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As Poerksen suggests, the language of bureaucratic control joins seamlessly with the specialized diction of military and business policy. I have on my desk as I write a newspaper article on Internet monitoring in which a professor of Industrial Psychology at Concordia University in Montreal opines that “it’s a lot easier to terminate an employee where there’s a clear guideline.” Learning itself is “quantifiable,” a matter of something called “academic skills,” and is measurable in terms of “student output.” When not advocating “integrated organizational-structure,” “permanent innovation-flexibility,” and “functional communications-conception,” educators go about devising “pedagogical strategies,” fitting their wards with “tools for thinking,” and tossing “parameters” about like Frisbees.
Plastic words and phrases also encompass those terms with smooth surfaces and no interiors, a kind of bafflegab that ramifies endlessly. To cull a few from university bulletins: “personal growth,” “high-impact academic experience,” “capstone projects,” “interdisciplinarity as a catalyst for innovation,” “prioritizing our mission to meet our targets,” “instilling a culture of engagement that enhances global citizenship,” “exploring learning dimensions,” “diversity,” “integrated meta-networks,” etc. This is a language that expresses not knowledge as such but the mere administration of the auxiliary structures in which academic transactions are packaged. It is a language formed not from living thought but from synthetic resins. It is a language evacuated of meaning.
Such verbal deadweight is evident even in the use of sentences. “In everyday life,” Poerksen observes, “people think less and less in sentences and more and more in words,” that is, in slogans, catchphrases, and grammatical fragments. This is true of language use on the whole today, which in both its colloquial and formal instances has grown increasingly palsied, formatted to fit the contemporary mind. Bureaucratese, of course, strings together these linguistic fractals into ugly and often unintelligible sequences. It is precisely the desire to hide our humanity from ourselves, to pretend that subjectivity may be rigorously controlled by “objective” techniques, that generates the impersonal and abstract phraseology so beloved of the current bunch of so-called cognitive scientists, researchers and administrators in the social, psychological and educational domains.
But what is also alarming, apart from the kind of “language creep” we have been highlighting, is that even soi-disant educated people seem unaware of the artifice huckstered by our professional mountebanks and are often completely indifferent to the implications and effects of what the latter say and write. Plastic words make plastic minds. And plastic minds are being graduated en masse from the industrial molds of the education industry. It is as if we have ceased to be real people any longer. “How graceful is a human being,” the Greek playwright Menander remarked, “if indeed he is human.”
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