Recently, I was chided by one of my Facebook “friends” for making arguments that were not, as he put it, “well-balanced and solution-focused,” which led to my arguments lacking “credibility.” OK. Fair enough. But what exactly does this jargon, “well-balanced,” “solution-focused,” or “credibility” mean? It sounds to me like some phrases that would be heard at one of the thousands upon thousands of meetings of administrators that take place in the country all the time. So, let me offer my objections to such “bullshit jargon,” as I like to call it.
Let’s start with “well-balanced,” merely taking note in passing of what I take to be the redundancy of the phrase itself. “Balanced” would work as well as “well-balanced,” or so it seems to me. But what about the idea that arguments should be “well-balanced,” that is, taking account of all aspects of a particular phenomenon, the good, the bad, and the ugly, so to speak, and doing so by speaking in what is called a “civil manner?”
As far as this criterion goes, in rebuttal I would point people to Frederick Douglass’ address on the 4th of July, 1841, when he said:
“This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, towering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin! I can today take up the plaintive lament of a peeled and woe-smitten people!”
Is this “well-balanced?” I think not as it accuses these people of “inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony,” while promising Americans that “the Almighty” will bury them and their “nation in irrecoverable ruin!” And Douglass not only knows his argument is not “well-balanced;” he argued that it shouldn’t be:
“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation's ear, I would, to day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
Note well: For Douglass this was the time for “a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke.” No “well-balanced” bullshit for Douglass. He intended to summon all of his ability to remind Americans of their sins, of their injustices, of their inhumanity to their slaves. And isn’t Douglass’ speech a more accurate portrayal of the situation than any “well-balanced” portrayal would or could be? Of course it was…..and is.
Passing on to the phrase “solution-focused,” a phrase that made me squirm the first time I read it. “Hey, Schultz, you must be ‘solution-focused’ or you won’t be credible.” Well, what this bullshit jargon means to me is: “Hey, Schultz, play the game according our rules. Work for change within those rules, even gradually or incrementally.”
As you should be able to see, this means that any criticism of “the rules,” of the game as it is currently played, is illegitimate. To be “solution-focused” is to allow oneself to co-opted by the powers that be; revolutions are out, but incremental change is in. For example, would those who were in favor of abolishing slavery be considered “solution-focused?” Were those in the 60s who advocated pulling out of Vietnam “solution-focused?” No, because each of these groups was considered “radical” and correctly so because they were advocating not a “solution” to a “problem,” but rather were advocating revolution or radical change. And, of course, “well-balanced and solution-focused” people want nothing to do with radical change.
And, finally, what about being “credible?” What is a “credible” argument? I mean when that man, Jesus from Nazareth, claimed to be the “son of God” was he being “credible?” Was Abraham Lincoln being “credible” when he said at Gettysburg:
“The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through his appointed time, he now wills to remove, and that he gives to both North and South this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan--to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations.”
Being “credible” is for those with something to hide, like adulterers or lying politicians. “Credible” arguments are those that can be “sold,” which is the reason that most politicians seek “credibility.” They are salesmen and saleswomen, selling us policies like advertisers sell us soap or some religious sell us religion.
Bullshit jargon is powerful stuff, making its users feel like they know something, which knowledge entitles them to govern the rest of us. It is also powerful stuff in that it constructs our public discourse in a way that makes it almost impossible to create radical change. Once you buy into it, you have bought into so much more. In fact, you have bought into your own imprisonment.