04 December 2006

Top 10 phoney phrases

Certain contemporary phrases set my teeth on edge. One of the worst is "get used to it". Freud would have had a heyday with that one. Think of the concealed aggression implicit in it. Well, actually, not that concealed or implicit.

Example. Robbie Millen in The Times refers critically to the government's anti-libertarian smoking legislation, eliciting the following two comments.

Isn't the point that smokers are NOT adults capable of making choices - they are addicted to a psychoactive drug and like most such addicts can go to great lengths to try and justify themselves and manipulate people in order to keep getting their fix? (Andy O)

The only ones who have not given up are witless idiots who need to be bossed and scared into correct behaviour.
I comment that "I guess the two comments above help to explain how New Labour has managed to get away with restricting our freedoms. There are clearly plenty of people who don't care enough about liberty to allow things they disapprove of." Which generates the following third party response.
Fabian commits the fallacy of equating smoking with liberty. Someone's "liberty" to smoke interferes with everyone else's liberty to breathe in air free from smoke. A compromise is needed and, now that so few people actually do smoke, it's increasingly clear that the compromising must be done by smokers, rather than non-smokers (as has been done for decades). Get used to it, Fabian: I predict that there will be more restrictions on smoking, including a complete ban in public outdoor spaces, within the coming decades. In the interests of liberty, you understand. (Andrew)
The claim that anti-smoking legislation is about increasing the liberty of non-smokers is of course an incomplete explanation at best. Why make a pub ban smoking from its own premises, given that non-smokers are free not to patronise it?

The use of the phrase "get used to it" is however illuminating. What's behind it in this case is probably something like this.
"I don't like liberty. Fortunately the consensus these days is against it. There is no longer any need to defer to liberty from an 'ethical' standpoint. Let's hope this situation continues. Meanwhile I can feel free to enjoy rubbing libertarians' noses in the fact that they're on the losing side. And to justify my obvious Schadenfreude by invoking the idea that it's pathological to complain about things that are probably unalterable."
Here it is, then, my guide to the top five horrible phrases, and what they probably really mean.

(1) "Get used to it." Ha ha ha. Your side lost and there's nothing you can do about it.

(2) "Get over it." You're upset about something. My not caring, and making you feel guilty about minding, are socially legitimated.

(3) "This is a no-brainer." (E.g. desirability of attacking Iraq; using torture to extract confessions.) This seems like an obvious thing to do, given the current ideological climate. Fortunately I don't have to think things through or argue my case, because thinking and analysing are for wussies, and I'm therefore not going to. Anyone who questions my conclusions may be regarded as contemptible.

(4) "The debate has moved on." It is now considered acceptable to ignore your point of view, and I therefore feel free to treat you with condescension.

(5) "Keep it real." According to the current consensus, acceptable models of reality involve viewing people as degraded. Since your point of view does not assume such a model, I feel justified in dismissing it.

Part 2 of the top ten in due course.