrace human capital without ever being aware of the concept.

Metaphors make a difference. Develop, disseminate and use them carefully.

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