Sweeping Generalizations

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.”–Edward R. Murrow

In this age of the Internet and perceived time compression we are often tempted to believe slogans and to agree with sweeping generalizations. Perhaps these tendencies are a symptom of being subjected to the flood of data in the information age.

Composing the previous paragraph, itself, was a short exercise of mindfulness regarding generalizations. I am often tempted to fall back on sweeping generalizations when I’m too tired to fully research a topic or subject. However, I remember my journalism instructors’ warnings that sloppy research and cherry-picking, results in inaccurate reporting.

A slogan about this comes to mind, “Sloppy reporting creates misinformation.” I have given that slogan some thought and have concluded for now that sometimes statements of fact become slogans. On the other hand, slogans rarely if ever create statements of fact. The trick is learning how to evaluate slogans.

Another key aspect about slogans is that they tend to result in passive thinking. Appealing, clever wording is easy to love. This is especially useful in the advertising industry. A good slogan is like a song that becomes an earworm. I’m reminded of the Campbell’s Soup slogan, “M’m Good! M’m Good! That’s why Campbell’s Soup is m’m m’m good.” The ad agency successfully merged a ditty with a slogan to create a memorable mass marketing tool. Perhaps the best known slogan is the short imperative for Nike products–“Just do it”.

Influencers throughout time have understood the power of well-crafted sayings and slogans. Without a short, powerful slogan, effective mass persuasion is difficult. One of history’s most famous slogans was voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That statement is a powerful piece of rhetoric that helped stir the nation to act during a dangerous crisis. The slogan is easy to remember and repeat. It lingers in the mind. The slogan can fit many different scenarios. It might be one of the best political slogans of all time.

That a good slogan is easy to remember, also creates the situation of short-circuiting logic and scientific reasoning. Are there instances of which Campbell’s Soup isn’t the best meal choice? Are there times when we should not fear the emotion of fear? Careful analysis reveals that canned soup is not always a tasty choice. There are certain situations when we should not “Just do it”. Sometimes fear is a positive emotion that should not be feared.

The nature of slogans and sweeping generalizations is important to consider when using them to formulate personal opinions and philosophical stances. It’s easy and tempting to get bogged down in catch-phrases and “folk wisdom”. Relying upon popular opinions and dogmatic statements can hamper one’s own understanding of life and create roadblocks along the path to personal enlightenment. One can become stuck in the mental quicksand of believing clever, sweeping generalizations.

There is a wiser use of slogans and famous quotations. That is to use them to illustrate a subject of discussion. A slogan can point the way, but it does not encompass an entire philosophy. I am reminded of the saying that the reflection of the Moon on the water is not the Moon itself. This is an instance of a slogan cautioning us about unconditionally relying upon words.

When wisdom is desired, words of others may point the way but they do not substitute for experience and open-minded contemplation. Words are open for interpretation and in which type of context they are used. Words are reflections of concepts in much the same manner as reflections of the Moon are only representations of the Moon. A wise person utilizes the subtlety of the mind after using words as starting points or mental prompts.

Slogans and sweeping generalizations can narrow the mind if we so desire. However, they can be starting points of discussion, debate, and meditation. When encountering clever sayings and slogans, it behooves us to carefully evaluate them.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a statement by art critic, novelist, painter, and poet, the late John Berger. “Propaganda requires a permanent network of communication so that it can systematically stifle reflection with emotive or Utopian slogans. Its pace is usually fast.” 

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Contemplation, Controversy, cultural highlights, philosophy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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