Against Prattle: a Philippic

The following treatise–more of a brief polemic really–is a collection of reflections concerning the ethics of false speech. Referring to it as a Philippic, the written or verbal attack first used by Greek rhetor Demosthenes to denounce Philip II, I have written this as  part-social criticism, part-moral essay. If you would rather listen to and watch the diatribe than read it, click here.


The Buddha identifies the misconduct of the tongue as one of the five precepts in the Eightfold path, and this vice, millennia later, still exists as a ubiquitous problem that, like a tick, burrows in the skin of, taints the blood of, and festers in the soul of its victim, unrelenting in its ways, corrupting within our society, and inflicting upon our rationality insipidity and vacuousness, which, in turn, strips us of our communicative and contemplative functions, and over time it becomes all too comfortable as it finds its way into our everyday interactions. We are powerless against this latent evil, and we no not of when we are consumed by it, for we feel the urge to act upon it, failing to consider what we really are doing.


Having not yet come to terms with themselves, having not yet established their place with their peers, and having not yet stipulated the trifles whereof they speak, the youth of today have failed incommensurably to understand the importance of that to which they contribute their input. Whencesoever this problem has arisen goes beyond me, inasmuch as the prevalence of this particular epidemic is to be considered universal for this time. It is due, possibly, to the increasing globalization of texting, a form of communication that has undermined the fundamentals of language, both socially and digitally, leading to the utter disregard of and complete ignorance of proper conversation and the destructive neglect of conventions in grammar, which, in turn, has created countless neologisms, limitless acronyms, and egregious shorthand, all of which has stemmed from our technology, since the culture of today is influenced so much by it.


So what exactly is the nature of the misconduct in speech to which I refer? To what extent does misconduct reach in relation to the tongue? The prattle with which I concern myself is that consisting of no practical value, of no constructive merit, or, more specifically, language used not for the betterment of the individual, i.e., their character or for their rationality, but for empty entertainment, i.e., the consumption of time or that regarding external matters such as diurnal occurrences or social conference. When speaking of the former, I speak of right conduct, speech used to further one’s morals and virtues or to further one’s thoughts and ideas, as these can be considered constructive, insofar as it provides the interlocutors to engage in discourse that will have a lasting effect, whereas engaging in the latter provides no such resolution.


Proper usage of speech, then, consists of structured, formal talk, which will benefit not just the talker but the listener, the useful benefit being the capacity to expand upon ideas, not the capacity to inquire into the happenings of another’s business found so commonly in the chatter of those not practiced aright in the art of conversation. And what is to dissuade us from said prattle? to inspire us to partake in constructive dialogue? Just as it is the job of the mother to nurse and raise her children and not the opposite, so too does conversation stimulate and enlighten and not the opposite; it is a shame when the mother chastises and abuses her young, just like when discussion dulls and deteriorates the minds of its users. We must refrain from reducing ourselves to useless talk, evidently, as it, like a car with no engine, will stall, will remain idle, and will get us nowhere, its only success being a waste of our time, precious time.


And what does this look like, exactly? While I hearken to the frivolous matters discussed nowadays, I cannot help but ask why. It is like a burning in my mind, not exactly a physical sensation, but a yearning, a desire for something that will bear fruit, which can be consumed and then digested, and like the natural desire of hunger, it will continue in a cycle. Of what use is talking about the small matters of your day? of talking negatively of those who have wronged you in the slightest offense? of colluding, viciously, behind the backs of your friends? of complaining incessantly of that which has no effect on you, or of that that rests outside of your control? To what end does this lead? So, in my moments of velleity, I ask myself and of my peers: where is the excitement? the passion? Where is the intense fervor we so frequently seek in life? Since this life is limited, it is this time, time of conversation, time of being with friends, that we should exchange not playful persiflage but confrontation, debate, forasmuch as engaging in a unilateral conversation bears no seeds, merely fruits; it is the seed, from which the ideas burgeon, which we desire, for the fruit will, in time come, but it is the journey, not the destination, that matters, so far as the learning, the stimulation, comes directly from the discourse. From conflict comes resolution, not the other way around, insomuch that, like a student, our learning comes not from the finished paper, but the computation of it, which is exactly what we are looking for when we converse. Indeed, a better use of our time would be used discussing big ideas, ideas that will inspire the aforesaid debate, considering it creates a connection between those involved and will hook them. We should be debating philosophy, history, politics, values, psychology; we should be debating the arts of the free man! for we, after all, are free, and thus we desire a fulfillment of our needs. How one should act, ethically, should take precedence over what minor misadventure another has committed one fateful day every time, seeing as the former is practical, whereas the latter is trivial and should be kept to one’s self.


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