Bullshit as Signaling

On Sunday, the @HillaryClinton Twitter account vomited two bizarre flowcharts (or something), prompting Corey Robin to pose the question: “What the fuck does all this even mean?”

This is the same question I asked in my last blog post about Clinton’s plan to defeat ISIS — to wit, that “we can score victories over terrorist leaders and networks, only to face metastasizing threats down the road, so we also have to play and win the long game.”

It’s a mixed metaphor, as crystal clear as mud (see what I did there!), that serves to obfuscate by design, rather than illuminate. If Limited Hangout could afford a graphic designer, I would love to have them come up with an illustration; maybe a computer game with little cancer cells brandishing ISIS flags as they hurtle down a blood vessel marked “U.S. Route 20.”

With these charts, Clinton herself is venturing into that territory: saying a lot without saying anything, then translating that into an incoherent picture. So here, this is her take on the “intersecting issues that impact communities of color”:

HRC's bullshit challenges graph

Oh well! That does look terrible! But don’t despair, she has a solution to systemic racism — using a lighter font color:

HRC's bullshit solutions graph

Obviously, even many Clinton supporters would readily admit that none of this makes any sense, that the lines connecting different “issues” are totally arbitrary and impossible to follow. (Why is “unemployment” not connected to “lost resources”? Does “poverty” cause “food deserts” or vice versa?)

Perhaps they would admit this even as they click the “retweet” button.

There’s bullshit and there’s bullshit. Use enough right catch phrases when you talk and we can overlook the fact that it’s drivel. In other words, this is bullshit as tribal signaling. It’s no different from, say, what Sarah Palin does to make her supporters go wild.

We also tend to be obsessed with delivery, or tone, much more than actual content. The bigoted filth discharging from Donald Trump’s mouth is, in many ways, simply saying out loud what has previously been only hinted at by politicians in both parties, including Clinton. If you are going to say something racist, at least do it in a civil, read-between-the-lines manner!

Listening to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Trump, it genuinely occurred to me for the first time that she probably suffers from some very real cognitive impairment, or is on heavy medication, or both. That’s not something to laugh about. But perhaps even Palin’s incoherent ramblings can be delivered in a more palatable way. Take, for instance, this analysis of what’s wrong with our country — I’ll highlight some key points:

“Trump’s candidacy, it has exposed not just that tragic ramifications of that betrayal of the transformation of our country, but too, he has exposed the complicity on both sides of the aisle that has enabled it, okay? Well, Trump, what he’s been able to do, which is really ticking people off, which I’m glad about, he’s going rogue left and right, man, that’s why he’s doing so well. He’s been able to tear the veil off this idea of the system. The way that the system really works, and please hear me on this, I want you guys to understand more and more how the system, the establishment, works, and has gotten us into the troubles that we are in in America. The permanent political class has been doing the bidding of their campaign donor class, and that’s why you see that the borders are kept open. For them, for their cheap labor that they want to come in. That’s why they’ve been bloating budgets. It’s for crony capitalists to be able suck off of them. It’s why we see these lousy trade deals that gut our industry for special interests elsewhere. We need someone new, who has the power, and is in the position to bust up that establishment to make things great again. It’s part of the problem.”

Or, to put it differently:

Palin to Hillary translation

My guess is that even Clinton could stand behind this chart with its complex “combined effects of intersecting issues” facing America. (Yes, including the bit about open borders.)

[Related articles:
The Art of Mixing Metaphors
Ten Jokes, Explained
Technology Bringing Dumb Ethical Questions to Life (Kind Of)

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