Kingdom of Clichés

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Hey, lady, you took the words right out of somebody’s mouth. Most likely Satan’s.

A spokeswoman for the New York City government (Bill de Blasio, mayor) commented on reports that businesses are fleeing the city because they can’t make enough money to survive under NYC’s draconian anti-COVID regime. She said:

In response to COVID-19, we’ve activated resources to stand up new supply lines and work with businesses to produce materials we never have before and provided our small businesses with aid and technical assistance. New York City businesses are strong, creative, innovative, resilient, and they are doubling down on building their future here.

Fox News, of all places, introduced this statement with the words, “New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio seems aware of the situation, having taken steps to try and help businesses recover.” Thank you, “rightwing” Fox, for declaring that the controversial leftwing mayor isn’t controversial at all. By the way, which rabbit hole did those steps arrive at? If Fox knows, it should tell us.

Fox — and it’s not alone among media — is so deficient in editing that its news stories are beginning to look like those illiterate comments that appear at the end of the stories.

But we should remember that this is the news outlet that reported so informatively on a bear that went shopping in a supermarket at Lake Tahoe and snared a bag of Tostitos. The bear was filmed by a woman who “witnessed the sighting.” (Apparently she didn’t see the bear, just the sighting.) She “then took the video of the animal eating garbage [meaning the Tostitos?] from what appeared to be a safe distance.” The story does not explain why the bear was at a safe distance from the garbage. Maybe it was wearing a mask.

In short, Fox — and it’s not alone among media — is so deficient in editing that its news stories are beginning to look like those illiterate comments that appear at the end of the stories. Reporting on the arrest of a man for throwing an explosive device at the federal courthouse in Portland — an arrest that occurred because his grandmother stupidly identified a picture of him — Fox ran a headline calling him the “alleged ‘bomber.’” But this wasn’t good enough. In the article, his granny became “the alleged relative.”

The only news source able to cap this Fox performance was the other alleged relative, the accused. In a letter to the New York Post he showed how far alleged can be carried, once somebody gets a grip on it. His words are quoted in the Fox report:

“The device I’ve been accused of allegedly throwing was allegedly given to me by an unknown protestor with full face coverings,” [Gabriel] Agard-Berryhill wrote to the paper. “I was allegedly told that it was a strobe firework that wouldn’t damage the building or harm anyone around it.”

“Law enforcement has not contacted me for any alleged crime as of right now,” he claimed.

Any more of those allegations could send the guy to prison for life.

But let’s return from tales of bears and bombers to the defend-the-mayor statement that the NYC PR woman crafted with such glaring professionalism. Her thesis seems to be that the city’s businesspeople are so wonderful — so strong, creative, innovative, and resilient — that they can withstand even the city’s efforts to help them.

Certainly none of them is childish enough to swallow her gooey, tasteless compliment. More interesting is her description of what the government has done for business. This masterpiece of opacity can only be the work of seven devils, each working his tail off to create a Babylonian wall of clichés. “We’ve activated resources to stand up new supply lines and work with businesses to produce materials we never have before and provided our small businesses with aid and technical assistance.” I think this means, if it means anything, “We handed out face masks.”

The prominent clichés of this year are especially numerous and especially deprived of meaning, milled by the heavy wheels of angry and despotic government.

But that’s just a suspicion I entertained while asking myself such questions as: What is an unactivated resource? Does stand up mean start? Then why not say start? So maybe it doesn’t mean start. Then what does it mean? When you work with a business, what do you actually do? What is your work? What do you mean by materials? When I think of that word, all that comes to mind is my kindergarten teacher saying, “Now children, please gather your materials, so we can start our coloring.” Did anybody ever describe what goes on in a grownup store or factory as the production of materials? But I guess materials come through supply lines, which to me suggests Napoleon’s trouble with maintaining them during his visit to Russia. Is this the intended image? Continuing the theme of foreignness, of the Other, is aid and technical assistance. Isn’t that what we give to backward countries? What store of intellectual or scientific skill or knowledge does the government of New York City possess, that it might bestow it on its technically impoverished small businesses? Finally, the age-old question: when politicians talk about small businesses, what exactly do they intend? Remember that they operate the largest businesses in the country, and compete at every point with the small ones.

The expressions I’m discussing originated in diverse environments — commerce, engineering, the military, international relations, kindergartens — but it is politics that makes them into clichés, deprives them of meaning, and propels them into the public consciousness. What else would you expect in a world in which government is always increasing, always overreaching, and therefore always occupying more space in consciousness itself? The prominent clichés of this year are especially numerous and especially deprived of meaning, milled by the heavy wheels of angry and despotic government.

Liberty Senior Editor Bruce Ramsey wrote in to mention his irritation with a number of these clichés. As always, he’s worth quoting.

I keep hearing people on TV saying that somebody needs to be “held accountable.” But what does that mean, exactly? Punished? Nobody says that. Punishment is something that actually hurts, or at least causes inconvenience. Maybe “held accountable” means only talk. I don’t know what it means . . .

And when somebody says, “there is no magic bullet,” I think, when have I heard anyone say they DID have a magic bullet? I can’t recall a single instance.

Another one that has annoyed me for years is “gospel,” in the political sense. It is always negative, something ridiculous. Nobody describes his own belief as gospel.

Bruce also mentions the appalling fact that

when people say, “There’s no magic bullet,” they obviously think they’ve said something meaningful and clever. By referring to a thing that exists nowhere (“magic bullet”), they are implying that some people are dumb enough to believe in such things. It’s similar to “gospel,” [as when] the leftists accuse someone of believing in “the free-market gospel.” They never refer to their own beliefs as “gospel.” (I should think a Christian would find this use of “gospel” particularly annoying.)

Yes, I would think so too. But if Christians aren’t annoyed by the replacement of the King James Version of the gospel with some stumblebum paraphrase, and if they aren’t annoyed by the replacement of classic hymns with inane “praise music,” then nothing can possibly annoy them.

Except, perhaps, protests against such changes. I myself am capable of embracing change; I even go so far in advocating for change as to suggest that public figures and public institutions stop demanding change. In every instance, what they’re saying is that you should change, while they retain their smugness and arrogance and will to power. To see such ancient hierarchs as Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden inciting young people to work for change is as nauseating a spectacle as I can think of — with one exception. I have just discovered that there is something called The Trust, of which Henry, Duke of Sussex is president and which involves his wife Megan, Duchess of Sussex. Both of them are as dumb as rocks, but they have placed themselves at the head of an organization described as “a network of young changemakers across a global family of 54 countries, many stemming from the former British Empire.” Network, family, trust — huh? That these people, who without their unearned titles would be schlepping bags and cleaning hotel rooms somewhere in Sussex, are ganging up with young ninnies everywhere to get other people to change, apparently for the sake of change, says a lot about the way in which “change” operates as cover for Orders from the Top.

At worst (and among people with real power, it’s always the worst), the goal of professional changemakers is to mobilize the young and vague and send them out to attack the elders’ targets — which are ordinarily people like me and you, in short normal people, minding their own business. At best, the purpose is to look good while saying something entirely meaningless yet entirely self-serving. An ad for TV news in my town takes this approach to the virus scare:

The past few months have shown us that change is inevitable. . . . If we want to get through this, we all have to come together.

Ah! How delightful! Finally, news with heart! With real concern! And with a sermon to prove it! So I will reply in biblical terms, “Who made thee a judge over us?” Who gave you the wisdom to discern that change is inevitable and that therefore we have to start coming together with somebody? And that we all have to do it, for the sake of mere survival? By the way, how can I tell if I’m coming together? That’s a fair question. Another is, precisely how did the coronavirus show us, to our stupefaction, that change is inevitable? If a mob, as may very well happen, surrounds my car, drags me out of it, and stomps on my head, that would be change. If a state governor, as has happened, several times, confines corona-infested old people to nursing homes where they die like flies, that would also be change. Is the proper response, “Oh, this shows that change is inevitable”? If and when my doctor diagnoses me with a terminal illness, I hope, for his own sake, he does not say, “This just shows that change is inevitable.”

Speaking of death and change, I’m sure that all of us have lists of virus-speak expressions that we would like to kill off. Social distancing, bend the curve — relatively innocuous, but enough already! Not innocuous, ever, is that expression it’s the law! , which has become the blather of choice whenever the ruling classes try to impress their will on questioners. Wonder why you have to wear a mask and stand six feet away from everybody? Answer: because it’s the law! The usefulness of the expression comes from the fact that these commandments are not the law, don’t come anywhere near being the law, but if somebody accepts the idea that some of them may be law, you can add any number of others to the list — they’ll all have the same impressive status. So go ahead, just make it up. The other day I heard a politician bellowing “it’s the law!” at constituents who had the nerve to gather on a public beach. Get off the beach! It’s the law! We have really had too much of this.

The idea is that you must be in deadly danger, because everyone is, all the time, but you are too dumb to know it.

A friend in Africa tells me that if she hears “the new normal” one more time, the perpetrator can expect retribution. No one, anywhere, has ever liked that expression, except public figures invited to predict the future. The future always turns out to be exactly what they want, which is always a world that people like them control. Never does the future include an extension of individual freedom, only extensions of state power. These are the same people who insist that we all adapt to change, the change obviously continuing to the point where they themselves are satisfied. It can then be decreed the new normal, and rigidly enforced.

But what galls me right now is something I often hear as parting words — in a store, on the phone, or in the canned messages texted to me after I object to a total stranger appropriating my phone to enlist me in a political cause. One such message read, “I am removing you from further texts from MoveOn immediately. Stay safe and be well.” I’m glad to get off the list, but what’s the assumption here? Rhetorical climaxes of this kind never used to happen, unless someone knew that your health or safety was in danger. Now the idea is that you must be in deadly danger, because everyone is, all the time, but you are too dumb to know it. So you must be told that you are, and told what to do about it, by any and every member of the army of virtue signalers and virtue enforcers who go forth daily to fulfill the orders of the political thought police. If you want to defund the police, start with them.

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