Archive for November 2009
From before Aristotle’s time, rhetoric was an important area of learning. The word derives from the Greek ῥητορικός (rhētorikós), “oratorical.” Aristotle’s treatise, The Art of Rhetoric, is still a rewarding read today. Many of the Founding Fathers studied rhetoric as a formal course or schooling. Until the late 20th century, most colleges offered course is rhetoric.
But as a result of advertising and misunderstanding, “rhetoric” today has a strongly negative connotative meaning. Reasoned discourse is dismissed as “mere rhetoric,” whatever that means. Students are no longer taught rhetoric, whether labeled “public speaking” or “oratory.” Aristotle would have said that pathos is overwhelming ethos and logos.
Aristotle divided rhetorical proof into three aspects: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos is persuasion from the situation of the speaker. It’s giving more credibility to a university professor or minister than someone else because of what they do or who they are. Aristotle regarded ethos as a weak form of persuasion.
Pathos is persuasion by emotional appeal. It’s presentation that has a strong emotional appeal to the audience. Governor Palin’s speech at the Republican Convention has strong elements of pathos. Consider the “hockey mom” line, for example. It’s premise is “I’m just like you, so vote for me.” It’s an emotional appeal. Advertising is mostly pathos. Aristotle was suspicious of pathos, while recognizing its strong appeal.
Logos is argument from logic and, as you might expect from Aristotle, it’s the kind of proof he thought most effective. He even went so far as to develop a very thorough analysis of the kinds of logical appeal which were false, “fallacies.” And being Aristotle, he categorized fallacies by type, showing why they were bad, and laying out a suitable response.
It is training in logos that we miss most in the U.S. today. Most folks are incapable of making logical arguments. Most folks are incapable of recognizing logical fallacies. Most people unthinkingly attempt to argue with logical fallacies every day.
But the problem is general. The absence of training in rhetoric as a subject makes it very hard for listeners to analyze and evaluate arguments. As a result, listeners are vulnerable to “mere rhetoric.” Because training in rhetoric still is important. Free speech means little if we don’t have the tools to evaluate the speech. Nor have I noticed the majority of citizens to be effective, articulate and persuasive speakers or writers.
So this is a call for restoration of rhetoric’s honor. It’s a tool, and it’s a tool that we miss badly. Democracy is partly broken if public speech is broken. And a thoughtful person doesn’t have to listen long to what passes for public discourse to appreciate just how badly public speech and civil discourse is broken right now.
I might not have phrased quite so acidly, but this might be the best analysis of the current situation I’ve read. It was posted on Amazon by someone calling themselves Raging Moderate:
The reality is that the Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck/Tea Bag movement isn’t an anti government spending, anti-big government push. If it was, these same self branded “patriots” would not have clapped like trained seals while Bush ran the deficit to record breaking heights through 3 trillion dollars in tax cuts to the ultra wealthy while at the same time sending spending soaring through the roof with two wars and and entire new department of Government (DHS.) Rather, the Sarah/Tea Bag movement is a perfect vessel for angry confused people who have been left behind by a rapidly changing culture and economy (much, but not all of the latter changed by Republicans, but I digress.)
These are mostly white lower middle class Christians who have been told that they alone represent what is Good about American at the same time that their access to a strong education and economic opportunity has been dwindling down to almost nothing. When a Republican president paid lip service to their supposed greatness while simultaneously selling out their future, they didn’t so much as peep.
But throw in a black president who is (gasp) a demeeecrat, and the match hits the gasoline. Suddenly a tepid, overly cautious Christian centrist who does not want to upset big business and utters not a word about gun control is depicted to this fading group as a unique combination of Fascism/Marxism and One World Order loving Muslim who will throw them and their bibles in camps after he takes their guns.
The sad reality is that the vast majority of Palin supporters are frustrated dupes projecting their own fading relevance and power by raging at a moderate president who is timid in changing the status quo that has been radically altered by his predecessor. These confused people are like Chickens that have been taught to clap for Colonel Sanders. I’m not sure I would ever want to see a Kucinich presidency, but the reality is that most Palin/Beck/Bachmann Tea baggers would be best served by a far left presidency, but that idea would make their Fox-washed heads explode.
But while a skilled analysis, it doesn’t provide an answer, and seems to imply there isn’t one.
Probably the second most common logical fallacy plaguing American discourse, after the ad hominem fallacy, is the non sequitur fallacy. Examples are everywhere:
Palin Critic: “Former governor Palin is a poor public speaker.”
Palin Fan: “Well, President Obama is a socialist.”
The Palin Fan’s comment doesn’t address the argument made by the Palin Critic. It’s isn’t responsive. Stated formally,
A is B
C is D
Therefore A is not B
“Non sequitur” is Latin for “it does not follow.” We are conditioned by advertising to give such obviously false arguments consideration. Advertising along the lines of “Buy a Rolex watch and everyone will respect you” is a classic non sequitur. Respect doesn’t follow from purchasing consumer goods. But I think hearing it so often weakens one’s ability to recognize the fallacy.
Hundreds of thousands of advertisements doesn’t make the fallacy any less false.
The fallacy isn’t always used out of ignorance. It can also be an effective if unprincipled attempt to shift the subject. If a unscrupulous debater can’t respond to an argument, he or she may attempt to shift the issue by raising a different point. Like the use of an ad hominem fallacy, it’s an implied admission that the speaker can’t address the real issue; it’s conceding an argument.
The non sequitur is frequently combined with the ad hominem fallacy.
Palin Critic: “Former governor Palin is a poor public speaker.”
Palin Fan: “You’re a woman-hater.”
The way to handle a non sequitur fallacy is the same as the technique for the ad hominem fallacy, if it is used in a discussion or debate. Point out that the response is an attempt to shift the issue, and not responsive to the real issue at all. You can even ask if the person raising the non sequitur is conceding the main point. Drag the discussion back to the issue and away from the digression, no matter how inflammatory or personal the digression. If you permit the issue to be shifted, you are playing the other person’s game.
One of the reviews of Palin’s biography has attracted 2,464 helpful/unhelpful votes, about 58% of them “helpful.” The review – which uses the Mark Twain quote in the November 17 essay – has also attracted 252 comments. The biography has also inspired 81 other reviews. The details are interesting.
The bio has gotten 303 five star reviews and 207 one star reviews. Only a combined 51 reviews give the book 2, 3 or 4 stars. The polarization Palin inspires is plainly reflected in the reviews.
The ratio of favorable to unfavorable ratings of the review in question is strikingly similar to the vote in the general election last year. Amazon doesn’t effectively limit the number of times a reader can rate a review helpful or unhelpful, so it may just be a coincidence.
The 252 comments quickly devolved into a shouting – well, screaming – contest. A quick scan showed that about 40% of the comments are attacks on President Obama, which would seem to be misplaced in a review of a biography of Palin. About half of the comments involve the ad hominem fallacy to some extent. And as a written debate of serious merits or deficiencies of Palin or her biography, the comments are terribly depressing. Spelling, grammar, logic, reason and persuasiveness are mostly lost in a cloud of emotion. It’s enough to make you despair for the American education system, the First Amendment and the dreams of the Founding Fathers.
As an illustration: the review quotes Twain, “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” More than one commenter accuses the reviewer of calling Palin a bitch. The kindest way to put it is that the reviewers are missing the point.
But Wickersham’s Conscience is weary of Palin’s crass act and her emotionally overwrought followers. Absent some new and irresistible folly from Caribou Barbie, Wickersham’s Conscience will be a Palin-free zone until the Year End Summary. Enjoy.
Update: Don’t overlook General J. C. Christian’s review of Sarah’s bio, which includes:
There are many kinds of truth. There are truths based on facts, truths based on faith, and truths based on something that sounds as if it should be true (truthiness). Then there’s the kind of truth we find in Sarah’s book: stories and concepts that become truths simply because she states them. She’s a lot like our Lord and Savior, Glen Beck, in that respect.
This comment came in response to my Mark Twain quote of November 17:
Who’s the real dog here? People who like you who appear to be content to blindly follow their masters (composed of big government, big media, political rainmakers who carefully craft their candidate based on public opinon samples and seminars) or a strong courageous woman; Palin does not fit your Mark Twain analogy and as a woman I am offended by the reference of dog towards a female by a male because Sarah is a strong human being and you sir are scared of her because she is not afraid to utter truths what most shepple like you shudder to hear aired and I think you sir are the real lap dog and you will starve when you find out your called benevolent masters (once known as kings and later dictators) are really not looking out for you.
Sorry, but I refuse have a battle of wits with an unarmed
It’s pretty clear ex-governor Palin would still be a low-profile politician in the frozen north, but for candidate McCain and his staff. Those would be the same folks she attacks so fiercely in her biography.
Which brings to mind Mark Twain’s famous quote: “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.”
It’s a mistake, I think, to call it an autobiography. It’s not Palin’s voice. It’s her co-author/ghostwriter/amanuensis. But the reviews and comments are interesting.
The London Times says,
Taken at face value — as it begs the reader to do — Sarah Palin’s non-fiction debut is a love story. She is in love with Alaska, America and her husband, Todd, she says. In the process, she cannot help revealing that she is also in love with the vortex of briefers, make-up artists and media attention that spun around her for three months as a vice-presidential candidate, even though some of the principal players set out to destroy her before the election had even been lost.
Hmm. Narcissism reported from London. No real surprise there. The New York Times says,
The most sustained and vehement barbs in this book are directed not at Democrats or liberals or the news media, but at the McCain campaign. The very campaign that plucked her out of Alaska, anointed her the Republican vice-presidential nominee and made her one of the most talked about women on the planet — someone who could command a reported $5 million advance for writing this book.
More reports of narcissism. Still no surprises. Richard Cohen, writing in the Washington Post, proposes the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin, and suggests,
Finally, the Institute for the Study of Sarah Palin will mull what she represents. She has a phenomenal favorability rating among Republicans — 76 percent — who have a quite irrational belief that she would not make such a bad president. What they mean is that she will act out their resentments — take an ax to the people and institutions they hate. The Palin Movement is fueled by high-octane bile, and it is worth watching and studying for these reasons alone.
“High octane bile.” Wish I’d thought of that. But anyone who watched the ex-Governor in Alaska knew about the bile. And Caribou Barbie herself, “writing” in her bio, is quoted as saying,
“We came back [from the campaign] to a new normal in Alaska. Everything had so changed in my administration,” Palin continued. “There were so many opposition researchers up there in Alaska that were sent, probably, by the Obama camp. … It was a point where my state of Alaska was being hampered by my presence there.”
Her resignation was President Obama’s fault, I guess. Who knew?
So you can sum it up like this: everything that went right in McCain’s presidential campaign was the result of Caribou Barbie’s overcoming the roadblocks the McCain staff threw in her way. Everything that went wrong was the fault of those incompetent McCain staffers who chose her as the VP candidate. And everything that has gone wrong since is the fault of President Obama. Probably the Turkey Incident, too. I suppose it will all go down well with the Birthers, Tea Partiers and Glen Beck. But I’ve taken my name off the public library’s waiting list for her book.
Less introspection than a chicken. An ego bigger than Denali. And enough narcissism to gag a goat. Charisma? I’d call it charismain’t.
Dear President Obama:
I am writing to apologize on behalf of Alaska’s Governor, its senior U.S. Senator and its Congressman. It was inexcusably rude for them not to be present in person for your recent, brief visit to Alaska.
Governor Parnell shows occasional flashes of competence, but mostly follows the example set by his former boss. The Governor plead that he had a previously scheduled speaking engagement. That turned out to be a presentation to the University of Alaska that could have been easily re-scheduled, with no offense taken by the fine folks at the University. Parnell was simply being rude. I’ll ask you to excuse him; he is young, and is still unlearning the bad lessons learned from former Governor Palin.
Senator Murkowski has no such excuse. It was pure politics. She knows that an appearance would be to honor the office, no matter how much she may disagree with you personally. If it has been a Republican president, you can be sure she would have been present. To some extent, this is Senator Murkowski carrying forward lessons learned from her father, who was even worse as a U.S. Senator that he was as a bank president – and he single-handedly killed the bank he ran. She is playing the same partisan games.
Congressman Young – usually referred to as the Congressman for all Alaskans who voted for him – is simply an ass. And an unindicted felon. He is incapable of civilly addressing high school students; you shouldn’t expect him to show even rudimentary civility. This is far from the first and unlikely to be the last time he badly embarrasses Alaskans by his conduct.
Your visit was deeply appreciated by the soldiers at Elmendorf AFB, even those who might not like your policies. They get it. As do most Alaskans. Some of our elected officials don’t. I am embarrassed by their actions, and extend my sincere apologies. Not all Alaskans are so rude and crass.
Thanks for visiting. Come again. Stay longer. And, again, my apologies.
/s/ Wickersham’s Conscience
Update: If Anchorage Daily News reports are correct, Don Young actually gave his invitation to the President’s appearance to Ethan Berkowitz, the guy that ran against him last. If so, I admit to surprise at this modest show of class by a guy who usually lacks the quality.
Update: As of June 9, 2010, the dispute was still proceeding and the stand-off still in place. Shocking.
Ms. Alvarez: it’s a clumsy, stupid idea. Withdraw the subpoenas voluntarily and address your considerable skill to the issue of guilt or innocence, not Chicago street politics.
I am not now and never have been a member of the Chamber of Commerce. It’s one of my few remaining liberal credentials. I’ve done a lot of work for local Chamber members, over the years. I’ve even provided professional services – for a healthy fee- for the local Chamber. But I’ve never been a member.
Partly it’s because the Chamber lies. A lot. Its website implies it has three million members. Its total membership is more like 150,000 – 200,000. That’s less than one percent of all businesses. The Chamber says is has a “growing network of grassroots business activists,” but the evidence is that it actually is shrinking in total membership. Although MoJo may not be the most neutral authority on this subject.
More troubling than the “mere puffery” and lies, though, is that the Chamber is absolutely opposed to all reform. The Chamber spent $34.7 million in the third quarter of this year on lobbying expenses alone, fighting all health care reform, climate policy change and economic reform. The consistent theme in its $300,000 per day lobbying effort is that any change that might hurt short term profits is evil and wicked. Never mind that the change might protect long term profits; the Chamber can’t see beyond this quarter’s balance sheet.
The Chamber claims to be deeply disturbed by the deficit, yet supported the Wall Street bailouts. And the years of President Bush’s deficit spending. So hypocrisy can be added to the Chamber’s sins.
The Chamber has become so strident that some businesses are quitting. I applaud Apple, Inc. and other multi-nationals for publicly resigning. I hope more follow. The Chamber’s party line of no government regulation, its focus on short term profit at the expense of everything else, triggered the worst recession in decades and a climate crisis. The Chamber doesn’t have a solution, even at $300,000 a day; only the same tired whining. They need to be ignored.
Congratulations and commiseration to the Ricketts family, who after an epic effort, have closed on their purchase of the Chicago Cubs. Future trivia question: which was the first Major League Baseball team to file bankruptcy?
The Ricketts promise their ownership will be different. I’d like to believe so. Of course, the Wrigleys promised their ownership would be different. So did the Chicago Tribune. But the Ricketts face more challenges.
They have to dump Milton “Game Board” Bradley. The guy is poison in the club house. Maybe he can work at another team. I hope so. The question is how much of his $21 million contract the Cubs have to eat to make him tradable. They need a centerfielder, a leadoff hitter and a reliable left-handed middle reliever. If they let Harden go – and it’s hard to see how they can afford him – then they also need another starter. That’s a lot of salary when you’re heavily leveraged into an $845 million purchase price.
There are some promising players in the minors, but the Cubs have had a lot of players in the minors who were supposed to make it big in the majors have washed out. Corey Patterson, Felix Pie, Sam Fuld, Mark Prior; it’ll be wonderful if it happens, but I’m no expecting anything.
So I’m not holding my breath through trade season, and have little hope for sudden success in 2010. But I’m a Cubs’ fan, so I’m used to disappointment.
The Daily Beast asks if Levi Johnston’s full frontal will save Playgirl Magazine.
Lord, I hope not. I want the Palins, and their extended family of junkies, convicts, weirdos and narcissists to just go away.
Update: The New York Daily News on November 16 reported Levi did not “go full frontal.” These are desperate times, and I am sure we are all grateful for the small mercies we receive.
The Huffington Post has an article on an appearance by Scott Conroy and Shushannah Walshe on CBS’s “Early Morning” show. Conroy and Walshe were there to flog their new book, “Sarah From Alaska.” These are political reporters, mind you. And they are selling books, contributing to what seems to be a whole new sub-genre of Palin literature.
But they tell a new version of the famous concession speech episode. According to them, Palin invented an excuse to go on stage after McCain’s concession speech. Presumably to give her own concession speech, despite having been directed not to do it. McCain’s staff, and especially McCain staffer Carla Eudy, were furious. Eudy called Palin advisor Jason Recher to express her displeasure. “You never had control of her,” she said, according to Recher. “Get control of her! Get her ass off stage!”
I’m not usually given to vulgarities here at Wickersham’s Conscience. James Wickersham would not approve. But Caribou Barbie has continued to shove her way into what passes for the spotlight for American losers. And now America’s most famous quitter is about to launch a cupcake book tour, flogging her ghost-written bio and preaching to her choir.
The first half of Carla Eudy’s demand is plainly impossible. Palin’s narcissistic personality won’t allow her to be controlled. But can we at least get her ass off-stage?
“I’m just saying having characters talking out of character makes no sense unless the player characters have character-player characters.”
Posted in an Order of the Stick Forum November 3, 2009. You can’t make this stuff up.
XKCD is a strange mix of math, physics, topical humor and occasional screed. This one is probably representative (to the extent there is such an XKCD cartoon):
Randall Munroe, the cartoonist, describes it as “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” It’s all of that and more. Oh, and “XKCD” doesn’t stand for anything else.