Arguments, What Are We to Appeal to?

Hi guys, sorry for the sporadic posting during the summer, I promise to pick up and be regular once again.

What I wanted to talk about today was the rather chilling examples of rhetoric that I see around the Internet these days. I have no problem with advertisements (an argument against that can be made, though), but I would very much hope to keep arguments about serious issues on the intellectual level, with arguments that appeal one’s reason and because of their facts/evidence and logic, not meant to aim for one’s emotions or ones that outright diffuse the point at hand and redirect to something else.

As a Platonist, I value conversation very much. According to Plato, one can only reach wisdom through dialogue, so it is very important for me to see that, as a country and as a planet, we keep our discussions with each other light, but at the same time serious when they need to be and aimed at taking and giving away wisdom, instead of just rhetoric being thrown in all different directions.

Of course, there is a major problem with having such conversations, where people focus on the exchange of knowledge instead of simply getting one’s position across (or even winning the argument at all costs). The rather huge problem is that it forces people the think. We, at least in the US, but I am sure this is a world-wide problem, are very opinionated people. However, every now and again there is some pesky little moron who asks us why we hold a certain position and we usually have no answer ready for them. In other words, we are ready to take sides, but not ready to answer why we have chosen a particular side. I noticed, working with kids this summer in a camp, that a lot of the more “jumpy” kids were simply never talked to about reasoning. I remember one child who had gotten into an altercation with another boy of a different cabin and was about to be sent home, except for me putting my behind on the line for him, whom I talked to about the importance of asking “why?” inside one’s head before taking action. Knowing that I was all that stood between him and his parents being called, he gave it a try. He was exemplary for the rest of the week and, when he came back four weeks later for another week, was, just about, a changed man. The problem is we need the same therapy for adults, too, perhaps not just with acting, but with thinking in general.

I am not into conspiracy theories, so I will not start making claims about why or how we have come to this sad state of a daily lack in logic, but I will say that it clearly gets people to do things quickly. Thinking takes too much time and people actually inform themselves before making a decision. It is much easier to make people into donkeys and put a spiritual carrot in front of their face, so they’ll walk whichever way you want them to. Who are the people who place the carrot in front of the donkey? It depends on yourself and yourself only, but it is no secret that it has been statistically proven that the advertisement industry is doing better than ever and that’s saying a lot, seeing how advertising is the oldest profession in the world (“You see this apple? You want this apple! The price is entirely affordable, just one soul!”). I don’t know when the cutoff point between “Let’s use rhetoric to get people to buy our products,” and “Let’s use rhetoric to get people to buy into our ideas,” is, but I am more concerned with how to end it than with how it was started.

A perfect example of the people who say they are against abortion, but would not want to impose their views on someone else. This seems to be a twitch to gratify both sides of the debate, the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers with one swift retort, but that sentence makes no sense. The principal argument of  pro-lifers is that abortion is murder, whereas the principal argument of pro-choicers is that abortion is not murder, so someone saying they are personally against it but do not want to impose their views on others amounts to basically them saying that they are against murder but don’t want to impose their views on others, which is utterly illogical. Imagine how you would feel if someone said (way back in the 1800’s), “I am against slavery, but I would not like to impose my views on others.” How illogical! It basically reduces the issue to taste, akin to saying, “I am against the production of Mountain Dew, but I would not want to impose my views on others.” Either there is a huge lack of logic in that statement, or there is something seriously wrong with that person’s comprehending skills.

At any rate, let me get to the point of this post. As we all know, the presidential elections are going on this year and there are many people who are really looking forward to the debates that are bound to happen (as if they forgot the silliness of the series of past debates during the Republican Primaries). Yet, in listening to a few of the past ones (each for a short amount of time, so as to ensure my sanity being preserved) I still long for just one candidate to make one concise, logical argument that elicits a concise, logical rebuttal. Instead, all there ever is is rhetoric and sophistry. I highly doubt that the Lincoln-Douglas debates or any other past debates in our country’s history were of the same sort, nor would people approaching any issue in that manner before be ever even nominated to run in a presidential election, but I digress.

Lastly, two concrete instances that inspired me (in part) to write this post.

Rhetoric, rhetoric, rhetoric

First, this image that I found online. It is quite clear that it is targeted at the feelings we have (the feelings we hopefully have) when we see old ladies, which is gratitude and a willingness to help out, perhaps because they remind us of our own grandmothers. However, these feelings need to stay out of the debate about whether the US should legalize gay marriage. It matters very little as to whether the first NY gay couple is two ladies in their golden years or two 18 year-old men, the issue of whether gay marriage should be legalized as a whole should stay clear of specific examples, especially if the point or the punchline has nothing to do with the issue at hand. I do not think anyone arguing against gay marriage that is worth listening to has ever argued that gay couples pose an immediate threat to us in any way, but rather that gay marriage as an institution poses a problem. Going by the logic of the above image, the correct response by someone arguing against gay marriage would be to post a picture of two men who work out and are gay (commonly referred to as “bears”) and say that that particular couple does pose a threat to us all. But, of course, it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that such generalizations are nonsensical and silly. If anything, the above image weakens the position of the person arguing for gay marriage more than in strengthens it.

The second is a pamphlet from Planned Parenthood in NYC. I post a link to it hopping that someone will come on and say that it is a hoax, because it is simply disgusting.

Planned Parenthood Pamphlet

I found this on one of my friends’ wall and I could not read all the way through it. As I said, I hope someone can tell me that this is a hoax, because the ideas put forward by this pamphlet teach, if anything, to avoid discussion rather than to engage in it, which I can do nothing but sneer at, because it sounds like the tactic that only the side with the losing argument would use (i.e. you will never see the stronger army going out of their way to avoid a weaker one). That being said, I think that there are a bunch of good arguments for abortion made by philosophers and other intellectuals which, though perhaps may not conclusively give an answer to the issue of abortion, at least focus on giving logical reasons for it and elicit logical responses, whereas the guide given here is nothing but a horrific call to just dodge the question whenever you get a chance.


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