Aristotle’s Rhetoric on Acid

Tom, over at People’s Press Collective, conducts a mini-course on the rhetorical devices used by the Left to derail rational discussion, illustrated by a Twitter fight:

Most of us would focus on the logical fallacy in PolitiComm’s last tweet.  By their argument, the study was about middle-aged Czech immigrants.  After all, are they not people?

But that’s not the point of the post.  Instead, Tom looks at the rhetorical devices used to distract, derail, and otherwise distort an argument.  These are tactics that not only can ensnare smart people, they’re specifically designed to ensnare smart people.  For instance:

  • Distractions: responses aimed at luring their opponent into talking about something else, taking them “down a rabbit hole” and “into the weeds” by focusing on some trivial or secondary facet of their opponent’s argument, thereby miring their opponent in minutiae;
  • Diversions: responses aimed at changing the subject entirely, moving it away from a topic they find threatening to their own interests or worldview and instead onto something threatening to their opponent’s;
  • Deflections: explanations, justifications, or rationalizations which redirect criticism aimed at their sacred cows and onto their opponent, in an attempt to put the latter on the defensive instead;

Why is it important to learn how to recognize and counter these?  Because they’re all tools used to limit our effectiveness.  Too often we make the mistake of assuming that their paucity of logic and supporting facts is obvious to anyone following the debate.  It’s not.  And using them back at the Left is only marginally better than succumbing altogether: they lower the level of discourse to the point where rational argument can’t prevail, either because the discussion itself is so debased, or because other people listening lose interest and walk away convinced that there’s no difference between the sides.

Why are these tactics so common across so many sites and platforms? I suspect there are three main reasons: first, there are professional online activists who are trained to do this kind of thing in much the way Media Matters and others train people for appearances on television or teach them to call talk radio shows or write letters to the editor; second, many more people consciously or subconsciously emulate what they see other like-minded commenters doing; and third, there are people who are just sociopathic naturally gifted in this regard and need neither training nor example to create and employ such tactics.

It’s important for center-right activists to learn to recognize these things so as not to be suckered in by them, and to fight back effectively when encountering leftists using them. Being able to spot, identify, understand, and respond to these tactics undercuts their power. Given enough education and discipline, perhaps we can return to a more rational and persuasion-based political conversation and jettison the juvenile bickering that seems to have become the norm since the emergence of social media and the ascendance of the infantile Progressive movement which dominates its political channels.

 Read the whole thing.  And be better-armed.


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