I Made a New Word LXI

De•tail•phobe (n.) (•phobia) (•phobic (adj.) )

Many among us have been noticing that, while a lot of widely-known events are game changers and should not be — in fact, shouldn’t even be widely-known — there are other such events that are not game-changers although they should be.

The American people do not seem to be “concerned” [about Benghazi]…few people except us blogophiles on the right are listening, and [White House Press Sec’y Jay] Carney and [President] Obama have learned that simply thumbing their noses at the American people is an excellent way to get the people to shrug…

I discovered this myself a few days after the election, when I had dinner with an old friend who is an intelligent, moderate, non-leftist Democrat with some conservative tendencies. This friend just didn’t care about Benghazi or the administration’s handling of it, didn’t know the details and was cynically dismissive of the topic because “all politicians lie.”

To me, it has long seemed almost as if there is some mischievous deity who has seized, or been given, control over our give-a-damn, and delights in pushing buttons or flipping levers or casting spells, whatever, to arouse our passions almost in perfect reverse-polarity from where they should be.

Our text-messaging-addicted next-generation has a word they use to describe the don’t-care-when-maybe-I-should end of this reversal, but in humorous terms:


Yes, there is a critique in there. But you may be distressed to learn it is more likely lodged against the “tl” part than the “dr” — while it is true that the reader was too lazy to read the lines, let alone try to figure out any hidden meaning wedged between them, the fault is generally perceived to be that of the writer who, unforgivably, surpassed the reader’s dwindling attention span.

This is a situation that has endured for quite some time before the Internet phrase “tl;dr” was invented. I’ve been involved in it more than my share of times, anyone can figure that out by merely glimpsing at these pages. I’ve tried to make some accommodations. Truth be told, although I would self-assess my improvement as being modest, I can see some passages in my earlier work in which I was not even trying. Brevity is always an effort worth making. And a little humility never hurt anyone. Still and all, it has not escaped my notice that the goalposts move across time; what was sufficiently whittled down for the public’s weary and agitated frame of mind in Year N, is not quite ready for prime-time in Year N+3. Or N+2 or N+1…this is an erosion…

And it is an erosion as dangerous and damaging as any other. For generations, “good writing” has been generally seen as taking complete responsibility for it, although it is clear to anyone pondering it for a minute or two that the problem lies with the reader. With the writers assuming total responsibility for the problem that is not theirs, or else not getting read (oftentimes, doing both), the rest of society has remained blissfully unaware that the erosion exists.

While, inexplicably, attending carbon-emitting rock-concerts to “raise awareness of global warming.” May I humbly suggest that we perhaps do not have a problem with raising awareness, there or anywhere else. So in love are people with being opinionated, that at this late date they’ve formed the opinions they like to form, about — well, just about anything. Keeping the awareness, on the other hand: That’s the real crisis.

Neo-neocon, the blogger linked above, expounds on her earlier remarks (hat tip to Gerard) in light of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s phony “testimony” before the Senate earlier this week:

The more I think about Hillary Clinton’s question yesterday—”what difference does it make?”—the more important it becomes; a sort of leitmotif, not only for this administration, but for our times in general.
If the public doesn’t care about a certain tree falling in the forest, does it actually make a sound, even if the right is fussing about it?

The right has been outraged by a sequence of events and statements that have occurred under Obama’s watch, beginning with his 2008 campaign. Some are rather trivial (“corpse-man”) and some important (“bankrupt” the coal plants; “spread the wealth”). All have gained traction only on the right, because a majority has answered the question “what difference does it make?” with the words “none at all.”

These are things that would have outraged an earlier generation…
One reason, which may seem somewhat paradoxical but really is not, is widespread cynicism. If the public doesn’t expect integrity or truth from what used to be called our public servants, then lies and strategic stonewalling will not bother most people at all. What matters is what those public servants can get for you, and what they can scare you into thinking the opposition will take away from you[.]
Another big factor at work here is our decades-long education in moral relativism. What is truth, and can it be determined? Way way too many people answer “no,” and so they’ve given up trying or caring. And if they don’t care, why should our public officials answer inopportune and potentially embarrassing questions? No; what’s important is feelings, and so it made perfect sense for Hillary to act as though the best way to show concern about the deaths in Benghazi was to raise her voice in frustration and anger at the questions and cite her determination to “figure out what happened,” rather than actually exhibit that determination by answering questions about her own possible negligence in fostering conditions that may have contributed to those deaths. As for the subsequent cover-up of the reasons for the deaths, she’s implying that it’s just political business as usual, no biggee. And most Americans will nod, if they’re paying attention at all.

Lest we be guilty of the subject of our accusation of others, we should keep our eyes open to exceptions of things. There are some silver linings in the clouds. Time may show them to be completely inconsequential, but for the moment they are there. While we continue to be frustratingly deprived of any solid evidence that the low-information voter knows, or cares of, Hillary Clinton’s evasiveness in the hearing, it must be mentioned that the exchange “caught fire” in a way that went beyond my initial expectations. Yes, those expectations were lower than a snake’s belly. But the weekend is here, and “we” are still talking about it. This invites the question: Who’s “we”? I have to be realistic about it and side with NN: “us blogophiles on the right.” Very well then, I shall assume it is limited to just that. But my eyes remain open to evidence that our Secretary of State has become associated, household-name-wise, with “what difference does it make?” the same way the elder George Bush is associated with “read my lips.” Let me spend a few words getting specific about this: I am open to it. I shall not assume it. But I remain hopeful.

Nevertheless, we are left with the original problem. Hillary Clinton, and her constituency, along with the politicians in her class who appeal to this same constituency, are all a bunch of detailphobes. Her phrase “what does it matter” is the hymn — “leitmotif” — of the detailphobe. Her failure to do her job, which got those four Americans killed and landed her in that hot-seat, was a detailphobic failure. Many among us fail to realize that, and they are detailphobes.

The afflicted may outnumber the non-afflicted. They certainly, without a doubt, have become a functional majority among us. They have their own political representatives. They have taken over our culture some time ago, taken over our government a bit more recently than that, and now our political class is simply sidestepping the important but unpleasant task of giving answers to questions.

In the erosion we are more accustomed to inspecting, involving man’s real or imagined impact on the environment, I often hear real or imagined climate experts speak of a “tipping point.” If there is a tipping point with this other kind of erosion, the attention span erosion, or if you will the give-a-damn erosion, the “tipping point” would be different. It would be, when our politicians can do as they like, and there’s no oversight and no appeal because when they are called to account, they just give a hysterical performance and the show’s over. Or, even worse, they are lauded for the “takedown” they did against the interrogator who had the nerve to ask the question.

The nation owes Mrs. Clinton a debt of gratitude, because she has proven to us beyond any doubt — well, those who remain awake and paying attention — we’re there. At the tipping point. Whether the public remains in control of its own government, is a different question. Whether the public cares to do something about it, I suppose, is yet another different question.

I take no pleasure in noting that, if you are part of the problem, I’m not really addressing you any longer because you didn’t read this far.

Cross-posted at House of Eratosthenes and Right Wing News.

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4 thoughts on “I Made a New Word LXI

  1. Pingback: House of Eratosthenes

  2. philmon

    tl;ra [too long, read it anyway]

    Just kidding, my friend. As usual, you built your case piece by piece, even if sometimes we can’t quite see how a line will converge with the rest in the end, you pulled it off. Detailophobes. Astute observation. “What difference does it make?” I shall file it away for future reference.

    I don’t know why, but excerpts from this book keeps coming up in my mind again and again in response to things people are saying … often me … Norton Juster’s “The Phantom Tollbooth”. Perhaps it’s fate’s way of telling me it is time to read it again.

    Anyway, your talk of brevity in elocution brought to mind this passage from the book. To set it up, Milo and Tock have been thrown into prison in the Kingdom of Dictionopolis — the Kingdom of Words … where people have to go to the marketplace to buy their words and letters. They also eat their words for food, which is why they are advised to be very careful about which words they choose. (It’s a really good book.) At any rate, in prison, they meet an old woman.

    “Don’t be frightened”, she laughed. “I’m not a witch, I’m a Which”.

    “Oh”, said Milo, because he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

    “I’m Faintly Macabre, the not-so-wicked Which”, she continued, and I’m certainly not going to harm you”.

    “What’s a Which?” asked milo, releasing Tock and stepping a little closer.

    “Well”, said the old lady, just as a rat scurried across her foot, “I am the King’s [King of Dictionopolis’] great aunt. For years and years I was in charge of choosing which words were to be used for all occasions, which ones to say and which ones not to say, which ones to write and which ones not to write. As you can well imagine, with all the thousands to choose from, it was a most important and responsible job. I was given the title of ‘Official Which’, which made me very proud, and very happy.”

    “At first I did my best to make sure that only the most proper and fitting words were used. Everything was said clearly and simply and no words were wasted. I had signs posted all over the [word] market place which said,

    ‘Brevity is the Soul of Wit’

    “But power corrupts, and soon I grew miserly and chose fewer and fewer words, trying to keep as many as possible to myself. I had new signs posted which said:

    ‘An Ill-chosen Word is the Fool’s Messenger’

    “Soon sales began to fall off in the market. The people were afraid to by as many words as before, and hard times came to the kingdom. But still I grew more and more miserly. Soon there were so few words chosen that hardly anything could be said, and even casual conversation became difficult. I had new signs posted, which said:

    ‘Speak Fitly or be Silent Wisely’

    “And finally I had even these replaced by ones which simply read,

    ‘Silence is Golden’

    “All talk stopped. No words were sold, the marketplace closed down, and the people grew poor and disconsolate. When the king saw what had happened, he became furious and had me cast into this dungeon where you see me now, an older and wiser woman.”

    “That was all many years ago”, she continued; “but they never appointed a new Which, and that explains why today people use as many words as they can and think themselves very wise for doing so. For always remember that while it is wrong to use too few, it is often far worse to use too many.”

    Hmmmm… ever hear an Obama speech?

  3. Cylar

    The nation owes Mrs. Clinton a debt of gratitude, because she has proven to us beyond any doubt — well, those who remain awake and paying attention — we’re there. At the tipping point. Whether the public remains in control of its own government, is a different question. Whether the public cares to do something about it, I suppose, is yet another different question.

    Philmon here is reminded of “The Phantom Toolbooth” (my teacher read part of it to my class when I was in 5th or 6th grade, I remember)….and I’m reminded of mid-to-late 1930s Germany and what happened to people who asked uncomfortable questions that the government didn’t want to answer. A lot of them were paid a visit by the SS – they simply disappeared and were never heard from again. (US forces were said to have made a lot of the SS agents themselves “disappear”…when American forces caught some of them while invading Germany at the end of the war.)

    I sometimes have the fear that that’s where this is ultimately going to end up – that the politicians avoiding awkward questions, the media overlooking questionable incidents, the public not-giving-a-damn – is just the beginning. Eventually it may get to the point where the majority of the public not only doesn’t give a damn, but where the relative handful that do find it dangerous to hold their leaders to account.

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