Thanksgiving Is Ruined

The Personal is Political. The Political is Personal.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?
December 15, 2006

Theory: "Obviously" is one of the most dangerous words in the English language.

As are its variants: "It is obvious that," "of course," "clearly," etc.

A few examples:

But there is reporting, obviously, that we've seen over the years that there was some kind of a relationship there between the Iraqis and Osama bin Laden.

Somebody said the other day that the way we win is when they finally become convinced, the terrorists finally become convinced that we won't quit, that what they're betting on is obviously not that they can defeat us, because they can't, but that they can wear down our will.

But I think it's all part and parcel of an effort by some of the -- especially some of the outside groups aided and abetted by some of the members of the committee to try to find some excuse to vote against what obviously is a top quality nominee. [on Alito]

So it's important we get this job done, that we stay the course and complete the task in Iraq and Afghanistan, standing up governments but also training them to take over their own security. And we're doing that in Iraq at the same time. Once we've done that, then obviously, we can depart.

And obviously, we believe today the world is a whale of a lot better off because Saddam Hussein is in jail instead of in his palace. (Applause.)

Granted (or, "obviously"), using quotes from Big Time to illustrate the risks of the above rhetorical stretch, which he fires off 3 or 4 times per interview, is like shooting quail in a canned hunt fish in a barrel. However, he merely provides examples of a phenomenon that is his case are exaggerated (perhaps because his are drawn from the realm of politics-influenced thinking and speech) and hence clearer versions of what we all do. We often do it unwittingly, without necessarily even noticing. I confess to having picked up that habit, along with many other naughty rhetorical and intellectual ones, including reckless use of half-understood vocabulary words, due to excessive exposure at a tender age [is there any non-tender age?] to the writings of Sartre.

As here:

Consider Lukacs. His expression, "the permanent carnival of fetishised interiority," is not only pedantic and vague; its very appearance is suspect. The addition of one violent and concrete word, "carnival," which suggests colour, agitation, noise, is for the obvious purpose of covering up the poverty of the concept and its gratuity.

Its form and dialectical meaning are obvious: the impotence of the masses is the support of sovereignty, and sovereignty undertakes to manipulate them by means of mechanical laws — that is to say, of other-direction — but this voluntarism (that is to say, the affirmation of the practical sovereignty, of man over man and the concerted maintenance of the practico-inert statute at the bottom) necessarily implies the mineralisation of man at every level, except the highest.

Struggle is the only human practice which realises everyone’s relation to his object-being in urgency (and sometimes in mortal danger). And, of course, the object that I am for the Other is altered by the fundamental structures and material conditions which have given the Other a constitution as an object.

The upheaval which destroys the collective by the flash of a common praxis obviously originates in a synthetic, and therefore material, transformation, which occurs in the context of scarcity and of existing structures.

Yes, all very obvious, JPS. Obviously. Of course. Évidemment. Bien sûr.

Tentative conclusion: Whenever you hear the word "obviously," even (especially?) when the word comes out of your own mouth, a giant, flaming, cautionary red flag has just been tossed into the discourse. Stop, look, listen, rethink. Because something far from obvious probably is going on.

The best discussion of the word "obviously" that I have ever seen was written by one Christian Sepulveda. It appears here. The title of his post may be one of the truest sentences ever written.