A Rhetorical Weapon

Peter Taylor has a story titled “A Wife of Nashville” where on the second page its narrator reveals this about her relationship with what she in the Depression-era South calls “Negroes”: “I don’t care anything about them any more than you do.”

It’s such an amazing thing to say, about anything really. First is the terrible confession/admission. The bit that reveals the speaker to be self-involved and generally awful: I don’t care anything about it/them. Normally I’m not much interested in listening to or being around people who readily admit this—unless what’s not being cared about are the tweeted photos of congressmen or certain TV personalities’ inability to talk extemporaneously to the media without getting a whole mess of things wrong.

I mean, who wants to be such an ignoramus? But then there’s that incredible second part, where the listener becomes indicted and implicated in the general lack of caring that one could see as being the way the world works. It’s like saying: I don’t care any more than you do—and do you really care yourself or do you only care in theory enough to police the equal or greater caring of others?

Think of the ways you could wield this on the self-important!

  • I don’t care about the environment any more than you do.
  • I don’t care about animal welfare any more than you do.
  • I don’t care about taxidermy any more than you do.
  • I don’t care about you any more than you do.

And then how also it sort of retroactively spares the speaker the shame admitted in the utterance’s first part. How it almost uplifts the speaker: I care as much about it as you [claim to] do!

It’s a sentence that starts to identify the speaker as insufferable, which then through forced self-scrutiny ends up identifying her as unimpeachable. It’s like word magic.

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