In his 80s, my dad had a girlfriend who he loved but who he didn’t want to marry for reasons both practical and vain. So instead, he gave her a “friendship ring” of some kind, and had engraved inside it, “For all the years we’ve had, and all the years we will have.”
Analogously, this summer I claimed that ChatGPT could write Chinese leaders’ speeches, because Chinese leaders aren’t actually trying to drive any action with their words—but rather just trying to demonstrate they know what they’re expected to say, by getting up and saying the expected thing, which in the Chinese political tradition, is a grand-sounding audio-plume of nothing at all.
On further review, I believe I understated the case.
This month, Vital Speeches International will publish a major speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping titled, “Seeking Development Through Solidarity and Cooperation.”
And I realized that title would be just as meaningful if it was, “Seeking Solidarity Through Cooperation and Development.” Or, for that matter, “Seeking Cooperation Through Development and Solidarity.”
And I realized you don’t need artificial intelligence to write these speeches. Just a few multi-syllabic abstractions, and a washing machine.
Of course, Chinese leaders are only the most expert practitioners of the art of saying nothing. Other platitudypuses include: Corporate CEOs who give speeches with provocative titles but lily-livered theses. Communication consultants, writing on LinkedIn. And even some online newsletters, one of whose confused readers recently said, “I wondered if I was having a stroke.”
Whether you’re writing to conceal your real idea—or to cover up the fact that you have no idea at all—learn from the Chinese, learn from the corporate CEOs, learn from the communication consultants on LinkedIn.
Or learn from my dad, who told me, after his girlfriend received her ring with apparent pleasure, “Buddy, you gotta be a pretty good writer to say all that and not wind up married!”