Sister blog of Physicists of the Caribbean in which I babble about non-astronomy stuff, because everyone needs a hobby

Monday, 12 March 2018

Lindy on rhetoric

In the video below, the ever-charismatic Lindybeige explains rhetoric with his characteristic flair.

Though, his main suggestion that rhetoric be taught in schools in many subjects is based on the false premise that it isn't already. At least, in my classes we were taught almost all the methods described in different subjects, exactly as he proposes. English taught us about appeals to emotion, how to construct an "argument", etc., history about how to use evidence, and so on. Maybe this is very unusual. But if so, that wouldn't explain why the current (largely older) crop of politicians of every single party have steadily declined, in short order, from at least capable oratory (I think his criticism of Blair is slightly unfair, he may have given some empty speeches but he also gave plenty with substance) to outright attempts to outdo each other with brazen attempts to summit the giddy heights of Mt Stupid. Politics - especially front bench politics of the most famous names - is like watching a bunch of stereotypical cavemen beat each other with clubs and go, "hur, hur, hur" because they're physically incapable of thinking of anything better to do.

[On further reflection, I think that while there is a good argument to be made that humanities courses are important for critical thinking, rhetoric by itself is not enough. Plato attempted to explain this at length : being able to convince people is, in the long run, no good at all if you don't consider what it is you want to convince them of. Rhetoric itself requires intelligence, but merely understanding the techniques of argumentation is not enough to understand if an argument is any good or not. It's a valuable and necessary asset to be sure, but not sufficient. You also need to be able to understand the substance of what is being said as well as its delivery technique - you can't avoid the need for knowledge of the field being discussed.

I'm come to the conclusion that contemporary politicians exemplify this. Rather than politicians just not understanding rhetoric, I think they have the opposite problem : they only understand rhetoric. They know perfectly well how to formulate an argument, which weak points of their opponent to concentrate on and which stronger points they should parry; how to remain calm under pressure and when to get emotional. They're not perfect or even especially good at these (and sometimes they're very bad at them), but they do understand the basics. In contrast, their knowledge of the actual issues they're discussing appears to be devastatingly poor. It's not a lack of rhetoric that's the problem - it's that they don't understand the issues sufficiently well to be able to get rhetorical about them.]

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