Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Glittering Generalities" Are Dangerous

In high-school and university English and Logic classes, (By judges and coaches) in debate competitions and in other places I was warned against the use of "Glittering Generalities" (Please look up the term if you are unfamiliar with it).

That "thinking error" is all too typical of most commercial advertising, political speeches (Especially those read off tele-prompters), comments by various "social activists" and,I am sorry to note, too many editorial writers.

Worst yet, it appears that far too many Americans are no longer educated as to that hazard. Certainly such interests (Listed above) are those who most sincerely wish for on-going and wide-spread ignorance of the foundations of sound thinking.

Although most Americans have developed some intuitive or logical resistance to much of commercial advertising (Especially in today's hard times), the success of Mr. Madoff's Ponzi scheme, the last general election and other political promises or programs and the statements of most "social activists" demonstrate a very great need to reintroduce logical thinking as part of our middle and high schools English language instruction----If we can find teachers who are able to understand and present this subject.

For the purposes of this note, I suggest that editorial writers are as prone to this "thinking error" as anyone else. Although some editors very evidently fight to avoid this deep pit of misleading rhetoric, the lack of successful resistance is too often apparent in editorials, guest editorials and commentary and (Wonderfully to a lesser extent) in the offerings of"Community Columnists" where used by some newspapers.

As editors write their offerings to your readers and accept-or-reject the words of others, I most strongly urge them to avoid this pitfall to sound thinking and the well being of both readers and the ongoing survival of newspapers.



Anonymous said...

"Glittering Generalities" aren't just the product of uneducated and mentally lazy, sometimes it's the opposite; very smart people engaging in propaganda, cowed employees 'toeing the line' for survive and so on. But yes, I agree with your post overall, people need to be more aware.

I think one of the very worst practitioners was George W. Bush; From wrapping himself in the flag (despite his miserable attendance record in the national guard during the Vietnam War), to using FUD to chip away at our precious civil liberties, to minor things, like when he blamed the rising cost of health care on 'frivolous lawsuits'.

While every politician must be fluent in Glittering Generalities, Obama isn't nearly as bad as W.

James Pawlak said...

To Mr./Ms. Anonymous:

Hmmm! A good start and degeneration after. Try a logical-sematic analysis of Mr. O's speeches to see if you can detect meaning.

Janice said...

The initial comments of "Anonymous" are the first things I thought of too, James. In fact, it seems that the news media is so entrenched in liberal thinking that every article is slanted to this view. In other words, these editors are deliberately using the "Glittering Generalities" to sway the thoughts of their mentally lazy readers. Obama typifies this mental manipulation--he is a MASTER manipulator--a glib con man. Janice