If there’s anything we can count on in the unpredictable world of 2018, it’s that underneath every photo of an attractive young woman in partial undress on social media, there will be a gauzy and superficially inspiring quotation about living in the now.
There are so many of these nonsense sayings that we repeat them—or double-tap them on Instagram—without even thinking: “Everybody is beautiful” posted with a photo of a Victoria’s Secret model for her five million followers—for the inspiration, of course; “Follow your heart”—small print: actual consequences not depicted; and, my favorite, “It’s not selfish to do what is best for you” (Merriam Webster disagrees).
Oprah, the high priestess of telling people what they want to hear, recently advised a 14-year-old girl, “The highest honor on earth that you will ever have is the honor of being yourself. … Your only true job as a human being is to discover why you came, why you are here.” That advice is absolute drek and will lead you to ruin—that is, if you can parse it into something coherent you can actually derive meaning from.
This kind of therapeutic baloney has become so common in our age that there’s even a web bot that generates motivational sayings by putting together random strings of words deemed “inspirational.” My instantly generated enlightenment was “Between gold and silver comes death.” If that’s not an expression of the underlying meaninglessness of this kind of garbage, I don’t know what is.
Your Boss Is Not Your Therapist, and Other Realities
If you’ve spent any time in corporate America, you’ve probably gotten an email asking you to “reach out” to “empower” a colleague and make sure he has “buy-in” or ask him to “move the needle” on a “solution.” Alternatively, you may have been asked to “stay in your lane,” because you may not have the “core competency” to understand the “bleeding edge” product—after all, working on such a project surely has “lots of moving parts” and requires “synergy.”
Pointing out the lack of meaning behind many popular corporate phrases is hardly a new pastime. As varied messengers as Forbes, The Guardian, and the cartoon strip “Dilbert” have been calling out corporate jargon for years. The rubbish that defines nearly every corporation’s mission statement and floods all of our inboxes seems to have two main purposes: to boost perceived competence and to sugarcoat the nature of the employer-employee relationship, which is that the former pays the latter to produce value.
If you want a family, get married and have children. If you want a sympathetic ear to complain to, hire a therapist. If you want truly unconditional love, get a dog. Your boss is none of these, as you will quickly find out if you fail to perform in the private sector, government employee protections notwithstanding.
When Gibberish Gets Political, It Gets Dangerous
Of course corporations are far from the only culprits; political correctness is the ultimate language-policing master. At the end of the day, corporate blather is merely intended to fill space with credential-boosting signaling, but proponents of the new campus religion of “intersectionality” aren’t interested in puffery. They want to control what we think, not just what we say.
When Planned Parenthood tweets obvious nonsense like “some men have a uterus,” it can do so to the tune of thousands of “likes” because we’ve allowed politics to infect the plain meaning of the word “men.” That’s why Canadian professor Jordan Peterson is right to draw the distinction between a personal request from a friend struggling with gender dysphoria and the blanket societal demand—in Canada, a demand backed by government force—that we all use “preferred pronouns” that we know to be out of sync with reality. Mandating that we all linguistically recognize that two and two equal five is quite different than a plea for individual sensitivity.
Even religion hasn’t immunized itself against nonsense-talk. The theology of many churches can be boiled down to “moralist therapeutic deism,” in which God plays the role of a mere “cosmic therapist and divine butler.”
Yes, Language Is Important
Some may argue that falling in line with worthless babble is just a matter of being polite and conforming to a given environment, or just avoiding making waves about the relatively small matter of choosing one word over another. But language is intimately connected to our ability to think.
On social media, empty sayings are often used to rationalize irresponsible or attention-seeking behavior. In the corporate world, gobbledygook is “a substitute for thinking hard and clearly.” In the political world, the consequences of replacing serious examination with verbal virtue signaling range from the merely laughable to the tyrannical.
George Orwell wrote in 1946, “It [language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” The ruthless enforcement of the language permitted to reference the transgender phenomenon has a lot to do with the issue’s lightning-fast advancement from fringe to mainstream left-wing dogma.
Authoritarian regimes recognize the inherent power of language when they refuse to tolerate even apolitical speech, such as the obviously laughable slogans popularized by absurdist movements under Communism, that doesn’t align with the government message.
Beautiful writing is a gift granted to a few (not this author), but we can all strive towards precision and clarity. We can avoid meaningless pabulum and force ourselves and those with whom we communicate to truly, well, communicate.
Language is nearly unique to humankind, and it has a purpose: to convey to others a meaning that is sharp and specific. If instead we use our faculty for language to speak culture-pleasing nonsense, we not only provide rationalization for our own worst impulses, but also cripple our ability to think. In doing so, we make ourselves just a little less human.