A glittering generality is an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason. Such highly valued concepts attract general approval and acclaim. Their appeal is to emotions such as love of country and home, and desire for peace, freedom, glory, and honor. They ask for approval without examination of the reason. They are typically used in propaganda posters/advertisements and used by propagandists and politicians.Wikipedia
I wonder if they know they’re doing it. I wonder to what extent it’s intentional or if glittering generalities are now so ingrained in the language of politics that political actors pepper their texts with them unconsciously. A sort of linguistic quirk. I wonder how long it takes to develop this quirk. Do politicians and others involved in politics in various ways have to learn the ‘special’ language? Do they simply absorb it from the environment they inhabit on account of their interest in politics? Do they receive formal training? Has that become part of the role of political parties?
Or is it that people born with a particular facility for manipulative language inevitably gravitate towards a career in politics? Or journalism? Or cold calling?
I wonder too why so many people continue to be taken in by this manipulative language. People generally claim to be aware and sceptical of resistant to the wiles of those trying to sell them happiness; whether in the form of a new appliance or a holiday in the sun or a magic formula that will make the normally aged look abnormally young because young people are always happy, aren’t they? Everybody says that everybody else is excessively influenced by the media. Nobody admits that they are excessively influenced by the media.
You’d think we’d develop some kind of natural immunity. After all, people have been using language to manipulate one another since before there was anything that we’d recognise as language. Maybe we have developed resistance. Maybe the power of manipulation has evolved as well in a kind of arms race. Like predator and prey. Maybe this is as good as it gets. Maybe manipulating and being manipulated is part of what makes us human and we’ll be doing it for as long as humanity lasts.
This manipulative language – of which the glittering generality is but an illustrative example – seems more common now. But that might be an age thing. Nonetheless, it’s everywhere. Perhaps I’ve just got better at recognising it. It also seems that the manipulative language of politics is used less artfully than it used to be. I seem to encounter more and more instances of jarringly clumsy attempts at manipulation. Efforts so artless that it is hard to believe anybody could possibly be taken in – although they are. This might be an age thing as well. Each of us has our own golden age. The things about golden ages is that they exist almost exclusively in memory. You seldom hear anybody celebrating the fact that they are currently enjoying a golden age. It is something mainly seen with hindsight.
It irks to see people falling for the blandishments of manipulators. It’s like that bit in a nightmare where you see someone you care about walking into danger and you want to scream a warning but you can’t; or your warnings can’t be heard. I see the Pavlovian response to some glittering generality and I get annoyed. Perhaps unreasonably so. Maybe even irrationally so. An age thing?
I seem to spend a lot of time being vexed, perplexed, irked and irritated by what seems to me to be a growing prevalence of incomprehensible stupidity. Or stupid behaviour. People don’t have to be stupid to do stupid things. Genuinely stupid people don’t know they’re stupid. If an individual recognises that they’ve done something stupid then they probably aren’t as stupid as their behaviour would suggest. Unfortunately, both forms of stupid behaviour are equally irritating as, generally speaking, the observer has no way of immediately distinguishing between the genuinely stupid and the incidentally stupid. It’s all just stupid.
And there’s just so much of it! I seem to swim in a sea of stupid. I suspect that’s a social media thing. It’s unlikely that the amount of stupid in the world has actually increased to the extent that one might assume from the evidence of ones Twitter timeline. Nature would surely have intervened by now to eradicate the source of stupidity massive enough to warp space and time. It just feels like there’s more of it because more of it gets published.
The amount of stupid out there can also seem greater than it really is because it tends to form lumps. Stupid attracts stupid until there’s a large amount of stupid which then attracts ever larger amounts of stupid until there’s a huge, dense clump of the stuff all gathered in one place. Like those mountainous balls of congealed grease and gunk that you sometimes hear about blocking some sewer.
It’s competitive, too. Which makes it worse. Stupidity doesn’t diminish. However stupid a claim or comment or conspiracy theory may be, there’s always somebody who can go one better. So it goes on until it reaches the point where the only people who could be more stupid are too stupid to be able to express themselves and the process ends abruptly.
What the hell started him off? I can hear you asking this. You’ve only read this far because you’re curious to know what has prompted this rambling rant. Well! I’ll tell you! It was Neale Hanvey MP. Although it could have been just about any politician, it just happens to have been Neale. This doesn’t reflect on him in particular. I’m not having a go at the guy. I’m not picking on him. It just so happens that he used one of the glittering generalities that’s been paining me lately.
The MP for Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath has published a A letter to the members of the SNP on Wings Over Scotland explaining his decision to quit the SNP and join the recently launched Alba Party. It is sometimes forgotten that MPs and MSPs are elected to represent a constituency, not a party. If they feel they can better represent that constituency as a member of a party other than the one under whose banner they were elected then they are not only free to change, they have an obligation to do so. I doubt if Mr Hanvey’s move will be viewed in such a light by all SNP members. Some will call him a traitor. This is unwarranted, in my opinion.
It’s no small matter for an elected representative to change parties. Not least on account of the adverse reaction of those who think him guilty of disloyalty. It is a matter to be taken seriously. One assumes that Neale Hanvey thought long and hard before making this decision. Indeed, he states that the decision was made following “considerable reflection”. That a politician should reflect at all is a fine thing. Considerable reflection is something of a prize. One would hope that this reflection involved the most careful consideration of all relevant facts and reasoned arguments. It would be good to think the motivation for such a move was sound.
Imagine, then, my disappointment at finding Neale Hanvey’s reasons for switching parties resting on the wobbly pillar of a currently fashionable glittering generality.
…we must work to deliver a supermajority for independence. This will ensure that Scotland, not London decides.
Does that not qualify as “an emotionally appealing phrase so closely associated with highly valued concepts and beliefs that it carries conviction without supporting information or reason“. Lots of high value concepts there. Something that “we must work to deliver’ has to be a good thing, doesn’t it? The word “independence” is replete with positive associations for his audience. A majority is useful, isn’t it?. Everybody knows that, don’t they? So a “supermajority” must be… well… super, right?
Does it not logically follow that this “supermajority” will “ensure that Scotland, not London decides”? Neale Hanvey certainly seems to believe it does. Or at least he states it as if a guarantee of decisions be made in Scotland not london inevitably flows from having this “supermajority”. He certainly wants the recipients of his letter to believe that if they vote for him and or his new party this will “deliver a supermajority” and desirable things will ensue. He definitely doesn’t want anybody asking how. He’s hoping people will give him approval without examination of his reasoning. He’s peddling a glittering generality.
He’s not alone. Very far from it. We find such glittering generalities everywhere the so-called ‘list parties’ are discussed. Although we now need only consider one – Alba Party. Claims like the aforementioned crop up everywhere in the rhetoric of those flogging the idea that what Scotland’s independence cause needs is more pro-independence (but not SNP) MSPs. Or fewer Unionist MSPs. Or both. What is absent is the supporting information or reason. The idea of a supermajority has strong emotional appeal. Every independence supporter wants decisions made in Scotland rather than London. Every independence supporter would love to see MSPs from the British parties unceremoniously kicked out of the Scottish Parliament. They’re naturally going to want to believe that there’s an easy way to do all of this. And here’s Neale Hanvey telling them exactly what they want to hear. What’s missing is an explanation of how one thing follows the other.
None of those peddling this particular glittering generality ever explains how a supermajority makes the other stuff happen. Ensures that it happens! It’s like the other big glittering generality of the moment. The one that says support for independence is rising according to the polls therefore independence is inevitable. What’s missing is any explanation of how the former links to the latter causally. That’s because there is no link. There is no process in place or in prospect by which that public support for independence can be translated into a democratic vote for independence. We are supposed to be so dazzled by the glittering generality that we don’t notice that lack of this link. And it works! It is incredible how readily people are fooled by this. It’s unbelievably easy to manipulate people.
As with polls/independence, the supermajority/good stuff glittering generality lacks the vital connection. We are never told how one leads to the other. Astoundingly, almost nobody ever asks!
The supermajority-peddlers will throw arithmetic at you. They’ll tell you that the numbers don’t lie. Which is drivel. Numbers can be used to construct lies almost as readily as words can. Look at GERS! They will tell you that the arithmetic proves their case. It doesn’t, of course. At best, the arithmetic suggests that the cunning plan might work. If all the numbers in real life oblige by doing nothing without referring to the cunning plan, then it’s just possible that a supermajority might be achieved.
But even if the arithmetic did prove the feasibility of gaining a pro-independence supermajority it tells us nothing at all about whether or how that supermajority assists in the fight to restore Scotland’s independence.
The reality behind the glittering generality is that it can’t. A supermajority may have some symbolic value. But it has no practical value whatever. There’s nothing it can actually do that brings independence any closer. At least, I have been unable to think of anything. And nobody I’ve asked has been able to tell me. Neale Hanvey doesn’t. He has nothing at all to say about the practicalities. He doesn’t explain how this supermajority can be effective. If a supermajority can be instrumental in restoring Scotland’s independence you’d think those advocating this would be eager to demonstrate the fact. Curiously, they are extremely reluctant to do so.
That’s just politics, I suppose. It may seem a rather dubious tactic for winning votes. Even a bit dishonest. But it’s just the way politics is done. It’s the way it has always been done. It’s all about manipulating perceptions, opinions and attitudes. The alternative would be to let people see the reality, form their own opinions and adopt an attitude accordingly. What the hell kind of politics is that?
If that kind of politics appeals to you despite my facetious scoffing, you can have it. All you need to do is stop buying glittering generalities. Let ‘market forces’ do the rest. Above all, ask questions. Question everything. Start be questioning your own prejudices and preconceptions. Then question everything else. And when you you’ve done that, question your questions. Ask yourself if you’ve asked the right questions. If you find that you haven’t, go back armed with your new questions. Ask questions and don’t be fobbed off with responses that aren’t answers but just more stuff that needs to be questioned.
Asking question will solve everything. Unless that’s another glittering generality….