The Analytic Atavar

Idiosyncratic Musings of a Retrograde Technophile

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Location: Chandler, Arizona, United States

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Rhetorical Poison

The state of modern American political rhetoric is dismal. There is little logic or courtesy, and the following types seem to be the primary ones in use:

  • argumentum per repetitio, or the Snark Syllogism, from the famous Lewis Carroll poem (which Carroll subtitled "an Agony in Eight Fits"):
    "Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
    As he landed his crew with care;
    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
    By a finger entwined in his hair.

    "Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
    That alone should encourage the crew.
    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
    What I tell you three times is true.
    so named by Dafydd ab Hugh here.

    To this must be added others in common use:

  • argumentum per clamo, or proof by volume -- the apparent belief that the louder an argument is made, the more validity it has. In the extreme this degenerates to shouting-down an opponent, never allowing them to speak, a favorite tactic of the left.
  • argumentum per rumpo, or argument by interruption -- the discourteous practice of not letting anyone else complete even one of their sentences, destroying any continuity in their argument. This technique is often seen combined with the previous one. (I suspect it indicates the inability to remember parts of an argument, so they must be responded to immediately lest they be lost.)
  • argumentum per ignarus quaero, or argument by ignoring the question and instead producing a non sequitur bearing small or no relation to the issue, argument, or question at hand. Most politicians are particularly adept at this technique.
  • argumentum per a singulus refero, or the argument of a single answer to all questions, i.e., the daily talking point. This, of necessity, is often associated with the previous technique.
  • argumentum per capitagium, or argument from polling -- the belief that because a majority of people, often ill-informed or totally ignorant of the issue, believe something, it therefore must be so. This logical fallacy has become so common that it is seldom even recognized, and is widely employed by all sides.
  • argumentum ex affectus, or argument from emotion -- the belief that a good person's feelings must be a reliable guide to the truth of a matter, with the corollary that anyone who disagrees must be i) cold-hearted or unfeeling, or ii) emotionally disturbed, or, in the extreme, iii) evil -- in any case, not fully human, leading quite naturally to ad hominum attacks.
Unfortunately, I despair of any improvement in our political rhetoric -- the confrontational cable programs and the Internet only seem to be accelerating the decline.


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