Redundancy as a Tell

Redundancy is a sure sign of disordered thought. Consider the recently popular term, “lived experience.” What other sort of experience might humans have, than such as are suffered by living beings? Or again, “social justice:” there are no other sorts of justice than the social sort.

Such locutions are usually obfuscate. “Lived experience” means really “my experience, which trumps yours;” “social justice” means really “socialism.”

Watch out then for modifiers that perform no real rhetorical work. They are trying to fool us into accepting their real denotations as just, and so to dull our moral wits.

We can extend this charge to any newly fashionable locution. Any such are likely to be propaganda. Beware them.

27 thoughts on “Redundancy as a Tell

  1. Ayn Rand used to write about a similar activity known as “package dealing” in which non-essentials and essentials are jumbled in such a way as to promote pernicious ideas. I’ve seen quite a bit of package dealing in the news today May 25, 2021.

  2. I agree that redundancy is often verbal flip-flam, but see something more nefarious in your two examples. If “lived experience” were the ground of all knowledge, we would inhabit a bedlam of clashing subjectivities, so there must be a way to make some experiences more truly “lived” than others. Unsurprisingly, the doctrine of “lived experience” holds that the testimony of a member of a designated victim class is veridical, because “lived,” whereas the testimony of a member of an oppressor class is clouded with ideological bias.

    “Social justice” just means revenge taken by one class on another. The revenge of the proletariat on the bourgeoise has been forgotten, but the political energy of class envy and revenge has not been lost. Justice is when I pay for having done some wrong to you. Social justice is when I pay for people somewhat like me having done some wrong to people somewhat like you. It is a barbaric morality but we treat the primitives who grunt these words like sages.

    • Yes. Most flim flam is deployed in service of some confidence scam perpetrated upon one person by another one. The flim flam we see in popular discourse is different. It is intended to hoodwink and swindle whole peoples.

  3. Honestly the things you people get upset about.

    “lived experience” derives from phenomenology, where it is used as a translation of the Germain Erlebnis, to distinguish it from Erfahrung, a somewhat different concept which also translates to “experience” in English. In more ordinary usage, the phrase is used to to highlight the difference in subjective experience of people in different life conditions, eg, the lived experience of the police is going to be different for someone growing up in the ghetto and someone growing up in a wealthy suburb.

    “Social justice” is a very overworked phrase these days, but it still has a clear meaning that is different from mere “justice”. Justice is applied to individuals; but if the structures of society and the law are systemically unjust themselves, then they need to be changed, which is the mission of social justice. (You don’t have to agree with this; I’m just arguing that the phrase has a clear meaning).

    Also, think about it for a second: If these phrases were merely redundancies, there would be no reason for you to get annoyed by them; ordinary language is full of redundancy. On the contrary, they encode certain specific shades of meaning that you don’t happen to like. Your phrase “modifiers that perform no real rhetorical work” is nonsensical; they are obviously doing rhetorical work; you just don’t like the intent.

    • I’m not worked up. I’m noticing.

      The rhetorical work such politically motivated redundancy performs is not real. It is nominal. Like any sort of inflation of signals, such nominal work does have real effects. It introduces noise to the system, and so harms that system and all whose lives it enables. That is its intent.

      Erfahrung is experience that teaches or informs. Erlebnis is just experience per se. When I have a cup of coffee these days, the experience of the coffee and its effects, enjoyable as it always is, teaches me nothing; such is erlebnis. The experience of my first cup of coffee taught me a lot; such is erfahrung.

      The way that Social Justice Warriors use “lived experience” is closer to erfahrung than to erlebnis. The SJW wants to say something like, “experience has taught blacks that they cannot trust the cops.” The sort of experience that teaches is erfahrung.

      “Lived experience” is actually the more apt translation to English of erlebnis. A better would be “livening.” And it could not, in principle, be a politically charged term, either in German or in English. Because why? Because absolutely everyone just lives. Even ants.

      All that’s of no use to an SJW. It is irrelevant to her, as being to her utterly meaningless (she doesn’t know anything about phenomenology; doesn’t know what “phenomenon” means – she thinks it means “extraordinarily spectacular event”). What she wants is a way to indicate something like “my own life (as opposed to your oppressive intersubjective facts).” I.e., “my feelings, not your stinking facts.”

      Compare then:

      … the lived experience of the police is going to be different for someone growing up in the ghetto and someone growing up in a wealthy suburb.

      … the experience of the police is going to be different for someone growing up in the ghetto and someone growing up in a wealthy suburb.

      “Lived” is doing no work, even of the nominal sort.

      The special term for proper social order has for 3,000 years been “justice.”

      • “’Lived’ is doing no work, even of the nominal sort.”

        Neither is the “social” in “social distancing.”

      • We could multiply examples. They are legion. I thought of doing so for the entertainment value, but found the prospect so tiresome that I finally decided our readers would have the same reaction, of intensely bored irritation. Why should the Orthosphere inflict that upon them, when already they suffer it every time they see an ad?

      • The rhetorical work such redundancy performs is not real. It is nominal.

        What does that even mean? You do know what rhetoric is, I assume?

        Concepts and language evolve over time, and terms that are 2000 years old may not be adequate to the present, and it’s very likely that their meaning and usage will have shifted.

        Ah well never mind, this doesn’t feel like it’s going to be a productive argument. If you want to complain about other people’s language, don’t let me stop you.

      • To be sure, the demands upon the language change. To wit, all the terms we now bandy about for concepts in information technology. But, sorry, experience and justice are not new concepts. You might as well suggest new terms for day and forest.

        What is the difference between linguistic innovations that are real and those that are only nominal? The former pick out something new, while the latter do not. An example of the former: “graphical user interface.” An example of the latter: “colored” > “negro” > “black” > “African American” > “person of color” > “Black” … Each of the terms in the latter series was intended to obfuscate the connotations of its predecessors – which is to say, the consequences in experience of their use, or, simply, their meanings.

  4. “lived experience” = “imagined experience”

    Because if it were real experience, it could just be called “experience.”

  5. Now I’m a little bit embarrassed, because I do sometimes use the phrase “lived experience”. You’ve prompted me to reflect on what I meant by writing it, what particular aspect of meaning I meant to emphasize. Looking back on my uses of it, it does seem that I mean to emphasize something authoritative about the experience, usually the fact that I was making statements about the subjective experience itself and not its objective cause. It’s a sort of Cartesian point, that I may be wrong about the latter, or my feelings may have been unjustified, but what my experience was I may be certain. I can imagine the phrase being used in this sense by the woke, e.g. that blacks know with certainty from lived experience that they find this or that cultural artifact discomforting, regardless of whether they should find it so by some objective measure. This does not seem to be the way “lived experience” is used though, but rather to conclude objective infraction from subjective experience. I suppose I’ve been misusing the phrase.

    • Well, for Heaven’s sake don’t feel bad about it. All of us are vulnerable to the suasions of the Narrative, and of fashion, no matter how tough our minds. Why, I myself have used the term “synergy” in re topics of business organization. And here we all are deploying “woke,” forsooth: that abomination of desolation of all that is good and true and holy in English. May God and Mercury forgive me.

      Our subjective feelings are themselves facts, and ought by our fellows to be duly noted and reckoned. The difference between Bonald and the SJW is that unlike her, Bonald does not want his feelings to trump all the other facts.

    • This post and thread might as well be the beginning of the Newspeak Dictionary.

      Relatedly, this whole thread reminds me of Orwell’s “On Writing Well”. Worth revisiting with the benefit of additional years behind me, and clarity of worldview.

      • Correction, his essay is “politics and the english language” not “on writing well”. Went looking for it. Clearly been a while!

  6. Ha, ‘lived experience’ is one of my bugbears too. I usually translate it in my head as ‘experienced experience’. However, I suspect my real reason for disliking it less its redundancy than the fact that it usually signals that what I’m about to read is written by some low-rent leftwing race hustler (ok, how’s that for redundant?).

    I have less problem with ‘social justice’. Not that its typical use today is anything but pernicious, but I think its original meaning can be used in ways that clarify rather than obfuscate. (Even Aristotle observed that there were different types of justice!).

    Here’s another irritant of mine, this time more often used by mainstream right-wingers: ‘Judeo-Christian morality’. Everything that is good about Jewish morality is already included within Christian morality, which intensified and elevated the Old Testament moral code.

    • I had just been thinking of adding a comment to the same effect about the redundancy in “judeo-christian.” To be a Christian is ipso facto, and eo ipso, to affirm the Torah (albeit, also, to fulfill and so to transcend it) – for, Christianity is a Jewish sect, the heir and flower of the Essenes and so of the First Temple cult (and thus of the religion, not just of Moses and Abraham, but of Noah and Adam). So, the addition of the prefix “judeo-“ adds no information. What it tries to do rather is add noise, by conflating the religion of the Pharisees with the Nazirite Messianic cult of the Essenes, antithetical and fatal to their own, that the Pharisees sought above all things to destroy.

      Now, notwithstanding all that, it is indeed true that the Pharisees and the Essenes – or as we now call them, the Jews and the Christians – do have often not a few mundane interests in common, and it must be admitted also that of all cults, none are closer to each other. But it is silly to pretend that they are more or less the same thing, and that between them there are no differences that make a difference. Only a modern who at bottom believed in neither of their doctrines could think such a thing. After all, each of them think the other has blasphemed against the Holy One whom they both worship.

      “Judeo-Christian” makes about as much sense as “Arminian Calvinist,” or “Stalinist Trotskyite.”

  7. These seem to be pervasive nowadays. I think the primary intent isn’t to obfuscate though. It’s rather an inept attempt at substituting. “Rules-based order” is “that other way of doing things that suits us and it sounds better with order and rules in it”. I would even put “humanitarian aid” in the same pile.
    Being clunky, these are easy to catch though. Substituting the meaning of “property” or making up nonsense from the wrong perspective like “human resources” are significantly more insidious.

    • How could I have forgotten that one? It should have been in the title of the essay.

      These terms are so much in use that it becomes difficult to notice them. That, too, is intentional. And many have been around for more than a century. E.g., “Social Democrat.” The “social” in the term is doing nominal rather than real work, because of course if you want a democracy the only way to get it is with a society. The term is a way to denote “Socialist” without saying “Socialist.” Again, “liberal Democrat” is redundant, while “conservative Democrat” is oxymoronic.

      We could multiply examples. Again, the prospect of that project is dispiriting (this, too, is an aspect of the demonic strategy), but it would probably do us all a deal of good.

      The obfuscate redundancies are used against us, too. E.g., “liberal Catholic.” It’s a way of denoting “apostate” while confusing interlocutors, because the only way to be a true Catholic is to be a strict Catholic.

      Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

      • The first word in any descriptive set of two is always the more important to the speaker. “Liberal Catholic” says that their identity is liberal, and secondarily, they are also Catholic. It is possible to be a Catholic Liberal, but you can tell just by saying it that it is a much different approach to the world.

        I think about this because I see sometimes floating around the blogosphere appeals from “gay catholics”. That has always struck me as a conflict of terms. But regardless of the coherence, it tells you which thing is most important.

        Modifiers and qualifications serve only to soften and weaken whatever you are saying. This works with all communication but especially when identifying our beliefs.

      • Just so, thanks for this added insight, Scoot. So, on that basis, an Asian American is letting everyone know he is Asian first, and American second. Likewise for all the other hyphenations; an Irish American would be a guy who put his Irish character before his American character. Consider the subtle but deep difference between a Swedish American and an American Swede.

        Likewise, an Anglo-Catholic would be a guy – a guy who is a lot like me – putting his Anglican character ahead of his Catholic character. So that, being first Anglican, he could not be simply Catholic. Anglicanorum Coetibus was a genius move to herd all such guys into the Catholic Church, where they could become (in effect) Catholics of the Anglican Rite.

        Think then of a man who characterizes himself as a Franciscan. He does not employ a hyphen. No “Franciscan Catholic” for him. He is just Catholic.

        Consider then this other trope – or is it a tick, institutionalized – of the Left: the various hyphenated Studies programs of academia. Here’s the nub of it, the basic and original instance of the type: why is the Women’s Studies Department not called the Gyneology Department? Why is the African American Studies Department not called simply the Africanomy Department? It is not as though these Greco-Latin roots are not well known and understood on college campuses, right? The physicists, computer scientists and biologists are constantly coming up with clever plays on classical derivatives for their neologisms.

        OK, this got me going. Pet peeve alert. Why is History & Philosophy of Science not called, simply, Epistemology?

        Off on a tangent here. Apologies.

      • Cynically I suspect a component of the academic department headings is a desire for impressive sounding titles. Since we don’t have invested nobility anymore, corporate/organizational titles are the only remnant we have: Instead of Karen, Duchess of Smugfeld, we get Karen, Department Chair of Womens Studies. The impressive sounding name also obfuscates how fundamentally stupid the subject matter is. Undergraduate education–a classical education–used to be about Rhetoric, Dialectic, Epistemology, Logic, Classics. Now universities churn out hundreds of students with a Master of Arts in Math-Feelings and who are unemployable except as Department Chair of the Math-Feelings department.

        The bottom line still connects with my original point, that the words we use to describe these things tell us more about the people who use those words than about the things the words are supposed to describe. The saying “never let an education get in the way of your learning” comes to mind–the truly intellectually curious will never be kept away from learning, and so Truth.

  8. Orwell has a similar criticism of the tendency towards acronyms–he has in mind the socialists of his day, but it’s all over the place today: BIPOC, LGBTQ+ (or something?), MAID, BLM, etc. Teacher’s college consists of almost nothing but acronyms.

    Orwell’s criticism is basically that an acronym, unlike the actual words, brings to mind no mental image; thus OVER-using them (they obviously have some use for simple convenience) has the benefit of hiding obvious contradictions between the words and the reality, or even within the words themselves.

    Not the precise same technique, but one employed for the same purpose––to turn language into something which encourages the listener to STOP thinking.


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