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“It Is What It Is.” Really?

It is what it is, but it is not what it should be.

Pictured: A situation that is what it is, but to which you would not say “it is what it is.”

“It is what it is.”

Well yes, I must concede that things are what they are. Nonetheless, the use of the phrase represents the absolute height of vacuous sloganeering.

I mean, first of all, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this is a tautology, and that tautologies assert the trivial. We can know that ‘a tree is a tree’ even if we have no idea what a tree is. And if we do know what a tree is, then we certainly aren’t learning anything new by that phrase.

But it is the context in which is this phrase is used where we see the situation really becomes dire.

It is offered as advice, either to others, or, in its worst form, to oneself. The advice? “Resign.” “Give up.” “Pay no attention to the man behind he curtain.”

This is especially blackhearted, because what people really want to communicate when they say “It is what it is,” is, “It is what it is, and it therefore should be as it is.” “Because things are as they are, it isn’t worth trying to make them different.” This fatal non sequitur isn’t simply an excuse for inaction, it’s a lionization of inaction. It treats the man of inaction as the clear-eyed rationalist.

But no clear eyed rationalist looks at what is and decides that what is could not and should not be improved purely on the observation. After all, why shouldn’t he take action about what is? If things should be better, he should take action precisely because it is what it is.

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