By Arthur O’Sullivan
Gee golly, thinking sure is hard! There’s just too much to deal with: finding the right words, balancing reason and critique, entertaining the possibility that I could be wrong… my room-temperature IQ just can’t handle it! (I can’t even think about what I had for breakfast.) You know what isn’t hard, though? Masturbation. It’s so simple, a monkey could do it! All you need to do is get in the mood, make sure you’re alone, find some appropriate Five Nights at Freddy’s pornography in your secret magazine stash (try BU Free Press), and before you know it, you’ve splattered your Faz-goo all over the unfeeling, uncaring visage of Chica the Chicken. As easy as doing all that is, though, thinking about explaining this sin in confession to Father Gene from Angola on Saturday at 4 p.m. is a little harder. Man, if only there were some way to combine thinking and masturbation. It would make the hard thing so much easier… Oh wait, that already exists, and it’s called intellectual masturbation.
Indeed, like all other kinds thereof, everybody is guilty of intellectual masturbation. When your train of thought leads you again and again, with increasingly fancy verbiage, to the ineluctable conclusion that you, yourself are right—to the exclusion of all others—and that things that seem complicated in reality are in fact very simple, if only you had your way… Well my friend, take out some brain tissues, because you’re intellectually masturbating.
(One might argue that Binghamton Review is a magazine entirely built for intellectual masturbation, given that WE DO IT FOR FREE, to which I say… shut up.)
Grasping the full length of intellectual masturbation in our society is far beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I want to focus on one aspect of l’masturbation intellectuelle that really grinds my gears: in order to understand this thing that occasionally passes for thought, we must make reference to the Harry Potter books (which occasionally pass for literature). Specifically, we must understand the phenomenon of Magic Words.
Indeed, “Magic Words” are the slick vaseline of intellectual masturbation; they make a simple process all the more easy, and all the more obnoxious to those in range to hear it. Yet far from your typical “Expelliarmus,” “Avada Kedavra,” and “Chlamydia,” the Magic Words of which I write look like English, at least at first glance. But don’t be deceived: these words are impostors that derail all thought and conversation eventually, and it’s up to us to suss them out. In the following sections, I will describe the various types of Magic Words I’ve encountered in contemporary politics (this used to be a politics magazine, after all), and which types of people are drawn to them. The definitions of these “types” are hardly rigorous: many of these “Magic Words” may fall under multiple categories, or shift over time. Likewise, no group of people is safe from this analysis: leftists, libertarians, “dissident-right” weirdos, Democrats, and even my own beloved Republicans will be raked over the coals for their sins against the English language. It is my hope that this article will serve as a guide to detecting Magic Words in your own life, whether used by you, me, or another, and how to get unreasonably annoyed by them, just like me.
Have you ever listened to an internet-educated leftist talk about politics and philosophy? What about a catholic or eastern orthodox traditionalist talking about theology? Has anyone ever cited “Carl Schmitt” to you in an argument over Discord? (Have you ever been on Discord?) Most importantly, are you a normal person?
If indeed you are normal, and your answer to any of the other questions is yes, you would more than likely find yourself scratching your head thinking of the “Jesse what the hell are you talking about?” meme, as the other guy spooges a torrent of inane political babble at you. When this happens, the speaker is using Magic Words—often derived from Latin, Greek, the Matrix, or video games—whose definition is known only to himself and his “enlightened” peers; and unless you’ve had any prior exposure to these words before, the sentences themselves are next-to-meaningless.
Figure 1: “Jesse what the hell are you talking about?” Walter White expresses confusion over Jesse’s incomprehensible logorrhea.
Confused? I know. Some examples might make this more clear:
There is, of course, internet slang: Magic Words used by many different groups on the web, generally irrespective of that group’s beliefs. The only condition for using these terms is a terminal addiction to the internet, and severe lack of contact with the human-sunlight-grass trifecta.* (*This is a Magic Word of my own creation.) The less-fortunate among you may recognize terms such as “based,” “incel,” “_______-pilled,” “chad,” “chud,” “soyjak,” “sneed,” “________-maxxer” (etc.—it really never ends). If you don’t recognize these terms, imagine if somebody inserted verbs between them, then presented every word to you as if it were a complete sentence. It’s incomprehensible, right? Hence why I call Magic Words like these, “The Incomprehensibles.” Anyone who tries to use these “words” to express sincere thoughts must be shot. Still, instances like that are relatively rare, and generally harmless besides minor annoyance. There is, however, a much more common strain of “MagicWordicus incomprehensiblus,” and far more pernicious to any conversation.
Remember the examples I gave in the first paragraph: the leftist, the catholic/orthodox traditionalists, and the “Carl Schmitt” Discord guy? You might notice that in addition to the common internet slang they use above, they likewise use Magic Words exclusive to their own group’s beliefs.
A prime example of this was one of the inspirations for this article: B.U. Pipe Dream’s column “We must fight back against the U.S.’ capitalism-fueled biopower” by Sean Reichbach illustrates a leftist fascination with fancy terms with murky definitions, a perfect specimen for Incomprehensible Magic Words. I encourage you to find and read this article, replete with smart-sounding words like “biopower” (helpfully defined as “‘living-dead’ citizenship”), “ideological state apparatus,” “biopolitical theory,” “patriotization,” “de facto and de jure living status,” and “superstructure.” An article like this is a perfect—and accidental—glimpse into the magic language used by leftists, its ideological frame supplied by the postmodernism of Foucault, or the structural Marxism of Althusser. Within this frame, these Magic Words carry strong—if poorly defined—meaning. Outside this frame, these terms are near-meaningless, making fruitful discussion outside an echo chamber near-impossible.
Incomprehensible Magic Words like these are hardly exclusive to leftists, but in my experience, they are the most guilty of using these in arguments. This is especially true of academic leftists from the 60s and 70s, though their Magic Word tactics have changed in recent years (see “Huh?”s). Maybe the other groups I’ve listed—catholic/orthodox traditionalists and weird “neocameralist, neoreactionary, counter-cathedral Carl Schmitt” enthusiasts on Discord—are worse, but I was too busy talking to girls to care. Furthermore, we’ve got other, more important types of Magic Words, and I’m running out of space.
Exactly what it sounds like; no fancy acronym here. These are words that make you go, “Huh?” They are different from the Incomprehensibles in that the word itself is normal English, but it’s used in such a way that it stupefies the listener. This could be taking a noun and turning it into a verb, like the millennial linguistic-war-crime that is “adulting.” It could also be taking a normal word and using a bizarre definition built on ideological assumptions (see Equivocation and Motte and Bailey tactics), like secretly defining “good” as “everything I agree with.” These can be spotted by listening closely to your opponent, and asking for definitions of their most-used terms. The results may be surprising.
I hate to beat up on leftists again (I don’t), but Ibram X. Kendi’s “definition” of racism—a core concept of his work and activism—as being “a collection of racist policies that lead to racist inequities, substantiated by racist ideas,” brilliantly displays the Magic at work in the word “racist.” This word, being defined in such a circular way, can serve any purpose for its user. One can extend this logic to a number of left-wing buzzwords: capitalism, socialism, oppression, deconstruction, neoliberalism—and who could forget diversity, equity, and inclusion! Sure these words may look like their typical English counterparts, but they feel undeniably different in a sentence like, “Our office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is dedicated to deconstructing the oppressive and racist assumptions of neoliberal capitalism.” For the uninitiated, the only real response to a sentence like this is, “Huh?”
I keep ragging on leftists in this article, but they’re certainly not the only ones who make me go “Huh?” in political talks. Libertarians—specifically an anarcho-capitalist who is most definitely reading this article—have just as many Magic Words. Tell me, dear reader, have you ever lawfully homesteaded scarce means, but you were then subject to aggression by a so-called “government”? According to the a priori axioms of anarcho-capitalism, you have! So has every adult in this country! Just as “adulting” is performing the actions typical of adults, “homesteading” is defined as mixing one’s labor by your means with unclaimed property (a type of “scarce means,” that is, anything that is scarce), thereby making it your property. But aggression is—by anarcho-capitalist definition—unconsented use of one’s property, such as taxation. Thus, the American government is illegitimate. “Huh?” “Duh!”
Instead of serving as building blocks for thinking about issues, leftist and libertarian buzzwords like these pressuppose the answer (begging the question, in philosophical terms), which coincidentally says that they’re right… It’s Magic!
Reflection and Conclusion
This article has been attacking the radical peripheries of modern American politics, specifically the ideologies held by those more addicted to their “theories” than reality. Conspicuously absent, however, are the more conventional strains of political belief: Where are the Democrats and Republicans in this theory? Where am I?! Are the two parties and myself really sinless in the Magic Words department? Of course not! (Well, I am ontologically sinless—but don’t tell anyone.) I had even intended to write about “Magic Words” unique to Democrats and Republicans, but I wasn’t happy with compressing it into just one section. Thus, like my favorite Game Theories, I must make this a two-parter. Just know that the sequel, though shorter, will pack a greater punch!
One more thing, in taxonomizing these “Magic Words,” I run a slight risk of creating more of them from the nomenclature itself. So for goodness’ sake, remember that this theory has more holes in it than a person with a gene that causes them to be born with a lot of holes. Please don’t go into arguments saying “akscshually, that’s an ‘Incomprehensible.’” or “Huh?” like you’re Ryan Gosling at the supermarket checkout. Just accuse your opponent of being a pedophile like a healthy person would.
I’m out of space so I’ll make it snappy: Don’t confuse semantic obsession with real thinking! Speak plainly and define your terms! And remember, the only “magic word” you should regularly use is “please”!