Our liberal regime demands a belief, mostly groundless, in the efficacy of talk. This belief is the source of our parliamentarian prejudice that a talking shop should lie at, or near, the heart of government. This belief stands behind our fawning exaltation of the garrulous gabblers of “the press.” This belief is why you and I feel moved to discourse like Demosthenes at the meeting of our Parish Council, or the Christmas Party Subcommittee. It is why we believe that the balance of history depends on a galvanic utterance in a presidential debate.
But there is a reason that Flannery O’Connor wrote that it is the violent, and not the voluble, who “bear it away.” Words are mostly wind, and the Big Men of this world are, by and large, forceful but taciturn. Power mostly resides in a capacity to mete out boon and bale, while a silver tongue is a dancing fool.
It is said that the wind god Aeolus penned the winds inside a cave on his island of Aeolia, releasing them on command of the higher gods. When seafaring Ulysses came to Aeolia, Aeolus gathered some gusts from his Cave of the Winds, bound them in an ox-hide bag, and presented the bulging bundle to Ulysses as a means to propel his ship home to Ithaca. This bloviator was the original windbag, and it was by release of carefully regulated puffs from the mouth of the windbag that Ulysses brought his ship within sight of Ithaca’s shore. Alas, he then fell asleep and his greedy crew untied the mouth of the windbag, which they believed was filled with gold. And from the mouth of the windbag rushed a mighty tempest that tossed the waters and drove the mariners back to wander once more over trackless seas.
There is a lesson here for all who believe in the gift of a gushing windbag.