It’s been around since before we emerged from the cave. Or maybe even before we came down from the trees. So the only thing new about it is how it’s beginning to irritate the fuck out of me.
It began with Admin-speak. If it can’t be expressed by an indecipherable euphemism, it can’t be expressed at all. But now it’s made its way into EDI-speak: into government websites inviting applications for EDI program funding, and so, of course, into the applications themselves.
To be fair – and I’m nothing if not always fair – every discourse, including my own, has its own vocabulary. Those of dentistry and analytic philosophy are designed to precisify. But others, like international diplomacy, are designed to obfuscate. And still others obfuscate but do so unknowingly.
In most cases at least the speaker knows what she means, even though the rest of us don’t. But in some cases – the ones that are irritating the fuck out of me! – the speaker has no idea what she means any more than the rest of us. You can tell she doesn’t know by simply asking her. What does she mean by decolonisation? She hasn’t a clue. But, dammit, she’s bound and determined to make it happen. And she’s outraged that it’s not happening fast enough.
The latest piece of successful bafflegab is getting public funding to exert one’s expertise in ‘disruptive interview‘. Unlike with decolonisation, my research assistant was able to glean at least an inkling of what it might mean, but she’s by no means sure. Her best guess – and she admits it’s only a guess – is that by an interview is meant what we used to call a conversation or dialogue. And by disruption is meant trying to get one’s interlocutor to think, and so say things, differently about the subject at hand than she’s been wont to do. My heart be still! And here all this time I thought I was just doing philosophy.
The beauty of these successful applications is that the applicant herself has no idea that she’s a charlatan. She thinks she’s onto something new and important, because having learned to speak in bafflegab – because that’s clearly the mark of intellectual sophistication – she’s come to think in bafflegab. As a result, when she’s challenged on her bafflegab, she doesn’t understand the challenge any better than her challenger understands the bafflegab. They’re two ships passing in the night, save that considerable resources that are sorely needed elsewhere, especially in academia, are being squandered on these innocent charlatans.
The time has come – by which I don’t mean it hasn’t been the time until just now – to put an end to this chicanery, even if, lacking the mens rea condition, it’s not itself actionable. If it’s bafflegab push on it, and keep pushing until it’s either English or banal. Either way you’ve done the world a great service. Even she might thank you for it.