Thursday, May 26, 2016

SLOGANS: junkfood, dead-weight or poison?

updated 071219

The False Consensus Effect is stronger in situations with ambiguity --- Borgson & Weber (2008)

There are many examples ... of situations in which disparate groups of politicians and the constituents they represent have joined together in common cause but consensus has represented nothing more than a superficial commitment to a simple slogan.
--- Susskind & Cruikshank, Breaking the Impasse, 1987, p.63-64

It's time again for political campaigners to fill our media almost 24/7 with Buzz-Words and Sound-Bites. And would be office-holders provide slogans galore. Much of it is Shakespearean: tales full of sound and fury, signifying little, if anything.

Slogans are motivational devices. Their point is to get you and others to do or avoid things you might not otherwise -- in someone’s opinion -- do or avoid. Any discomfort or reticence you might feel is to be compensated by your knowledge that you, by accepting the slogan, are now part of a group, a member in consensus, a sharer of the faith, of the brother-and-sisterhood, of the movement, to accentuate the positive and de-emphasize the negative and don't mess with Mister In-Between.

Slogans are often factually false, e.g. “X-Mart: where America shops!” Slogans often promise more than they can deliver, e.g. “Yes, we can!” Their vagueness often makes potential enemies seem like fellow travelers, “A sound economy is our primary consideration.”

But forget about truth, promise and clarity: another point of slogans is to bypass your careful consideration, your judgment, your inquiry, your weighing of options: Don’t ask questions; just do it!

But slogans are often little more than motivational junk food. At first taste, they’re yummy, or disgusting, depending upon your point of view or commitments. But any deeper ingestion and you may come up with a strange taste that puts you off: you realize that what you thought was meant by the slogan is something others can’t go for. Slogans provide no lasting sustenance to focused action.

For people who like to get down to the nuts and bolts, the vagueness of slogans makes them practical dead weights. You try to interpret them so as to get something done, and some ideologue quibbles about what the slogan “really means” -- as if their interpretation were the only one possible.

Under these circumstances, slogans become impediments to practical implementation. Again, depending upon your point of view or commitments this may be either a disappointment or a relief. Those who champion the slogans, of whatever kind, try hard to shut down diversity of interpretation and force a narrower, possibly self-serving interpretations on everyone.

And pity the person -- if they deserve it -- who actually takes the slogans literally and later discovers that reality that is far more complex and resistant to their administrations than they imagined.

Many dare to run for office. Few are chosen. And, even fewer are adept enough to be successful.

For more references and to examine these issues further, see Analyzing Buzzwords, Slogans & Mottoes

-- EGR