The Uninhabited Clause* is a clause that has a non-human subject: a thing or an idea, as opposed to a person or group of persons. There is nothing inherently wrong with using uninhabited clauses, but when we use a lot of them, we bore and exhaust our readers. They prefer reading about people to reading about things or ideas.
Deborah C. Tyler begins her article “Real Crime vs. Vicious Identity” with these four paragraphs:
“Since the beginning of the 20th century, advances in science and technology have enabled the most cruel and irrational debris produced by the human mind to be concentrated into the ideological footings of modern totalitarianism. Totalitarianism politicizes every aspect of life: family, religion, education, and culture. As Benito Mussolini exulted, ‘[e]verything within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.’
“Worldwide movements to create transnational socialist ‘new world orders’ have been carried out under the banners of communism and Nazism. We are now living through the Obama administration's efforts to transform the constitutionally founded and legally bordered nation-state, the United States of America, into a socialist totalitarian cog in a new world order.
“In claiming absolute power and promulgating narratives of intra-national enmity, totalitarian regimes have a history of justifying ideologically driven mass murder of noncombatants. Thus far, the mass murder justified by American totalitarianism obtains in its single-minded emphasis regarding the necessity and righteousness of eliminating many of the unborn.
“The pivotal psychological dynamic of totalitarianism is a reorientation of moral and psychosocial attribution of guilt and culpability. The psychology of totalitarianism provides the term ‘real enmity’ to mean being an enemy of society based on voluntary, legally transgressive behavior – i.e., being found guilty of committing a voluntary criminal action. ‘Objective enmity’ occurs when a member of a governmentally non-preferred group is deemed an enemy of society because he is suspected of thinking unacceptable thoughts or holding unacceptable views.” (Boldface added.) (Source)Analysis
The professors take an interesting topic – wealth – and makes it sound academic and boring. She uses eight uninhabited clauses:
advances have enabledAnd only four inhabited clauses:
movements have been carried out
Benito Mussolini exulted
We are now living through
member is deemed
he is suspected
And in two of those four inhabited clauses (“member is deemed” and “he is suspected”) she has put the verbs in passive voice. Therefore, only two out of twelve clauses describe people doing something.
When we use a lot of of uninhabited clauses, we are in effect telling our readers: “Nothing’s happening here. Stop reading this. Go read a graphic novel.”
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 risk sounding academic and boring.
Note: For comparison, my portion of the text in this post includes six uninhabited and fourteen inhabited clauses, and I have used no passive voice.
*My coinage, so far as I know.