Saturday, November 24, 2012

How not to argue (or think) about politics

I. Policy arguments should be about policies
A. What, exactly, the policy proposals are (need and plan)
B. How they’ve worked in the past
C. Feasibility, Solvency, Unintended Consequences (with, as much as possible, evidence from previous experience
II. Instead, however, policies are often treated as secondary, the importance of which is how they signify group identity of advocates and critics
A. Assumption that criticism of any policy signifies membership in the other group (outgroup for whoever is advocating the policy)
B. Once group identity is determined
1. Membership in any outgroup (or, simply, not being a member of the ingroup) is
a. reason to dismiss criticism/argument as biased;
b. adequate proof that the rhetor does not have reasons, so the quest is to infer motives for argument/criticsm
c. adequate reason to reframe all behavior
(1) so that the same behavior is praised for the ingroup but condemned for the outgroup
(2) so that any bad behavior on the part of the outgroup rationalizes (and, essentially, wipes the slate clean of) all bad behavior on the part of the ingroup
C. “Decisiveness” (quick judgments from which one refuses to retreat, even/especially if evidence accumulates that it was a bad judgment) is a sign of manliness
III. The public sphere is a kind of death match between factions
A. zero sum (gain for any group is a loss for the other)
B. compromise is dishonor
C. It’s all about domination or submission
IV. Groups are discrete and stable
A. written into the ontic logos
B. Conflict is unreconcilable
C. Ingroup identity is perspective-free
D. Reason is associated with one group and all others have motives
IV. The public sphere is a marketplace in which policies are offered for sale
A. Everyone is out for themselves
B. Reason is an illusion
V. No one really disagrees; disagreement is an illusion

Friday, November 16, 2012

Why communities make bad decisions

Why Communities Make Bad Decisions

I. Everyone gets all their information from one source, or all sources of information have one point of view.
II. Common ways of thinking rely on binary oppositions
A. especially in regard to:
1. epistemology (naïve realism v. relativism; certain v. clueless)
2. judgment (good [immediate] or bad [indecisive])
3. this hierarchy v. chaos
4. us (narrowly defined ingroup) v. them (membership in any other group)
5. a single group is identified as Godly (so anyone else is Satanic)
            B. the rational/irrational split (it doesn’t matter which one is privileged)
1. certainty is a feeling, so that one can tell instantly whether a proposition is true since it feels true.
2. something is “factually true” if it confirms a deeply-held (and very important) belief (instead of being a proposition about external reality that can be falsified or verified in ways that even people who disagree can see—that is, true things are subjectively, rather than intersubjectively, true)
3. facts and data are synonymous,
a. and data is assumed to be true if it supports a “true” proposition
b. claims and evidence are not assessed in terms of relevance, so a conclusion must be true if the evidence is:
(1) CB should be President because 2 + 2 = 4.
(2) CB should be President because bunnies are fluffy.
(3) CB should be President because 2547/568.321 =4.48162218
C. and/or that operate as “paired terms”
1. agreement/disagreement :: loyalty/disloyalty :: submission/dissent
2. punish/reward :: action/inaction
3. manliness/queer :: specific achievements/anything else (for instance, in the proslavery era, being dominant over slaves; later, being dominant over African Americans; now, owning a big gas-guzzling vehicle and having a house that uses a lot of energy)
4. just world hypothesis (this hierarchy is just, so any other system is unjust)
III. There is a flattening between discourse and violence, so that verbal criticism is attack (and therefore it is “self-defense” to respond with violence to criticism of the ingroup).
A. Male members of the ingroup, although in control, are not in control of their response should the outgroup “provoke” them,
B. and are therefore not responsible for their own actions
C. Mote/beam projection: any action of the ingroup (e.g., unlimited violence) is justified if any behavior of the outgroup can be counted as offensive (e.g., resistance)
IV. There are large numbers of authoritarians, or authoritarianism is entrenched as the ingroup ideology
            A. aversion to/fear of uncertainty;
            B. aggression framed as the “normal” response to anxiety/fear/threat;
            C. strong father morality
            D. most (all) problems can be solved with adequate will
V. Ingroup has high entitivaty
A. boundaries are heavily policed, purity highly valued, and “loyalty” to other group members trumps other ethical standards (especially in relation to non-group members)
            B. group membership matters more than policies
                        1. so policy debates are framed as indicative of group identity;
2. raising issues of feasibility betrays the ingroup (and is therefore disloyalty, and lack of will)
C. the feelings of ingroup members claim ontological grounding (that they feel fear is sufficient proof that there is a threat; that they feel certainty is sufficient proof that a proposition about reality is true; that they feel lust is sufficient proof that a woman has behaved seductively)
VI. Because identity is more important than policy
A. one deduces the effectiveness of proposed policies from principles shared by ingroups
B. rather than by inducing their effectiveness on the basis of previous times that policy was used.
C. Advocacy of policies are used to infer feelings; the assumption is that people with the right feelings will enact good policies—policies are presumed to be necessary consequences of good feelings and good judgment

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Advice on Writing Introductions

A good introduction establishes certain clear expectations with the reader--specifically the topic and genre of the piece and your ethos. When the reader finishes the introduction (which may or may not be one paragraph) s/he should be clear just what the paper will be about, what kind of paper it will be (e.g., a policy proposal, a history, a literary interpretation, a comparison of various theories), and your ethos (well-read, fair-minded, closed-minded, sloppy, careful, dishonest).

Some teachers insist that you have your thesis in your introduction as one way to ensure that the topic, genre, and ethos are clearly established. I discourage you from doing that, as it's bad preparation for most kinds of writing (in which putting your thesis in the introduction is a serious misstep). It tends to lock you into an ethos of someone who is closed-minded on the subject--you're announcing the answer to a question that's only barely been posed.

And that raises what is really the best way to think about an introduction. The introduction should persuade your reader that there is a real question that the reader should want answered, and that you are the person to answer it.

I generally recommend that you write the introduction after you have a good draft--that is, the introduction that will really be the first paragraph or three of the paper--but some very effective writers swear by writing a perfect introduction first. They say the rest of the paper then zips along. Try both ways, and see what works for you.

Despite what you have probably been told, there are many different kinds of introductions. The most common for student purposes are: summary, funnel, focussing incident, thesis, history of controversy, some say (prolepsis), both sides.


            There is considerable controversy about whether small dogs are implicated in the squirrel controversy, but a comparison between squirrels and small dogs suggests that they are. Squirrels and small dogs are both about the same size. Squirrels and small dogs all have "Napoleonic" complexes. This complex causes them to hate larger dogs, and try to attack them at every opportunity. Although squirrels do not yip like small dogs, they do make sounds that are equally irritating. It is, therefore, clear that small dogs are conspiring with squirrels to get the red ball.

In my experience, students are very good at the summary introduction. That introduction tells 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. It summarizes the whole argument of the paper. While this kind of introduction has its uses, I cannot figure out why teachers put so much emphasis on it; it's just one of many ways to begin a paper, and generally not the most effective.

Students who are good at this kind of introduction usually write them last. Lots of students try to write them first, but it often doesn't work for one of two reasons. First, most of us figure out what we think by trying to write it down, so trying to write a summary introduction first is trying to summarize an argument you haven't yet figured out. You can't summarize it because you don't know what it is. That first shot at a summary introduction is, therefore, often a summary of a much more simplistic argument than a later version would be. The second problem is that it tends to be very unpersuasive to an informed and intelligent opposition audience. They are alienated by the list of arguments, more often than not.

Having said what's wrong with a summary introduction, I'll say what's good about it. It's a great kind of introduction for circumstances in which the reader is not open to persuasion--an essay exam, for instance, in which the reader just wants to see that you've given the correct answer. (My personal suspicion is that teachers who teach this kind of introduction exclusively treat all student writing as exam answers.) In such writing circumstances (e.g., exams), the summary introduction can serve as a blueprint. Just as a blueprint keeps the builder from doing something unplanned and therefore potentially dangerous, so a summary introduction will keep you to the plan that you've already figured out. Also, there are circumstances in which you are expected to summarize your argument--in an abstract or precis, for instance--so knowing how to write a brief summary of a complicated argument is a good skill to develop. Finally, if you're good at writing summary introductions and bad at conclusions, one solution is to take your summary introduction and make it your conclusion, then write a different kind of introduction.

Just to be clear: the summary introduction is good in some writing situations, but it is forbidden in this class. (Not because it's inherently evil, but because too many students use it in every circumstances just because that's all they know. If I don't forbid it, I won't get you to try other introductions.)


There are many animosities in nature. In the animal kingdom, these take several forms. Orb spiders hate sea lions, koalas hate Canadian Geese, and, perhaps most important of all, squirrels hate big dogs, and are in a conspiracy to get the red ball. Small dogs are also involved in the squirrel conspiracy.

The summary introduction has some merits, but that can't be said for the funnel, the second most common kind of introduction that students are taught. The funnel introduction moves from abstract generalizations to the most specific statement, which is assumed to be the thesis statement [6]. This is very much "student" writing--while it is very common in school (and even required by many teachers)--it's very unusual to see any non-student writing that uses this kind of introduction. It is very, very unpersuasive.

It's also potentially damaging for students. The funnel is often far too broad, so the student is invited to ramble off into generalizations. If this kind of paragraph is the first one you write, then you will re-read it every time you get stuck writing. If the first paragraph raises what are, ultimately, abstract generalizations, the paper can end up talking about them. So, as with the summary introduction, the funnel introduction is forbidden in this class.

Focussing incident:

            On March 22, 2002, Hubert Sumlin was at Anderson Mill Park when a Pomeranian ran away from its owner and bit Hubert on the nose. This was simply one example of innumerable incidents of small dogs brutally attacking big dogs. There are at least one thousand every year of such horrific acts. Why? What is the goal of such behavior on the part of small dogs?

Much published writing, especially journalism, relies on the focussing incident , a real or hypothetical example of the paper's issue. While it can be cloying, and too much of it gets irritating (almost every article in Newsweek and Time begins this way), it's so widespread in journalism because it is effective. It focuses the attention of the reader and writer on something specific; if well done, it means that the reader has a vivid image of the issue.


            Small dogs are conspiring with squirrels. Embittered by their small size, permanently embarrassed by their foolish yippiness, and hoping to get their owners to stop putting ribbons in the hair, small dogs have chosen to join the squirrel conspiracy to get the red ball.

        Editorials sometimes use the thesis introduction, in which the first sentence is the author's thesis. It is generally not appropriate in academic writing (except exams), and it is usually not very persuasive. If the thesis is quirky or unexpected (were George Will to begin an editorial "I love liberals!", for instance) then it can be attention-getting, but that's about the limits of its merits. It's mostly used in writing where the author is not trying to persuade an informed and intelligent opposition audience, but entertain an "in" audience.

History of controversy:

            In 1988, Hoover wrote his famous mudraking article, "Chihuahuas Look Like Squirrels--Coincidence?" in which he argued that Chihuahuas are implicated in several important acts in the squirrel conspiracy. The next year, Charlie published his three volume work, The Squirrel Conspiracy, 1876-1985, in which he demonstrated squirrel collaboration on the part of Boston Terriers, Corgis, and Westmorelands, raising the issue of whether small dogs in general are implicated. Jet responded with three studies showing consistent hostility between Cockapoos and squirrels ("I Hate Squirrels" 1989, "My Friends Hate Squirrels" 1990, and "All Cockapoos Hate Squirrels" 1991), while Daisy pointed to several memoirs of famous Miniature Schnauzers that emphasized their barking at squirrels ("Their Lives as Dogs: A Review Essay" 1992). The question remains: is it a question of a few small dog breeds, or are all small dogs involved in the squirrel conspiracy? If it is all small dogs, how do we account for the research of Jet and the argument of Daisy?

Probably the most common kind of introduction in academia is one that gives the history of the controversy. Scientific papers, for instance, begin by relating other studies on the same topic, philosophical essays begin by discussing the history of the issue, and even literary essays often begin by discussing the recent scholarship on the specific piece or topic. This is a very useful model for students to use, and probably one of the two most useful kinds of introductions for papers in this class, but students should keep two things in mind.

First, it's possible (at least in this class) to discuss the history of the controversy for you personally or for the class--to begin by describing how the class discussion went, or how your own views evolved (in fact, that can be a useful structure for a paper).

            When I was a young puppy, I was attacked by a Pekingese for no particular reason. In obedience school, a Basset Hound kept trying to steal my treats. There were two Scotties who kept peeing on my mailbox, and who snarled at me on walks. At parks I've been attacked by Cocker Spaniels, Chihuahuas, Dauschunds, Miniature Dobermans, and various small mutts. After this had happened more times than I could count, I started to wonder--why are small dogs always attacking me?

Second, given that you have limited time, don't try to start too far back on the history of the controversy. When this kind of introduction goes wrong, it turns into the "dawn of time" introduction. ("Since the dawn of time, people have been discussing Chester's obsession with the red ball.") Start your history with where your audience and argument need it to start.

Some say

            According to Jet, small dogs, especially Cockapoos, hate squirrels as much as the big breeds. As he says,

We hate them. WE HATE THEM. We think they're evil. We want to eat them.  All. ("All Cockapoos Hate Squirrels" 1991)

Jet's main evidence is the tendency Cockapoos have to bark at squirrels in trees, for hours on end, if necessary. At the end of his article, he suggests that this evidence applies to many other breeds of small dogs, who also bark at squirrels. He concludes that this loathing demonstrates that small dogs could not possibly be involved in the squirrel conspiracy. Does this demonstrate that small dogs hate squirrels? If they do hate squirrels, does that mean that they could not be part of the conspiracy?

The some say or prolepsis introduction is a lot like the history of controversy introduction, except you only discuss one side of the controversy--the side with which you will take issue. That is, it is the opposite point of view from yours. This is very, very effective when you have a hostile audience that you are trying to persuade. It generates a tremendous amount of goodwill with your opposition readers to begin by summarizing their argument. It shows that you are fair-minded and that you have listened. (If you take any management or interpersonal communications courses, you'll find that scholars in those fields make a big point about beginning a discussion, especially a potentially heated one, by confirming what the other person has said.) In other words, it's virtually the opposite of the summary introduction. Rather than begin by summarizing your argument, you begin by summarizing the opposition. For this to work, however, it has to be genuinely fair-minded--beginning by summarizing a stupid version of your audience's argument just persuades them you're too much of a dork to get their point.

Both sides

I only recently included this introduction, as it’s really just a version of the history of controversy (you don’t necessarily give both sides chronologically). But it’s worth explaining on its own:

            Many scholars have argued that little dogs are part of the squirrel conspiracy. Chester Burnette, for instance, in his seminal Little Dogs are Part of the Squirrel Conspiracy famously argued that little dogs were just as implicated in squirrels’ getting to bird feeders as were squirrels themselves. Hubert Sumlin, in a series of articles for The Journal of Big Dogs, insisted that the chittering noise that squirrels make was linguistically similar to the yipping of various small breeds.
            This claim of participation has not gone unchallenged. Many scholars, ranging from Jet to Charlie, have cited instances of little dogs effectively (and sometimes fatally) attacking squirrels. The biography of Sugar Bear, a miniature Schnauzer, narrates her smacking into the bird feeder repeatedly, sometimes sustaining damages, as evidence of her commitment to hating squirrels.
            Hence, the question is: are small dogs part of the squirrel conspiracy or not? If not, why do squirrels seem to make a noise similar to that made by small dogs? If so, why have so many small dogs hurt squirrels, sometimes hurting themselves in the process?

There are also some gimmicks you can use in your introduction, such as beginning with a quote, a definition, or a personal narrative. Those are perfectly fine (although general usage dictionary definitions are of limited utility in college--discipline specific ones are better), but they're not different kind of introductions because they can be used with any of the above. (That is, a some say introduction might begin with a quote, definition, or personal narrative, as might a history of controversy or a funnel.)

Characteristics of Demagoguery

Characteristics of Demagoguery

In popular usage, “demagoguery” simply means “effective rhetoric on behalf of a political agenda I dislike.” Not only is that a useless definition, but, if anything, it increases the likelihood of people being persuaded by demagoguery. The term once meant “leader of the non-elite” so, essentially, “populist,” and it wasn’t necessarily a criticism. By the 4th century BCE, it seems to have been used often to mean a destructive approach to popular discourse, one that undermines the chances of a community coming to an effective solution to their problems.

If one works backwards from times that communities have been persuaded to solve their problems in ways that ultimately destroy them (such as engaging in genocide, denying rights to some group, or starting an expensive and unnecessary war) one ends up with a definition that does NOT emphasize populism or emotionalism, something like this:

Demagoguery is a discourse that promises stability, certainty, and escape from the responsibilities of rhetoric through framing public policy in terms of the degree to which and means by which (not whether) the outgroup should be punished for the current problems of the ingroup. Public debate largely concerns three stases: group identity (who is in the ingroup, what signifies outgroup membership, and how loyal rhetors are to the ingroup); need (usually framed in terms of how evil the outgroup is); what level of punishment to enact against the outgroup (restriction of rights to extermination).

Demagoguery is always polarizing, and always relies on binaries. It is not distinguished by emotionalism or populism, not only because lots of very good and helpful methods of deliberation are emotional and populist, but because it is often not emotional at all, and quite often elite discourse. Demagoguery can look “rational” in that it can provide a lot of data, numbers, assertions, and even analyses (as in Grant’s Passing of the Great Race, or Laughlin’s report for the 1924 Immigration Act).

It has certain characteristics:

Binary paired terms. A concept described by Chaim Perelman, paired terms are sets of binaries that are assumed to describe a logical relationship. So, for instance, a common set of paired terms in demagoguery is:  

Thus, one either punishes or rewards others. To punish others is strong and manly; to reward them is weak and girly.
Naïve realism. Many people believe that it is both possible and desirable to perceive the world exactly as it is, with no mediation; the most “objective” interpretation is the one with the least interpretation, a mental state to which one can will oneself largely by rejecting complicated thinking about the situation. This model of perception (and cognition) assumes that one’s perception of the world is based on “realistic, unbiased interpretations” (“Naive Realism”Encyclopedia of Social Psychology Ed. Roy F. Baumeister and Kathleen D. Vohs. Vol. 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2007. p602-603.).

Naïve realism privileges simple explanations (since they are most likely to correspond to direct perception), and increases the tendency toward confirmation bias (since people tend to perceive more easily and quickly any information that confirms their current beliefs). Thus, paradoxically, the belief that one is the sort of person who always sees the world exactly as it is increases the likelihood not just of being wrong, but of being wrong in the same ways and about the same things over and over.

Finally, naïve realism enhances faith in group entitativity (the belief that groups are discrete categories with essential differences) and negates any need to consider one’s beliefs in terms of falsifiability. In short, while adherents of naïve realism believe that they have direct perception of the world, they are singularly prone to bigotry and authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism. Authoritarianism as a worldview (rather than political system) has three main aspects:

First, authoritarian submission is one's willingness to comply with established authorities placing very narrow limits on people's rights to criticize authorities. Second, authoritarians advocate sanction against those whom they deem detrimental to established authorities. Authoritarian aggression is enhanced by the belief that established authority at least tacitly approves it or that it will help preserve established authority. Thus, the theory of authoritarianism is closely related to the theory of social dominance. Finally, authoritarians tend to commit to the traditional social norms that are endorsed by society and its established authorities. Targets of authoritarian aggressiveness are often directed toward unconventional people or those defined as social deviants, such as homosexuals. (“Authoritarianism.” Encyclopedia of Political Communication Ed. Lynda Lee Kaid and Christina Holtz-Bacha. Vol. 1. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2008. p45-47. Joon Soo Lim)

Demagoguery correlates strongly to authoritarianism; in fact, I haven’t found any non-authoritarian demagoguery (although I think, in the abstract, it is possible).

Authoritarians fear change, and yet, paradoxically, are not averse to enacting radical and very new policies as long as they are framed as a return to or strengthening of “conventional” or “traditional” values. While authoritarians say they are strongly in favor of “traditional” values, those values are often of very recent origin. In other words, “traditional” is not a historical claim (that is, a claim that historical research will show these values, actions, or beliefs to have a long and broad history) but a personal claim (that these values and so on are all that this person has known—it is surprising to me how often “traditional” simply means “how I was raised”).

Assumption/assertion of ontologically-grounded taxonomies. Perhaps because demagoguery relies on binaries, it assumes that either things (ideas, perceptions, values, illnesses, identities, personalities) are either entirely subjective (that is, defined by idiosyncratic belief, transient, and essentially unreal) or entirely objective (that is, eternal, Real, and existing entirely outside individual perception). Thus, demagoguery has tremendous difficulty with social constructed “facts” (such as race, money, gender norms, cultural practices). Such concepts are assumed to be either subjective (so that they claim not to see race) or grounded in the very fabric of the cosmos (and therefore beliefs to which we must submit).  

Coupled with naïve realism, this means that demagoguery imagines public deliberation as a place in which people with accurate perception point out the Real Truth to others who, if they are also capable of unmediated perception, will instantly see it. Public discourse is, in other words, primarily a realm in which one demonstrates the clarity of one’s vision, one’s ingroup membership, one’s loyalty to that group, and one’s willingness to engage in punitive action on behalf of the ingroup/against the outgroup(s).

Deductive reasoning. Hence, demagoguery is all about certainty, accuracy, and “facts,” all of which can be deduced from 1) “traditional” practices, values, beliefs (as defined above—they are the most familiar and comfortable to the audience); 2) “traditional” interpretations of authoritative texts; 3) reasoning backwards from what must necessarily be true to maintain current hierarchies (racial, gender, national, or economic).

Thus, demagoguery often reasons from what “must” be true, even in cases when there is adequate empirical evidence. To argue for a particular policy that has often been enacted, one does not reason from what has happened in the past when these policies were enacted, but from what must or should happen if one’s premises are correct. Premises are thereby protected from falsification—the very things that might throw them into question (conditions in which they are shown to be falsified) is rejected precisely on the grounds that it would falsify the premises.
Because of this reliance on deductive reasoning that works from premises guarded from falsification, there is a strong tendency in demagoguery to refuse to redeem claims—that is, demagoguery will not provide evidence that demonstrates the major premises, only arguments deducible from them, or examples (or citations) that support them.

Hence, while demagoguery can look rational (in the sense of having a lot of data and not necessarily having any emotional appeals) what makes it profoundly illogical is that the logic of the arguments often wraps in on itself.

Identity as logic. Probably the most complicated aspect of demagoguery to describe is how identity functions. The central presumption behind demagoguery—and the most attractive promise it makes—is a stable taxonomy of identity, woven into the fabric of the universe. The taxonomy is also a hierarchy; some people are entitled to more goods than others by virtue of being better—they are better by virtue of having a certain identity, regardless of their behavior. Hence, paradoxically, members of the ingroup (by virtue of being essentially “better” people) are held to lower standards, and can behave worse.

Bad behavior on the part of ingroup members is explained externally (they made a mistake, they were forced into it) and is dismissed as meaningless; bad behavior on the part of outgroup members, however, signifies their true identity. Good behavior on the part of ingroup members signifies their true identity, and good behavior on the part of outgroup members is explained by external characteristics or bad motives.

One consequence is that precisely the same behavior in both groups is explained in dyslogistic terms for the outgroup (they are greedy) and eulogistic terms for the ingroup (they are hard-working). This dichotomy enables projection (explained below).

Another consequence is that effective performance of ingroup membership serves as adequate evidence for one’s claims (people believe the argument because the person seems reliable) and dismissal of counter-claims (she can’t have done that because she is such a good X).

Projection. Demagoguery relies on condemning the outgroup for what the ingroup is doing. This step is absolutely necessary for scapegoating (that is, for holding some group responsible for the ingroup’s problems). This projection has several forms.

Fallacy of moral equivalence. Because demagoguery relies on and reinforces naïve realism, it appeals to a sense that everyone is just like the ingroup, and that helps members of the ingroup to believe that the outgroup(s) is doing exactly what they are; coupled with a sense that all outgroup members are interchangeable with one another, this sense means that one can accuse everyone in the outgroup of doing “just as much” as what the ingroup is doing. Or, in other words, if the ingroup is engaged in any activity that creates cognitive dissonance (we are an honorable group and we are engaged in this dishonorable activity) this dissonance is resolved by asserting that the outgroup does it too. Because that enables the “both sides do it” topos, this belief inhibits any desire bystanders might have to engage in condemnation of scapegoating. It’s the fallacy of false equivalence in that the behavior of fringe members of the outgroup is equated to central members of the ingroup, or single instances of violence are framed as “just as bad” as mass violence, or minor ingroup inconveniences are equated to denial of rights, or criticism is framed as “just as bad” as hate speech (i.e., calling someone racist is “just as bad” as saying something racist).

Cunning projection. Condemning the outgroup for the same thing the ingroup does effectively distracts on-lookers, making it complicated for them to figure out the cause-effect. For instance, demagoguery that condemns outgroup self-defense as “just as bad” as ingroup offensive violence necessitates that on-lookers investigate the chain of events carefully enough to figure out who was the attacker. Since on-lookers generally don’t want to go to that trouble, they are likely to make the determination on the basis of which party seems more likeable. Hence, cunning projection coupled with an attractive persona is likely to enable the continued violence.

If condemnation of outgroup behavior is performed with a very likeable persona, then on-lookers are likely to conclude that the rhetor would never engage in the behavior s/he is condemning. This maneuver is especially effective with people who believe that you can know what someone believes by listening to what values they claim to espouse, and with people who think you can predict behavior by listening to values talk (who believe that “good” believe—that is, people who say the right things—don’t do “bad” things).

Thus, when cunning projection is most effective, rhetors manage the condemnation of a group who has done nothing, or done very little compared to what they have done (what Allport called the “mote-beam” projection).

Even if it doesn’t achieve that end, cunning projection generally muddies the waters enough that the ingroup can continue its policies, as on-lookers are prone to declare a pox on both houses.

Victimization. One thing that surprises people about demagoguery, or that they don’t expect to see, is that it relies heavily on a rhetoric of victimization. The ingroup is being victimized by the situation (often by being treated the same as the outgroup, so there is a kind of political narcissism operating), and the claim is that the ingroup has responded to this victimization with extraordinary patience and kindness. (If the actual history is disenfranchisement and violence, then that behavior is reframed and patience and kindness because it could have been worse.)

Now, however, to react with anything other than punitive violence (to try to think about the situation, or deliberate on it, or include the outgroup in any deliberations) is weak, vacillating, cowardly, and feminine.

As a consequence, demagoguery has to square the circle of inspiring fear while not looking fearful (since fearfulness is being paired with thinking and deliberating)—there are often claims of extraordinary courage in the face of a terrible situation, or a representation of one’s self as calm and reasonable while making apocalyptic predictions, and the odd insistence of the sheer rationality of hyperbolic claims (I will admit, this is one aspect of demagoguery that often makes me laugh).

Metaphors. In addition to heavy reliance on the metaphors related to Strong Father Morality (see Lakoff, Moral Politics, especially Chapters Five and Six), demagoguery associates metaphors of vermin, disease, taint, queerness (that is, transgressive behavior), monstrosity (that is, hybridity), disorder, lack of control (licentiousness), thinking, and demonic possession with the outgroup. It associates purity, tumescence (specifically, and masculinity, generally), order, action, decisiveness, and control with the ingroup. It associates dithering, wavering, impaired masculinity, and weakness with people considering protecting or defending the outgroup in any way.

Models of the public sphere


Models of the public sphere

Theorists often discuss the issue by putting forward two, three, or as many as nine. What is "public" discourse?
  • discourse that includes strangers
  • discourse that includes anyone other than the speaker
  • discourse that includes strangers on issues of government policy
  • discourse that includes strangers on issues of community policy
  • discourse that includes strangers on issues of community policy, and which the participants recognize as such
  • discourse on issues of community concern

Liberal (Enlightenment)
Civic-republican (agonistic)
Interest-based (marketplace model)
Communitarian (neo-Aristotelian)
Goal: rational deliberation

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: universal reason (public reason); universal rights; ontologically grounded assertions (true because they correspond to reality)

[early Habermas]
Goal: deliberation; glory

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: whatever works in a realm of open debate

Goal: Advertising and Bargaining

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: whatever works

[Joseph Schumpeter]
Goal: deliberation

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: shared values; human dignity?

(what if the shared values don't include human dignity?)

Goal: transmission of expert information; deliberation of ends (experts determine means)

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: expert opinion; ontologically grounded assertions

[Woodrow Wilson?]
Goal: inclusive deliberation

Legitimate rhetorical appeals: perspective-shifting; universal rights?

[Benhabib, Young]

Conditions that constrain persuasion

Difference between persuasion and expression of an opinion

Conditions that make persuasion particularly difficult
·      An opposition (i.e., already come to a decision) audience that has:
o   Taken the stance in public (especially if s/he has taken credit for it being a good idea or otherwise explicitly attached her/his ego/worth to the position);
o   Suffered for the position, had someone loved suffer, or caused others to suffer (e.g., voted for a policy that caused anyone to be injured);
o   Equated the idea/position with core beliefs of his/her culture, religion, political party, or ideology (since disagreement necessarily becomes disloyalty);
o   Been persuaded to adopt the position out of fear (especially for existence of the ingroup) or hatred for an outgroup;
o   Is committed to authoritarianism and/or naïve realism (equates changing one’s mind with weakness, illness, sin, or impaired masculinity; is actively frightened/angered by assertions of uncertainty or situations that require complex cognitive processes);
o   Does not value argumentative “fairness” (insists upon a rhetorical “state of exception” or “entitlement”—aka “double standard”—for his/her ingroup);
o   Has a logically closed system (cannot articulate the conditions under which s/he would change her/his mind).
·      A culture that
o   Demonizes or pathologizes disagreement (an “irenic” culture);
o   Is an honor culture (what matters is what people say about you, not what is actually true, so you aren’t “wrong” till you admit it);
o   Equates refusing to change your mind with privileged values (being “strong,” “knowing your mind,” masculinity) and“changing your mind” with marginalized values (being “weak,” “indecisive,” or impaired masculinity);
o   Enhances some group’s claim to rhetorical entitlement (doesn’t insist that the rules of argumentation be applied the same across groups or individuals);
o   Has standards of “expertise” that are themselves not up for argument;
o   Promotes a fear of change;
o   Equates anger and a privileged epistemological stance.
·      A topic
o   That results from disagreement over deep premises;
o   About which there is not agreement over standards of evidence;
o   That makes people frightened (especially about threats from an outgroup);
o   That is complicated and ambiguous;
o   That is polarized or controversial, such that people will assume (or incorrectly) infer your affirmative position purely on the basis of any negative case you make (e.g., If you disagree with the proposition that “Big dogs make great pets because they require no training” on the grounds that they do require training, your interlocutor will incorrectly assume that you think [and are arguing] that big dogs do not make great pets).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Chester FAQ

Chester FAQ

1. Who is Chester?

That's a dumb question. (Have you ever noticed that FAQs always pretend that the person writing it doesn't think any question is stupid? When, in fact, you know that the person really wants to answer, "If that seems like a reasonable question, you just do us all a favor and finish the lobotomy that nature started.")
Chester with the red ball.

2. What kind of dog is he?

Mostly Great Dane. We lived near some hippies in North Carolina who, apparently, didn't think it was natural to neuter or restrain their Great Dane. These people were living proof that smoking a lot of dope does cause brain damage. Needless to say, there were a lot of mixed breed Danes around that area. My guess is that Chester is more than half Dane, but I'm not clear what the other part is. Probably yellow lab, German Shepherd, or rock.

3. Why rock?

That's what he got his brains from.

4. Is he really dumb?


5. Wait a second. You think a dog who sleeps on the bed, spends his days in an easy chair, eats expensive dog food, and gets constant attention is dumb? If he's so stupid, how come he has *you* so well-trained?

Because I'm even dumber.

6. How many commands does he know?

About twenty. Sit. Stay. Place. Down. Do you want to go on a walk? Do you want to go for a ride? Find it. Come on back. Where's chew-man? Upstairs. Downstairs. Shake. Snuggle. Do you want to dance? No snarfing. Cat fight! Go 'round back. Off the bed. Okay, eat it. Let's turn around. And, of course, SQUIRREL!

7. How many do you know? How many commands does he give that you obey?

Nine. Let me in (short bark at door). Let me out (long stare at door). Feed me (long stare at empty bowl). Get the cat off my bed (loud stare while I sleep). Put water in the bowl (long stare at empty water bowl). Let's play (drop chew-man at my feet). Let's snuggle (shove arm up with head). Tell me to chase the red ball (stare at window or, if no response, give multiple short barks). THERE IS A POSSUM IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE RIGHT NOW OHMYGOD THIS THING IS SO EVIL AND YOU MUST WAKE UP RIGHT NOW EVEN THOUGH IT IS THREE IN THE MORNING BECAUSE THERE IS A POSSUM SOMEWHERE NEAR A POSSUM OHMYGOD A POSSUM I CAN SMELL A POSSUM I'M NOT KIDDING SO COME HERE RIGHT NOW OR WE WILL ALL DIE! (Multiple barks loud enough to rattle windows in nearby counties).

8. What is his purpose in life?

Chester is one of a select number of dogs to understand the squirrel conspiracy in its full complexity. He has not explained it to me, so I have been left to infer it. Apparently, the squirrels desire to reach the red ball. I'm not sure what would happen should they ever do so, but it would be very bad. So, his job is two-part: first, keep squirrels out of the back yard; second, keep the red ball on the move.
The first part is the most complicated. It begins simply enough--he must chase any squirrels that get into the backyard. It becomes more complicated when they run up the sycamore trees, however. That's when Chester must fling himself against the trees as hard as he can, occasionally biting them. Needless to say, he has sustained many injuries in this activity, but, hey, a dog's gotta do what a dog's gotta do.
The second part means pushing a hard plastic (so-called unbreakable) ball about the size of a bowling ball around the back yard, up the fence, into the mud (this is important), and onto the dog bed. When it's on the bed, it's possible to lick the ball. Every once in a while, he manages to pick up the ball in his mouth and carries it around the yard to show off.

9. Who watches Chester do this?

Me (I'd like to trade jobs with him, but he isn't very interested in the history and theory of rhetoric). Neighborhood kids. One of the cats.

10. Does Chester only get hurt while attacking trees?

No. They are probably going to name a new wing of the Vet School after him. Chester leads an exciting life. He split his leg open running up stairs (don't ask, I don't know), fell asleep on a fire ant's nest, lost an argument with a porcupine, got poison ivy, ate a six-month supply of heartworm medicine, got into the kitty appetite stimulant cat food and ate a bag of potatoes, a box of cereal, and a bag of walnuts, camped near prairie dogs with bubonic plague, got tangled up in an electric fence, ran straight into a barbed wire fence, got bitten by a puppy on the scrotum (thereby confirming his terror of small dogs), and became enmeshed with a large painting.

11. Why is he named Chester?

His full name is Chester Burnette. That's the real name of the blues singer known as "Howlin Wolf"--the singer of such songs as "Three Hundred Pounds of Comfort and Joy."

12. Is Chester three hundred pounds of comfort and joy?

No. Only 125.