The Talkative Ones

L’s the loquacious variety
Who is found in all sorts of society.
He drinks in the sound
Of his own voice till drown’d
In a species of self-inebreity.

Oliver Herford, A Little Book of Bores (1906)

It is often said that a man has fallen in love with the sound of his own voice, but this charge strictly applies only to those men who are content to soliloquize in the wilderness, or to preach, like St. Francis, to the birds.  What a man falls in love with is, more often, the conceit that others love the sound of his voice even more than he loves it himself.  I have read, and have no difficulty believing, that a man is especially attracted to a woman who is slightly hard of hearing because he mistakes her straining after his words for a keen interest in what he has to say.  I know from a long and intimate connection with the trade of professoring, that a captive audience is bliss, but that a captive and apparently captivated audience is very heaven.

There was a time when professional mourners were hired to raise loud lamentations in the funeral train of a defunct grandee.  Montaigne tells us that the simulated grief of these hirelings often kindled real grief in bystanders, so that professional mourners acted like a hired claque in the audience of a theater.  It is human nature to mimic, and by mimicking very often to feel, the emotions exhibited by the people who surround us.  This is called “entering into the spirit of the event,” or more dryly, joining in with “the madness of the crowd.”

Hired listeners are not, perhaps, so obviously crass as hired mourners, but this is no doubt due to the fact that their employer, unlike a defunct grandee, is present to approve their performance.

I regularly advise students that there are few skills more valuable than that of feigning interest in what another person is saying.  There are at the same time few deficiencies more disabling than an inability to conceal boredom, impatience, ironical mirth, or derisive incredulity.  Meetings, speeches and presentations are at the heart of our post-industrial economy, and the ability to play one’s part in these performances, whether by speaking or appearing to listen, is essential to professional advancement.

Thus, I tell my students to look upon my lectures as a sort of teething ring on which they can exercise their infant skills of feigning interest and concealing disgust.  My lectures are, I assure them, far less fatuous, inane, and boring than the innumerable meetings, workshops, and speeches they will be expected to endure, like bouts of dysentery, in the course of their professional lives.

* * * * *

“They are a very decent generous lot of people out here and they don’t expect you to listen. Always remember that, dear boy. It’s the secret of social ease in this country. They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard.”

So says the British expatriate Sir Francis Kinsley in Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Loved One (1948).  He is speaking, specifically, of southern California; but also of the United States generally.  Much the same can be said about the men and women who today hold forth, with or without the aid of PowerPoint slides, in meeting rooms and conference centers across this great, greedy and garrulous land.  “They talk entirely for their own pleasure” and “don’t expect you to listen,” but they do expect you to look like you are listening, and moreover to look like you are listening with pleasure.

These thoughts occurred to me, although not for the first time, as I listened (without pleasure) to the self-pleasuring pontifications of the vainglorious buffoons of the current January 6th Inquiry.  It obviously gave them pleasure to hear themselves speak with such self-important gravity, and their pleasure was no doubt amplified by the hired audience that managed, by careful vetting and long practice, to simulate interest in the verbal froth of this grotesque charade.

Have you noticed that a speechifying politician is now almost always flanked by flunkies who pretend, not always persuasively, to listen to the speechifying politician?  Covid face-masks have in recent years emphasized the non-speaking role that these flunkies play in a speechifying spectacle.  Sometimes they are officers in uniform.  Sometimes  they are a Vice President and fawning legislator.  Sometimes they appear to be a couple of random interns that were hustled in from the lunchroom.  But these human props in every case stand there, appearing to gravely listen, and do not conspicuously pick their noses, check their cell phones, or swig from their silver hip flasks.

Have you noticed that the most banal “talk” is now very often recorded, not because anyone attending the “talk” could possibly wish to relive the experience, and not because anyone absent from the “talk” could possibly regret missing it, but solely because the recording camera adds to the simulated importance in the “talk.”  The presence of that camera amplifies the pleasure that the speaker takes in hearing his (or her) own voice, and also serves as a sort of mechanical claque to infect the audience with the spurious idea that they are hearing something worth listening to.

* * * * *

“All are vain of something, and think they possess some gift, some talent, some quality, which gives them a superiority over their neighbors.”

T. Cogan, John Buncle (1776)**

A man falls in love with the conceit that others love the sound of his voice because it makes him feel important to be listened to, even when his audience is packed with a claque of prostitutes, spaniels, and slaves.  This is especially the case in a man who is proud of his eloquence and wisdom, and who will therefore pay any prostitute, pet any spaniel, and pamper any slave who ratifies this pride by simulating interest in his words.

I have come to believe there is nothing men crave so much as this feeling of importance, and that this is one of those cravings that grow as it is gratified.  This is why our politicians so seldom follow the example of Cincinnatus and exchange the rostrum for the plow.  This is why even the most ordinary people nowadays will, if at all possible, rush off to a “meeting,” preferably at some great distance and by airplane, and there cock open their laptop, pull up their slides, and unload a “talk” on some credible facsimile of an audience.

The self-affirming pleasure of being listened to, or at least seeming to be listened to, is why there is so much empty argle-bargle, hokum and nonsense in this world.

I know whereof I speak because I have felt, and in a very small way gratified, this craving; and because I suffered the symptoms of withdrawal when my very small but illusory sense of importance passed away.  I know it because I have been myself one of the glib and talkative ones, and because I am only now learning to hold my tongue.

“Let the tattler restrain his loquacity with the curb of thought, repeating daily for meditation the wholesome proverb—‘Man has two ears, and but on tongue, that he may proportionally hear much and talk little.’” ***


*) Oliver Herford, A Little Book of Bores (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1906), p. 24.
**) T. Cogan, John Buncle, Junior, Gentleman (London: J. Johnson, 1776), pp. 268-269.
***) George Macdonald, Poems and Essays, or, A Book for the Times (London: Partridge and Oakley, 1851), p. 114.

31 thoughts on “The Talkative Ones

    • winstonscrooge, serious question:

      How knowledgable are you about how female suffrage came to be a “federal” amendment and a “right” in the good ol’ U.S. of A.? Below I’ve embedded the answer in multiple choice form (remember, at least one of the answers is absurd, and at least two of the remaining three are mostly irrelevant to the question. Which leaves one grotesque but nonetheless correct answer, of course.):

      (a) Wise American leaders of the era finally came to their senses and realized that when Jefferson wrote that “all men are created equal” in The Declaration, he meant to say, not in so many words, that women are as entitled to the vote as men are.
      (b) A large majority of pre-1920 American women wanted the vote.
      (c) The founders understood that women should have the right to vote as well as men, but they also understood that the country wasn’t ready for female suffrage in 1787; we had to “grow into our principles.”
      (d) Radical feminist-suffragists (not to be confused with plain ol’ suffragists) forced the 19th Amendment after suffering several “secret ballot” large margin defeats by way of starting a “card index” system consisting of twenty (20) separate cards on each individual containing information (otherwise known as dirt) on every member of Congress, of the Senate, of the POTUS and his Cabinet, of every State Governor and member of the respective State Congresses, etc; a system in which they collected every piece of information they could on said individuals, including donors to their campaigns and their “life history,” whether they preferred playing pool over dominoes in their leisure time, and with whom, and so on and so forth, then began applying pressure to the various parts (otherwise known as blackmailing them) and turned a virtually insurmountable number of “no” votes into “yes” votes almost overnight.
      (e) None of the above.

      • I recently saw our Transportation Secretary talking about the way that “we” decided to legalize abortion. I guess it all comes down to how “we” decide. Don’t take this to mean that I think these things should be decided by plebiscite. Enlarging the franchise centralizes power!

      • Terry, do you feel this justifies Trump’s attempt to steal the election by saying the other side stole it and then encouraging a bunch of people to kill capitol police officers and vandalize the capitol building?

      • Explain exactly how a disorganized and hapless mob of unarmed and overweight magatards (A) “steals the election” and seizes power (C). A>B>C. Explain B or be quiet. Then explain why an organized cabal of political insiders (A), concocting a fake dossier to justify impeachment of a duly elected president (B), isn’t an attempt to “steal the [2020] election” and seize power (C). If you will not answer questions, I will not let you ask them on this site.

      • Trump tried and failed to steal the election by pressuring state officials to find votes that did not exist, whilst pushing a false narrative to the public that that the election was stolen. He knew full well that his base would believe what he said without evidence. The storming of the capitol proves that. The scary part is that these people are now running for office, including the state offices overseeing elections.

      • Not an answer. Lame duck Presidents have no “pressure” to apply. Manipulating the beliefs of his base does not seize power. Do you have an answer to my second question?

      • Trump has a base that will believe what he says. When he says the system is rigged and they believe it, it undermines the faith in our election system. The system survived this attempt but it may not survive future attempts. What was your second question? It wasn’t entirely clear.

      • Every system is “rigged.” System and rigging are synonyms. The party system “rigs” the electoral system. Donations ‘rig’ the electoral system. Gerrymandering ‘rigs’ the electoral system. Media ‘rigs’ the electoral system. School curricula ‘rig’ the electoral system. Public demonstrations ‘rig’ the electoral system. Voting laws and the Constitution ‘rig’ the electoral system. Anything that affects the outcome is “rigging,” but we use the terms to denounce anything disfavors our preferred outcome. Universal suffrage “rigs’ the system one way, restricted suffrage “rigs” it another. Neither is natural or absolutely right.

        My second question was: Explain why an organized cabal of political insiders (A), concocting a fake dossier to justify impeachment of a duly elected president (B), isn’t an attempt to “steal the [2020] election” and seize power (C).

      • When most people use the term rigged and steal in this context (even Trump himself it seems) they use it to mean illegal or extra legal. So when Trump says the system is rigged and steal he means there are people within the system not following the rules (eg creating false votes).

        Now, I did not approve of Trumps impeachment in 2020 any more than I approved of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Because the misuse of impeachment invites further misuse and makes its proper use (eg Trump in 2022) less likely to succeed. However, those impeaching followed the rules and all legal and political procedures laid out by the Constitution and precedent were followed. So I would not lable that a steal for the reasons I have articulated.

      • Terry,

        [1] do you feel this justifies Trump’s attempt to steal the election by saying the other side stole it

        No. It wasn’t an attempt to “justify” (nor condemn, for that matter) anything done, or purportedly done, by Trump or anyone else on either side of the issue in the election debacle of 2020; it was simply intended to show that you’re probably not as knowledgable about American elections and their sordid history as you make yourself out to be.

        [2] and then encouraging a bunch of people to kill capitol police officers and vandalize the capitol building?

        No. [2] is absurd and below even you. I might expect it out of a.morphous or scottrobertharrington, but I had thought better of you than this sort abject, unsexed idiocy.

      • [2] Did Trump not make a speech encouraging his followers to go to the capitol? Did his followers not go to the capitol? Did windows not get smashed and other vandalism take place? Did officers not get attacked and killed?

      • I don’t know that I received such a link, or that I would post it if I did. The official regime narrative is not hidden away in an obscure corner of the internet, and it contains nothing like a refutation of the propositions that the January 6th protest was a mostly peaceful protest that got a little out of hand, and that it is now being grossly distorted and manipulated for crassly political ends. I might have posted your link if it was germane to the substance of the post, but our tangential political wrangling in this comment thread had gone on long enough.

  1. These thoughts occurred to me, although not for the first time, as I listened (without pleasure) to the self-pleasuring pontifications of the vainglorious buffoons of the current January 6th Inquiry. It obviously gave them pleasure to hear themselves speak with such self-important gravity, and their pleasure was no doubt amplified by the hired audience that managed, by careful vetting and long practice, to simulate interest in the verbal froth of this grotesque charade.

    I stopped watching or listening to CSPAN a long time ago (mid-’90s – about the same time I stopped watching professional football, come to think of it) for these very reasons.

    • I switched off NPR for the last time around 2005, periodic irritation having turned to disgust. I happened to overhear NPR just a few years ago and marveled that I ever listened to those preposterous freaks. Unplugging is a lot like giving up drink. It clears your head but also makes other people harder to bear.

  2. Conciseness is one of the Virtues of the Righteous. Such is the Virtue of those who calls everything by their real names.

    But the wicked conceal their errors by their word salad. Words woven as spells whilst dissociating from the True, Good and Beautiful.

  3. re: “Trump tried and failed to steal the election by pressuring state officials to find votes that did not exist…” Even if true, so what? The Democrats tried and succeeded to steal the election with thousands of paid mules trafficking illegal ballots. Granted, that the evidence for this fraud did not come to light until the D’Souza film. If you are concerned about election fraud and election integrity, this is what you should be concerned about. But no Democrat is concerned.
    As for the call with Raffensperger, Trump pressured him to disqualify votes that were cast in violation of Georgia’s own election laws. The Georgia officials’ responses were extremely lame, including that there was no basis to question signature verification in Fulton (Atlanta) County. And there was no direct request to “find” votes that didn’t exist. If Trump only knew that things were far worse than he thought.

  4. The nature of one’s questions reveal quite a bit about one’s own preconceptions and unexamined precepts. Usually, much more so than those of a person to whom one wishes to respond.
    To wit: who even cares about stolen elections, and what does ‘stolen’ even mean in the concept of mass market elections in the first place?

    • As far as I am concerned our interlocutor believes the moon is made of cheese. Ive never been to the moon and never been in a position to go, so I cant prove him wrong, but he cant prove im wrong either. The moon being or not being cheese doesnt affect our daily lives except on the litho-lunarsphere where occasional quesoloonies feel at liberty to speak. I do my faltering best to keep my eyes on things closer to the ground.

      • If you’ve ever read Gulliver’s Travels, you’ll remember that the kingdoms of Lillyput and Blefuscu are at war over which end of a soft-boiled egg should be cut away and eaten first. Swift uses the bitter conflict between the “Big-Endians” and “Little-Endians” to satirize theological bigotry. But the tiny people of Lillyput and Blefuscu still died in wars over the question. If there began to be “social consequences” for opinions about the moon’s composition, it would be impossible to ignore the question by keeping your eyes “on the ground.”

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