No Contest

by Dwayne Holmes

Whatever I thought about Muhammad Ali, as a boxer, it all changed when I saw When We Were Kings. (1) For those who haven’t seen it, the movie documents a fight between Ali and George Foreman, which took place in Africa. It was a match I’d heard about, one that I knew Ali had won, but I was unaware of its importance; that it had proven just how great a boxer he was. While Ali faced the possibility of loss right up until the end (which makes any fight great to watch), in reality their fight had extended well beyond the ropes. It was a contest of wills and skills, where Ali managed to beat Foreman inside and outside the ring in order to come out on top.

Undisputed.

Why am I talking about this? Because boxing matches, especially those as important as Ali v. Foreman, demonstrate situations in which participants and spectators alike enter with an expectation of honest dealing. There is an ethical dimension to this type of fight, which is not present in other fights, such as street brawls or trench warfare, where the only object is to live, by hook or crook. In a boxing match, we come to see who is best, within a set of parameters designed to limit otherwise irrelevant factors.

If it turned out the documentary was only a piece of Ali propaganda, I would be upset. Just as the audience of the fight, and Foreman himself, would have been upset if it was discovered that Ali had put lead in his gloves, or bought off trainers to drug Foreman. We would have understood immediately there was no contest of wills or skills and consequently, no determination of anything. At least nothing we came to see. We would have been cheated.

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with anything?

Well, to my mind, it has a lot to do with the question of whether rhetoric or logic is more important to argumentation. (2) That is to say, boxing makes a useful analogy, because arguments are another situation where we bring an expectation of honest dealing and where the entire enterprise is undercut if the ethical dimension is not satisfied.

It’s true that most human communication is meant to persuade. And rhetoric, being the art of persuasion, has a lot to contribute to human communication. But to say that the goal of argument is simply to persuade seems to be missing something. Like boxing being a type of fighting, argument seems a type of communication, a subcategory of attempts to persuade, set within limits, to achieve specific goals.

I know that if I engage in argument with someone, or accept arguments from them, it is with an understanding we are trying to persuade each other toward the best beliefs or actions for both of us. It is meant to be a contest between ideas, where, like boxers, the best one comes out on top. And the best, when it comes to ideas people usually want to debate, are the ones that are most sound (factually accurate, logically valid). Those engaged in argument want to find out which are able to withstand scrutiny and/or are most likely to achieve promised results.

This is not to say that rhetoric is inherently cheating, or unworthy, in argument. Rhetoric can be used to draw and keep interest in an idea or the contest itself. Make them exciting, and focus attention where it needs to be. But when rhetoric is used to cover deficiencies in logic, or in place of valid reason, it is to serve personal, rather than expected goals, and so is as good as slipping lead in a glove or paying off the judges. There is no serious contest between ideas, and less sound ones will prevail.

That is not a trivial thing, since, for most ideas, the last contest will not be between people in debate. The real title fight comes (an idea may only be considered undisputed) when it is tested against the real world, where no amount of rhetoric will help, and the stakes are more than applause.

Given this reality, serious argument is normally entered with an expectation that both sides are engaged in a fair exchange of information, using only what is believed to be valid logic, and not using rhetoric to cover flaws. Those who use rhetoric that way are not engaged in an honest exchange of information, and so argument. They are engaged in manipulation or deception, under the cover of argument. This would be similar to a boxer going through the motions of a fight when the fix is already in.

While manipulation and deception are valid forms of persuasion, and so communication, it is not the kind of thing that promotes further argument. It is corrosive to the entire project.

Without a general expectation of honesty, there would seem to be little reason to engage in argument at all. In that case, we might as well, and likely will, limit communication to commands, requests, provocations, or entertainment.

I’ve found that those arguing for the primary importance of rhetoric often hang their hat on the existence of cheaters. They point to people having successfully manipulated or deceived others, to suggest how important persuasive techniques are, how critical it is that people can recognize and use such tools. While I would agree on the recognition part, the use part not so much.  Analogously, I would agree that boxers and audiences ought to know what kinds of things to watch for, in case someone was cheating in the ring, while making sure people understood that these were not important for boxing, and in fact illegitimate to the point of helping define what is not boxing.

Scott Adams, creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, is a pretty good example of this kind of promoter. Adams views persuasion as paramount in communication, and has found a second avenue of fame, by predicting Trump’s win early on and claiming that Trump is some sort of “master wizard.” Adams defines this as a person who exhibits an amazing level of persuasive knowledge, and he’s connected some of Trump’s techniques with those used in hypnosis. (3) Since the election, Adams has continued to follow and document Trump’s wizardry, chuckling as the left falls for all his tricks. (4)

To some extent I think Adams, and others like him, are correct. Persuasive techniques are powerful, and Trump in specific seems pretty successful at using them.

But to a larger extent, I think Adams and the rest are way off.

To start with, Trump is not engaged in argument, or at least I have not seen it. To the extent that he is using these techniques, it is to avoid argument, by creating diversions or attacking others personally (as Adams’s account seems to corroborate). So it’s not like his success can tell us anything about the merits of rhetoric versus logic in serious argument, only manipulation and deception.

Ignoring that first point, for sake of argument, if he is such a master wizard, duping people unaware of his powerful rhetoric, where is the evidence he’s convinced people of anything, especially those who started out disagreeing with him? Trump has had and continues to have historically low approval ratings. And some of his suggested policies even lower. His attempts to get an agenda passed have been slow and surprisingly hard for a guy enjoying a partisan lock on all branches of government. And even then, things have only been passed along strict party lines, with a few of those votes needing procedural tools that may come back to haunt Republicans later. Being limited to strict partisan power plays is hardly the sign of someone making inroads with the public at large.

The best that could be said is that (with all these vaunted powers) he has managed not to lose his core supporters, and got a few things done that any other Republican would as well.

Not exactly a Svengali.

More important to me, however, is the underlying worldview held by these promoters of rhetoric. Adams is explicit about this when discussing Trump. His claim, in an interview with Reason magazine (ironically enough), is that persuasion tools are important because people generally don’t use reason when making decisions. (5) This belief in everything running on automatic, without reason, has led to his actively describing people as “moist robots” (including in Dilbert). Rhetorical tools, according to that model, are presumably just knowing which emotional buttons to press to program a specific decision. This is the exact kind of reductionist “meat puppet” position I have criticized for a long time. (6) It ignores that we can set ourselves against such tactics (intellectually and emotionally) and/or alter our environment (the nature of our interactions) to lessen the ability of people to make plays around our reason.

Adams seems to understand this (at least subconsciously), as indicated by one of his “sign off” lines. He alerts his followers, “There is a lot of persuasion out there. Stay alert. Stay alive.” (7) That warning, as well as being ironic, given his stated position, pretty well makes all the points I want to make. Apparently, the rhetoric of others can end up getting one killed, and by “staying alert” one can avoid rhetorical wizardry. How important then, is rhetoric compared to logic in actual decision making, and so argumentation?  It is unlikely you’ll hear someone say (on entering a science department for example), “There is a lot of reason here. Stay alert, Stay alive.”

But what about all of those Trump supporters, those on the left may very well ask. How can their steadfast support be explained? Since logic (showing all his clear contradictions, lies, hypocrisies, etc.) has not moved them, does that not show the power of rhetoric? And how can one break them free, except getting them to understand the tools being used by Trump, or using stronger versions of those same tools in kind?

Adams’ videos suggest that Trump is only using his rhetorical magic against the left, like some white wizard deflecting harm directed at him by delusional liberals who are imagining all these problems (contradictions, lies, hypocrisies, etc.). Meanwhile, those on the right are already seeing reality, which one day the left will wake up to and admit that Trump is a good (or not so bad) guy who has done a lot of good (or not so bad) things. (8)

From my perspective, Trump’s success at maintaining a core set of supporters, no matter what he does, is mostly about the environment and the audience, and so the actual project going on, rather than some unusually strong power of persuasion he has in the service of argument.

Remember, I started the essay talking about boxing, and the expectations people bring to that situation, as an analogy for serious argument. There is another sport, where people bring a different set of expectations, which would explain the very things we are seeing today and that is professional wrestling.

No one cares about whether some wrestler cheated, lied, or acted hypocritically during some match. After all it is fake sport. Theater. It is all about the spectacle. Blood on the mat. There are the villains and there are the heroes, and it doesn’t matter if they do the exact same thing in the ring. The hero just has to say what the audience wants them to say to be hero-like, and make them feel good.

For the most part, Trump has not been trying to convince anyone of anything they don’t already believe (in some form). He is playing to an audience. They want to hear ABC and see XYZ. It’s largely about symbolism, and as long as some things they generally want come their way, they could give a shit about whether off-screen he might have been saying or doing QRS.

This is not to criticize his voter base. Should they want more?  Should they be treating politics like boxing, worrying if the politicians or policies are the best? Why? The politicians (of both parties) haven’t been playing that way for years. And the media, which shifted to 24-7 infotainment long ago, only rewards the pro-wrestling model of politics.

In a society feeling alienated by government in general, and the political establishment in particular, why wouldn’t a large segment come to view politics as a series of rigged games, and so go for what makes them feel good? Worry about the entertainment value.

That’s about all one is likely to get out of Washington and the never ending election cycle.

Last week, Trump tweeted (or re-tweeted) an animated image of himself fighting in a pro-wrestling match – yes he actually did that – with the CNN logo edited in over the head of the guy he was fighting. (9) To me, this was a graphic vindication of my concept from Trump himself. Some on the left went bonkers, trying to read into it some sort of message, while his supporters simply ate it up. Adams was right that his base viewed it as fiction, but blew his analysis in thinking it was some genius move, capable of persuading anyone of anything that they didn’t already believe. (10)

Anthony Zurcher, on the other hand, nailed it.

[Trump] has shown time and time again that he views politics as performance art; another reality television competition where the more drama and conflict there is, the better. Candidate Trump belittled his Republican opponents – Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and company – then shrugged it off as part of the game. He turned Hillary Clinton, whom he had once praised and buddied around with at his wedding, into a “crooked” caricature who should be shipped off to prison.

He portrayed the media, and CNN in particular, as cartoon villains that he can rhetorically beat into submission.

Mr. Trump’s choice of a professional wrestling clip for his latest tweet was particularly apt, as throughout his campaign he treated the political process like a World Wrestling Entertainment match. The drama is contrived; the action is fake; the outcome predetermined.

He pulled back the curtain on the show and laughed along with his supporters at the spectacle. He encouraged his crowds to cheer the hero (him) and berate the villains (everyone else). (11)

This interpretation has seemed obvious to me for some time, which is why I never understood pro-rhetoric people using Trump as an example of anything having to do with argument, much less rhetoric versus logic in normal life.

Trump simply gets the medium and expectations related to the actual project his voter base is interested in. And it is probably not a coincidence that his unwavering voter base fits the same demographic as pro-wrestling enthusiasts and those suffering in the ongoing opioid epidemic. Both groups are seeking, perhaps need, a form of escapism, and he is offering that to them: an escape.

And really, are Democrats any better? The Clinton campaign, while different in tone, was basically devoid of policy. It was Boo Trump and Yay Hillary, though mostly Boo Trump. On the campaign trail, how many inconsistencies and lies and hypocrisies were revealed and then ignored by those on the left?

Maybe Clinton’s problems were less worrisome than Trump’s, but that doesn’t exactly erase my point. That both contestants in a match get caught “cheating”, and none of the fans do anything except Boo louder at the one they already hated, tells you this ain’t a boxing match.  It’s pro-wrestling and the expectations are different.

As I said earlier, in a world where trust in honest communication has been eroded, all that remains is provocation and entertainment. And in an escapist environment, in fiction, rhetoric is king.

There is no contest over policies or ideas. This is governtainment.

If things are going to change in politics, including public discourse within that sphere, it will have to come from within the populace. (12) It will require the public reassert (if it has ever asserted) a different set of expectations on candidates and those in government than currently exists.

They have to care that they are getting an Ali and Foreman in the ring, and what that contest says about those contestants, rather than say a Trump and McMahon (the other guy in the clip) and how entertaining the results are.

Politicians and the media could help drive this change, if they cared.  But there is little money to be made in that, so I doubt it will happen. The goal of the establishment (especially neo-cons/liberals) is to create a large underclass that is disinterested in government, beyond pulling a lever to determine power shifts between different groups of families. Kind of like pulling a lever at a casino, getting excited at the whirling lights, with the same vain hope this time things will change for the better.

Perhaps this change will come when times get bad enough escapism is no longer possible. When the real world steps into the ring and keeps cleaning the clock of anyone relying on rhetoric to make choices.

When, of course, the need for serious argument, and so logic, reasserts itself.

No contest.*

Notes

1) Information on the movie at IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0118147/?ref_=nv_sr_1) and Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_We_Were_Kings) and the fight itself at Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rumble_in_the_Jungle).

2) Arguments involve two distinct components: the rational and the emotional. Rational components are facts and lines of reasoning, which work to support the validity of claims. Emotional components are a broad mix of contextual information, personal appeal, or artistic device employed to promote emotional investment in the author, topic, or claim (regardless of validity). For convenience, I refer to the rational and emotional components as an argument’s logic and rhetoric, respectively.

3) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55NxKENplG4

4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zlc4BEnA3pA

5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55NxKENplG4 (same as 3, starting from 6:58)

6) It is true to say that we make decisions to achieve emotion-based goals, rather than reason-based goals – logic is the slave of the passions and all that – but that is not the same as saying we do not use reason in our decision making, or that reason cannot explain the decisions we are seeing.

7) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zlc4BEnA3pA (same as 4, starting from 8:54)

8) Intriguingly, Adams somehow ignores how those that voted for Trump could be falling for the same techniques. He counts each thing achieved as per campaign promise (even if not really achieved, or by him) as showing Trump is a man of his word, and the voters not having been suckered by persuasion techniques, while never mentioning the obvious reversals and inconsistencies with other campaign promises. As he laughs at the cognitive dissonance of those on the left, I am getting some laughs of my own watching his similar failures.

9) Article on Trump’s pro-wrestling tweet (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40474118) and a clip of the actual “battle of the billionaires” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DmMMQq5p58)

10) This is Adams’s take on the brilliance of Trump’s pro-wrestling tweet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uCCoxrwi8I), which he makes while pretending to criticize it. But then he seems to have missed the people, including on the Republican side, who have not found it persuasive at all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PIYh9UZsL8 , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CNPlmaiU-s4 , and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWsXe36WNbs

11) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40475448

12) I’m being a little hyperbolic here. The problem is not with everyone in the US. There are plenty of people on the left and right that take matters seriously.  The problem is that there is a strong and seemingly growing voter base on both sides who don’t. The fact that there was low voter turnout (a form of protest) and relatively high interest in third parties during the last election, and people criticizing their own parties since then, gives me some hope that change may occur sooner rather than later.  It could be that this latest experiment in novelty presidents will not last past one or two terms. Plenty of damage could be done in that time, of course, but that may only increase the likelihood for change.

* Bonus footnote: It’s interesting that I had written most of this before Trump made his tweet, and Zurcher’s analysis. So it was some pretty great timing, only I wish I got it out beforehand so that I’d seem prescient rather than following in the wake of others, and did not have to rewrite the end of my essay. If that were not enough, while checking my links for the final submission, I just found that Adams posted a new video associating Trump with Muhammad Ali, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOE7K1tgP2E) suggesting that he may be using a rhetorical rope-a-dope, the very technique Ali used in the fight I mentioned at the beginning of my essay, to get healthcare passed.

So now my essay seems derivative. Adams also goes on to skewer (or so he thinks) the argument I make in this essay about Trump’s low approval indicating he is not a master persuader. I’m not rewriting the whole essay again, but will address the argument: Trump is President isn’t he? The criticism being made is not that he cannot persuade anyone of anything or that he has never in his life done so or that he did not do so with respect to something important. Rather, it is that he did not do any of this using some amazing ability of persuasion. Ali beating Foreman showed us his skill because these were two great fighters in a fair contest. Even if this last election involved having to persuade the electorate of something substantial, rather than being a “root for your favorite wrestler” piece of governtainment, this was hardly The Rumble in the Jungle, but more like The Stumble out in the Styx. Trump beat a largely disliked and un-charismatic figure (who had to cheat to get the nomination), by narrowly defeating her in a few key locations (where she didn’t bother to put in much of an effort), which allowed him to win the election despite having a lower number in the popular vote. This does not suggest we witnessed some level of brilliance in persuasive capacity, however unexpected his victory was, rather than the failure of a weak opponent. Adams goes on to argue how evident failures of persuasion once in office, like healthcare, are signs of a genius winning strategy, but while I agree that those on the left who demonized Trump were way off, Adams really seems to be drinking his own brand of Kool-Aid, in defending everything the guy does as signs of genius.

45 Comments »

  1. I am surprised we are re-litigating this dismal affair. I would much rather see some answers to the questions – what can we do better next time? I am reminded of the old adage – success does not need any excuses while failure needs countless excuses.

    Your boxing analogy is fundamentally flawed. This was not a contest between two people. It was a contest between two broad movements, a conservative movement and a liberal movement. When one looks at the total picture represented by the returns in state legislatures, Governorships, Congress and Senate, it is readily apparent that the conservative movement won a comprehensive victory. This fact can’t be wished away and no matter how much we smear Trump or complain about the electoral college, this inconvenient truth remains.

    People have interests and they have values. They tend to elect people who they think represent those interests and values. They tend to coalesce around leaders who they think are strong enough to represent and protect their interests. Trump succeeded because he projected an image of strength, certainty and clarity and so the conservative movement coalesced around him, because they needed strong, certain and clear leadership. This makes it completely unlike a boxing contest and your analogy fails.

    What needs to be understood are the reasons for the population as a whole trending towards the conservative wing. Trump is not the reason, but he was a rallying point. He was simply astute enough to recognise what was happening and to take advantage of it. That they rallied around a person with such evident personal failings speaks to their deep need to have their interests represented and protected. This was almost certainly the result of liberal triumphalism that did its best to ram liberal policies down conservative throats. In a democracy strident triumphalism is bad politics because you can be sure it produces a stinging blow-back.

    Like

  2. I’m afraid I think that Adams largely has it right. Trump has pretty much played not just the Democrats, but the Republicans, as well as the media. He has forced us to confront just how strategically and tactically weak all these players have become.

    Like

  3. The Democrats pretty much played themselves. Trump didn’t force Clinton to make that “basket of deplorables” comment, which must rank as one of the stupidest things said by a politician ever and showed up Clinton as someone with no political instincts at all.

    It doesn’t seem as though the Democrats are done playing themselves and Trump is quietly building up his brand in those swing states where the thin margin could give power back to the Democrats, had they any interest in winning, which they don’t seem to have.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Dwayne,

    I take this to be the essay on rhetoric that you intended partly as response to mine, so I will indulge myself in a lengthier than normal response, if Dan allows.

    With all due respect, I admit I find your view of politics somewhat impoverished and lacking in nuance. And the understanding of rhetoric demonstrated here is not only impoverished and lacking in nuance, it is so slim as to be virtually non-existent. It’s rather like remarking ‘editing has no place in cinema, a good camera operator knows what to shoot!’ [1]

    “Scott Adams, creator of the popular comic strip Dilbert, is a pretty good example of this kind of promoter” (of rhetoric). No, he isn’t! He’s a professional cartoonist; his claim to fame is a comic strip (and one I’ve always found dull and unfunny). Beyond that he is a digital media gadfly with a BA in economics. He has no credentials in any field related to rhetoric, or to politics. He has an opinion. And he may be right or wrong, or partly both, but his opinion is not particularly noteworthy or well-informed.

    You speak lightly of “pro-rhetoric people” – Who are these people? No, seriously: Stanley Fish? Perelman? Kenneth Burke? I.A. Richards? Nietzsche? John Cardinal Newman? Joseph Addison? Augustus? Quintilian? Aristotle? Some 3,000 years of rhetorical theory and criticism (from the most constrained to the most encompassing) reduced to “Rhetoric can be used to draw and keep interest in an idea or the contest itself”? I am reminded of Dan Kaufman’s occasional reminders in another forum, that a professionally informed point of view has necessarily greater weight than mere opinion. Or do years of professional study and/or practice amount to mere recreation?

    Anthony Zucher, on the other hand, has considerably greater credentials than Scott Adams, having worked years as a political journalist and critic. Unfortunately, your quotation of his remark (contrary to your intention) is entirely about Trump’s rhetoric: “He pulled back the curtain on the show and laughed along with his supporters at the spectacle. He encouraged his crowds to cheer the hero (him) and berate the villains (everyone else).” That’s an appeal to an audience. It is persuading that audience to respond in a certain way. That is what rhetoric is supposed to do. [2]

    Your article is – like many such – self-defeating. To succeed, it must, first, deny that Trump is engaged in political argument – which you do overtly. Unfortunately, you happen to be wrong. ‘Vote for me because…’ is quite obviously the initiation of an argument during an electoral process. You may say, the election is over; however, Trump is already currently engaged in a campaign for re-election in 2020. Therefore, he is still making that argument. (There are several other more discrete arguments he is making, concerning the nature of the media, the right of a president to do as he pleases – thus the very structure of American government, the nature of American society, and the nature of foreign affairs. But his argument for re-election is the most obvious. [3])

    Then you must deny that Trump is really engaged in rhetoric, since this would dis-arm the “pro-rhetoric people” at the very base of their position, which you do by insisting that Trump is involved in distractions rather than persuasions; but as I showed with the Zucher quote, this won’t do. It is true that Trump is not reaching out beyond his base, but his rhetoric is quite successful in keeping his base committed to him.

    So of course you need to make the most questionable move here, and suggest that Trump’s rhetoric is not successful. “From my perspective, Trump’s success at maintaining a core set of supporters, no matter what he does, is mostly about the environment and the audience, and so the actual project going on, rather than some unusually strong power of persuasion he has in the service of argument.” Mostly about environment and audience? Good heavens, what do you think rhetoric is all about? Maybe environment and audience? Could be!

    And of course you drop the misguided hint, that Trump did not ‘really’ win the election, having failed to earn the majority of the popular vote. While I personally think the Electoral College is an outdated institution, it remains a hard fact of American politics, and needs to be addressed in political strategy and should help guide the rhetoric of a national campaign. Clinton didn’t plan on this, relying on a “Blue Wall” of reliable states that didn’t really exist. The Republicans understood this full well, and reaped the rewards of their strategy and the rhetoric used, including that by Trump.

    I appreciate your remarks about Trump’s Reality TV/ Professional Wrestling showmanship. Well said. However, if you don’t recognize the rhetorical usefulness of such showmanship (which Zucher, for instance, clearly understands), I’m not sure what can be said to make it clear for you.

    Ultimately, the essay reads like a strange kind of ‘holier-than-thou’ cry of desperation. ‘Politics should be this way; arguments should only proceed logically; politics should be boxing, not wrestling.’ “Perhaps this change will come when times get bad enough escapism is no longer possible. When the real-world steps into the ring and keeps cleaning the clock of anyone relying on rhetoric to make choices.” The naivete revealed here is somewhat saddening. The real world is already here; and when one rhetoric at last fails, it will only be replaced with another, stronger rhetoric. [4]

    You wish politics would be entirely reasonable and orderly. So did Socrates – that ended in his drinking hemlock. As I’ve remarked elsewhere, politics is war by another means, not the other way around. It’s a dirty business, and those who don’t like the dirt should not play.
    -_-_-
    [1] The only film justified by such a remark would be Warhol’s “Empire” – the 24-hour version.
    [2] Or consider the analysis of Trump’s use of hyperbole by Joseph Romm. Also not a professionally trained rhetorician, yet Romm has earned ‘street cred’ in the field after years of experience negotiation public policy and authoring a book advocating the use of rhetoric. https://thinkprogress.org/donald-trump-may-sound-like-a-clown-but-he-is-a-rhetoric-pro-like-cicero-ac40fd1cda79
    [3] And given this, by the end of this year, there should be at least two Democratic candidates running for the 2020 nomination. However, this is unlikely, because the DNC, which should be fostering new talent in such efforts, remains convinced that their glory days were the Clinton Administration, and that people will just get so appalled by Trumps antics… like hoping that the Republican Congress, knowing that Trump will sign any bill they can get onto his desk, would consider impeaching him.
    [4] See note 3. If Democrats keep insisting that ‘the other side’ play fair, instead of coming up with a more persuasive politics, they will keep losing elections.

    Like

  5. Dwayne, a few things:

    1. The essay is a bit of an odd duck. I think you should have either stuck with rhetoric and reason or with Trump, but not both. Trying to tackle the two of them in one piece had the result of a pretty shallow, uncritical treatment of rhetoric and a largely familiar treatment of Trump.

    2. I’m not really sure what the point regarding rhetoric is supposed to be. You set things up as if rhetoric is somehow opposed to argument, but no one (serious) who believes rhetoric is important thinks that argument is not. That rhetoric should not be used to misleadingly cover up bad arguments, as you suggest, is something with which every serious thinker on the subject would agree. You also seem simply to assume that wherever rational argument points will always be what is best for us to believe and do, and I see no reason for thinking that is the case and can see a number of reasons for thinking it’s not.

    3. Then there is this: “The goal of the establishment (especially neo-cons/liberals) is to create a large underclass that is disinterested in government, beyond pulling a lever to determine power shifts between different groups of families.” No argument or evidence is offered for this claim, so I will simply say, “Baloney.”

    4. Finally, with regard to “Trump beat a largely disliked and un-charismatic figure (who had to cheat to get the nomination), by narrowly defeating her in a few key locations (where she didn’t bother to put in much of an effort), which allowed him to win the election despite having a lower number in the popular vote.” Since we do not elect presidents by popular vote, but by electoral college votes — with respect to which Trump won in a landslide — I can’t really see what the point of this observation is. If it is to demonstrate in some way that Trump did not run a pretty masterful campaign, it clearly fails.

    Like

  6. One more thing, following up on EJ’s point regarding politics. Many if not most of our political/legal systems are adversarial in nature. Our founders were not stupid, so we can clearly deduce from the adversarial character of our systems that they were not designed solely to select for what is “true” or “best,” in an epistemic sense. As much as political/legal systems have to be concerned with truth and rightness, they also must be concerned with order and other practical values. The idea, then, that political contests should be more like rational arguments strikes me as unwarranted.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Forgive the additional verbiage; but I did recognize the need to modify my judgment on Scott Adams – he clearly is successful at the rhetoric of a certain kind of humor, and of drawing attention to himself on the internet. But he is certainly no go-to critic on political rhetoric, or on rhetoric per se.

    I also wanted to note the ambiguity of the late paragraph in your post, concerning the real-world cleaning clocks “of anyone relying on rhetoric to make choices.” – The practitioner of rhetoric? the theorist /critic? the audience? I suspect you mean all three, and I find this disturbing. Such a view has been used to silence critics, and thus leave audiences vulnerable to practitioners who can persuade them that rhetoric is not being used.

    Also, there’s more than a hint here that you look forward to things getting worse to the point that everyone awakens to realize the rightness of your point of view (and acting accordingly). There are two things wrong with this: 1, no matter how bad things get, they can *always* get worse; and humans simply learn to adapt. Because of this, 2, such a hope is doomed to disappointment – Marxists believing this have been disappointed time and again; social critics in ancient Rome were disappointed to the point of the collapse of the Western Empire, after which there was nothing left to hope for.

    Like

  8. “… [F]or most ideas, the last contest will not be between people in debate. The real title fight comes (an idea may only be considered undisputed) when it is tested against the real world, where no amount of rhetoric will help, and the stakes are more than applause.”

    I’m sympathetic to this, actually. But there are ideas and ideas. You seem to be wanting to apply the notion of scientific knowledge (and the good old scholarly notions of accuracy and truth) to other areas, notably political action and debate. But I think you need to see the social and political realm in slightly more cynical terms. As ej said, politics is a dirty business.

    That said, I think we can still defend those scholarly and scientific values. They are in play when well-meaning people are trying to come to a view on some controversial question (like environmental questions, for example) which draws on scientific data. But such a situation seems closer to the realm of science and scholarship than politics.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Well, I’ve already written too much. But I do need to comment on the rhetoric of your article. It is self evident, and thus undercuts everything you argue.

    Let’s consider that line about ‘cleaning clocks.’ It offers your hoped-for audience the appeal that you – having identified your point of view with the ‘real world’ (thus lacking any rhetoric; you’re assuring us that you speak ‘the truth,’ lacking any appeal beyond that of reason) – are engaged in a symbolically violent contest with all practioners, theorist/critics, rhetorically aware audiences. The ‘real world’ will ‘clean our clocks’ (militarily? economically?); so you offer symbolic satisfaction of this in your words in this article.

    And this is quite consistent with your *rhetorical* deployment of the tropes of boxing and wrestling. You present two alternatives – rhetorically – that there is the ‘real world’ (yourself, since your point of view is, suggested, unquestionably ‘the truth’) and then there is this monster of ‘rhetoric’ – the mutate off-spring of rhetorical theory of the past 3,000 years and Donald Trump. And you are (symbolically) defeating all – “no contest.” Once the ‘real world’ cleans all clocks, everyone will realize they ‘really’ want a reasonable political ‘boxing match,’ and not a rhetorical wrestling match. Thus you set yourself up as the ‘hero’ of reasonable political discourse – using recognizable rhetorical devices intended to subvert our reasoning. But I admit I am unpersuaded.

    Your argument here is constituted primarily by rhetoric – and, frankly, empty rhetoric. Your perspective is not ‘the truth;’ there is no violent confrontation between rhetoric and argument as you suggest. There will not come the revolution of consciousness you hope for. And you clearly cannot present your ideas here without rhetoric! – thus defeating your argument. All you’re doing is setting yourself up for disappointment.

    Really, please read more on the theory of rhetoric before you step into self-set traps like this again.

    Like

  10. I said earlier that success needs no excuse while failure need many excuses. The corollary to this axiom is that no one ever learns from success. They only learn from failure. Failure is the best tutor in the world, provided that we stop making excuses.

    Like

  11. I said earlier that success needs no excuse while failure need many excuses.
    = = =
    This, this, and this. And the Democrats had better tattoo it on their collective foreheads, if they don’t want to lose again. I’ve already taken another bet, from another overconfident Democrat on the next election.

    Like

  12. Hi all, thanks for the comments (even those against my argument). As a heads up, I will not be able to answer as much as I usually do. Today is an exception so I will answer as much as I can…

    ……

    Labnut, I would ask you to reread the essay. It is not about Trump, or the election, especially re-litigating it. It is about rhetoric v logic in argument. It merely uses Trump as an example because people use him to show that rhetoric beats logic. The argument being made is that he is not a good example to use, because 1) he is not a master wizard at rhetoric, and 2) the current political environment is about something other than serious argument (and so this is about the audience more than the participant).

    “Trump succeeded because he projected an image of strength, certainty and clarity and so the conservative movement coalesced around him, because they needed strong, certain and clear leadership. This makes it completely unlike a boxing contest and your analogy fails.”

    I was explicitly arguing that it was *not* like boxing, and indeed agree with a good bit of what you said about the nature of the election. Though again, Trump was more liberal than his Rep opponents. This was like a major point in his campaign. So I’m not sure why you think this was anti-liberal rather than antiestablishment (what he actually ran on).

    ….

    Dan, I had said I agreed with Adams that Trump played things well. My issue is whether that makes him a master wizard (rather than relatively better than people who are awful) and whether we can take from his success that people do not use reason, and so persuasion techniques (basically hypnosis) the best tool for communicating with others.

    By the numbers…

    1) You are probably right that the use of Trump will distract and so weaken the piece. It was an experiment.

    2) I was not arguing that rhetoric is opposed to argument. It is quite useful in fact. My point was that it is not more important than logic (reason).

    3) “No argument or evidence is offered for this claim”. Fair enough. But that would seem to support my position that reasoning is more important than rhetoric?

    4) Hmmm… I think he ran a pretty effective campaign. Masterful? He was running against someone in the general election who was not likeable and failed to put in a good performance. I see you agreed with Robin who was making my point: Hillary sabotaged her own campaign. I suppose his victory over Reps was more skilled, though again I think that has more to do with anti-establishment sentiment. That he won and that he was effective is not the question. Whether it rises to something beyond what others have or can do.

    5-ish) “As much as political/legal systems have to be concerned with truth and rightness, they also must be concerned with order and other practical values.” I grant that political and legal practices will not be the same as say science or academic philosophy. They will concern themselves with emotional interests. That said, ideas about how such things can be satisfied must be well-founded or they will fail. If a politician promises jobs, and their plan was totally incapable of delivering jobs, the public will likely react poorly when they see the results.

    ………

    Hi Robin, I completely agree with your assessment. Again, this is why I find it odd when people claim Trump has exhibited any sort of master level skills, beyond shrewd opportunism? The Dems continue to fail hard while Trump continues to build his brand. He certainly understands the current market in key locations.

    ……..

    Hi Mark, thanks, I want to be clear that I was not trying to claim that all occasions where arguments occur will or should be like science. There are a lot of cases where the concern is about emotional results, which themselves can be pretty mushy. But as I said to Dan above, how to get those results are normally based on some plausible model of how they can be achieved.

    Politics is certainly a dirty business. But it is only as dirty as we allow it to be. We can place constraints (voluntarily or legally) to reduce the level of dirty play. In any case, the winner had better have plans that work, or eventually they will get thrown out or looked down on later.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Labnut and Dan,

    “The corollary to this axiom is that no one ever learns from success. They only learn from failure. Failure is the best tutor in the world, provided that we stop making excuses.”

    Isn’t this basically making my point? When people (like the Dems) continue to believe in failed policies, including political strategy, because they buy into their own rhetoric (but we are great and they are bad) they will get their clock cleaned. Eventually they will have to *analyze* the *reason* for their failure and learn from it.

    “And the Democrats had better tattoo it on their collective foreheads, if they don’t want to lose again. I’ve already taken another bet, from another overconfident Democrat on the next election.”

    Agreed. I think it is way to early to tell where the Dems will be in 2018 much less 2020. If the establishment wing continues its policies (and they seem to be doing so) they will lose big. But I am still somewhat hopeful, because I do see some movements growing inside and outside the Dem party.

    Like

  14. Hi Dan,

    “I think the subtext of one of my points was that it really doesn’t matter whether he was a “master” or not.”

    Ah, ok, I missed that. I was only calling those kinds of claims into question. The Clinton ref was part of that.

    Like

  15. I agree that Hillary lost as much as Trump won. And he won big. It was an electoral landslide. The electoral map is shocking to look at, and the Democrats had better be very concerned, as this could easily become the new normal, given how liberals cluster in a handful of metro areas.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Hi EJ, just to let you know, I am not ignoring your posts. While I think they have largely talked past me, sort of strawmanned me, I appreciated the arguments you were making in general. I am writing a response that will cover all of them, and yet not be too long. My guess is I’ll have it ready in a few hours or so (gotta eat).

    Like

  17. DB,
    When, of course, the need for serious argument, and so logic, reasserts itself.

    Just to prove that clickbait works, I read the PFN essay “Against Ecstasy“. Except I found no serious argument or logic, only vehement rhetoric, both in the essay and the comments. My shudder prompted a mild earthquake alert. See, I also use rhetoric.

    As we saw in the essay and comments, prejudice and bias permeates the writings of even the most intelligent and the most informed. Those that deny it are those with the least insight into their own minds.

    And so calling for serious argument and logic is a futile exercise. Whose serious arguments and logic do you choose to believe? Answer that question and I know exactly what your biases and prejudices are.

    This makes me sound like a cynic who has abandoned all faith in human nature. But instead I am an optimist. I am an optimist because we have discovered a secret for arriving at the best estimate of a pragmatic working truth. It is called the adversarial process and Dan-K referred to it an earlier comment. We have created symbolic arenas for virtual conflict according to a set of rules and regulated by an arbiter. These symbolic arenas are variously called the blogs, peer review, the law courts, the press, the court of public opinion and the legislative assemblies. We find them wherever people gather together for common purpose. In these symbolic arenas we engage in virtual conflict with all the passion and commitment that was found in Roman arenas, except that all parties walk away alive. We have substituted the conflict of ideas for the force of arms. It is only in the passionate conflict of ideas that we arrive at two things. 1) the best way of reconciling conflicting interests; 2) the best pragmatic estimate of a working truth. The conflict of ideas is a purifying force. This is the great achievement of democracy.

    We debate vigorously. We disagree vehemently and seemingly we have no effect because the other person never changes his mind. But that is only an appearance. The reality is that subtly, and almost unknowingly each of us are taking on board the best that is revealed by the conflict of ideas. Every idea we are exposed to changes us and they change us in ways that we are usually not aware of.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Dan-K
    and the Democrats had better be very concerned, as this could easily become the new normal, given how liberals cluster in a handful of metro areas.

    I am not so concerned. Winners do not learn and triumphalism poisons the well. Inevitably that results in a swing to the other side. We should be glad of this. A finely balanced swing to and fro between conservative and liberal viewpoints ultimately results in the best way of reconciling their different interests. That is the best outcome we could wish for.

    We have another problem and this really is a serious problem. Inevitably people search for ways to capture the democratic process so that they can shape it according to their needs. Unfortunately business interests are achieving this. They are motivated, competent and have the means. Almost every candidate is beholden to business interests for their election costs.

    Like

  19. Hi EJ, before I begin I want to thank you for your replies. You are an excellent writer and have a deeper knowledge of (among other things) rhetoric. I really do appreciate that fact, I am not being sarcastic, as I do the specialized areas of knowledge that Dan and Mark and David (to name a few of the older contributors) possess. Even while disagreeing with any of you, I am interested in learning something from the engagement, particularly when we are playing in an area of expertise outside my own.

    In short, I value experience and knowledge (aka reasoning) on a subject, rather than vapid opinion… empty rhetoric. Which was, ironically enough, the underlying point of my essay.

    You paint me as knowing basically nothing about this particular subject, which might be true relative to yourself, but not to most people (though maybe I should be more humble). I have an education which includes this subject area, while freely admitting it emphasized the earlier (like Aristotle) rather than the modern (I think the most recent was Nietzsche), and as it stands that education is decades in the rearview mirror. I am working with the assumption you know more about all this than me, particularly the latest trends and general areas of consensus.

    That said, you have to bring a better game than extensive name-dropping, name-calling, and misrepresenting my position. The battle of rhetoric v logic is ancient, as indicated in your reply when you brought up poor Socrates (as did I in an earlier version of this essay). It has not to my knowledge been “won” (just ask the sophists) and it will require you to come out from behind the wall of knowledge I admit you have, in spades, to argue the point with… well… arguments.

    *How Duck sausages are made*

    This was not my first essay in response to your claim rhetoric was more important than logic (though IIRC you side with those that consider logic a form, or part, of rhetoric). The first was more conversational, lighthearted, with some analytical bits thrown in. The Dans shot it down because it was too heavily focused on commentary. The second was much more stand alone and analytical. The Dans shot it down again, this time because they thought I should make it more academic, or more loose. The former would have been better and more analytically solid, no doubt preferable to your tastes (and Dan K’s). But to do that meant a time commitment I did not have, in order to meet my own expectations of academic quality. And I wanted this essay out of my system. So I went with the latter. As you recognized I went with a rhetorical approach, expanding two minor analogies of the second essay into the primary drivers of this essay.

    When I thought of this approach I knew it would be quirky. Dan called it an “odd duck”. I accept that characterization. It was an experiment. But I like my duck. I own it.

    I knew there was great irony, in both the first and last iterations, to take a highly rhetorical approach to argue for the relative merits of logic (or reason). Man did I know that. Which was fun. Because I was doing this, (spoiler alert) I intentionally placed pieces of pure rhetoric as land mines for my detractors to call out, and in the process support my position. I believe I already caught one… or two?

    *You’re soaking in it*

    In dismissing my naiveté, you discuss all of these people, these names. All of these credentials, on the subject of rhetoric. Should their *knowledge* be dismissed? You tell me. Did you hear the click under your heel as you rattled all this off? (Yes, I know this is still a rhetorical device)

    Am I to be concerned because they have some well-founded (solidly reasoned) arguments on the subject, or because they said something that was catchy and so emotionally persuasive? If the former, you support my position. If the latter… who gives a shit?

    *Rhetoric and Persuasion*

    I am not against rhetoric. In an earlier iteration I made clear my interest, and perhaps love, of rhetoric. You and Dan K have exemplified some awesome rhetoric which is why I like your writing so much. It is paramount to fiction (which I love) and critical to getting facts listened to or accepted (which I want).

    Nor do I dismiss persuasion. That is valid, but then I want to qualify the project of the participant based on what their intent is regarding the nature of their persuasion. If it is an honest exchange of information, and so mutually beneficial, I consider it *serious* argument. Otherwise it should be understood, and so labelled, as manipulation or deception. These are also legitimate, but must be understood as different projects.

    You can call everything that is an attempt to persuade an “argument” if you want, even a beauty contest, but then we will have to create sub-categories of argument. This is why I tried to get ahead of the curve by talking about *serious* argument.

    *Politics*

    There is an idea that politics is war by other means. That may be true for some big ticket items, but common politics not so much. For most cases it is simply reaching compromise, not “or war”, but “or continuing indecision and so impracticality”. Getting a stop sign at 4th and Main does not necessarily require or invoke Machiavelli.

    There is also the problem of low expectations and self-fulfilling prophecy. Your obvious cynicism, while well recommended as a prophylactic by Mark, I think is hardly recommendable as an assumption for how things have to be. We can hold people to higher standards, and so, get them.

    I am not of the belief that Western civilization collapsed, never to recover, after the fall of Rome.

    *Trump*

    I agree he was persuasive, and engaged in rhetoric. Nothing I said was contrary to this. My criticism was about the extent of his persuasive powers, and the project in which he was actually engaged. Was he arguing about anything regarding policy? No. Was he “arguing” someone should vote for him? Sure. But then that is limited to advertising (a kind of infotainment), and so manipulation (or deception depending on how you look at it) and not *serious argument* (what I take us to be doing here). I want to be able to distinguish between the academic, the person at a site like this, the used car salesman, and the habitual liar.

    Nor did I try to question the validity of his election. In several threads people have accused me of this despite evidence to the contrary (like an essay on it). My only point in ever bringing up the fact that he garnered a minority of a minority of the electorate, is to point out the limits of what that victory means for him. What it says about the population as a whole. What it says about his having a mandate for making policy. And what it says (in this case) about his vaunted powers of persuasion.

    Note he ended up changing his own position, as stated on the campaign trail, on many of his positions. Sometimes after talking for only 10 minutes with someone new. This guy just is not some persuasive mastermind.

    *The Audience*

    While hardly novel, I think it is important to distinguish between the levels of interest (or natures) of the audience. Highly interested audiences need little, if any, rhetoric. Students might be a good example of this (though a great teacher will excel at rhetoric in addition to relaying the facts). Highly uninterested, or overtly disinterested, audiences will require more rhetorical devices, as well as shaping the nature of the project (is it an argument or entertainment they want).

    Yes, understanding the audience, and so nature of the project they are pursuing, is important for any speaker. I credit Trump along these lines. But it alters the categorization of what he is doing.

    *The World*

    That was not supposed to be about me, and like hell if I think discourse should reduce to some formal logical space. I love your essays. The only, rather simple, argument I am putting forth is that in the end we really *do* want an argument that is well-founded (reasoned), rather than *just* well told. An argument may be in service to some emotional ends, but it better stand a fucking chance of getting us there!

    Otherwise we will (in the end… after all that is what the invisible hand is about) throw the bums out.

    Like

  20. Hi All, while I slip into silence for a bit (apologies but article deadline looms) I want to put this idea forward from an earlier iteration of this essay. There is a balance between logic (an argument being valid) and rhetoric (being persuasive) in any argument. Here is my ranking…

    1) Valid and Persuasive – win/win, the best argument you can make.

    2) Valid and Unpersuasive – nice shot, but it’s all the same you never tried.

    3) Invalid and Unpersuasive – it sucked, you would’ve been better off never trying.

    4) Invalid and Persuasive – the worst, everyone would’ve been better off if you’d never tried.

    If my ranking seems agreeable, then logic would appear to be of primary importance, as validity takes the top two spots. My guess is people that favor rhetoric would place #4 at #2 instead. That would give persuasiveness the top two spots. But I have not seen a very convincing argument that, generally speaking, people are better off with an invalid argument, no matter how well told, than a valid argument, poorly sold.

    Let me know what you think!

    I will be be back to reply as I can.

    Like

  21. Hi labnut, you seemed to make my point again with your reaction to that other article.

    “As we saw in the essay and comments, prejudice and bias permeates the writings of even the most intelligent and the most informed. Those that deny it are those with the least insight into their own minds.”

    Oh, I agree with this point. The author is the first reader, and so victim, or their own rhetoric. That is why it is important to get beyond that (as an author) and find out how well-founded one’s arguments are.

    This is what has driven peer-review. They don’t argue about the rhetoric, though they certainly appreciate it, but the logic.

    Did I place my essay here to be concerned about how people took the rhetoric, or the logical argument?

    Okay, I admit in this case it is both, but the *most important* is the logic, right?

    “The reality is that subtly, and almost unknowingly each of us are taking on board the best that is revealed by the conflict of ideas. Every idea we are exposed to changes us and they change us in ways that we are usually not aware of.”

    I agree with this… but I ask, is it the best rhetoric or the best logic in this conflict of ideas?

    I think I am going to hook you eventually 🙂

    Like

  22. Dwayne wrote:

    “I intentionally placed pieces of pure rhetoric as land mines for my detractors to call out, and in the process support my position. I believe I already caught one… or two?”

    = = =

    What “land mines” did any of us stumble on and in the process support your position?

    Like

  23. Dwayne,
    “Am I to be concerned because they have some well-founded (solidly reasoned) arguments on the subject, or because they said something that was catchy and so emotionally persuasive? If the former, you support my position” – No, I don’t! Because you seem to feel that if we can discuss rhetoric reasonably, that indicates how peripheral it is to discourse. That’s absurd! One first has to accept that there is a conflict between persuasion and conviction in argumentation, and that isn’t true in common discourse. The names I listed include many of the major theorists contributing to rhetorical theory – and none of them would agree to your – I’m sorry, still impoverished – understanding of rhetoric. *

    There certainly is an ethics of the practice of rhetoric, and this is discussed within rhetorical theory; but ultimately this depends on a more general ethics per se. The fundamental criteria of a successful rhetoric is that it works. When to use it, whether or not to use it, how best to maneuver between different modes of discourse and in the service of what causes, is entirely a matter of practical ethics and (in the present context) practical politics.

    I certainly did not call you any names. The reading I gave of your two principle tropes was a fair criticism of the rhetorical structure of your presentation and its implications. That is what rhetorical criticism is intended to accomplish. The fact remains – and it becomes clearer in the comments – is that you believe that your interpretation of politics is the only reasonable (“serious”) frame for a discussion on political discourse, thus identifying yourself with “the real world” which you assure us will wake us up and return us to argument-sans-rhetoric. That isn’t true and that isn’t going to happen.

    I’m not a cynic, but I am a pessimist. That’s because I accept people pretty much as they are, rather than how I think they should be. Most people – yes, most Trump voters – hold themselves up to pretty high standards – they may not be your standards, and I sense your frustration with that – but they are standards, nonetheless, and people try to live up to them. When they fail to do so, it’s not because they’ve been manipulated by swindlers, but because uncertainty leads them to misjudgments – they are trying to do their best, but are unsure of what the best might be in a situation of insecurity. You want them to adopt your standards, and, further, to discuss those standards only in reasonable argument, and, finally, only act according to a reasonable conviction reached through those arguments. You are not addressing human beings.

    I’m glad to see that you allow that Trump makes arguments, if not “serious” arguments. But you’re impoverished understanding of politics is such that you can’t see the necessity for addressing all the perceived needs of the electorate, and not just their ‘best interest’ as decided by experts.

    And again, the only path you’ve given us to the better tomorrow you promise, is that things will get worse and leading to people accepting your standards an willing to listen to your arguments sans rhetoric. Please indicate one moment in history when this has ever happened.

    That politics is war by other means – derived from Hobbes, not Machiavelli – is certainly pessimistic, but it stands on solid ground: History demonstrates time and again that when politics breaks down, war results. Perhaps it is this inevitable trajectory that politics is intended to stave off. (And ‘the big ticket items’ are clearly your concerns of choice here, at least going by your article.)

    Finally, I did not say that Western civilization collapsed, I said that the Western Empire collapsed, and it was the Western Empire that social critics in the Late Empire were concerned with preserving. Eventually the City was abandoned, and civilization moved elsewhere. In the West, BTW, this meant the conquering of hearts by way of an utterly irrational promise that the life after death would resolve all the dilemmas of the earthly struggle to survive, delivered through a militant organization drenched in mystery and armed with paradoxical faith in what could not be ‘proven’ but only believed. – exactly because it could not be ‘proven, and thus must be believed.

    _-_-_
    * The move you’re trying to make is an ancient Sophist trick – ‘If you make the case as I have suggested, you prove my point; if you don’t, you’ll fail to persuade, so you prove my point.’. This sets the Sophist up as rule-giver and judge. That actually worked in some ancient Greek courts. This leads to a break-down in communications. That doesn’t lead to a verbal resolution of the conflict. It just ends the discussion.

    Given this, I don’t think further discussion here would be worthwhile. I can’t get you to recognize rhetoric as anything more than window dressing or propaganda, and you can’t demonstrate to me how you can have argument without rhetoric nor how you would get people to change such that they would agree with you on this. Just let it go.

    Liked by 1 person

  24. DB,
    after reading the wave of criticism directed at your essay I experienced an odd emotion! I found myself feeling quite sympathetic towards your predicament. You put a lot of effort into the birthing of your child and we all desire our child to be liked and accepted, so it is time to say some words of support. One of the measures of an essay is the reaction it provokes. Here you have succeeded. You read the comments and reply to them carefully. I think this is admirable. Though very tenacious you are prepared to adjust your position (sometimes ever so slightly!) and I think this is most admirable. For me, though, the chief measure of an essay is the extent to which it provokes my thinking and curiosity. Here you have succeeded again. Your writing was lively and provocative, therefore enjoyable. My main criticism is that your essay seemed more directed at Trump than at the question of logic and rhetoric. It was as if your emotions about the man overwhelmed the structure of the essay. That is understandable though unfortunate. Good luck with your article.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. The word rhetoric used pejoratively has become the predominant usage and this has been so since the the time of that scoundrel Plato who characterized it as making the worst argument seem the better. Might it not be claimed that the practice of making the better argument seem the better is honorable? To that end all the arguments that can be marshaled under the various heads of ethos, pathos and logos are deployed with the capacity of your audience in mind. Simply sweet reason on its own is a little cold and will persuade no one. To induce a state of conviction, however temporary, emotion and the standing of the rhetor must play their part. Who do you trust, who would you buy a used car from, are valid if imponderable questions.

    Liked by 3 people

  26. Imagine that you are concerned about economic polarisation in modern societies. You have a choice. You can write a 2000 word opinion piece for the New York Times, one which will be republished around the world. Or you can write a 600 page book in French that covers a few hundred years of history and in which the central argument involves some abstract macroeconomic theory. The book’s style will be decidedly plain and unexciting. Question: which of these strategies is more likely to be successful in persuading the public to take the problem seriously?

    Strangely, of course, it was the second strategy that turned out to be hugely successful. Since that success Thomas Piketty has been featured in all the popular media — but only because his very academic work first grabbed the world’s attention.

    I’m not making any special point, except to observe that there’s a lot of unpredictability in what works and what doesn’t. The example also runs counter to the idea that public discourse in modern societies is being dumbed down.

    Alan

    Liked by 2 people

  27. alandtapper1950
    I think that’s an important point. Rhetoric requires that we use whatever means are effective to achieve our goal.

    I wasn’t going to comment further here, but there are two important points to consider. First, if the object of rhetoric is to persuade people to behave in a desired way, it follows that logic itself can be deployed for rhetorical purposes. Logic thus has rhetorical value in political discourse. That’s not avoidable, and pretty much vacates Dwayne’s main point.

    But I will go further concerning the present article. I asked myself (as a critic of rhetoric) what most disturbed me about this article.

    The fact is, there is precious little ‘logical’ argument in this article; it is a jumble of rhetorical maneuvers, well beyond the governing tropes previously noted – ad hominem, Tu quoque, and enthymemes engaging the supposed biases abound. So I asked – what is the actual ‘logical’ argument here, that can be translated in symbolic logic (the fundamental standard by which a logical argument is now judged)? And the answer is – it ain’t there.

    This article is entirely rhetorical in nature (and well written as Dan K points out). But there isn;t any *logical* argument here. It is entirely rhetorical in structure and expression.

    So the chief problems seems to be that Dwayne doesn’t like rhetoricians or rhetorical theorists or critics; and that he has a low opinion of those who voted for Trump; and that he thinks theory/criticism of rhetoric is irrelevant and can be discarded because he took a freshman class in rhetoric and decided he learned all he needed (wanted) to know on the subject. But now he has two opinions that bother him – there are bloggers who don’t realize the need for logic, and people voting for Trump did so out of a desire for pure escapism.

    Except that neither of these annoyances happen to be, in themselves, very interesting. The first is irrelevant, the latter is untrue.

    I also think the article written well-enough to attract our attention and carry us to the end of it – it is very entertaining. But an argument against the use of rhetoric in political discourse? – Not really.

    Like

  28. (There is an intricate and intractable relationship between the three foremost modes of discourse – grammar, logic, rhetoric – which comprised the teaching of language in the Middle Ages – taught for a thousand years as the “Trivium.” Grammar, logic, and rhetoric have all changed over the years – as they must – but I think the Medieval teachers better understood what we need to learn about language practices than we do today. This essay is an expression of the Enlightenment hope that we could all be brought to the heel of Reason. But that isn’t how humans think or respond to the world. We are stuck with our emotional responses, and need to address these in discourse. At any rate, one of the weaknesses revealed in the comments, is that Dwayne does not grasp that a good theorist or critic of rhetoric, to be such, must be well schooled in the Trivium – must be aware of logic and grammar, to recognize how these are used rhetorically. It should also be noted that in evolutionary terms, grammar is probably primary, since without order language cannot be understood, rhetoric is secondary, since the principle function of language is agreement on action between people, and logic tertiary, as a clarification of rhetorical and grammatical protocols. But I admit I am now wandering into speculations on the origins of language, which can only be the subject of speculation, since we have little evidence on the matter.)

    Liked by 4 people

  29. I re-read the article, and must say that I was mistaken that there was no argument here. There are actually two, and this is where confusion begins, because the second is presented as supporting case study for the first, but inadvertently subverts the first.

    The first is that rhetoric, as the art of persuasion as such, is too dangerous to be allowed unconstrained in public argumentation, which ought to proceed to judgments derived logically.

    The second is that rhetorical criticism is useless for understanding the public presentations of the current President, Trump, since he makes no argument and is no master of rhetoric. He is merely a dishonest entertainer, and only has followers seeking to be entertained rather than deal with issues of policy.

    What we’re supposed to see from the conjunction of these arguments is how powerless an understanding of rhetoric is in dealing with political discourse, since the real tension there is not between rhetoric and logic, but between serious political engagement (necessitating logic) and political ignorance.

    However, this doesn’t make any sense, because it leaves us with a lack of explanation of the Trump phenomenon such that we can develop strategies of persuasion for those who follow him. This would necessitate a broader, deeper appreciation of how people make political judgments based on emotionally informed motivations and not simply rational self-interest, which thus also necessitates a broader, deeper understanding of the art of persuasion that must address these motivations. So what we really find is that failure to understand the full dimensions of rhetorical practice leaves one powerless before phenomena that seem to involve irrational judgments based on criteria other than the logically feasible.

    So the reason why it’s difficult to read the argument(s) here as argument is because the two arguments do not hold together in such a way that a conclusion follows logically from their premises; and the premises lack properly convincing definitions their of terms. It is not surprising then, that the essay ends, not with a summary restatement of the argument(s) and their logically derived conclusion, but with an emotionally charged promise that the future will somehow make all such matters clear.

    I want to apologize for the remark about Dwayne thinking he learned all he needs to know about rhetoric from a single undergraduate course. I do think that there is considerable craft in the construction of the article. But interestingly, the craft demonstrated is fundamentally rhetorical in nature. Thus, the logic of the argument that begins the essay gets lost in the effort to paint a dismal picture of a political culture gone so out of whack, neither logic nor rhetoric can make any real sense of it.

    I am really sorry for writing so much in the comments. But obviously some of Dwayne’s remarks annoyed me, and confusions between the two arguments kept pulling at me to attempt to clarify them and find a proper way to respond to them. That means the essay was clearly worth posting, as challenging our differing thoughts in these matters. However, the bulk of my criticisms still stand.

    Liked by 2 people

  30. As usual, the commentary here is excellent. I’m all in on one of Dan K’s earlier comments where he characterizes Dwayne’s article as an “odd duck.” That succinctly captures my impression upon first reading it. This essay is not what I’m used to in terms of the usual incisiveness and clarity of Dwayne’s work. His commentary is in many respects superior to the article.

    Many have commented that the essay is well-written. I don’t because it fails structurally. The opening analogy to boxing and specifically the Ali-Foreman match in Africa simply does not deliver developmentally. It forces the reader to make too many questionable assumptions about what follows and only somewhat recovers much later when Dwayne offers a contrasting analogy to faux-wrestling.

    Further, as others have noted, the larger discussion regarding the tactics employed by Trump (or lack of same by Clinton) in the 2016 general election simply cannot satisfy what seems central to Dwayne’s essay: “Well, to my mind, it has a lot to do with the question of whether rhetoric or logic is more important to argumentation.”

    I think this thesis is unfortunately poorly framed in the essay and falls short developmentally in light of underdeveloped insights such as this: “There is no contest over policies or ideas. This is governtainment.”

    In short, it seems to me there are the rudiments of several theses pieced together in this ambitious essay. But it’s scope exceeds an adequate explication given the brief format of a blog. Frankly, I’m surprised that no one mentioned the role played by today’s technology and how it is supplements, and to some extent has replaced, written and oral rhetoric as a tool. Here I’m referencing the use of visual and social media as further extensions of rhetoric to employ marketing and branding as tools of persuasion that pander to existing biases of the electorate.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Interesting essay and comments, but astounding how you get tricked by a narrow view of the election cycle. If you want to do boxing-wrestling analogies, the proof of Trump as a winner came way before the Election Match that everyone focuses on. Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination was a classical wrestling setup when she ran virtually unopposed in the early primaries with only a mild challenge from a very unknown and underfunded Governor O’Malley and then queue the Independent Bernie who ran as a Democrat and for those of you who were not fooled; got to see the lead in the gloves as she secured the nomination with Super Delegates and other tactics. On the opposing side Trump faced challenges from 16 opponents including insiders like Jeb Bush, a populist Ted Cruz, another sitting Senator Rubio etc. What some point to is that Trump exploited the inherent corruption of the political system; remember that before Russia, that other bogeyman wrestling Tag Team “The Koch Brothers” were the darling villains of the media? So much so that Barbara Walters actually interviewed them as one of “The Ten Most Interesting People of The Year”. Ditto Trump the showman made the media fall for their Flight Of Icarus or the more and more outrageous he became, the more they covered him for higher ratings and revenue so the more popular he became. On election night that crashing sound you heard was CNN and the media falling through the glass ceiling at the Javits Center.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Hi all, I apologize again that I can’t keep up with comments as much as I normally do. I’ve got a small window tonight so will get to as much as I can. Hope to have another window in a few days… so please keep commenting, as I will read. They’ve been interesting, even if critical.
    ………….

    Labnut, thanks for the words of support, sympathy, and kindness. Believe it or not I actually like criticism. Yes, it is always nicer if people like your “baby”, but it helps me improve.

    Where I tend to get frustrated is when it doesn’t address a position I was taking (though that could be an error in communication on my part), and I tend to get annoyed/upset when it is directed at me rather than about the work. But solid criticism, even if a bit embarrassing, is exciting. Going back to sports, I was in martial arts, and getting creamed in front of a lot of people was part of the *doing* of martial arts. I think the same goes here.

    In this case, it does seem that using Trump has led it off course. It certainly did not do what I said rhetoric is supposed to do, which is focus attention on the argument. So you and others are right about that.

    …………

    Ombhurbhuva,

    “Might it not be claimed that the practice of making the better argument seem the better is honorable? ”

    Thats an interesting point, which I will have to think about.

    “To that end all the arguments that can be marshaled under the various heads of ethos, pathos and logos are deployed with the capacity of your audience in mind. Simply sweet reason on its own is a little cold and will persuade no one.”

    Perhaps it is semantics, but I would want to rephrase “all the arguments” to “all the *elements* of an argument”, that is to say an argument can contain any of those components you mentioned. Where we agree is that they should be deployed with the capacity (and I would argue project/goal) of the audience in mind. I agree reason alone is cold, but I would not go so far as to say it would persuade no one. It would be capable of persuading an audience that is extremely interested in a subject. Of course, outside classrooms and libraries that is not a common situation, and so pathos (and ethos) will be necessary in most situations people encounter.

    …………..

    Alan,

    “I’m not making any special point, except to observe that there’s a lot of unpredictability in what works and what doesn’t. The example also runs counter to the idea that public discourse in modern societies is being dumbed down.”

    This is true. I think it is hard to talk about there being a public in some monolithic sense, and I also believe that cultural interests change. So there will always be wavering demographics of people interested in this or that, sometimes serious, sometimes not. The position within the essay was hyperbolic (suggestive the US population was monolithic) but I tried to undercut that with endnote #12.

    More important, I prefer to resist suggestions that whatever is going on is the way something must be, or has to be. So if discourse happens to be getting dumbed down, I’d rather help raise the bar by arguing that it can be raised, as well as changing the environment which might make it easier.

    ……..

    Thomas, thanks for the criticism, they are well taken. I agreed early on with Dan’s labelling my essay an “odd duck”. I accept that and hope you read the portion of my response to EJ titled “How duck sausages are made”. It explains the various iterations it went through and so how it ended up the way it is. It is an experiment. Looks like a success on some levels, and not so much on others. The use of Trump really seems to have been a mistake. As to your preferring my comments, I was hoping the wrinkles would get shaken out in commentary.

    I would be interested in seeing an essay addressing what you suggest.

    ………

    Victor, that was a pretty nice analysis. I think I mentioned to Dan earlier, that it was Trump’s defeat of the Reps, rather than Hillary, which would count better as showing solid skills.

    ……

    Dan, thanks for the compliments (and criticism). I will get to your question, and make another, more important point along these lines when I write again. For now the rest of my time will have to go to EJ.

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Hi EJ, there is a problem in communication between us, and I am not sure where it is coming from. Though perhaps getting warmer, you are still not attacking my position or arguments, which is frustrating because I would like to see the effect of your fire, when delivered on target…

    >>>”Dwayne doesn’t like rhetoricians or rhetorical theorists or critics”

    This is absolutely not true. Dan K should be able to attest to this as both earlier iterations included portions explaining my feeling that it is important. Though I thought I had already addressed that in my response to you above. BTW I did not say rhetoric is merely window dressing. The capacity to focus attention is not mere fluff.

    >>>”low opinion of those who voted for Trump”

    Again, this seems incongruous with having read my essay. I specifically stated “This is not to criticize his voter base”, explained (sympathetically) how the nature of their interest was influenced by the cultural environment, and directly tied the same level of interest (and environmental cause) to the solid Clinton voter base.

    Yes, I would prefer an electorate that was more interested in issues (arguments about issues) rather than entertainment (“arguments” if you must, about who is more interesting). But I made clear this situation was shaped by an erosion in trust in government and political discourse, not because of something bad about the people.

    >>>”he thinks theory/criticism of rhetoric is irrelevant and can be discarded because he took a freshman class in rhetoric and decided he learned all he needed (wanted) to know on the subject”

    Seriously, I have no idea where you get that at all. You are projecting something onto me that is not there. I have staked out a position. You can address the position, or not. This is simply attacking me with something that is not true… beyond possibly pegging the level of education (close enough I can’t argue).

    >>>”if the object of rhetoric is to persuade people to behave in a desired way, it follows that logic itself can be deployed for rhetorical purposes. Logic thus has rhetorical value in political discourse. That’s not avoidable, and pretty much vacates Dwayne’s main point.”

    First, I defined my usage of the term “rhetoric” in endnote 2, which was not synonymous with “persuasion” and in line with the “trivium” you mention in another comment. Basically, my position, if placed into a construct you might prefer, is that when deploying rhetoric, logos is more important than pathos (or ethos) in *serious* argument. That is to say, when people are interested in treating a subject seriously, they find logos more important, use it as the more important criteria in judging how persuasive an argument is. I am contrasting the relative value of rational versus emotional content within an argument (to persuade), not pitting reason against persuasion itself. I realize my usage of rhetoric might seem more in line with Plato than Aristotle, and so dismissive, but it’s not meant to be and more in spirit with the “trivium”. I think understanding the necessary (useful) balance of reason vs emotion, is critical, and defines the nature of the project one is engage in.

    Second, I have defined *serious* argument (which involves an expected exchange of information) as separate from manipulation and deception. You can call all three arguments if you want, but I maintain that I (and most people) would only consider honest exchanges of information as having engaged in something *serious*. And if we caught someone engaged in the latter projects, we would dismiss their arguments as not serious (about the topic) and in time trust and interest in such arguments would erode.

    Third, where did I say logic had no role in political discourse?

    >>>”This essay is an expression of the Enlightenment hope that we could all be brought to the heel of Reason. But that isn’t how humans think or respond to the world. We are stuck with our emotional responses, and need to address these in discourse.”

    That first sentence could almost come close to a sentiment I held. That I agree with the last two sentences, shows how far off you are on what I am actually arguing.

    >>>”The first is that rhetoric, as the art of persuasion as such, is too dangerous to be allowed unconstrained in public argumentation, which ought to proceed to judgments derived logically.”

    That unconstrained rhetoric is too dangerous, no. Can be dangerous, yes. If held as a systemic expectation of all that goes on, to the dismissal of logic (fact and reason), then it will be dangerous. At least to the enterprise of effective gov’t.

    >>>”The second is that rhetorical criticism is useless for understanding the public presentations of the current President, Trump, since he makes no argument and is no master of rhetoric. He is merely a dishonest entertainer, and only has followers seeking to be entertained rather than deal with issues of policy.”

    The question of if he is making an “argument” when he is in fact advertising, is semantics. If you want to call it an argument, fine. But it is not about issues, substantive debate, and so *serious* argument. The fact that he openly A/B tests issues, and admits to such, tells you that he is advertising and not constructing arguments meant to persuade people about specific policy. That he has die-hard supporters that support him when he changes policies he ran on, suggests they are not interested in issues of policy. Or based on how he acts, issues of character, which is something Reps used to care a lot about. I’m not sure I’d call what he does in this regard dishonest. If anything, perhaps he’s been one of the most refreshingly honest politicians (regarding what he is doing) in some time.

    >>>”how powerless an understanding of rhetoric is in dealing with political discourse, since the real tension there is not between rhetoric and logic, but between serious political engagement (necessitating logic) and political ignorance.”

    No, it is that some proponents of rhetoric mistake what is going on, and use it to tout the power of rhetoric over logic (in all spheres) when what is going on in the particular situation does not rely on logic. This is similar to when I mentioned the reductive quality of positions advanced by promoters of rhetoric.

    It is possible that there are promoters of rhetoric that don’t make these mistakes, but I am discussing those that do. This is kind of like when people go on about what is happening in science and cognitive neuroscience, painting them in broad strokes.

    I am assuming they are using a rhetorical device, just as I did.

    >>>”But interestingly, the craft demonstrated is fundamentally rhetorical in nature. Thus, the logic of the argument that begins the essay gets lost in the effort to paint a dismal picture of a political culture gone so out of whack,”

    OK, so here I can start taking your criticism seriously (that it lands a blow). Again, this was an experiment in using rhetoric to argue for the importance of logic, and it does seem to have ended up in the weeds for several readers when I left the constraints of the analogy, to get into specifics of the current political environment. It was not supposed to be about Trump and Trump supporters alone, as I clearly extended that to Clinton supporters. But yes what you say here about painting a dismal picture of the political culture, that is fair.

    >>>”neither logic nor rhetoric can make any real sense of it.”

    Now that I would not say. I think that they can be used to make sense of the situation. They can even be used to correct the situation. However, there are those (and I pointed to one) who fail to make sense of it. I thought Zurcher did a good job, and you seemed to agree. The mistake was thinking I didn’t understand what he was saying, rather than trying to understand how I was in agreement with him.

    I am not pitting logic against rhetoric. I am arguing about relative importance in assessing the strength of specific kinds of arguments (if you want to view everything as an argument), and used the current political situation as an example of where logic is no longer considered a primary concern relative to rhetoric, thus defining the kind of argument (or non-argument as I would have it).

    >>>”evolutionary terms, grammar is probably primary, since without order language cannot be understood, rhetoric is secondary, since the principle function of language is agreement on action between people, and logic tertiary, as a clarification of rhetorical and grammatical protocols.”

    Here is perhaps one substantial source of difference between us. To my mind logic, which involves facts and reasoning, is not limited to language. It would seem to (have to) predate it. We certainly see its use in animals, including instruction of discovered techniques to others, with no language ability. One might argue language and discourse (as opposed to nonhuman communication signals), developed around trying (to modify signals?) to communicate facts and reasoning.

    >>>” thus identifying yourself with “the real world” which you assure us will wake us up and return us to argument-sans-rhetoric. That isn’t true and that isn’t going to happen.”

    The real world is not me, and I have not argued for a “sans-rhetoric” anything. Why does it have to be all or nothing? It is about which element we place *primary* importance when judging an argument. Primary, does not mean that secondary is meaningless and can be done without, much less *should* be done without.

    >>>” the only path you’ve given us to the better tomorrow you promise, is that things will get worse and leading to people accepting your standards an willing to listen to your arguments sans rhetoric”

    I said people could change it. I was dubious that politicians and the media (which could help drive it) would do so, but they could do so. And then I said “perhaps it will come when X”. That was to suggest that if they don’t change their interest for other reasons, the situation will change such that they are forced to confront what they are emphasizing. I was not saying it would *only* happen then. Heck, endnote #12 specifically rejects that kind of take away message.

    In any case, I appreciate the positive comments, and the effort you have put into criticism to defend your turf. I hope this reply shows that my position was not as dramatic as you were taking it to be.

    Like

  34. This was pretty bad, I will limit myself to two points:

    1. Politics is not the same as law, argumentation is not above other means of communication and persuasion. In fact, in an ideal world of democratic politics argumentation of the kind the writer thinks of should not exist. In the ideal world we will have nailed down the technicalities of policy and the contest is solely about different visions for the country. And these are matters of principle or taste, *arguing* doesn’t get you anywhere, painting a vivid positive picture of your vision however does wonders. To give a concrete example in an ideal world we have figured out the optimal form of taxation then the debate would be how much the government should engage in income redistribution. There is no correct answer, it is about different values and different conceptions of the role of the government in society.

    2. Saying Trump did not have an argument is just denying reality. Trump had very good substantial arguments on trade, immigration, border control and foreign policy. Clinton avoided issues of substance and focused on Trump’s character precisely because the Democrat’s (and the Republican establishment’s) positions on all those issue were so far off the center that they were not willing to defend it in clear manner in the full view of the public.

    Like

  35. @vuctor panzica

    I am listening to this and Sam Harris is just unbearable, he claimed that Trump’s lying has done irreparable harm and when Adams pressed him on details he answered (and this is nearly a direct quote): “the fact that we are paying so much attention to politics means he has harmed the country.” …

    Like

  36. I like Sam Harris but omg his naïveté is gratingly hilarious at times. The reason why we are paying so much attention to politics is because the media is infatuated with getting ratings. Trump, a media guy, played the media (and Sam Harris) like a cheap saloon piano and they can’t see it. I liked Obama as well but nobody caught the sell job he did on them. Like Trump he campaigned on change and they all envisioned a single payer gov’t health system, not the 1300 page bill that Pelosi, Reed and company had hidden in the trunk. During December 2008 Obama was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book ‘Team Of Rivals’ trying to get ideas selecting his cabinet. His senate staff was the largest organization he ever managed yet Harris belittles Trump’s company and the multiple bankers and business leaders he dealt with. Case in point the Trump University was fraudulent but had a life of its own and was tame compared to the mortgage industry and Wall Street practices that were the basis for the real estate mania which Trump University was a player in.

    Like

  37. Hi all, since there has been little commentary after my last reply, and more essays in the mean time, I won’t get into the extended comment I was planning on today. Perhaps this issue will resurface in the future and I can bring it up then.

    But I thank everyone for their feedback.

    …………….

    Hi Parallax, sorry it didn’t work for you, but I’m not certain you understood the position I was taking.

    1) I did not say, or mean, argumentation is “above” anything. It *is* a form of communication and persuasion. It *differed* from other forms of communication and persuasion, based on expectations of the participants (and audience) regarding behavior and goals. This was about classification, not judgment or criticism. Whether politics or law involve *serious* arguments, rather than arguments with other intentions or expectations is up to us to control, based on personal interest.

    I fully agree that there are many times facts and reason do not provide the answer to a choice (and this is true of any topic). For example all logic can be accepted but one is faced with a choice of serving individual rights or increased security. In that case it will be about arousing passions, gaining allies, toward the emotional interest (preference) one has. However, that does not eliminate expectations that facts and reason are adequately attended to, and that that *will* come into play when judging someone’s argument on the topic. You can’t say, well it will all come down to emotions anyway, so logic is not important. This was suggested in endnote #6.

    2) Trump was A/B testing during his campaign which means he was not “arguing”, he was finding what was popular to say and then saying it. This gets to the concept of using arguments with different intentions and so being classified as something else. Did he have some stated positions with some merit. Hell yes! I agreed with a few positions he was claiming to hold, and which Clinton was terrible on. That said, I heard no *serious* arguments from him about them. I knew arguments about them already, I just heard him say he was for them and then blather into glittering generalities.

    “good substantial arguments on trade, immigration, border control and foreign policy.”

    Please provide a link because I would like to see that. BTW, on the campaign trail he was for less intervention, against things like NAFTA and TPP, and massively against Saudi Arabia. Once in office it’s like he never heard of these issues. I mean yeah TPP went away, but it was going anyway, only now he seems to be revamping NAFTA into TPP. This is not to mention his general foreign policy which keeps changing with the last person he talked to. We aren’t close to where he started. Geez, just like healthcare. He knew what was great… it’s easy… until he didn’t and apparently no one knew how hard it was. Now he’s saying he’ll sign anything.

    And the wall with mexico that mexico would pay for? A muslim ban? I’m trying to think what you meant by a “substantial” argument on immigration and border control. Raising the issue, and providing half-baked solutions that were unlikely to fly, is not substantial argument, not *serious* argument.

    Like

  38. Hi Victor, I agreed with everything in your last comment, except the first three words. I wonder how my essay would have fared if I had used Obama instead of Trump.

    Like

  39. @dbholmes

    1. The way you write privileges argument above all else, I am happy to leave that for the readers to decide.

    2. Trump was A/B testing?? He has had the same views on trade, immigration and foreign policy for over 30 years now.

    3. A serious argument is not the same as a complex argument. Trump’s point about border security (and immigration more broadly) is simple but extremely powerful.

    4. More on substance, it is *only* because of Trump that anyone talks about the distributional impact of trade and immigration, before that the story was *trade and immigration benefit the country*.

    5. Revamping NAFTA into TPP?? … There is a free trade agreement in place already, TPP would have extended it to many new countries. Also so far the negotiations are between Canada and United States …

    6. Talking about what Trump campaigned on and what he has done in office is completely irrelevant to the point which is about persuasion during the election.

    Like

  40. @ victor panzica

    I would go to the other direction: why is high levels of political engagement something so obviously bad??

    Also it is obvious that Harris has never run a business, what he prescribes is not something any business can do. And again you see the contempt to institutions: going to courts to resolve conflict means you are a bad person.

    At any rate I quit listening after an hour when he went *full exorcist* on Adams. It is clear that this is a very emotional issue for Harris and that has seriously impeded his judgement.

    Like

  41. http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=brain%27s+default+mode+network+self+&btnG=&hl=en&as_sdt=0%2C33&as_vis=1

    If you read up on the brain’s default mode network and the role it plays with sense of self and self group identity, you can observe how Obama and Trump each play in opposite ways with that part of the brain. As a business leader attaining loyalty to the group along with a sense of individual goals, while a globalist thinker tries to get us to surrender self for “the greater good”, “the better angels of our nature” etc.

    Like

  42. Hi Parallax,

    1) Well that would be a wrong take on my position. But, ok.

    2) He A/B tested, he has basically said this in some campaign speeches, and even Adams says this in I think the first link I gave. It is a known thing. Not sure what you mean he has had the same position on XYZ for 30 years, unless you mean he has had some vague, generalized statement that could be made into anything when it comes to the specific. You know, like his health policy and his idea on how much president’s should golf.

    3) Here I agree, a serious argument need not be a complex argument. That said, I didn’t see him say anything “powerful” in the sense of persuasive. Are you saying he convinced people of something they did not agree with already? Moving? Ok. But the phrase “preaching to the choir” suggests something important about the difference between moving and persuasive.

    4) “More on substance, it is *only* because of Trump that anyone talks about the distributional impact of trade and immigration, before that the story was *trade and immigration benefit the country*.” Given that people have been discussing it long before Trump, and I happened to be one of those people, having listened to others of the same position, I’d have to say that is simply not true. This is something that as been argued about, especially among working class people, for some time. I mean it’s like you don’t remember Ross Perot’s anti-NAFTA speeches (for just one example).

    5) You need to keep up with the news. He was against NAFTA (mostly) and TPP (fully). Now he is discussing how NAFTA will be changed and it is by introducing stuff that he was against in TPP. There are conservatives against his turnaround.

    6) The difference between what is done in office and what was said in a campaign tends to reveal the difference between arguing a position on a topic, and using argument as a device to manipulate people to vote for you.

    Like