Living as I do in the metropolitan area of our nation’s capital, I sometimes seem to be surrounded by political technicians who pride themselves on judging the speeches and interviews and press conferences of our leaders by a detached and entirely professional standard. “That was a good speech,” they will aver of, say, a State of the Union address, even though they may agree with not one syllable of its content — or, indeed, as is increasingly the case, the content has become so platitudinous that it doesn’t rise to the level of being either agreed or disagreed with. You see? Such people are judges not of policy or ideology or even rationality, all of which things they scorn to notice, but of the craft of political speech-making, independent of any content it may or may not have. Of course, they have learned this from formalism in the arts, and particularly the modernist mystique of the artist as craftsman — someone to be judged on the formal skill with which his artifacts are put together rather than their semantic content. I think this is nonsense. A good speech, like a good work of art, is one that says something interesting and true. The technique can never be anything more than a secondary consideration.
Two quick thoughts:
- I believe a similar argument could be made in re: software engineering “best practices”, and, indeed, anything subject to “process” audits
- More reviewers (of everything) should really adopt JB’s 0/1/2 star system