Michel Foucault, Relationship Counselor: Philosobabble Has a Point

So this is part two of an unintentional series, it seems.  I don’t know if I’m on to something or not here, but . . .

If words and language support and are supported by a whole network of epistimic presuppositions, power structures, assumptions, overtones, nuances of meaning, etc., then, if somebody was trying to do something constructive with language, such as correct an unhealthy pattern of thought or interpersonal interaction, then it would seem logical to suppose that the words and patterns of language chosen should be those most apt to the task at hand.  This at least partially explains why philosophers love technical and specialized jargon, besides the fact that we just really love tossing around fun words; certain terms have specific connotations, implications, and shades of meaning that naturally lead the listener to the intended conclusion, as well as bearing a whole web of related information.  For instance, the term “quidity” has implications neither its translation “whatness” or strict Latin rendering “quiditas” have; while sounding like something that is part of a specialized philosophical lexicon, with its own particular uses, rather than a word made up on the spot, it still sounds like something used in current debates, rather than historical medieval disputations.  Using either the translated neologism or the strict Latinism would detract from the philosophical point at hand, while the Anglicized form of the Latin references the metaphysical debate in contemporary philosophy.

Okay, enough justifying philosophers.  The simple fact is, most academic or technical jargon sounds pretty much meaningless to those who don’t spend years studying such minor arcana.  The only implied meanings and power structures are those of musty old professors in tweed holding forth on something we feel like we should really know, but know better than to admit we don’t.  Sometimes, this is a good thing.

Especially if you want to make someone or something seem ridiculous.

The fact is, a lot of insults used in knock-down, drag-out fights can be rephrased into philosobabble.  “Codependent,” “psycho,” “immature,” “shallow,” “typical male/woman,” “just like my ex;” all these terms are loaded, inaccurate, and guaranteed to offend.  “Reliant on the Other to provide reflexive self-definition in such a manner that the revelation of the authentic self is hampered?”  Try throwing that at someone in the midst of a heated argument.

Really.  Just try it.  I dare you.

If nothing else, you’ll end up looking so ridiculous that the fight might well stop.  Even the “what does that even MEAN???” look ought to help diffuse the situation.  It’s impossible (okay, really, really hard) to be emotional or personally insulting when using overwrought academic prose that positively reeks of libraries and too much coffee.

Perhaps this is the real service philosophy could render to dysfunctional relationships everywhere: clarifying your problems, but muddying the terms you use to create them.

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