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Friday, May 20, 2005

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In the tradition of Orwell, Robert Fisk skewers the Egghead Mystifiers

Reminding me of George Orwell in his classic "Politics and the English Language," the always excellent Robert Fisk has turned his razored pen from his usual target--the viciousness of American, British, Israeli and Arab governments--to a group that gets my goat: the academics who specialise in trying to make themselves sound smart by making the rest of us feel dumb. How do they do this? Through their appalling, cumbersome, lethally-dull writing and over-the-freaking-top word choice. Through turning nouns into verbs by tacking on the suffix "-ise." Through lengthening nouns by adding "-isation" or adding prefixes such as "post-" and "neo-". Never say something simply if you can say it in such a way that people need to read it ten times before they can get it. To paraphrase Talib Kweli, just because no one understands what you're saying doesn't mean you're deep.

I'm guessing that this group of secular priests from the Humanities mystery system deliberately obscures meaning because they feel inferior to scientists and mathematicians.

(I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that scientists and mathematicians don't want their work to be hard to understand--but they can only describe the universe and abstractions accurately with their own, complex language. If they could do it in prose or accessible poetry, I'd like to think they would. Hopefully one day that will be possible.)

Because the eggheads feel outclassed by the scientists, they make their own material as difficult to understand as possible, protecting the illusion that they know important things the rest of us are too dense to get. I caricatured that conceit in The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad through the writing of Heinz Meaney. But even there, I still made the text more readable than what these anti-craftsmen crank out.

Note to academics and other wanna-be smart guys: "Modalities" means "modes." It means "methods." So why not say that? There is almost no activity on earth that requires the word "process" added to its name in order to make sense. Not "the learning process, the grieving process, the assessment process." Learning. Grieving. Assessment.

Here's a bit from Fisk's article: "He talks abut the 'interplay' of 'political and mythic interdependencies' and the 'ubiquitous human psychological process of othering'. He wants to 'problematize' intervention at 'elite' levels. A rabbi - whom I immediately felt sorry for - was 'awash in paradoxicality', which apparently proved that 'cognitive dissonance is good for intractable conflicts'. Well, you could have fooled me." robert-fisk.com