Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Just this week, I learned the phrase ‘pseudo-profound bullshit’ and more importantly, that it was actually a technical term for people trying to sound more important than they are - ‘seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous’. What’s more, various papers have been written by serious academics about this idea - as they try to understand why people listen to these empty statements and worse, validate them.
It’s not hard to fathom why this topic might interest an academic population, of course! In academia, you are only as good as your last paper - the pressure to be the smartest person in the room is immense. It’s the equivalent of ‘my brain is bigger than yours.’
But why is it that you can say something meaningful that gets ignored, only to have someone else say it and it's taken as gospel or some kind of epiphany? It has happened to us all. You post something on social media that is ignored while a well-known individual posts something - half as insightful - and gets zillions of likes and shares.
What if I said yo you “Uncertainty breeds contempt for all who cannot know.” Or “Life is for not living but being lived”. You would do well to frown or stop reading!!
I conducted a random sample of social media and came across both of these posts from influencers. And what’s worse, these statements were enthusiastically applauded with over 20,000 likes - that’s social proof! People probably saw the likes before deciding whether to respond - a cue - and assumed these statements must be meaningful – and worth remembering. Everyone else agrees.
This mindless following irritates us because deep down, everyone wants to be seen as bright or right. It’s the very nature of our education system. Beyond learning of course!
There are various schools of thought here.
Gender advocates might say that women are spoken over in meetings all the time so this is just more evidence of gender discrimination - the voice of women being downtrodden by nasty men. A similar claim can be made about racial and ethnic discrimination.
Now, to a point, such advocates have a point. Because in fact, what gets heard boils down to the power and influence of the messenger - as it has always done throughout the decades. It is how Aristotle commanded his subjects while teaching public speaking in Plato's Academy and how Julius Caesar commanded his Roman Empire.
The answer is very simple. We listen to people who we want to hear. We listen to people who we like. We listen to people who might reward us. We listen to people who are like us - parent, professor, politician, policeman, partner
And we reward them with our attention and applause.
So next time, you read an empty statement that sounds great but is actually meaningless, consider this notion of pseudo-profoundness.
Probe it and see what is really behind it. It may just be written to sound clever – which it may or may not be.
But you are clever enough to detect that. And rewrite something better.