Monday, October 7, 2013

The uninhabited clause (18)

The Uninhabited Clause* is a clause with a physical or conceptual subject, as opposed to a human subject. For example, “New York” is a physical subject, “assertiveness” is a conceptual subject, and “Donald Trump” is a human subject. There is nothing inherently wrong with using Uninhabited Clauses. But when we use a lot of them, we bore and exhaust our readers. They want to read about people.


Here are the first three paragraphs of an article titled “Keep the scourge of scientism out of schools,” by sociologist, commentator and author Frank Furedi, who published the article on his website:
At a time when society finds it hard to provide compelling answers to the problems that people face, the realm of science is being plundered in search of moral authority. The exhaustion of the old taken-for-granted ideals, values and ideologies has led to a search for new ways for validating views and opinions. Instead of trying to give meaning to the problems we face through reflection and debate, governments now embrace science as the unique source of truth.

This is giving rise to ‘policy-led science’ - that is, science that has a tendency to mould itself around the needs of policymakers. This strengthens the dogma of scientism, which aims to spread scientific discourse into our personal, cultural and social experiences, where actually other modes of non-scientific reflection are really needed. This is why, today, we have everything from the ‘science of parenting’ to the ‘science of happiness’ and the ‘science of the spiritual life’.

Scientism is now used to legitimate various policies and claims made by all sorts of institutions. Consequently, evidence, or rather evidence-based policy, which enjoys the authority of science, dominates the modern political landscape. Today, policies are judged not on the grounds of whether they are good or bad, but on the question of whether they are evidence-based.

The three paragraphs contain 15 Uninhabited Clauses:
realm is being plundered
exhaustion has led
This is giving
that has
This strengthens
which aims
modes are needed
This is
Scientism is used
evidence dominates
policy dominates
which enjoys
policies are judged
they are
they are
And only five Inhabited Clauses:
society finds
people face
we face
governments embrace
we have
That’s 75 percent Uninhabited Clauses in the first three paragraphs. Later in the article, it gets worse: it rises to 88 percent.

The Takeaway: Unless you are writing about abstract topics such as metaphysics or mathematics, you should strive to include persons in most of your clauses. Otherwise, you may sound academic and boring.

*My coinage, so far as I know.

See disclaimer.

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