Cryptic Poetry: why bother?

Words exist to communicate. Each one is a dense dollop of meaning flung from my mind to yours. That is the purpose of words. Why then do people write words without meaning? I’m talking here about a certain species of bad poetry – cryptic poetry. Words that are so indecipherable they communicate nothing. They fail as words. Why write them?

Dew of mist

All the butterflies are dead

This year

Inject the soul with

Happiness.

Was that a poem? I created it by stringing random words together with a little syntactic glue. It has no purpose. It has no meaning. It is an empty shell of hollow words. This poem has meaning in the same way clouds have faces.  Yet the internet is awash in this sort of cryptic meaningless poetry.

Why? A lack of skill? Some people out there do seem to think that merely putting words

on different

lines

makes it

a poem.

It doesn’t.

Slap on top a belief that poetry must be about obscure personal emotions and out pops cryptically bad poetry. It’s like listening to someone talk in their sleep. We can’t join their dreams.

My heart aches

The cinnamon bun

You know.

Another possibility is a neurological problem. Serious. It’s called word salad. It’s a symptom of dementia, schizophrenia, and brain injury.

Wall speaks

Windy hot mess, cloud blues;

A shelf lay fuschia,

In worlds with pencils.

I hope this is rather rare cause of bad poetry, but one can’t escape the resemblance.

However, incompetence and injury aside, to truly understand the popularity of cryptically bad poetry, I’m sorry to say this, we’re going to have to ask Deepak Chopra. Yes. Deepak Chopra. To be more precise, a random word generator with the uncanny ability to mimic a tweet by Deepak Chopra.

Can you guess which of these is the real Deepak, and which is the random Deepak machine? (The answers are at the end.)

“Reality is the consciousness that projects the illusion.”

“Formless Being is ultimate reality Liberation of Consciousness from Identification with Form through Non-reactivity.”

“Your consciousness is reborn in universal possibilities.”

“Self-power is the womb of total acceptance of abstract beauty.”

The Deepak machine was used in a 2015 study by psychologists from the University of Waterloo. It won science’s second highest honor after the Noble prizes (and all those other prizes) – the Ignoble Prize. The topic? It was titled “On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit.”

Bullshit. Pseudo-profound bullshit. That, I believe, is what we are dealing with here.

They define pseudo-profound bullshit as “seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous.” And they found that people will frequently rate a meaningless randomly generated buzzword sentence as profound. People buy bullshit.

Seeing how easy it is to write cryptically bad poetry by stringing together random words, I would say that it counts as pseudo-profound bullshit. It gives the impression of deep meaning without having any actual deep meaning.

So why is there so much bullshit poetry?

From the poet’s point of view bullshit emanates out of a desire to impress, to seem profound, to get clicks on the like button. As people will happily slurp up bullshit, you’ll seldom be challenged on the fact that all your poetry is empty nonsense. That, or you’re a random word generator.

Oh, spring forth

flying quantum space time of

my soul!

From the readers point of view? We expect poetry to be profound, we are accustomed to it being difficult, and we intend to read it intuitively – souls wide open.  We put ourselves in the optimal bullshit-absorption state. The expectation creates gullibility. The lack of confidence makes us confuse “I don’t get it” with “This is profound.” And the intuitiveness disarms our analytical firewalls. The bullshit slides right on down.

Ah, zeitgeist

dust motes

dancing on the minds

of this is bullshit!

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole

Pennycook et al. (2015). On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6. Here.

The Deepak tweet generator, www.wisdomofchopra.com.

(ANSWER: For the Deepak quotes, the first two are from Deepak’s twitter, the second two are randomly generated. How well did you do?)

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Why Do Politicians Act Like Children?

Politicians. What is wrong with them? They are supposed to be the best we’ve got. Government matters. So why, why, why do they keep giving me flashbacks of highschool? No. Primary school. Wait… he said what? Damn. Kindergarten?!

Arghhhh!

Why do politicians act like children?!

Well, as experts on children are quick to point out, most kids are actually better than that. Get it right dude.

Oh.

Okay.

Why are politicians acting so immaturely that calling them children is an insult to children?!

Arghhh!

Well… power perennially summons up certain beasts.  An ego the size of Mars is a good motivator to enter politics in the first place. That explains the toddler tantrums.

Politics is also a twisty business. Compromises. Machiavellian plots. From the outside it all looks like chaos and stupidity.

More importantly, politics cuts to the core  – identity, purpose, money. Politics pits opposing sides against each other. It triggers some instinctive craziness show-down reflex: two groups of baboons throwing poo at each other. It’s going to get messy. Throw in some polarization, or some chest-thumping ideologies and you’ve got a giant fracas of offense, irrationality, and day-time news. And fist fights. For real.

Yet, the biggest cause may be that thing we value most. In a monarchy the leader must exude god-like glory. Childishness is unbecoming. In a dictatorship the leader must live surrounded by an oil-slick of fear. Childishness is weakness. In a democracy…

Talk, talk, talk, and opinion polls.

Things get nutty. The leader must win elections. British politician Boris Johnson (foolishly?) gave us an insight into political campaigning by revealing Dead Cat Theory:

“Let us suppose you are losing an argument. …Your best bet in these circumstances is to perform a manoeuvre that a great campaigner describes as “throwing a dead cat on the table, mate”.

That is because there is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout “Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!”; in other words they will be talking about the dead cat, the thing you want them to talk about, and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”

Who’s that great Aussie campaigner he’s referring to? Probably Lynton Crosby. This Wizard of Oz has gained a reputation for campaigns that claw at the chair legs of society. Tornado-through-a-cattery amounts of dead cats. Whether or not his reputation is justified Crosby does believe one thing: people never vote based on policy. They vote out of emotion.

Therefore erudite discussions of flat versus progressive tax structures are pointless. Appeal to identity. Appeal to the gut. Appeal to whatever gets the key voters going – even if that’s a fear of immigrants.

Indeed, a vast array of competing policies is way too complicated for even well educated voters to grasp. Better, say people like Crosby, to tell a very simple story. Clown-like Donald Trump was no mindless buffoon when he endlessly chanted ‘Crooked Hillary’ and ‘Make America Great Again’. This was strategy. Give ’em a choice: do you want greatness or a crook?

So the conundrum circles around. Politicians act like children because they believe we vote like children. When you hear childish madness you are hearing the well researched prejudices of your nation being fed back to itself. You get what you vote like – emotional and irrational.

This strategizing can get deep-nasty. Negative messages stick in the emotional gullet. Rile them up. Push the hot-buttons. And, never forget, anarchy is smart-weapon.

Wedge politics involves using controversial issues to fragment your opponents. Find an internal disagreement. Stab it. The opposition will spiral into vitriolic internal debates. Hopefully the losing side will be so pissed off they leave and join other parties. Chaos, anger, and insults – in exactly the right place.

The battleaxe of attack politics is the scandal. Virulent ad hominem attacks. Insults. Innuendo. Denigration. Lies. Hacks. Leaks. Scandals can be used to remove people from office, take them out of the race, and destroy, destroy, destroy.

Politics becomes the Thunderdome.

Two men enter!

One man leaves!

Two men enter!

One man leaves…!

As Boris kindly pointed out, you do this kind of stuff when you’re losing. Just pile-drive that other guy into the floor, and the voters will have no choice but to choose you. Voters do deserve to know the bad news too, but taken too far this tactic creates a political world in which only two kinds of people truly belong – psychopaths and sadists. I don’t know if they’re childish, but they sure aint models of maturity. Their politics becomes so off-putting decent people prefer not to touch it, voters disengage, and the attack-artists are left to grow like fungus on a dead cat.

~

Deeper Down the Rabbit-hole

Boris Johnson in the Telegraph accusing other people of using Dead Cat Theory, here.

A free master class with Crosby, on Youtube here.

When Politicians Attack, action shots from ABC, here. (By attack, we’re talking fists to the face.)