Techniques of rhetoric

Mark Kaplan, 18 months ago, presented the ultimate blog argument. Titled “Notes on Rhetoric” it was a list of the phrases and techniques used in dodgy comment thread debate. It’s hilarious and very much to the point. I’ll give you a couple of excerpts:

  1. A priori – your apriori supposition is that: “I operate by the clear light of reason, you according to preconceived notions”. You are using pure thought and evidence, your opponent is unthinkingly in thrall to canards, tired clichés, and various pieces of received wisdom.
  2. Evidence … demand it. Always refer to as “empirical”. If actually offered, criticise the methodology.
  3. Criticism of Israel Concede that of course, in principle, criticisms of Israel are not necessarily anti-Semitic. Give the impression that this is so obvious as hardly to be worth mentioning. Having got this out of the way, every particular criticism of Israel can be exposed as implicitly anti-Semitic.
  4. People You’ve MetIf you wish to establish the veracity of some chosen stereotype, all you have to say are the magic words, “Look, I’ve actually met people like this…”. Your vapid generalisation will instantly assume concreteness, and your opponent buckle before an unassailable empirical factoid. In the 1980′s it was lesbian CND supporting Guardian readers who people had invariably “actually met”; in 1930′s Germany it was doubtless avaricious Jews. (compare with “someone who has actually been there”).
  5. Refreshingly un-P.C. If you’re afraid to salute bigotry, don’t worry, here’s your get out clause

Marvelous stuff, now matched by Adam Kotsko in his short piece Rhetorical Strategy. In particular Adam mentions some methods used by the right to avoid admitting that the neo-cons have created a disaster:

  1. Obsessive focus on minor details — normally these details are basically rhetorical, such as an overblown analogy. The conversation must be put completely on hold until it is acknowledged by all that these minor slips thoroughly discredit everything the person is saying, such that the argument has to begin again from scratch.
  2. A deep concern that politicians’ motives must never be questioned — For example, Bush’s policies lead to death and destruction on a massive scale, but the really important issue is that everyone start from the premise that Bush basically means well.

Here’s how to put it into practice:

Of course the neo-con brigade here on the vine can be entertaining with their chorus of excitable but empty posturing, which is precisely my point. Nevertheless calling their twaddle pseudo-intellectual psycho-babble would be too generous: it’s unworthy of serious consideration.

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