Tags

, , ,

whats-an-analogyI recently posted a blog about Web Browsers and Search Engines in which I used a self-taught teaching technique I referred to as analogy by direct substitution.  Teaching by analogy is not new and I’m sure has been discussed ad infinitum by teachers all over the world.  Its power lies in taking something familiar and transporting the concepts to something unfamiliar.  For example, we could explain the concepts of holiday timeshare by likening it to vehicles parked in a supermarket car park.  For a time, a shopper’s vehicle, Vehicle A, will occupy one of the spaces and while it is there no other vehicle can occupy the same space.  But, eventually the shopper finishes shopping and vacates the space thereby allowing another vehicle, Vehicle B, to occupy the space.  So it is with timeshare.  For a short period, Family A occupies a room in a timeshare but after they’ve left, Family B can move in.

In my recent blog, I created a description of opening a book and using the index to locate a particular entry—a very familiar process to us all.  I then used exactly the same description to describe the process of web browsing and the role of a search engine.  All I did was replace a book-related word with a Web-related word.  So, Book became Web; essay became website; Index Inspector became Search Engine; and so on.

religion-thumbnailI’ve used this technique before but in a slightly different way.  Here’s an example.  In my 2012 book on religion, I wanted to show how religion could be likened to the manufacture and selling of a mass-produced commodity product.  I chose Coca-Cola as my product and at the beginning of the book I wrote the following generic paragraph.

There is a product. In fact, there are several products, very similar in nature but coming from an organisation whose history includes violence and life-threatening addictions. There are also several myths perpetuated about the product, including its origin, its make-up, holders of secret knowledge, and what it can do for you. In fact, there is considerable mystery as to the exact nature of the product but there is a very capable, some might say ruthless, marketing team coupled with an efficient distribution channel such that the product is readily recognisable and available in every corner of the world. But despite this, people consume this product with an implicit belief that it solves an immediate problem and does so in a way that does not harm the consumer. There are also competitive products, including abstinence from any of the products, and sometimes the market chooses to adopt one of the competitive products in preference to the real thing but, in most cases, the differences between the various products are slight or even indiscernible. But, despite which product you consume, the variety of products is ubiquitous, always available, comforting and very lucrative for the merchants and peddlers involved.

I then posed the question: did I just describe the creation, manufacture, marketing, distribution and consumption of a mass-produced commodity product, such as Coca-Cola; or of God?

To answer this question, I produced two further versions of this paragraph using the original words but enhanced with additional explanations.  Here they are.  The enhancements are in italics.

The Coca-Cola version

There is a product. It’s called Coca-Cola. In fact there are several products, very similar in nature—Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Dasani, Minute Maid, Sprite, and many more—but coming from an organisation whose history includes violence (the Coca-Cola Company’s alleged complicity in the murder of three trade-union employees by paramilitaries at a Colombian bottling plant in 2001—case subsequently dismissed), and life-threatening addictions (the original 1865 medicinal product contained both cocaine and alcohol). There are also several myths perpetuated about the product, including its origin (in 1865 by pharmacist John Pemberton in a drugstore in Columbus, Georgia, originally as a coca wine called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca), its make-up (including a mysterious ingredient called Merchandise 7X), holders of secret knowledge (only two executives have access to the exact formula of Coca-Cola with each executive knowing only half the formula – now known to be an urban myth), and what it can do for you (refreshes, exhilarates, revives, sustains, adds life – extracts from Coca-Cola advertising slogans since 1886). In fact, there is considerable mystery as to the exact nature of the product (Merchandise 7X again, plus the ‘does it still contain cocaine?’ question—the answer is ‘no’) but there is a very capable, some might say ruthless, marketing team (who, when it comes down to it, just want to sell a flavoured carbonated sugar solution thereby contributing to the obesity of many young, and not so young, people) coupled with an efficient distribution channel such that the product is readily recognisable and available in every corner of the world. But, despite this, people consume this product with an implicit belief that it solves an immediate problem (the body’s need for liquid) and does so in a way that does not harm the consumer. There are also competitive products (from PepsiCo and Cadbury Schweppes, the main competitors to the Coca-Cola Company), including abstinence from any of the products (an abstainer from any carbonated soft drink), and sometimes the market chooses to adopt one of the competitive products in preference to the real thing (another Coca-Cola advertising slogan) but, in most cases, the differences between the various products are slight or even indiscernible (they are all based on a flavoured carbonated sugar, or sugar-substitute, solution). But, despite which product you consume, the variety of products is ubiquitous, always available, comforting and very lucrative for the merchants and peddlers involved (generating $31 billion revenue with $6.8 billion net income for the Coca-Cola Company in 2009).

The God version

There is a product. It’s called God. In fact there are several products, very similar in nature—Yahweh, Father Almighty, Allahbut coming from an organisation whose history includes violence (see Hosea 13:16, Isaiah 13:16, 2 Kings 10:7-8, Leviticus 20:13, Romans 1:24-32, Deuteronomy 21:18-21, 1 Samuel 18:27, Isaiah 13:16, Numbers 31:17-18, Exodus 21:7-11 and many more instances in the Bible) and life-threatening addictions (fasting, scourging, extreme self-deprivation, voluntary and involuntary suicide). There are also several myths perpetuated about the product, including its origin (a self-creating creator who created everything in six days; the product of an immaculate conception), its make-up (the Son, the Father, the Holy Ghost, all rolled into one), holders of secret knowledge (Papal infallibility, Kabbalah, God-men, evangelists), and what it can do for you (absolve your sins, prepare you for the afterlife). In fact, there is considerable mystery as to the exact nature of the product (does God exist, who created him, is there an afterlife?) but there is a very capable, some might say ruthless, marketing team (priests, cardinals, imams, bishops, and other high-church officials) coupled with an efficient distribution channel (churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, televangelists, websites) such that the product is readily recognisable and available in every corner of the world. But, despite this, people consume this product with an implicit belief that it solves an immediate problem (a manufactured need for spiritual sustenance) and does so in a way that does not harm the consumer. There are also competitive products (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and more), including abstinence from any of the products (atheism), and sometimes the market chooses to adopt one of the competitive products in preference to the real thing but, in most cases, the differences between the various products are slight or even indiscernible (they are all based on a belief in a mythical supernatural being, or set of beings). But, despite which product you consume, the variety of products is ubiquitous, always available, comforting and very lucrative for the merchants and peddlers involved (it is impossible to discover the financial worth of organised religions since they are mostly classed as charitable benevolent and tax-exempt organisations but, for example, the Indian mystic Sai Baba was said to be worth $6 billion at his death in 2011. L Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) was alleged to be worth $600 million when he died in 1986 and some experts put the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church at billions of dollars.

This again is teaching (or explaining) by analogy but in this case I did not substitute one word for another hence it is not analogy by direct substitution.  I call this variation analogy by enhancement and, just like the direct substitution technique, you need to get the original generic description just right so that you can bring out the similarities or parallels between the two subjects.

god-or-coke-2

Incidentally, a major theme of my book on religion is that religion is a business just like any other business and the original working title for the book was God and Coca-Cola: What’s the Difference? Unfortunately, Coca-Cola’s lawyers objected to the use of their registered trademarked name in the title on the grounds that it suggested that the Coca-Cola Company was setting itself up as a religion. Perish the thought!

i-am-the-way(^_^)

Advertisements