“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Louis David

Death By Bullet Point

“Bullet points. God bless them, but they’re ruining this country.”

I will probably remember those words — muttered in exasperation by my twelfth-grade English teacher — for the rest of my life. The man must have been a touch clairvoyant because the comment predated tweeting by at least a year.

We’ve become a culture of bullet point statements, shot out into the community and left ringing in our group conscious. Everything these days seems to be about glib statements and catchy phrases — if it takes more than a single breath to say it, no one is listening anymore. It’s like a constant diet of intellectual junk food because, no matter how pithy or clever, no bullet point can carry the type of substance necessary for an actual conversation. Especially a conversation between people who don’t already agree with one another.

You can’t discuss anything new in bullet points. They are meant for review — for study guides and summarizations of knowledge that the reader has already explored in some depth — not for actually communicating information. You can’t explain a culture in bullet points, or an ideology. You can’t share philosophical truth or debate morality. This isn’t a failing in bullet points. Rather, it’s a simple description of their nature. They aren’t meant to hold more than a thimble full of thought, and yet we try to fit our entire culture into them, requiring us to excise the vast majority of meaning, subtlety, and richness inherent to human nature and to all of Creation.

Quick! Explain the meaning of “American” in bullet points! Hurry or you won’t have your platform ready in time for the next election cycle.

Thus we have labels such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice,” which are supposed to encompass the dearly-held convictions of millions of people, but actually don’t mean anything without a conversation and a debate enriched with science, philosophy, ethics, history, and every other hermeneuetic available to the intellect of humanity. Instead, we choose to choke on partisan bullet points, shooting them at one another and attempting to dodge the other side without actually making contact.

The above is obviously a highly divisive example, but I am coming to believe that bullet points as they are employed in our culture are highly divisive. If you say “hope” while thinking of presidential policy and I say “hope” thinking of eternal salvation, we’re not having the same conversation. We are, in fact, not actually having a conversation. So it’s not really fair of either of us to get frustrated or angry with one another for not catching a meaning that we didn’t actually transmit. But we will, because bullet points are built on the assumption of shared understanding, which we as a species have rarely been able to take for granted and we as a modern culture delude ourselves into by isolating in blogospheres, friends lists, and social groups that rarely challenge our assumptions (and thus our bullet points).

1984 by George Orwell…if you haven’t read it, I’ll wait here whilst you remedy that

Aside from crib sheets, there is one other thing that thrives on bullet points: propaganda. It is the nature of propaganda to reduce concepts to their simplest, inarguable form whilst imbuing that innocent-sounding phrase with Orwellian meaning. The amazing thing is that, for the last several decades, we have all been participating in our own slow acceptance of propaganda-as-truth, allowing the disturbingly literal newspeak of media- and social-media fueled bullet points to seep into the way that we view and communicate with the world on more occasions than not.

All of this is to say that today I started a blog because, while I dearly love keeping up with the goings on of friends and family via the plethora of social media available to us today, I’m exhausted by trying to have conversations in bullet points rather than in paragraphs. I’m feeling dialectically expansive, and so I’ve expanded my virtual space to accommodate. I hope you join me!

I will, of course, continue to gush over the pictures you post of your children and pets — snapshots, strangely enough, do not seem to be the visual equivalent of bullet points.

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