Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Tyranny of the Cliched

Jonah Goldberg once quipped that cliches open doors to discussion, they
don't close them. I bring this up because it seems that I am barraged on
an almost daily basis by pseudo intellectuals, who whip out their arsenal
of barnacle encrusted, rallying cries from the '60's. You've heard them.
"Better a hundred guilty men go free", "absolute power corrupts
absolutely" - axioms that on their shiny surface layers
seem profound, but crumble apart like bad nacho chips under the weight of their own
implausibility. Just the other day, I was having a leisurely, albeit bizarre discussion,
about the case of a 19th century Englishwoman who, convinced that the plague
had been caused by bathing water, refused to wash herself, choosing instead to lubricate
herself in lard. She lived to be a 101, but stank like a Pakistani pay toilet.

Now, you would think such a bizarre historical footnote would cause a veritable
maelstrom of one liners and one up-manship - and that was the case until
an acquaintance of mine, a well meaning, affable, hemp soaked Rastafarian, drew
in a puff of his cigar and without the slightest trace of irony, shook his head and
said; "Now humanity is the plague".


My girlfriend, sensing the verbal fire storm that was on the verge of erupting from
my lips, but didn't materialize due to my James Bowman-esque adherence to the
code of proper manners, and social etiquette, knew me well enough to recognize
that the comment had pressed all my neo-conservative hot buttons.

Cliches are like a childhood friend who shows up on your front door needing a place
to stay. At first you're happy to accommodate, but after about 5 days of mooching from
the fridge and sleeping on the couch, you want to tie him by his jockey shorts to the back
of your SUV, and give him a five mile wedgie on the roughest patch of highway you
can find.

Cliches are like that. They roll nicely off the tongue, causing all around to nod their
heads in approval at the seeming profundity of the axiom, but rarely go unchallenged.
They sit like that left over brioche in the fridge. It was tasty last week, but it's
fast becoming penicillin now.

The next time someone says something sand-poundingly stupid like, "absolute power
corrupts absolutely", or, "US foreign policy was the real cause of 9/11", ask them
why, and challenge them to cite examples. Trust me. They'll sputter like an old
Chevy trying to get started on a cold December night.

My point, and I do have one, is this.

When people say they are "challenging the system", they're really not. Screaming
mindless obscenities about the Bush administration, or whining about the validity
of the war, is about as challenging as asking to have your fries super-sized. It's
easier to be right all alone, then to be wrong in a group. It's just takes the
courage to stand up to the tyranny of the cliched.

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