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14. Beware of metaphors and analogies

Common devices used in explanations are metaphors and analogies because they have some level of equivalence to the topic, but they have limitations.

A metaphor is stating a high-level equivalence to the subject, while an analogy has lower lever equivalences as well. However both will diverge for details because they are essentially only representing the subject and cannot be expected to be accurate down to those details. Hence, such devices should only be used to help orient a reader's thinking so they can then begin to understand the subject, after which they should be abandoned.

In fiction, the whole story is often an analogy for some aspect of life, usually to illustrate a facet of human nature or some issue in society. Westerns, and now post-apocalypse, as a genre are often simplistic morality plays that bring core questions about life into stark relief. Similarly, children's stories are trying to explain topics that may otherwise be difficult for them to understand. For many, the worlds they portray seem to be simpler to navigate their thinking in than the complexities of modern life. Mythology is a powerful soporific for modern anxieties.

However, analogies are often used to bypass readers' critical thing by drawing them into a narrative that misleads them into making wrong assumptions and thus leads them to incorrect conclusions which are trying to get their thinking to align with the writer's world view. With some emotional manipulation thrown in, this can twist some suggestive and aggrieved people into supporting the writer, making life-choices that alienate those around them, or even taking violent actions against sections of society. We see these put to use in support of ideologies, particularly right-wing ones these days.

Even at a mundane level, prolonged use of an analogy requires the reader to do all the work in maintaining how the analogy is actually related to the real-world nature of the subject. More likely, this can subvert their ability to actually understand the subject because they are being required to think in terms of the analogy's details rather than the subject's. This can lead to misleading lines of thought and erroneous conclusions.

While metaphors and analogies can be used to manipulate readers' thinking, the more respectful use is to help trigger the shift in thinking that helps them to make the mental leap from what they may be familiar with into the world of the subject. After that, the devices should be abandoned so as to not mislead, leaving the readers to be thinking solely in terms of the subject, and not its temporary stand-in. It is a mistake to think that people cannot understand the real nature of a subject, even for children.

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