Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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Logic V Rhetoric: FIGHT TO FINISH!

Back when I was in college we had a class called Logic and Rhetoric. It was supposed to teach us how to generate logical arguments and present them convincingly. In point of fact since my class was held at 9:00 AM most of what it taught us was how to keep our eyes open and respond semi-coherently to the instructor while dozing in public. At the end of my college career the B I got in that class (purely due to repeated lateness of about 7 minutes each) kept me from graduating with highest honors, teaching me the valuable lesson that bureaucracy will never forgive your failures to obey its arbitrary rules and will, in fact, get you in the end no matter what.

Besides the fact that it was held at an ungodly hour of the morning when most college students are just starting to realize how bad their hangover really is* something else struck me as odd about logic and rhetoric. In the class the two words were never really defined, they just acted as stand-ins for what the class really was, which is college composition (it has since been renamed.) However I, being the pedantic little twerp** always felt that it was odd to tie them together since they are, in fact, in opposition. Logic is the art of taking all available evidence and following rules and laws of reasons to come up with conclusions that could be derived by any other logical being from the evidence at hand. Rhetoric is the art of using language persuasively. If you have logic you don't really need rhetoric, just enough time to define accepted premises and reach your well-reasoned conclusion, and an audience that's well educated and patient enough to follow along.

Hold on. Did you just go to sleep on me? You FILTHY FILTHY fucker!

That's the problem with logic. It's boring, at least for most people. It also requires extensive qualification and lengthy discussion to get just about anywhere, because there's reams of evidence out there on any particular topic and most of it conflicts on some level and you have to sort it all out and...I think I just fell asleep on me. Logic is great for determining how things are or how they should be, but not particularly good as a communication tool for most people, especially in this day and age.

Ah, you say. That's where rhetoric comes in. You use rhetoric to communicate the things your logic figured out and Bob's your uncle it's both true and interesting. Hold your horses there, Kemo Sabe. The thing is that if you piled rhetoric on top of logic then you'd be talking forever. You'd both need to explain your premises and process to your conclusions, and fill it in with charming anecdotes about your cat. After about three hours of exhaustive discussion of water filtration techniques (assuming you were talking about something logically connected to water filtration) nobody wants to hear about your fucking cat. They want to shoot you so you'll STOP TALKING. Thus rhetoric is generally not used as a supplement to logic, to make it more palatable.

It's a replacement. You use logic to derive a conclusion and rhetoric to sell it. Now you're getting closer to the truth, but you've brought up an interesting question. If you're using rhetoric to sell something, why do you need logic at all? What purpose does it serve? To tell you what conclusion will work best for everyone? Maybe, but then again if you're not using the logic to convince people then why do you need to be so magnanimous as to find the solution that works best for everyone. Why not just find the solution that works best for you and sell that? Isn't that much easier?

That's the current political process. One driven by rhetoric much more than it is by logic. In 30 second campaign ads and 45 second spots on the local news a politician can't possibly hope to make a logical argument, so he makes a rhetorical one. "We should execute murderers because it saves innocent lives." It doesn't matter that there's no logical basis for this assertion, it doesn't matter that executing "murderers" has been shown to take innocent lives as well, it doesn't matter that those arguments have been laid out extensively in multiple books. The rhetorical soundbite is all that matters, and the only way to counter it is with another rhetorical soundbite. Logic could defeat it but logic has no access. Our lives are too busy, our attention too fragmented. Most of you, even those of you for whom this isn't old hat, won't even read this far. "Logic and rhetoric? BORING. Where are the boobies? WHERE IS THE FUNNY?"

This is how capitalism is defeating democracy, by driving the standards of the political masses down to consumers at a level that we did NOT see back during the Lincoln Douglas debates or their like. Even people who fancy themselves politically knowledgeable have no idea how to parse policy or figure out what parties really stand for. It's beyond corruption, it's forced abdication of responsibility by the electorate. They're voting for the party that sounds better because, in truth, they don't understand any of it. At some level nobody does. Nobody knows all the policies of the federal government, heck I doubt there are more than a few people who have a complete grasp of the tax code. But at a more basic level people just don't know what's going on, they can't use logic because they don't have the evidence. Americans believe all kinds of patently false things, like that the U.S. is the biggest foreign aid donor in the world, or that there was an established link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

The Republicans are winning not because their policies are better or more appealing or whatever, but because they're just flat out better at rhetoric than the Democrats. The last 30 years saw the Republicans focusing on building a generation of great rhetoricians. People who would be able to argue any position, even the most greedy and elitist, like it was either benevolent to the common man or a blow against the so-called liberal elite. They accomplished that, they built that cadre. Republicans also have an advantage in rhetoric over Democrats because conservative ideas are by definition easier to sell and simpler than progressive ideas. Conservative means leaving things as they are, or bringing them back to how they once were. It's the familiar. The known. When Republicans say "If we allow the gay homofaggots to marry they will DESTROY the family structure as we know it. Our civilization has lasted for two thousands years without homofaggots marrying and this has kept the family together. Homofaggot marriage is a DANGER to everything you know" they are preying on people's fear of change. It's an effective rhetorical technique. You'll note that when they try to change things from how people are used to to something brand new, like with Social Security, there's a lot more resistance and fear. Republicans sell impossible promises based on bald-faced lies (The majority of these tax cuts will go to the bottom half of the economy) and they sell them well. Democrats? When was the last time a Democrat offered an effective piece of rhetoric that captured the American imagination? They can't brand (death tax, social security reform, etc...) and they offer ideas that are too complicated to be explained in simple rhetoric, at least by them.

I honestly believe that if people spent a few days listening to complex and logical explanations of what the two sides wanted and were offering they would flock to the side of freedom and responsibility, the liberal side. They don't have those few days though. They're too busy trying to avoid drowning in credit card debt or worrying about Al Qaeda blowing up Wyoming or whatever. Even the relatively literate attentive people on LJ are too busy to pay attention to the important discussions. I am sure iconoclast and I could spend hours arguing about the best tax reform ideas out there and how they would affect wealth distribution, debt, and the national economy as a whole. There's absolute mountains of evidence out there on both our sides. I am also sure that nobody else would care, and probably he wouldn't care either after a time. It gets to be too much.

So for now we're stuck. We need a society that focuses more on substance and less on presentation (Logic Vs Rhetoric again) and one with people willing to talk about these things in depth to one another and mean it. We don't have that society yet, and we're moving further and further away from it. Advertising and short-attention-span TV is the bane of reason. Reason's getting its ass kicked.

I will now attempt an experiment.


Please take this poll:

Poll #502237 Experiment

Did you actually read this entry

Skimmed it
Part of it
I looked at the boobies!

Why didn't you read it (if you didn't)

Too long
Not in the mood
Reading is for LOSERS
You're an ass!

What did you think of the arguments?

What did you think of the boobies?

*Or in my case masturbating to this picture, let's not get into semantics

**For those of you who are still young this is an important tip from your uncle Benji. Girls don't like pedantic little twerps. I know, I know, they should, but they don't. Become a pothead instead. Girls LOVE a guy with a good supply of weed. Girls will blow you for weed. They will not blow you if you say "I'm not sure you were using 'erstwhile' appropriately there, Jen. Let me pull out my dictionary and let's have a looksee." Ever.
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