one thing that is particularly characteristic of contemporary discourse in many areas, including politics, is the transformation of the merest concepts, or even sheer general terms, into actors or forces or beings with causal effects in the material world. i am going to assert that in a wide range of cases, such an approach can explain absolutely nothing. this is also the language of advertising, for example. here's a pretty classic example:
how does optum help you out? it uses wellness to keep away illness. a medical breakthrough! like it was an aesthetic breakthrough when the beatles used grooviness to keep away suckiness. what can save us in our terrible predicament? innovation! that's why optum is an innovation company.
or here's richard cohen: our enemy isn't islam or immigration or something; it's 'intolerance': the very same force that caused catholics and protestants to war in the 17th century. it's like intolerance is a substance or entity with physical effects: cupid's nasty little twin. or it's a force, like gravity. unlike gravity, however, it operates intermittently and its mechanisms are not well understood at any level. what accounts for its sudden emergence, the way it suddenly takes over individual heads or drives movements or peoples and then fades as progress again takes hold? now that we say the enemy is intolerance and half-assedly trace the history of particular people and events here or there to their participation in intolerance - their manifestation of intolerance in physical reality - what do we understand that we did not before?
i'd say i've been resensitized to this problem by the works of bruno latour. but anyway, as soon as you focus on this, or try to spell out the ontological status of the abstraction so that it can have effects in the world, you see its emptiness and also its ubiquity. it's a general style of explanation, where we explain some specific event or object by its relation to or participation in an abstraction. we might call it contemporary platonism. i'm going to start collecting examples, for this is a dominant dimension of the nonsensical yipyap that is our public discourse.
it's hard not to do this: our languages suggest it especially when they permit converting adjectives into nouns. the germans have a fascist ideology. pretty soon, fascism is sweeping across the continent like a gas. then if you're kerry, the same gas is arising from the middle east: a chemical weapon, only with non-material chemicals. or: why the heroin epidemic? it's 'the economy.' why should we increase social welfare spending or something? 'progress', etc. in some cases it might be a relatively harmless shorthand. but in every case, we should immediately prick up our ears: ok, have i just formulated an explanation in any sense, or just posited a whole realm of dormitive virtues and fantastical beings? or: what might this be a shorthand for? if pressed, how might we give meaning in terms of specific phenomena to the abstractions we are tossing around? what do i understand by means of the abstraction that i could not understand without it, and is it distracting me from what is actually happening to specific things and people at specific places and times? a lot of these things just fall apart as soon as you press them at all.
kerry has doubled down on "a medieval and modern fascism, both at once." here, concepts are mating willy-nilly in the nether-world of platonic heaven, committing adulteries like the greek gods. how would someone reach such a point in their 'thinking'? well, you have a few categories in your head, a few periods, a few ideologies. then the new phenomenon has to be jammed into the existing taxonomy. someone like kerry is so inured to the idea that abstractions or concepts cause events in the world, that he works backwards from any given event to the concept that must cause it. but he has an extremely limited repertoire of concepts. he generates a god to explain the phenomenon, even if it is a bizarre chimera. then he feels that he has reached rest, that he understands something puzzling and can convey that understanding to us.
i remember when my son was 2, he had a vocab of fifty words or whatever. now, for whatever reason (he had some mild speech issues, perhaps), it narrowed down to two nouns: "dog" and "ball". everything was a dog or a ball: cars were dogs, whereas blankets were balls. his sister took to calling him 'dogball.' we finally figured out the principle: things that moved themselves were dogs, whereas things that had to be kicked or whatever to move were balls. but at least there are really dogs and balls and he was responding to actual aspects of the real world. still you're going to need a few more categories.
or like the bush admin was hypnotized by abstractions when they formed their iraq policy; they were fighting the war on terror and bringing freedom to the iraqi people. i think that the neo-cons were actually operating at that level of abstraction, and that it made them profoundly insensible to the particular events on the ground; i think these pseudo-explanations relying on non-entities often drive practical disasters.
eventually, the whole world looks like the playground for concepts, while particular things and events take on a flickering quality as themselves reflections of the abstractions, which are the real actors. then you'll be surprised when a particular bomb blows up your particular body.
also i'll take examples if you've got some.