Monday, January 07, 2008

They Just Want To Have Something To Say

Fellow Granite Stater Jay Tea over at Wizbang reports a distressing political discussion with someone who is fortunately, unlikely to vote. We have certainly all encountered similar citizens, and it is indeed disquieting to see the slender reeds on which many base their opinions.

There is a way of looking at this that inspires less anger. Many people just want to have something to say. We are sociable creatures, and many people are merely saying something they believe will make them appear observant, or reasonably intelligent, or experienced. It is a very minor status-grab in break-room conversation, to be at least not thought a dolt, or unfriendly. Thus, folks grab onto a bromide or two which they trot out for all occasions - that we can't legislate morality, or that women haven't received their due, or that politicians are crooked. These sentiments are seldom original, are usually overgeneralizations, and can be seen as place-holders for actual thoughts. People make generalizations I agree with sometimes as well, to which I usually give some mild encouragement, plus an added bit of something along the same lines for them to ponder further.

What is troubling is where they get these things. People making such statements are seldom trying to introduce complicated or radical ideas. They are just making conversation, and they choose among the cliches of popular culture something that they think suits them, like a handbag or a watch. We can compare it to picking up something shiny and attractive out of whatever is lying around. Thus - here we come upon an issue of great importance in the homely subject of dim, pleasant people blabbing on thoughtlessly: what is shiny and attractive that is lying around is nearly always easily traceable to an obvious source. This might be a common regional prejudice, or a trite religious sentiment, but quite often, it comes directly out of the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media or the popular culture. The person you are speaking with may not listen to the Sunday shows or read the paper, may not turn on NPR or read a news magazine, but they move in a culture which is suffused with the ideas of those who do.

This is why those who pretend to objectivity in their reporting and commentary, but are actually quite selective in what they report, commit a great intellectual sin and bestow evil on the world. Their self-deception as to their own assumptions allows them to better persuade those who simply want something to bring up in conversation so that they are not thought foolish. Journalists polish some shiny and attractive objects on the path and kick a little covering soil on others. It is a great deceit not because of its boldness, but because of its quietness - a coquettish blush of a deception.

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