“We have robust networks of strategic assets that we own or have contractual access to, which give us greater flexibility and speed to reliably deliver widespread logistical solutions.” —Enron Annual Report a year before Enron filed for bankruptcy
A lot of people say a lot of words. Unfortunately, many people are often not conveying any substance through those words, often due to failure in communication, but sometimes on purpose, where the only reason for those words are to convince the audience of an elevated status of professionalism, morality, or other desirable trait, or to cherry-pick parts of an event to interpret in a desired light. Following is a means to filter speech to cut to actual substance in statements. In the extreme case, applying them will reveal that someone is saying nothing at all, merely flapping their lips.
When someone makes a statement for which a peer would just not voluntarily claim the opposite, no statement was actually made.
All such a person has said is what people knew someone in that position would’ve said in regards to the issue anyway.
When people make political or motivational speeches, they say many things for which they would take a certain side regardless what they actually thought; if they said that it would ruin their career or their standing, or work against their purpose. When this happens, you can’t tell whether they’re saying the such because they genuinely believe it or because they’re saying it to protect their position. The more unokay or outlandish the opposite statement is considered, the more indistinguishable the motivation for the statement is, and correspondingly the less predictable what action a person would really take or encourage is when it comes their turn to interact with the subject at hand with actions instead of words.
Here are some examples of this sort of empty statement:
We seek to carry out this operation with minimal collateral damage.
Follow your dreams; follow your passion.
We are aiming for the state of the art in technological infrastructure.
The government has no right to disallow a woman from having an abortion. (when said by a Democratic US politician)
The government has no right to require background checks on gun sales. (when said by a Republican US politician)
Note that the last two statements would not at all be empty statements if said by Republican and Democratic politicians, respectively; it would probably significantly hurt their political careers as a member of their party to claim the opposite. Thus if they did in fact make the opposite statement, then they are making a significant statement, as they apparently think the risk to their career is worth making the statement (ditto if rather than them making the opposite statement, it’s someone from across the aisle making the original statement).
The second statement among the five examples is empty contingent on the fact that the currently predominant advice to preach is to follow one’s dreams and passions. (And thus, “don’t follow your passion” is a substantial statement, and has been the core idea of several opinion articles one could find in the press.) If over time the voices of society shift such that the standard is to tell people to not follow their dreams and passions, then which statement is the empty statement could change.
In the previous US democratic presidential primary debates, when Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley endorsed a $15/hour minimum wage, but Hillary Clinton explicitly endorsed a $12/hour minimum wage in contrast to Sanders and O’Malley, Clinton was arguably making a larger statement than Sanders and O’Malley. She gave the number that is not the number most commonly heard chanted by the democratic crowd, and in doing so, she is hinting towards having reason to believe a $15/hour minimum wage is not a sound choice for the country.
Elsewhere in those debates, when Sanders claimed a differing opinion from Clinton regarding the acceptability of Henry Kissinger’s choices, Sanders was making a substantial statement, and if Clinton proceeded to defend her endorsement of Kissinger’s ideas, she would’ve also been making a substantial statement, since the goodness of Kissinger’s legacy is still a matter with substantial backing of both sides.
One doesn’t need to be able to back up one’s statement upon claiming what the crowd utters. One likely will need to when they claim against the crowd. (Or at least, they’ll need to be bluffing on an ability to back up their statement. See: conspiracy theories.)
Some people and organizations only ever say non-statements, or get quite close to that. When they do, it is important to remember that even though they may sound nice and sophisticated, you really have learned nothing about them, and you actually have no idea what they really do, so you should stay away from them.
It’s important to remember that even though pathological spewers of non-statements are usually at least in part at fault for wasting others’ time and attention, there is a substantial contribution of societal norm. An uptick in empty statements reflects a significant monolithification of society, and that people are making fewer bold claims because too much of society supports a certain idea, which usually means a substantial amount of society is providing support without awareness of the true background on context of an idea.
Here’s two similar razors with which to consider proclamations:
Someone who consistently reports on an entity taking an action and consistently does not report on that entity taking the opposite action prioritizes depicting the entity in a certain light over conveying the facts.
If the same claim would have been made regardless of the outcome of an event, there was no point in associating the claim with the event, and the real reason the claim was made was the likely effect of the association in the mind of the reader.