In my previous study of the grammar of popular spiritual literature, I proposed that the “First Person Plural Omniscient” is a hallmark of charismatic speech, which tends to assume an unearned universality. I showed that when the FPPO is substituted for the first person singular in passages from Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron, a hidden vulnerability and anxiousness is revealed.
The other grammatical tic that is prominent in this literature is a form of second person address I’ll call Second Person Intrusive Omniscient (SPIO). It flexes harder than the FPPO.
Here are some characteristics of the SPIO:
- It seems to address the consumer directly. This is deceptive, because the consumer’s relationship to the influencer is parasocial.
- It seems to be more intimate, allowing the influencer to seem like they know the consumer as a friend, family member, or lover.
- It seems to be omniscient, presuming to know the consumer better than they know themselves.
- While the FPPO hovers above in a moral high ground, encouraging a vague merging, the SPIO demands much more immediacy and closeness. I believe that this is only intensified through the longform podcast medium.
- It is the grammar of hypnotic induction. “You are now entering a world in which…”
- It can be the grammar of imperatives or shameful persuasions. “You must, you should.”
- It can easily be the grammar of high pressure, via accusation or mockery: “I know what you’re like…”.
- In the worst cases, the SPIO can carry palpable sadism. (At the bottom of this article I’ve printed some paragraphs from A Course in Miracles, Marianne Williamson’s favourite book, to make this plain.)
To examine the SPIO in action, I’ll present several easy-to-find quotes from New Age guru Eckhart Tolle’s best-selling book, and then offer the first person singular version to reveal the hidden grandiosity of the SPIO.
To my ear, translating these quotes — as with FPPO quotes — into first person diction lends honesty to the…