Political Philosophy and Ethics discussion

Both Pol. and Ethical Philosophy > Public Discourse and Rhetoric

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message 1: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Oct 24, 2016 05:42PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Although I have not yet read it, the following book looks quite interesting: Mark Thompson, Enough Said: What's Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics? (St. Martin's Press, 2016).

message 2: by Enya (new)

Enya (enyaevans) | 5 comments Thanks for the recommendation, Alan. I've added it to my reading list.

There was a good article in The Economist a while back on post-truth politics, which you might be interested in: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders...

I've just put down The Archaeology of Knowledge & The Discourse on Language and cannot think of another book more helpful in helping us to understand how discourse evolves. Supremely useful as a starting point for any reflections on why we talk about what we do.

message 3: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Thank you, Enya, for the references. I especially like the following quote from The Economist article: "Feelings, not facts, are what matter in this sort of campaigning. Their opponents’ disbelief validates the us-versus-them mindset that outsider candidates thrive on. And if your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen." (Emphasis added.)

message 4: by Feliks (last edited Oct 25, 2016 06:26PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Who was it who wrote that, "there are no plain, bare, uninterpreted facts"? I can't recall.

But I like this part:
"And if your opponents focus on trying to show your facts are wrong, they have to fight on the ground you have chosen."

Except that of course in real life, facts are 'gotten-around' in many ways. To our combined misfortune, if the facts are well-documented; but probably 'to the good' if they are mere statistics.

And even atop that layer of public rhetoric & persuasion, every individual must still make up their own mind about an issue, based on their own life-experience and cynicism and mistrust. I mean, it's no secret that we've all been outright lied-to time-and-time-again, by our leaders. What faith ought we have in argument anymore, when rhetoric has so often proven to be so hollow?

I chatted with a professional journalist recently about how hard it is for 'the truth' to seep out to the public despite the constant media-fracas and ideological battleground facing the public. I was expecting her to say something such as, "it's tough, but good journalism somehow does get the message out around the edges of all the propaganda".

She didn't say anything of the sort, (to my dismay). She basically said, "there is no objective truth in modern journalism; everything is one side or another side's agenda".

message 5: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Oct 25, 2016 06:57PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
I think it gets back to educating people in critical thinking. That was not a "thing" (as they say nowadays, perhaps unwittingly channeling Aristotle) back when I was in high school and college (though my training in high-school debate, including debating both sides of an issue, facilitated my own progress in critical thinking), but I understand that there are now courses in it. Perhaps this is the only hope.

Along this line, see the reprise of a portion of retired Justice David Souter's September 14, 2012 interview with Margaret Warner of PBS News Hour here. Listen to the clip, which is less than two minutes long. When was the last time we heard such an intelligent, rational voice? Anyone since JFK?

message 6: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments Well, perhaps his brother Robert, my own and only political hero.
" Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine Justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warmhearted in a different scale. Better the occasional faults of a government living in the spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."
When was the last time we heard a politician, or anyone speaking to a crowd quoting Dante or Aeschylus? There has not been his equal since.

message 7: by Feliks (last edited Oct 28, 2016 06:06PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments I just discovered a spoken-word LP (available as individual digital mp3s) of Orson Welles reciting great civic speeches: Paine, Lincoln, Donne, and the funeral oration of Pericles at the start of the Peloponnesian War (among others). It's called 'No Man is an Island'. Quite a treat.

message 8: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
My Goodreads review of Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017) is relevant to this topic.

message 9: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Addendum to my preceding post:

See also this March 20, 2018 Politico interview with Masha Gessen .

message 10: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Mar 30, 2017 07:56AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
There is an interesting article posted on scientificamerican.com about "blue lies." The author, Jeremy Adam Smith, suggests that Donald Trump specializes in "blue lies," which Smith describes as lies that benefit an in-group as distinguished from "black lies," which are purely self-serving, and "white lies," which are based on empathy toward others. It is an interesting theory, though it seems to me that many of Trump's lies are of the "black" rather than the "blue" variety—perhaps he could be called "black and blue." And the degree to which he tells lies—and the degree to which his in-group believes them—is far out of the ordinary. We all are used to the notion that politicians lie and that their followers believe. But to repeatedly present "whoppers" that are publicly dismissed even by people presumably on one's own side constitutes prevarication on a level that surpasses anything we have seen in American politics—at least within the memory of anyone alive today. Perhaps the answer is that Trump's lies are not for the consumption of Republicans generally, who often dismiss them, but rather for his fanatical alt-right followers.

message 11: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments I see from today's headlines that international warfare is still very much alive-and-well in this supposedly advanced, modern, enlightened era of ours? Geez...

message 12: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
See this article by a professional linguist regarding Donald J. Trump's use of language. It was written in 2016 before the election.

message 13: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Well now here is a very interesting can of worms ...

Alan (independent scholar) this is surely something for you to weigh in on! Briefly at least--we know you're very busy..


What do you think?

I'm fascinated by how many links are in this article, leading to 'other takes' on the predicament. Whew!

And I also like that it's a problem which seems (unlike so many other items we discuss) to have a 'discernible edge'. It truly sounds like some good data-person should be able to decide this brouhaha, one-way-or-another!

message 14: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jul 03, 2017 08:17PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "Well now here is a very interesting
can of worms

Alan (independent scholar) this is surely something for you to weigh in on! Briefly at least--we know you're very busy..


I am aware that many professors (whether tenure-track, tenured, or adjunct) have issues of this kind. Fortunately, as an "independent" scholar, it doesn't affect me. I never submit papers for publication in academic journals. I just post them on Academia.edu and link them in posts in this Goodreads group. Additionally, my papers would not be sufficiently specialized and narrow to pass muster with academic peer reviewers. I sympathize with those subjected to the rules and regulations of academic research, but I fortunately can ignore all those issues. This is the advantage of my having decided long ago that I would not attempt an academic career. Instead, I became a lawyer. Although that occupation was extremely time-consuming, I have been able, in retirement, to read and write about what interests me—in books, essays, and posted comments.

Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken" applies exactly to the difficult decision I made in the early 1970s:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

message 15: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
J wrote: "I agree that critical thinking courses should be taught . With emphasis on making it an evolving pillar of academia like English, mathematics, history etc. Can you imagine high schoolers taking a semester long class called "research"? The courses need not be dry either since subjects of focus could be cherry picked out of pop culture. "

I have recently learned (including from a member of this group who is in high school) that critical thinking is being taught in many high schools today. This is very encouraging. When I was in high school back in the early 1960s, there was no such course, though my participation in debate definitely sharpened my reasoning and analytical skills. That is when I acquired a book that I still own and, along with several others along this line, consult: Fallacy: The Counterfeit of Argument by W. Ward Fearnside and William B. Holther.

message 16: by Feliks (last edited Aug 04, 2017 06:52PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments By chance I happened upon a book recently that zoomed to an immediate place on my 5-star shelf; which only ever receives new members only once in 2-3 yrs. There's only 40-odd titles present.

Anyway the new inclusion is 'Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television' by Jerry Mander. I didn't expect much from it; but boy was I wrong. It is a ferocious assault on our casual TV-driven environment.

This author demolishes any rationale for our society to be as conveniently TV-dominated as it is. The book is crammed with under-the-hood info on the mechanics of TV advertising, the rigging of our habits-of-thought, and the distraction of our faculties.

Issues of lobbying and collusion; bias in news reporting; financial impropriety; health effects; and even how our pupils, retinas, and cerebral cortex 'function' in the presence of a TV screen.

Just an astounding trove of info. Penned by a former big-time advertising exec who turned against the system. His words are not less timely with passing yrs, they are more imperative than ever now that people are binge-watching TV or immersed in other media nearly every waking moment. Carrying a screen of some sort around with them now wherever they go; even into their bed or their bath. (how does this not destroy community?)

I have friends who play marathon sessions of video-games for an entire weekend long. Sitting in a chair gazing at a flickering game-screen is literally the only activity they will engage in all weekend other than eating, sleeping, bathroom. They won't even stretch their legs or look out the window.

message 17: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Superb article in the Atlantic Monthly. Really, a disaster of epic proportions. Merely faint hope for the quality of public discourse in our future.


message 18: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments I-Gen ; so that's what it's called - my 7 year old grandson now has a cultural identify , don't know if it's a good thing but the phenomenon described is very real and, the only recourse is to continue to engage this generation if possible, with another mode of connection. Seems to me that Jack is more than happy to start conversations and ask questions about things he sees or hears on his I-pod as long as he knows someone is listening. What happens when he is 12? Don't know but will keep trying.

message 19: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
The author of the Atlantic article was interviewed on PBS News Hour this evening. I'm about half-way through the long article.

message 20: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Sep 25, 2017 01:16PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Bret Stephens, who recently joined the New York Times after years at the Wall Street Journal, gave a speech at the Lowry Institute Media Award dinner in Sydney, Australia, which he published on September 24, 2017, as a NYT column with the title "The Dying Art of Disagreement." He also recently appeared on Bill Maher's HBO program, Real Time. Maher, who is substantially left of center on most issues, has frequently made some of the same points that Stephens, a conservative, makes in this column.

Stephens, born in 1973, is at least a generation younger than I. Like me, he attended the University of Chicago, focusing on political philosophy. It is reasonably clear that he is a Straussian and very probably had some of the same professors I had at Chicago when I was there for undergraduate and graduate studies in the late 1960s. He cites Allan Bloom's famous book The Closing of the American Mind. I recall disagreeing with Bloom's book on several issues when I read it decades ago, but I certainly agree with the arguments Stephens uses from the book in his column. Similarly, I disagree with Stephens himself on many political issues, not to mention the speakers he lists. However, he pretty much hits the nail on the head in criticizing both left and right for departures from reasoned discourse in the public sphere.

As both left and right become more and more emotionalized and prone to violence, the future does not look bright for the United States. Perhaps our long run as a democratic republic is coming to an end. At my advanced age, I am now able to look at such developments with the dispassionate perspective of a historian and student of philosophy. Or at least that's what I tell myself.

message 21: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments Read the same article Alan and agree 100% with you and Bret. He has taken some heat in conservative circles for joining The NY Times editorial board; traitor to the ranks and all that, but he is spot on much of time. Unfortunately he is not in the majority or even plurality of conservative thinkers these days, but it was a refreshing, if downbeat explanation of our political culture these poisoned days.

message 22: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Jon wrote: "Technology has become an appeasement to the every day life of what some people think is dullness. I have various friends who try to escape through video games and that's all they do. Like you said ..."

Well said, Jon. Thank you. I loathe that 'ethics of convenience' and 'short term advantages' seem to have taken over such a large proportion of people.

I don't care what the technology is, embracing anything with this amount of eagerness and swiftness screams 'short-sightedness' and 'lack of oversight' we will later regret.

Since when is 'well, I happen to like it so..let's just go along with it' an acceptable stand-in for societal caution? When have modern corporations or modern governments ever done a good job of looking out for us?

Eisenhower's 'atoms for peace', anyone remember that? Govt eggheads spreading germs in the NYC subway system, anyone remember that? History ought to make us a little more cynical towards these continual series of parade-floats which come sweeping down the street with all their bells and their whistles. Why do we always leap aboard these bandwagons like the children in Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory?

What prompts my latest fuming --yes, there is a reason--is my perusing of one of the independent documentaries (and accompanying documentary transcript) available in an obscure corner of the MEF (Media Education Foundation).

It's called 'Google and the World Brain: The Audacious Attempt to Control Human Knowledge'.

Loudly-voiced suspicions have been increasing for years now, with regard to the unsavory practices of this company, usually in association with their Facebook-like internet practices.

But this documentary focused on their book-scanning project and what that really means; what kind of business practices they employ as they go about it. Certainly doesn't sound like a public-spirited, socially-conscious, egalitarian-minded company whatsoever.

full transcript
abridged transcript

As the filmmakers point out, if this is the road we embark on, how do we imagine the intellectual landscape might look in 200 yrs?

People think having digital versions of books is reassuring. Why? To me it says 'disaster'. Digital books are infinitely easier to tamper with, destroy, restrict, or forbid. Its a means of embalming knowledge and removing the knowledge from the life of society.

Some day they'll probably say 'Oh well, let's just sock a master version of all these digital books away in a salt mine somewhere, that's where they'll be the safest! Don't worry so much about actual libraries anymore. Don't worry! We have a digital backup! Libraries are really expensive to maintain, anyway!'

As the video says, libraries are intellectual nerve centers. That is where books truly live and breathe among us. Keeping us active and engaged with knowledge. They are where we really socialize over the world's books. Not the phony socialization that takes place over the internet. The point is, knowledge has to be actively cared for by all of us. Not turned over to some faceless, shadowy gatekeepers.

message 23: by Feliks (last edited May 29, 2018 05:17AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Late to the party. I didn't know this was going on in Virginia's universities. Its confusing because there are apparently two schools both having 'free speech' problems. Virginia Tech campus (site of the infamous shooting spree you remember) and UVA (University of Virginia)

I had thought that way-back-when, the SCOTUS approved all political speech on any campus in the USA, with the only loophole being speech which provokes violence. Seems like that loophole is now the size of a 4-lane highway?

Reason.com article

Virginia Tech Tells Black Columnist To Take A Hike

Jason Riley -- Virginia Tech Made a Hash of Its Invitation to Him to Speak

Caution, You Are Entering a No Free-Speech Zone - Bacon's Rebellion

message 24: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Interesting summary of the 'typical landscape' of digital arguments...

Explanation: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

DH0. Name-calling.
This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common.

DH1. Ad Hominem.
Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem—and a particularly useless sort, because good ideas often come from outsiders. The question is whether the author is correct or not. If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those out. And if it didn't, it's not a problem.

DH2. Responding to Tone.
The next level up we start to see responses to the writing, rather than the writer. The lowest form of these is to disagree with the author's tone. Though better than attacking the author, this is still a weak form of disagreement.

DH3. Contradiction.
In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom.

DH4. Counterargument.
At level 4 we reach the first form of convincing disagreement: counterargument..

DH5. Refutation.
The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation.

DH6. Refuting the Central Point.
The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone's central point.

message 25: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 142 comments Feliks,

This is very interesting, and reminds me of something I wanted to post earlier. A blog post on an op-ed (I think there's a link to the original op-ed) which says that the academic left's rapid coordinated move to demonize Jordan Peterson is far more disturbing than anything Jordan Peterson himself has to say:

If you follow the news stream, it seems that virtually every right-thinking left-leaning (pun intended) journalist, blogger, and social media maven agrees: Peterson is an alt-right wolf in professorial sheep’s clothing, a self-serving charlatan who dresses up old-school misogyny, racism, and elitism in faux-intellectual, fascist mystical garb.

I don’t buy it. I’ve read and listened to enough Peterson to make up my own mind and that’s not how I see him at all. Rather than being forthright about this, though, I’ve tended to cower silently in my alienated corner, fearful that revealing my rejection of the stock anti-Peterson narrative will cause my progressive friends to denounce me and the social media mobs to swarm.



(below is an excerpt from the second link:)

Carol Horton is correct. The left isn’t listening to Jordan Peterson, they’re just trying to destroy him as efficiently and quickly as possible. That dynamic says a lot about the left, none of it very good. Kudos to Horton for having the courage to stand up to the mob.

There’s an underlying question here: Why are so many, so eager to destroy Peterson? The most convincing explanation of the phenomenon that I’ve seen is this one from NRO’s David French:

If Peterson were writing to a Christian audience, he’d be one voice among many. An interesting and quirky voice, to be sure, but his core message about men and women would be conventional, not revelatory. Instead, however, Peterson stands out because he is playing in the Left’s cultural sandbox. He’s disrupting an emerging secular cultural monopoly with arguments about history, tradition, and the deep truths about human nature that the cultural radicals had long thought they’d banished to the fringe.

That’s the reason for the fury. That’s the reason for the rage. When Peterson walks into a secular university or a secular television studio and addresses a secular audience by referencing ancient theological arguments, the effect is not unlike inviting a genderqueer women’s-studies professor to a Baptist Sunday-school class. Some things (in some places) are just not said.

message 26: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote (post 26): "Interesting summary of the 'typical landscape' of digital arguments...

Explanation: http://www.paulgraham.com/disagree.html

DH0. Name-calling.
This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probabl..."

Thanks, Feliks. This is pretty good. However, I thought "contradiction" would mean showing contradictions in the other person's argument. This is at the heart of Platonic dialectic and Aristotelian logic: Aristotle said that the principle of (non)contradiction is the most certain logical principle of all. Although it may not apply to quantum physics and other rare matters at the boundary lines of physics and metaphysics, it certainly applies to all normal human discourse. And it doesn't take too much effort to see how people, especially in the present age, contradict themselves all the time. This principle has been discussed in several other posts in this group, so I won't belabor it here.

message 27: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments re: #28
Glad you liked. I have a better pyramid to post later; where someone from the sciences provides the model of what should go on based on what he typically sees in his career field. TBD

message 28: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments p.s. Alan, isn't the style of "contradiction" possibly applied differently in today's world of --what is it--not "first-order logic" but data-and-evidence based logic? Is that "2nd Order"? I forget

message 29: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "p.s. Alan, isn't the style of "contradiction" possibly applied differently in today's world of --what is it--not "first-order logic" but data-and-evidence based logic? Is that "2nd Order"? I forget"

I have no knowledge of contemporary logic, which, when I've tried to study it, turns me away with all of its symbolic notations and quasi-mathematical cogitations. It may be useful for computers, but I am interested only in practical, i.e. real-world, logic--logic that can be applied in the real world of human discourse.

message 30: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited May 29, 2018 12:59PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Addendum to my preceding post:

There is, of course, inductive logic—starting from evidence and working one's way up to general principles—as well as deductive logic. Contrary to a popular misunderstanding that has permeated modernity for centuries, Aristotle taught both. As one of my professors remarked in class, "If empiricism is great, then Aristotle is terrific."

message 31: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Here's the follow up. I'll add further detail soon.

The designer of this pyramid says:

"Graham’s hierarchy is useful for its intended purpose, but it isn’t really a hierarchy of disagreements. It’s a hierarchy of types of response, within a disagreement. Sometimes things are refutations of other people’s points, but the points should never have been made at all, and refuting them doesn’t help. Sometimes it’s unclear how the argument even connects to the sorts of things that in principle could be proven or refuted.

If we were to classify disagreements themselves – talk about what people are doing when they’re even having an argument – I think it would look something like this:"

message 32: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments The pyramid mystifies me a bit and Graham’s list is thorough in its own way though I kind of agree with Alan regarding the role/importance of contradiction in argumentation. I’m a novice at the Socratic method but what I have read suggests that his was a path leading to contradiction. As I said I’m a novice but the attached represents an episode in argumentation that will, perhaps, never reappear. Perhaps we need new champions of both sides but alas Chris Hitchens is gone.



message 33: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Charles wrote: "the attached represents an episode in argumentation that will, perhaps, never reappear."

Charles, the video doesn't play when I try to start it.

message 34: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments Try this one ;


Don’t know which one comes off for the better, however the context, 1968 Dem convention, Vietnam, etc. makes for an extraordinary event.

message 35: by Feliks (last edited May 30, 2018 06:42AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments re: my post #33; the 'improved' pyramid, here's some explanation for each level. They come from psychologist Scott Alexander. I just thought I'd just add these in pieces rather than one overwhelming chunk of text. (Alan, if this subject matter verges on "hot button" too much, please delete it, I will not mind.)

"Gotcha's" are short claims that purport to be devastating proof that one side can’t possibly be right.

“If you like big government so much, why don’t you move to ________?”
“Isn’t it ironic that most pro-lifers are also against welfare and free health care? Guess they only care about babies until they’re born.”
“When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”

These are 'snappy' but almost always 'obtuse'. People may not move to ____ because they don’t want government that big, because governments can be big in many ways some of which are bad, because governments can vary along dimensions other than how big they are, because countries can vary along dimensions other than what their governments are, or just because moving is hard and disruptive.

"Gotcha's" may sometimes suggest what might, with a lot more work, be a good point.

For example, the last one could be transformed into an argument like “Since it’s possible to get guns illegally with some effort, and criminals need guns to commit their crimes and are comfortable with breaking laws, it might only slightly decrease the number of guns available to criminals. And it might greatly decrease the number of guns available to law-abiding people hoping to defend themselves. So the cost of people not being able to defend themselves might be greater than the benefit of fewer criminals being able to commit crimes.”

I don’t think I agree with this argument, and I might challenge assumptions like “criminals aren’t that much likely to have guns if they’re illegal” or “law-abiding gun owners using guns in self-defense is common and an important factor to include in our calculations”. But this would be a reasonable argument and not just a 'gotcha'.

The original is a 'gotcha' exactly because it doesn’t invite this level of analysis or even seem aware that it’s possible. It’s not saying “calculate the value of these parameters, because I think they work out in a way where this is a pretty strong argument against controlling guns”. It’s saying “gotcha!”

message 36: by Feliks (last edited May 30, 2018 08:38PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments to my post #33, explanation by Scott Alexander of the bottom segment, 'social shaming'

"Social shaming" isn’t an argument. It’s a demand for listeners to place someone outside the boundary of people who deserve to be heard; to classify them as so repugnant that arguing with them is only dignifying them. If it works, supporting one side of an argument imposes so much reputational cost (that only a few weirdos dare to do it), it sinks outside the Overton Window, and the other side wins by default.

That’s why I don’t like the term “ad hominem”, which implies that shamers are idiots who are too obtuse to realize that calling someone names doesn’t refute their point. That’s not the problem.

People who use this strategy know exactly what they’re doing and are often quite successful. The goal is not to convince their opponents, or even to hurt their opponent’s feelings, but to demonstrate social norms to bystanders. If you condescendingly advise people that ad hominem isn’t logically valid, you’re kinda missing the point.

Sometimes the shaming works on a society-wide level. More often, it’s an attempt to claim a certain space, kind of like the intellectual equivalent of a gang sign. If the Jets can graffiti “@#$%^&*! THE SHARKS” on a certain bridge, but the Sharks can’t get away with graffiting “NO ACTUALLY @#$%^&*! THE JETS” on the same bridge, then almost by definition that bridge is in the Jets’ territory.

This is part of the process that creates polarization and 'echo chambers'. If you see an attempt at social shaming and feel targeted, that’s the second-best result from the perspective of the person who put it up. The best result is that you never went into that space at all.

This isn’t just about keeping conservatives out of socialist spaces. It’s also about defining what kind of socialist the socialist space is for, and what kind of ideas good socialists are or aren’t allowed to hold.

I think easily 90% of online discussion is of this form right now, including some long and carefully-written thinkpieces with lots of citations.

The point isn’t that it literally uses the word “@#$%^&*!”, the point is that the active ingredient isn’t persuasiveness, it’s the ability to make some people feel like they’re suffering social costs for their opinion. Even really good arguments that are persuasive can be used this way if someone links them on Facebook with “This is why I keep saying Democrats are dumb” underneath it.

message 37: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited May 31, 2018 05:07AM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "That’s why I don’t like the term “ad hominem”, which implies that shamers are idiots who are too obtuse to realize that calling someone names doesn’t refute their point. That’s not the problem."

The "ad hominem" fallacy has a precise meaning going back a long time. The following is an excerpt (which would be indented here, if the Goodreads format permitted indented material) from a recent book on logical fallacies:

Ad Hominem

Also Known as: Ad Hominem Abusive, Personal Attack


Translated from Latin to English, “ad Hominem” means “against the man” or “against the person.”

An ad Hominem is a general category of fallacies in which a claim or argument is rejected on the basis of some irrelevant fact about the author of or the person presenting the claim or argument. Typically, this fallacy involves two steps. First, an attack against the character of person making the claim, her circumstances, or her actions is made (or the character, circumstances, or actions of the person reporting the claim). Second, this attack is taken to be evidence against the claim or argument the person in question is making (or presenting). This type of “argument” has the following form:

1. Person A makes claim X.

2. Person B makes an attack on person A.

3. Therefore A’s claim is false.

The reason why an ad Hominem (of any kind) is a fallacy is that the character, circumstances, or actions of a person do not (in most cases) have a bearing on the truth or falsity of the claim being made (or the quality of the argument being made).

Michael LaBossiere, 76 Fallacies, Kindle ed. (Amazon Digital Services, 2012), 9-10.

In a judicial context, courts have limited character evidence for many centuries. See, for example, Rules 404, 607, 608, and 609 of the Federal Rules of Evidence.

message 38: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments I agree; (re: #39) what I get from his explanation is just that Mr. Alexander is showing how social media puts a slightly different spin on this age-old principle that specifically applies to the web.

message 39: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments a wonderful little scatterplot study of polarization in political media


easy to read, and succinct

message 40: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
This 6/1/2018 Politico article discusses PBS's decision to reinstate William F. Buckley Jr.'s "Firing Line" show in the interest of a more civil discourse between left and right than is present on most television offerings today. The host will be Margaret Hoover, a great granddaughter of Herbert Hoover. Unlike Buckley's original program, which was for the purpose of attacking (genteelly) the left, this one will attempt to be more impartial toward opposing political positions. The article is quite interesting, and I recommend reading it.

message 41: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments That’s exciting news about Firing Line’s reemergence. Ultimately I think it’s success hinges on the host and their ability to engage with guests. If Bill Maher we’re not so snarky and obviously liberal in his presentation that program could have been “ a contender” , here’s hoping there are enough guests out there who can stitch more than a few sentences together, ah I miss Chris Hitchens -

message 42: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments essay on 'debate' vs 'persuasion' in these polarized times
brief references to Aristotle

message 43: by Alan, Moderator and Author (last edited Jun 03, 2018 02:20PM) (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "essay on 'debate' vs 'persuasion' in these polarized times
brief references to Aristotle"

Good essay, except he's not up on his Greek. He says, "Rhetoric consists of logos, ethos, and pathos—logic, emotion, and character," citing Aristotle. However, ethos means character, and pathos means emotion. See Aristotle, On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civil Discourse, trans. and ed. George A. Kennedy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 119 (editorial note).

A minor flaw in what is otherwise a very interesting discussion.

Aristotle, where are you when we need you?

message 44: by Mimi (last edited Jun 03, 2018 03:24PM) (new)

Mimi | 96 comments Feliks wrote: "essay on 'debate' vs 'persuasion' in these polarized times
brief references to Aristotle"

Interesting article, and it rings true. The Character, ethos, is extremely important and why I also think Bernie would have beaten Trump. Clinton was (unfairly) seen as just as bad, if not worse, than Trump. We need a 50-year-old female Bernie.

message 45: by Feliks (last edited Jun 03, 2018 06:06PM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments here's an even more fun romp


I'd never heard about it til today. Isn't it a scream when academics play tricks on each other to test their scholarly rigor? Would any other field even allow such a thing?

message 46: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments For all the progressive critiques of Bill Clinton - this article describes him to a tee. Isn’t this exactly what he did back in the 90’s...emote effectively and persuade people across the political spectrum that he understood their pain, their frustrations. He has been ridiculed by the left ever since he left office, yet he remains the most effective Democratic President since Roosevelt. And the most politically successful at that.
The art of connecting with people, persuading them is the core of politics,isn’t it? Isn’t politics the process of persuading people to follow your lead? I’m sorry, but I haven’t heard a Democratic politician say anything like this in decades.
Debates are wonderful intellectual exercises that sharpen certain important skills and understanding - persuading strangers of the validity of your positions and getting them to follow you flows from effective rhetoric. It worked for Cicero and Demosthenes, Caesar and Pericles. And I might add, our own master, Lincoln.

message 47: by Charles (new)

Charles Gonzalez | 256 comments Just read this piece and thought it connected to our discussion of debate vs. persuasion and my previous comments on rhetoric. The author, while trying to make important academic points for students in their preparation of written essays, nevertheless make fine use of classical examples of rhetorical excellence to make his points for the current student. I wonder, in 20 years, will ANYONE be able to communicate and persuade effectively, or will public discourse be nothing more than a series of gotchas. Man your battle stations and make sure kids and grandkids continue the chain of educated and informed persuasion and argumentation.


message 48: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments Fact check please?

I've heard this weekend that the USA is the only country left in the world where free speech is protected as fully as possible (even though its undergoing sea-storms lately). True or false?

I've heard too that in Scandanavia and Great Britain there are currently 'gag orders' on citizens and journalists which prevent speech on sensitive issues like immigration. Is this true or not? Seems outlandish to me.

Thanks all--p.s. I believe we have some Britons in the group, I sure could use your input!

message 49: by Alan, Moderator and Author (new)

Alan Johnson (alanejohnson) | 3973 comments Mod
Feliks wrote: "Fact check please?

I've heard this weekend that the USA is the only country left in the world where free speech is protected as fully as possible (even though its undergoing sea-storms lately). Tr..."

Sounds like classic "fake news" to me, but I don't really know. Perhaps group members in those countries can advise.

message 50: by Feliks (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) | 1429 comments A while ago--maybe last year or so--it was mentioned in a group thread that insistent demands for free speech are currently a well-recognized tactic of the political far-right; in order to ensure their messages can still reach people regardless of any concern by local authorities for temperance or restraint. This situation, is growing particularly virulent with regard to speakers on college campuses.

I'm interested in finding that remark again --I would like to explore the topic of campus restrictions on speech. I wouldn't ask anyone's assistance to help me track it down, except that the website's 'search' function is "on the fritz". Does anyone happen to recall what I'm referring to or, does anyone know any good articles on this theme, around the web? Thank you.

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