Ever had to interview someone politically charged, controversial and intimidating? Do your pals expect you to adhere to a particular political standard? Do you wish to sit amidst controversy all while being kept safe from criticism?
Do these thoughts make you quiver with a nervous smile?
Allow me to furnish you with a few turns of phrase one can use to help defuse such anxieties.
‘You’re obviously very intelligent…’: Translates approximately to ‘please don’t make me look like a fool, I’ll flatter you if you flatter me’. Try to under-emphasise the implicit ‘…but’, so as not to lose the desired effect. May leave a substance of a nutty flavour on your tongue, or the tip of your nose.
‘People say…’: Not to be used as a weasel-word. Do not use with anything inflammatory, or people will want to know who ‘people’ are. This is only a throw-away line used to draw attention away from the fact one was out drinking with the wonks, instead of obsessively researching their article/essay/interview/etc (see ‘fetish’ below).
‘That’s a [any logical fallacy, preferably in latin]…’: To be delivered with the utmost sarcasm when addressing those who loathe analytic philosophers, scientists, engineers, rationalists, et al. Also helpful in the company of friends when the group doesn’t want to admit they feel they’ve been ‘pwned’ in an Internet debate. A morale booster.
‘They’re tone deaf…’: Means exactly, ‘you don’t think they realise that was an in-joke? Oh shit…’
‘Everyone knows…’: Means exactly, ‘I slept in, don’t ask me…’
‘X isn’t a team player’: Translates to ‘X fact-checked my stuff after I published it’. It’s a wise tactic to deploy such a rumor when sympathising with other victims of such ‘fetishized’ behaviour. A bonding strategy.
‘I have sympathy with the concerns behind the Sokal hoax, but Sokal and Bricmont should have submitted their epistemic criticisms to a peer-reviewed journal.’: All you’ll ever need to know about the Sokal Hoax. Nobody you want to meet will know any more than this.
‘They have a fetish for error checking. They don’t see the bigger picture.’: Which is polite code for, ‘Fuck! They know stuff! Don’t let them work near us! We’ll look bad.’
‘The history wars in Australia, like the science wars…’: They are the same, apparently. Otherwise, if this weren’t true, Australian academics would look a lot less cosmopolitan.
‘Culture war Group X is just like Group Y’: Translates to ‘our group is better than Culture War Group X, or Culture War Group Y, so we didn’t need to read any of their shit.’ Further justification for spending time drinking with fellow wonks.
‘Well, I’m not ideologically opposed to a mining tax…’: In using this phrase, one wants to emphasise the non-existent ‘…but’ before the point of accidentally committing to anything. No, you do support a mining tax; you’re not any kind of opposed to it. It’s just that the rabid dude with the misogynistic Juliar placard gives you an incentive to sound uneasy about what are your true convictions. It’s either that, or finding a bucket of water to help shoo the spittle-flecked rage zombie away from your car.
‘Kids are smart. They can see through stuff. I’m an atheist/secular christian/modern Muslim/etc, but why not teach creationism in public school science classes if they’re curious?’: This isn’t advocacy for creationism – don’t worry about that. It’s not like you want alchemy taking up time in chemistry classes, climate denialism eating away the hours in Earth Science, or astrology cluttering up SOSE either. The approach is a delaying tactic. It’s a conditional statement. You can always at some later point, claim that the kids aren’t curious, and that way everyone else looks more confrontational and unreasonable than you; both the people who opposed it up-front, and those making creationist demands once The Science of The Flintstones isn’t delivered.
‘I was for the ALP conscience vote over marriage equality.’: Be a person of conscience while also not comitting yourself! No anxiety there. Nobody will notice. Honest.
‘We need to be bi-partisan about this.’: It may be a white-hot issue where one side is clearly, as a matter of fact, in the wrong, but never underestimate how much time bi-partisanship can save for you to catch up on lost sleep. Let the consensus builders on the ground labour over the details. You’ve got a bender to sleep off.
‘Well, I’m glad you have such an ability to read people’s minds’. Now, you’re supposed to be sarcastic about this. Your expressed concern is that you don’t like people making baseless accusations about motive. Your actual concern is that the person you’re dealing with may know something you don’t. If you passive-aggressively have at them in small cuts, and if you can get others in on the act, perhaps you can wear your opponent down before they get the chance to show how they’re more cluey than you. All of this, while you appear to be acting responsibly. Nice, huh? (Trust me, nobody will realise you’re an asshole for this).
‘Secularism’: How religious people are suppressed. To be shunned.
‘Secular Christian’: Someone causing cognitive dissonance best projected back at them.
‘Fundamentalist Christian’: A target, if you’re going to criticise religion, best suited to your ability. A replacement for Stephen Fielding needs to be established for precisely this purpose, but preferably not in a position to start fights this time around. One doesn’t want to have to deal with interested parties with inflamed emotions.
‘Muslims’: All alike. In a good way of course. Flatter them without considering what you’re actually implying by flattering them. Awkward to ask the opinions of – use the smallest possible sample of their opinions. Avoid the accurate polling of. Avoid any polling of. Just say things you guess will sound nice. Pretend to listen when they speak (they’re used to it).
‘Islamophobia’: Something nobody is ever entirely sure what anyone else means by it, yet still something not to be accused of. Play it safe by not disagreeing with anyone using the term. Nod your head when you hear it. Pretend to understand.
‘Jains’: Objects used to show how religion isn’t violent, despite such use implying that non-Jain religion is more violent. Emphasise the former, ignore the implications. Like Muslims, don’t actually ask for their opinions – just talk about them in their absence.
‘Agnostics’: Approachable, non-confrontational, respectful, open-minded atheists.
‘Atheists’: Close-minded scum. Best dismissed. Do not admit you are one (see ‘agnostic’).
‘New Atheists’: What Guy Rundle said. Never disagree with this definition.
‘Deists’: Something from history books you don’t want to read.
‘Equal time’: A media strategy to be avoided in matters of uncontroversial fact, except when you don’t want scary people calling you close-minded, and sending you dead cats in the mail.
‘Science’: To be rallied for, until someone calls you an imperialist. Then rail against.
‘Statistics’: A great way to debunk misconceptions about asylum seekers, amongst other things, up until the point where you’re accused of being ‘reductionist’. See ‘science’.
‘Reductionist’: Shit involving numbers and squiggly lines, but not feelings. See ‘science’.
‘Fetish’: When someone does something you don’t like, once, it’s annoying. Any more than once, and its a fetish – to be written off as such.
‘Left-wing’: A grouping best not defined until you want someone excommunicated.
‘Right-wing’: The grouping of people you disagree with, including disagreeable people who call themselves ‘left-wing’.
‘Libertarian’: A sin-bin for people kicked out of, or not wanting to be, in either the left or right-wing.
‘Civil libertarian’: Someone who fights for equal rights. Alternatively, a scapegoat for the Global Financial Crisis when one is intimidated by more radical wonks.
‘Free-market fundamentalist / liberal absolutist’: Normally of the far right-wing, but when convenient, a term applicable to ‘civil libertarians’, irrespective of their actual views.
‘Non-political person’: A political person, only when they can’t hear you talking about them. Someone to be humoured in-person.
‘The status quo’: Something not to be criticised in the proximity of ‘non-political persons’.
‘Foreign correspondent’: Someone having earned the right of entry to more wine bars than you.
‘Ethics’: Either the name of a nit-picking department, or a field of study it is polite to suggest people, of all persuasions, are equally good at.
‘Homophobia’: Hating, or desiring to repress gay, lesbian or bisexual people. Unless done by the right kinds of religion, or done in the name of thinking of the children.
‘Misogyny’: Something other groups do more than your own. You were only kidding.
‘Racism’: A conventional word there’s little confusion about, leaving little room for colourful interpretation, or equivocation. Avoid using when you anticipate having to defend an accusation. Instead choose something more exotic and vague so you can never be wrong, or called upon to present evidence.
‘Social Justice’: When your lecturer’s, or favourite radical columnist’s enemies, get their comeuppance. Alternatively, only when not contradicting this, when the disadvantaged get a leg-up in life.
‘Multiculturalism’: The only model ever devised to help people from different backgrounds get along. Only one version of this model exists. Somehow, somewhere, someone smarter than you must know what this one model is, and what it means, and you defer to them in all things multicultural, except when making accusations. Any attempts at the nuanced discussion of, are to be viewed with suspicion, and interpreted as categorical attacks upon. Invoke liberally in defence of your views, and the views of others agreeing with you.
‘Orientalism’: When people represent the interests, aspirations and cultures of the East, and the Middle East, without consultation with the media and/or persons of these cultures. Except when saying something patronising about them. Don’t be an ‘orientalist’; be patronising.
‘Media literacy’: Something you always have the good fortune to be at the pinnacle of. A continuum by which to judge everyone else.
‘Dog-whistling’: Something a political journalism goddess like Annabel Crabb would infer only after observing a politician long enough to couch their rhetoric in the relevant contextual details. Something you allege to conveniently dismiss people smarter than you, out of hand. Anything can be dog-whistling. ‘Some Christians like ice-cream.’ – Why that’s code for people to marginalise Christians! Egad!
‘Annabel Crabb’: The lady whose effigy sits atop your Christmas tree. *Sigh*
‘Hipster’: People other than you, who ironically believe they were listening to Daft Punk before you. Have a substantial cross-over with political wonkdom on Venn diagrams of inner-city types. Used Venn diagrams before they were popular with mathematicians, including John Venn.
‘Sarcasm’: Any form of snark not unintentionally ‘ironic’.
Now you may have noticed this advice puts you in a position to contribute approximately zero new analysis to the political scene. Screw that. The point is that you don’t come across as a trouble maker (even if you are one). This is good for your career, and it’s your career that matters, isn’t it?
Of course, after you’ve established a niche, you may need to break from it once you’ve tapped all it has to offer, in order to go on to greener pastures. If this happens, consider that you would have by then, put yourself in a wonderful position to capitalise on a conversion narrative, decrying all of the above.
Some think-tank would want you, somewhere. It’s all good.
Relax, and don’t take things too seriously. Merry Christmas.