Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk

Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk

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Neil Postman
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This is a book about talk. Not every kind of talk, but the kind which I think it useful and virtuous to expose as crazy or stupid. I do not believe there exists a technical definition of either of these accusations, but if there does, I am not using it here. Stupid talk, as I mean the phrase, is talk that has (among other difficulties) a confused direction or an inappropriate tone or a vocabulary not well-suited to its context. It is talk, therefore, that does not and cannot achieve its purposes. To accuse people of stupid talk is to accuse them of using language ineffectively, of having made harmful but correctable mistakes in performance. It is a serious matter, but not usually dreadful. Crazy talk is something else and is almost always dreadful. As I will use the phrase, crazy talk is talk that may be entirely effective but which has unreasonable or evil or, sometimes, overwhelmingly trivial purposes. It is talk that creates an irrational context for itself or sustains an irrational conception of human interaction. It, too, is correctable, but only by improving our values, not our competence. What I am investigating in this book is how, through lack of knowledge, awareness, or discipline, we frequently talk both crazy and stupid and thereby create mischief and pain. The purpose of the book is to indicate how we can reduce such talk to tolerable levels, so that our verbal behavior will not be an excessive burden to ourselves and others.