The Repugnance of Politico-Speak

Against talking points and the meme of inappropriateness

Image by Robert Zunikoff, from

There are two kinds of speakers in the English-speaking world: those who say “inappropriate” and those who don’t.

Moreover, those whose most ferocious insult is to call something “inappropriate” are also much more likely to speak in predetermined talking points, whereas those who would never think in terms of mere appropriateness will listen carefully to what others are saying and feel obligated to answer directly the questions asked of them.

Now for a discouraging secret: The guardians of appropriateness are the winners in the world, whereas the more conscientious and candid types are the losers.

You may think I’m being facetious, but this is no joke.

The Sin of Inappropriateness

Take, for example, Nancy Pelosi’s thirty minute press conference given in response to President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union speech. By my count, she spoke of inappropriateness or appropriateness four times on that occasion. For example, she said, “I thought what he [Trump] said about Senator Romney was particularly without class, when he said there are some people who use faith to do the wrong thing…It’s so inappropriate at a prayer breakfast.”

Were Speaker Pelosi candid and therefore a loser, she would have elaborated on Trump’s lack of class, by way of leveling with the audience, keeping it real and speaking her mind. Only losers do such a thing, though, and you don’t get to be Speaker of the House without thinking like a winner. (Trump himself is an exception that proves the rule, since he’s a candid winner, but his victory is a glitch in the Matrix, meaning that he conned the country into overlooking his sinister mental deformities that would have sunk him many, many times over if the country still knew what it was doing.)

But back to Pelosi. Here’s what a candid person would have said instead of resorting to the clichéd meme of inappropriateness: “Trump was without class. Mind you, the entire affair of a prayer breakfast for politicians in a country that stands for the separation of Church and State is a disgrace. This is the same odious breakfast organized by a right-wing Christian cult, as documented by Jeff Sharlet’s book and miniseries The Family. What an abysmal nightmare! In fact, I should be lashed for attending the prayer breakfast and for boasting that I pray for this or that politician, since prayer and organized religions are obviously foolish.

“It goes without saying that Trump, or should I say Mr. Sixteen Thousand — since that’s literally how many times the President has publicly lied while in office — was still waging his disinformation campaign against the American people he’s supposed to be serving, by alleging that Romney was being disingenuous about basing his decision to impeach the President on religious grounds. This is the same President who would burst into flames if he tried to speak about his religious life for more than four seconds. If Trump is a Christian, Jesus was the Devil.”

And so on and so forth. Do you see this works? All of that candidness is what would be known as a series of gaffes, and a gaffe, that is, a bout of radical truth-telling is strictly for losers. You don’t get ahead by telling the truth, not even in science these days where the medical journals, for example, have been overtaken by glitzy, eye-catching fluff, link bait, and corporate propaganda.

What, then, does it mean to say something is inappropriate? What was going through Pelosi’s head, for example, when she reined herself in and shifted from the more colourful and insightful observation about Trump’s lack of class to saying he was merely being inappropriate?

Technically, appropriateness is an instrumental matter, meaning it’s about something’s suitability to a certain purpose. To ask whether something is appropriate is to ask whether it’s useful to something else. In so far as a person’s acting inappropriately, she’s malfunctioning as a tool.

Thus, at that precise moment in her press conference, Pelosi’s mind must have flown the coop to make room for the lumbering political and economic systems she serves. When she used the I-word, she wasn’t really there at all but was only acting as a mouthpiece for cabals and conventions whose highest values are stability and efficiency. She was speaking as a centrist, an institutionalist, a bean-counting bureaucrat, an interchangeable functionary.

The Inhumanity of Talking Points

To clarify, consider the inhumanity of the talking point. Suppose a telemarketer named Judy calls you and tries to sell you a vacation. Unseen by you, the telemarketer has before her a list of talking points and instead of listening to your reasons why you’re not interested in her product, and responding like a real person — like the individual Judy is — she’ll only be “doing her job” which means scanning your utterances for keywords she can associate with her barrage of talking points, and she’ll read them off like a machine.

Indeed, telemarketers will soon be replaced by computer programs that have memorized arrays of formulaic responses to trap the listener into falling for the promoted scam. What that means, of course, is that the humans who currently work as telemarketers don’t get to act like people; their job is a perfect exercise in cynicism. You’ll find that mindset in the sectors where wannabe winners long to be, namely in business and government where power over others is most concentrated.

To characterize a misdeed as “inappropriate” or to fill your head with talking points rather than engaging in genuine dialogue is to put some system ahead of individual persons. The telemarketer is serving only as an appendage of her company. To appeal to her humanity in begging her to shut up and stop calling would be a grave violation of capitalist etiquette.

Devious Winners and Moral Losers

Or consider the hazards of the alternative, of being a loser who cares about people as individuals. This requires the philosophical or spiritual mindset of treating the listener as having the potential for greatness, not as a mere drone or dupe. Losers care so much about ethics and the need to transcend the appalling limits of nature that they’re easily lapped and exploited by “winners.”

The loser’s destiny is to seethe with contempt whenever she declines to defer to the transparent cynicism of the politician or pundit, business leader or salesperson that condescends and speaks in bureaucratic gobbledygook. The loser knows what’s wrong with the world and can do nothing about it, because the loser is shunned or scapegoated while the winner’s celebrated. That’s the same winner, mind you, who would see us all in chains.

Suckers are typically burdened by an overactive conscience, by the ideal of intellectual integrity, and by oversensitivity to beastliness. Take, for example, the audience at Pelosi’s press conference. If you’d like to know who the suckers were, they were everyone watching on TV, for example, who were enraged as they recognized Pelosi was betraying humanity by reducing the depth of Trump’s evil to mere inappropriateness.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to a “Catholic” like her that evil is real and is hardly the same as inappropriateness, although evil’s not what theists imagine it to be with their toy personifications. To say that Trump was being “inappropriate” is like saying a black hole is “pretty deep” or like the Pacific Ocean is “a bit watery.” But chastising Pelosi would entirely miss the point, since Nancy Pelosi, the woman from Baltimore had nothing to do with the true speaker of that grotesque understatement. The Democratic Party and the neoliberal Washington consensus spoke through her; only inhuman systems could resort to such a ludicrous belittlement, and they have no physical form to thwart.

When a politician or a salesperson says this or that action would be inappropriate, meaning that it would violate the rules of some amoral, dehumanizing social system that denies the possibility of white-collar evil, there’s no one really saying any such thing. No one’s truly standing there. You’re seeing or hearing a hollowed-out vessel that floats atop the power pyramid for precisely the same reason computer programs excel at certain tasks. Computers can run circles around most people at chess and the cynicism of winners earns them First Prize in political shenanigans or sordid business transactions.

After all, if you reduce the spectrum of white-collar wrongdoing to mere inappropriateness, you give yourself license to engage in the necessary Machiavellian schemes to compete with fellow sociopaths, since you’ve neatly rationalized those schemes and rhetorically hidden them from the public.

For the helpless losers out there, then, I recommend one of those squishy stress busters, you know the ones you can carry with you and squeeze when you’re forced to witness this kind of lapse that passes for normality and even for the height of rectitude.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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