Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Jeff writes:
One of the more telling phrases in the excerpt you cite is "strategic cultures." It's a term I'd never heard before, but now that I've Googled it, I see that it's an academic sub-field with its own body of literature. (Although how it's distinct from "the roots of foreign policy" eludes me.)

This reference to "strategic cultures" says two things to me: First, it's meant as a signal to in-the-know readers that yes, the person writing this stuff is aware that such a field exists. She's flashing her Marriott card to show she's properly credentialed to chow down on pigs-in-blankets in the concierge lounge. Second, it's meant to intimidate readers who don't know the term into thinking they can't have an opinion unless they've mastered, or pretended to master, the latest literature in an impossibly vast field.

Someone who churns out this stuff can't simply say "I don't know" and leave it at that, because doing so would cede power. This sort of writing isn't meant to illuminate or instruct; it's meant to control, even monopolize, the terms of a debate.

That also explains a great deal about why she is so adamant about being referred to as Dr. FLG always figured it was an appeal to authority that, when combined with overwhelming verbosity, hide that her arguments make no sense and when they do make sense lead nowhere.

Say what you want about FLG. He's not a PhD. And maybe he's an idiot. Maybe he's a jerk. But he expresses his thoughts clearly and intelligibly. And he doesn't put every word relevant to discussion in quotations to denote some sort of unavoidable ambiguity to all of human language.


Withywindle said...

You're clear in prose,
I suppose;
But can you be terse
In verse?

Jeff said...

I started at that little passage a bit longer, and something else jumped out at me.

When the commenter asks, essentially, "What would all this theory look like in practice?," he's informed that he's asking "the wrong question." (Not "I'm not interested in looking at this issue that way." Nope--he's objectively wrong.) His question is too specific, you see; he hasn't looked at the big picture. So she uses his query as a way to step back from speculation about practical applications and return to the camouflaged safety of pure theory: "Critique/deconstruction/ rethinking/reconstruction." (Don't know the difference between them? Then you're not educated enough to discuss this issue on her terms.)

Of course, politicians do exactly this when someone asks them a very specific question: they re-frame the question and respond with gigantic generalities that allow them to imply mastery of a larger mental universe than the questioner's own. They, like academics, use this sort of rhetorical trick because they know it works, at least against a fair number of insecure, would-be critics.

Anonymous said...

Adherents of mystery religions have to have magical jargon in order to identify the other adherents and exclude the laity. In short, it's cant. Clear your mind of it.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.