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"National Security" and other Thought-Stopping Clichés

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04/08/2019

I was browsing the news recently and came across an interesting headline. It read “ U.S. Orders Chinese Company to Sell Grindr App.” My first through was that the Federal Government was, once again, narrowly defining a monopoly to a ridiculous degree and decided this Chinese company was somehow monopolizing the swipe left/right mobile phone dating scene for gay men, similar to how long ago the FTC came to the conclusion that Blockbuster Video was monopolizing the narrow market of strip mall DVD and VHS rental locations that sport a blue logo when combating their attempted merger with Hollywood Video. But when I started reading the piece, I came across something even more bizarre. I kid you not, the entire justification for this forced sale was “national security”.

The term “national security” has unambiguously become a parody on the order of Helen Lovejoy screaming “ won’t somebody please think of the children?” every time something doesn’t go her way.

These phrases are part of a broad category of concepts called the Thought-Stopping Cliché. This is a technique used when the individual, who knows the concept lacks merit or struggles to justify a course of action, to attempt to dissuade the listener from brooking further inquiry. It’s a fairly common technique used from the insidious, like cults, to the innocuous, like a high school cheer squad or annual shareholder meeting. Why should I support my high school football team? They can’t even come up with a fight song without ripping off “On Wisconsin”. “You’re either with us, or against us.” There, now shut up, put on this orange face paint and buy $15 nachos. “It’s a business decision”. There, shareholder, shut up and accept this merger that makes no sense.

The true problem with this is that, by and large, thought-stopping clichés work. Take the Green New Deal for example. When people begin to question the details, the general response is how we’ll die in exactly 12 years from now, like all eight billion of us, if this isn’t passed immediately. On the surface, it’s absurd to say the entire human species will go extinct on March 27th, 2031 at 6pm Mountain Standard Time (the exact moment in time I wrote this sentence), but that’s enough to convince 46% of the population to like it (along with the NYT engaging in its own thought-stopping clichés by saying only rich people will pay for it to goose the numbers). GND supporters get upset when you bring up details, like how everyone will get a tax hike, how anyone who refuses to work is guaranteed a high quality of life, how all cars will be banned or how the rest of the world will snort an ignore this and continue emitting on. That means you, GND supporter who may be reading this, you’re the “other people” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means when other people will be taxed to pay for it. When given that bit of information, supporters turn into detractors, so it’s best to give them the “you’ll die a horrible death from whatever natural disaster is prevalent in your area in exactly 12 years from today” line to keep them from asking any more questions. Don’t ask me how CO2 sets of volcanoes and earthquakes, the science is settled and you’ll die if you don’t let people sit at home, not working.

Large-scale damage the State does with broad public support isn’t even hypothetical. The entire invasion of Iraq was built around the laughably thin national security cliché. The silly premise that a tin-pot Middle East dictator who couldn’t even reliably project force a mile outside of his own political borders was a grave threat to the United States turned into a conflict that ended up killing in the neighborhood of a half million people and simultaneously spent years with overwhelming public support. This is all with nothing more than waving the “national security” line – something even more egregious than using that line to waste hundreds of billions a year on poorly functional military hardware. $1.5 trillion and counting to a well-connected contractor to build a plane that the engineers discovered, 27 years later, uses fuel that, gasp, combusts. Don’t question this, though, it’s for national security.

Just about every major spending program and regulatory action relies on these clichés to pass public scrutiny. 80% of humanity would be curled up, dead, in roadways if we don’t give everything the State asks for. Taxes are the price of civilization, after all. Politicians use this beautifully to manipulate the public to agree to concessions for an ever-expanding State and it works on both ends of the classic left-right political spectrum.

The sad part is that a thought-stopping cliché is remarkably easy to identify. All you have to do is ask, “Did this person actually address my question?” If the answer is no, they’re admitting that whatever it is they’re peddling is a stupid idea but they don’t want you thinking about it. Otherwise, you may come to the conclusion that calling Grindr a national security risk is silly since any person can perform deep espionage by simply signing up for the service, setting the ZIP code to 20810 and then skimming photos to look for a government employee. If they’re laying the B.S. thick on this claim of national security, what else are bureaucrats trying to hide every other time it is used?

Justin Murray received his MBA in 2014 from the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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