Inverse Platitudes

A quote from Bazarov, the Nihilist character in Turgenev's Fathers and Sons -- “... should you say that education is useful, you will be uttering a platitude: but should you say that education is harmful, you will be uttering an inverse platitude. The one is identical with the other, except that they differ a little in elegance of expression.”

Rather than “identical” we might say “isomorphic?”

Inverse platitudes are something I think we all have to watch out for. Someone who hates snobbery, for example, may well become an inverse snob – thus continuing to judge people by precisely the same criteria used by snobs. It's better to come up with new criteria altogether.

Same problem if you abandon Eurocentrism merely to adopt Europeripheralism. Once I heard a KALX DJ say on the air that she celebrated Patrick's Day because she was part-Irish and “that's the only culture my white ass is ever going to have.”

Her logic is clear. In the nineteenth century, cultured places were more or less defined as metropolises situated at the heart of empires. To distance herself from this world view, our Irish-American DJ insists on perceiving culture only in those regions that have the most history of political oppression from without. This attitude's weakness is that it perfectly preserves the structure of the original prejudice.

3 thoughts on “Inverse Platitudes”

  1. Good quote and good point, James. I am certainly guilty of San Franciscophilism. I always get into ridiculous conversations about how even though San Francisco is not at all a large city or like NYC, it is still the best place to be :))

    Russian colloquial expression Bazarov uses for "identical" literally translates as "in essence, one and the same." Isomorphism?

  2. I think James wrote the whole entry as an excuse to use "isomorphism." I know I would.
    I was once told that I have a "California accent." I replied that Californian's don't speak with an accent, we define the language. This is somehow isomorphic to a bumper sticker I saw over there east of I5. It had the stars and stripes with the text: "Our country, our culture, our language."
    Is irony isomorphic to ummm, damn, this would be a great sentence if I could finish it.

  3. Some people who complain about “political correctness” are really complaining about inverted platitudes. Libertarians generate a lot of them too.

    Tolstoy claimed Nietzsche's main appeal lay in his inverting the platitudes of Christianity.

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