Slogans versus Reality

"People need people." That's a saying few try to argue with. How could they? They don't know what it means.

Do people need people like parasites need hosts? Or like ants need ants? Or like children need parents? Or like lovers need love? Or what?

Judged by its use, "People need people," can mean all those things, or none of them. That's because it is not a statement. It is a slogan. It is supposed to stick in the mind and sound profound, so it can be used to confuse an argument. Specific meaning would make it useless.

Few politicians would know how to campaign without slogans. They use slogans to sound good while conveying different things to different voters. If they form the habit of thinking in slogans, then they lose touch with reality. "Hunger hurts," they say, "and people need people, so government must step in, and level the playing field, and encourage bootstrapping, by redistributing wealth, and providing seed money."

Do all those slogans actually mean that if there is hunger, then we must seize wealth from some and give it to others? "Oh, no, no, no! It means that hunger hurts, and people need people, so government must step in, and level the playing field, andů."

That's the tip-off. People who think in slogans do not know how to rephrase a thought, since it is only a pretend thought without reference to reality. If they try to rephrase, they only try alternate slogans. A little experimentation will demonstrate that facts of reality can be looked at from many angles, which means they can be expressed in many ways. Slogans, however, are fixed. They are treated as magical phrases and spoken as incantations.

If you hear the phrase seed money, and want to find out whether it is used as a slogan or a figure of speech, ask to have it rephrased. "Can you say that another way?" If the answer is, "You know, money you spend now and expect to get back multiplied," then it was a figure of speech. If the answer is, "You know, seed money!" then it was a slogan. It was supposed to impress you, not inform you.

People who try to think in slogans find reality a frustrating place. Since slogans are fuzzy on purpose, reality becomes fuzzy. Since slogans mean different things to different people, others mistake the meaning. Since slogans are repetitious, they are boring.

Fortunately, it is easy to form the habit of avoiding slogans. When considering a fact of reality, always express it to yourself in several different ways. Remember that it is reality you are considering—not somebody's words about reality. Reality is what it is. Putting it into words does not change it, and changing the words does not change the reality. To rephrase is to approach the same thing from another angle, so you can understand it better.

To terrorize a sloganeer, ask for rephrasing. To avoid sloganeering, rephrase by habit.

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