On the “too many” trope
A variant of the “too many” trope came up in the news recently. A certain Fox News commentator disgraced herself by saying that some female soldiers had been ‘raped too often’. The comedian Jon Stewart then asked if those soldiers should be raped ‘just enough’.
Just so! Let us focus on that phrase ‘too often’. It and variants are a common trope in political speech.
Candidates for office are wont to intone:
“For too long we have had to endure Z…”
“Too many hard-working Americans suffer from Z…”
“Too much Z is polluting our air…”
- for various values of Z. There’s also too often, too rarely, too little, too much, and on and on; and it’s always some evil that is in excess. But if that is the trouble, then what is the alternative?
Logic dictates that the only alternatives to ‘too many’ are ‘too few’ and ‘just enough’. So I ask, with Jon Stewart, if the Fox news commentator was calling for just enough rapes? Or even too few?
What would be ‘just enough’ rapes? For fewer than just enough would be too few. Well, how about a truly holy number; zero! More rapes than zero would be excessive, fewer would be impossible; therefore zero is the precise optimal number.
But if ‘just enough’ equals ‘zero’, then ‘too many’ equals ‘any at all’, and to say “too many people have suffered from Z” is the same as saying “people have suffered from Z”. So the words ‘too many’ can be deleted from all of its uses, without changing meaning.
But not without changing political effect! For to say ‘too many have suffered from Z’ is not just to say that Z exists and that people suffer from it; it also says that we, the people, have been tolerating a non-zero quantity of Z, and that it is now time to reduce Z to a lower, more tolerable, quantity. That lower quantity will probably not be zero; such rigor would probably be expensive, and we have other problems; but rest assured that we, the people, now aroused from our slumber, will combat Z until it declines to the point that we can return to our slumber.
Therefore the ‘too many’ trope is not telling you what is true, nor what is good, but instead how to think and what to feel. Worse, it does so covertly, while pretending to tell you what is true and good. The ‘too many’ trope conveys, not information, but manipulation.