Empty Words and Euphemisms.
Having a discussion with someone can be difficult—especially when you have no clue what they are talking about. Try talking to someone about God, or
consciousness, or the soul, or the afterlife. Every single word and idea they use is like the ethical intent of the argument—quite empty.
In any rhetorical conversation, the best way to convince someone of an idea is to employ the logos, ethos and pathos of Aristotle’s
Modes of Persuasion
. Only in a combination of all three modes can someone even hope to
persuade anybody of anything. One needs only read the brilliance of Letters from a
to see this, as only pure ignorance could remain unconvinced of King's arguments.
But what happens when one employs too much of one mode and not enough of the others? We get no agreement in any argument.
Although purely logical arguments (logos) are quite beautiful in the realm of mathematics, as rhetorical arguments they are cold and without the
humanity of emotion. One is likely to fall asleep before being persuaded in any way.
Likewise, and more commonplace, we see the overuse of pathos in rhetoric, the appeal to the listener’s emotion in the hopes that making them feel a
certain way will lead us to the same conclusions. This is not only unconvincing, but dangerous to those who are emotionally motivated.
However, the worse effect of the misuse of rhetoric is the amount to which it rots the brain of those that speak and hear it. It is a hinderance to
Take for instance this random quote from the mystic Thomas Merton:
If I penetrate to the depths of my own existence and my own present reality, the indefinable am that is myself in its deepest roots, then through this
deep center I pass into the infinite I am which is the very Name of the Almighty.
Are we any closer to understanding anything he is talking about? That quote is pure pathos, forged and designed to appeal to the readers desire to
feel good. There is no logical or ethical reasoning here, even though it smells of divine understanding and infinite truth. It leads us further from
understanding. But worse, it leaves us empty of meaning and imagery, resulting in a necessarily imaginative, and therefor fabricated meaning.
Every single abstraction in Merton’s rhetoric is without the meaning that aids in conjuring certain imagery. What imagery pops in the head when we
hear about things such as “the depths of my own existence” or the “indefinable am”? What experience do we picture when he says “through this
deep center I pass into the infinite I am”? This whole statement is guilty of begging the question. Under the feather-like weight of these words,
this is all he can convey:
What we may be witnessing in this technique is an attempt to disguise the non-existence of something in political euphemism, best described by George
Orwell in his iconic essay Politics in the English Language
(a must read for
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the
Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most
people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism,
question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the
cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and
sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are
imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of
unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.
When we remember “God”, “consciousness”, or “souls” or any other non-entity, we picture nothing. When we remember “bliss”,
“revelation” or “life after death”, we feel nothing. We must imagine them. This is the result:
In these cases, all we can ever refer to is some artist's depiction, because if we were to refer to our own experiences we get this:
This is the imagery they are trying to disguise, the appearance of nothing, the facts that are “too brutal for most people to face, and which do not
square with the professed aims of the political parties”.
Be wary of those who speak in empty words and euphemism. They're trying to sell you something you already have enough of—nothing.
Thank you for reading.