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Words, words……..

August 22, 2011

“Words, words, mere words, no matter from the heart.”  ~ Shakespeare

When evolution ends up creating a misfit, it is an excruciating irony. The very characteristics that made dinosaurs so comfy in a tropical world rendered them obsolete once a cataclysmic event made earth terminal. Evolution of my world of architecture by technology was supposed to liberate creativity by giving us a crazy creative tool, but in fact CAD has devolved design to be more mimetic than innovative. But there is another ironically devolved response to evolution: language.

Whether it’s higher education, psychology, economics, fine arts (including architecture), or religion, those professions that deal with the tertiary aspects of our culture (beyond the survival imperatives of food/shelter/clothing and the secondary life extending fields of medicine, law and engineering) the words used by those professions are all trending toward obscurity.

The irony is that these professions touch everyone where they live, so by using language that alienates, confuses and frustrates those seeking their benefits, these disciplines are evolving against their survival.  “Helping ” professions like social work, psychology and religion, deal with the most human of understandings and therapies. Economics deal with a uniquely human condition – the transactional exchange of value. Similarly, fine arts and higher education enrich our lives and give them form, substance and platforms on which we evolve and enrich every aspect of our lives. By using inside baseball affect, these human endeavors shut out a lot of human contact.

All of these professions directly massage the matter between our ears. But all of them seem to be in a defensive struggle for self-justification. This self-justification lash-out has its primary vehicle in language. The more a profession is held distinct from day to day language, the more the language and grammar used to convey its quandaries, assumptions, directives and theories becomes rarefied and obtuse.

I speak as someone who is steeped in writing about aesthetic abstractions in ways that make my editors regularly slap my intellectual wrists with serious and mocking objections to my inherently fluffed up verbage. It’s not like I try to be pretentious – it just seems to go with the territory.

There is no direct survival benefit in the use of any of these tertiary professions and this may be why there is an unspoken need for justification by obscurity. There seems to be a need to create value by limiting understanding. Apparently, it is not enough that there is a body of knowledge to be shared but value is to be had by employing the practitioners as the translators of each discipline’s encoded messages.

It’s pretty easy to see the value of food. When you’re hungry, you want it. When you’re starving, you need it. And if you don’t have it, you’re either frustrated or dead. Similarly, you can easily be embarrassed by clothing (unless you’re a Kardashian) and without it you are cold, wet or sunburned. You want to avoid jail, you have to deal with legalese, when you forestall death you deal with medical jargon, and if you don’t want to deal with a collapsed bridge you simply must accept the nerd jargon of engineers.

The fundamental worth of essential goods and services is less obvious in these refined fields. In architecture, Archi-speak makes windows “glazing.” Theology makes thinking about something “discernment.” Psychologists create psycho-babble, educators make Edu-speak and most impactful, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve takes any basic economic fact into a realm of dissociative hyperbolic verbage that beggars understanding, and regularly screw up markets.

The irony lies in the fact that almost all these professions have their core missions hurt by this suicidal verbal ramp-up.

When somebody is feeling bereft, a priest that only knows Church Speak offers mitigated solace. When someone is terrified about their economic future, the economist offering up arcane jargon makes the situation worse. When an architect takes the best hopes of a family in search of a home and turns it into a verbal labyrinth, shelter becomes inaccessible. When the school psychologist takes your child’s hyper behavior and turns it into an alphabet soup of diagnostic categorization, parents lose any hope of understanding.

Complex carbohydrates were touted as miracle foods for lifting up public nutrition only to made us fat. Asbestos promised to be a miracle material only to be shown to be toxic. And any number of medical therapies that promised a better life (think Thalidomide) broke the first rule of medicine: Do no harm.

Simple is almost always better than complex. Direct is usually better than obtuse. Truth is not well served by elaboration. So, dear reader, when you see me meandering around verbally, know it is despite my better angels and often done with retroactive regret upon re-reading.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Bidney Kathleen permalink
    August 24, 2011 5:51 pm

    You never cease to confuse me.

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