Deepities and Politics image

Deepities and Politics

Coleman Hughes is a really insightful writer, and recently he pointed out the widespread phenomenon of deepities in politics. “The distinguishing feature of a deepity is that it has two possible interpretations. On the first reading, a deepity is true but trivial. On the second, it’s false but would be mind-blowing if it were true.”

To illustrate the point, he uses a number of everyday examples. “Love is just a word.” “Love trumps hate.” “Everything happens for a reason.” In each case there are two meanings: one which is obvious and facile (love is a word like any other, but we already know that), and one which is apparently profound but patently untrue (if it was true that all feelings of love were simply imaginary, that would be incredibly significant—but it isn’t, so it isn’t.) However,

despite their emptiness, deepities often pass for profound insights. They achieve this effect because the listener switches back and forth between their two different interpretations unwittingly, and each interpretation seems to make up for what the other lacks. Upon hearing a deepity, the skeptical part of the listener’s mind is pacified by the true (but trivial) reading, while the emotional part of the listener’s mind is stimulated by the mind-blowing (but false) reading. Before the listener has a chance to realize that the allegedly deep insight is actually pseudo-profound bullshit, the speaker has already moved on.

Hughes then goes on to show how many deepities circulate in contemporary political discourse. “All Politics is Identity Politics” is true if it simply means “all politics involves people, who have identities.” But if it means “every political issue can be reduced to the struggle of immutable identities like sex or race,” it is obviously bunk. “No Human Being is Illegal,” likewise, is clearly true if it simply means that the existence of a person cannot be illegal. But if (as it often is) it is taken to imply that everybody has the right to be wherever they like, without national borders or property rights, then it is obviously false, even to the vast majority of people who say it.

Anyway: it occurred to me while reading this that deepities are not unique to politics, and regularly pop up in other places. The Church, for instance.

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