Language of Argument

Language of Argument #

How our minds perceive reality is determined by a variety of factors; our acquired conditioning - mindset, our reasoning processes, emotions and the persuasive skill of presenters.

I never argue; I just calmly explain why I’m right and others are so wrong.

Truth is whatever validates your prejudices, feeds your sense of grievance, and fuels your antipathy toward the people you’ve decided are on some other side.

Adversarial processes are inherently antagonistic; the aim is to win the battle of hearts and minds with certainty, casting doubt on all contrary evidence, to ultimately win with whatever tactics it takes. Just like Trump and Republicans, political minds aren’t interested in actual evidence; they just prefer to peddle the myths that serve their cause.

“History isn’t the story of what actually happened; it is just the story people choose to believe.”

Homer too, was suspicious of “the gilded tongue”

He also warned: “words empty as the wind are best left unsaid.

Power of perception #

How our minds perceive reality is determined by a variety of factors; our acquired conditioning - mindset, our reasoning processes, emotions and the persuasive skill of presenters.

To win an argument is to firstly respect all other views regardless of how batty. You are much better listening to their arguments and then questioning them rather that rejecting them as outrageous. You have to let opponents save face to maintain their dignity.

Wendell Holmes: “We should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe.”

Voltaire: “I wholly disapprove of what you say—but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

“Never argue with an idiot. Most people can’t tell the difference. Mark Twain

It is the deceit of words and sleight of hand which may not involve any deliberate falsehood, but inferentially manipulates our perceptions, what Wittgenstein calls:

the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language and eristic argument.

Most of us use language to conceal rather than reveal; to impress, than express, and persuade rather than inform.

In Macbeth, Shakespeare demonstrates the deceptive role of language when Banquo tries to warn Macbeth not to trust the witches.

And often times, to win us to our harm,
The instruments of darkness tell us truths,
Win us with honest trifles to betray’s
In deepest consequence

Macbeth fails to heed the advice and only through painful experience learns the lesson:

And be these juggling fiends no more believed
That palter with us in a double sense,
That keep the word of promise to our ear
And break it to our hope.

We are very much in our bubble world of ideologies. Most of the culture wars are based on ideology rather than fact.
Einstein claimed:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them”.

He also maintained that:

“you can’t argue a person out of a position, they didn’t reason themselves into”.

Powermongers need to learn how to have a civil and intellectual conversation with those with whom we disagree.

Perceptions can be manipulated and many professions are skilled in the clever arts of insidious persuasion, marked by the triumph of cleverly constructed sentences to decouple truth from semantics.

Socrates considered the debate in such settings:

unedifying, pointless and unworthy—in a word, “eristic”.

Speaking truth to power: #

Any civics textbook would have told us up until recently that being critical of the powerful is actually a civic virtue, and now there’s much more of a sense that, well, this could actually somehow be dangerous for democracy.

As Noam Chomsky tell us:

There is no point in speaking truth to power; it already knows the truth and is busy concealing it. Therefore, it is more important to speak to the oppressed.

The crucial thing is, how do we talk about people who disagree with us? Do we argue with them, argue against them, but accept them as legitimate players in the democratic game, or do we essentially argue; No, these people shouldn’t be in the game in the first place? Barry Jones advises not to be condescending.

Mr Friedman expresses concerns about the way public debate is conducted in the current political environment. Society has become so polarised that opposing groups carry out “raging attacks”, rather than conducting sensible arguments.

“Our inability to restrain ourselves, our inability to restrain our anger, our contempt, destroys the fabric of society”.

And history has shown that a lack of manners can have both personal and geopolitical consequences.

He argues that if we recognise decency as the highest value, rather than brutal honesty, then the level of discord between people will change.

“All of us have to understand that our souls are not so pure that the things that we think are not harmful,” Mr Friedman said.

The difference between a pit bull terroir and a journalist, or teacher, is that the pit bull eventually lets go.

More @:

Casuistry #

Lawyers are trained in the arts of linguistic combat; persuasion – casuistry, sophistry and eristic logic, to win at all costs. Specious and spurious arguments trump truth and reality. Long live distortion, casuistry, chicanery. Intelligent individuals can distinguish between truth and the manipulation of evidence leading to perception management.

“It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.” You know, that might be the answer – to act boastfully about something we ought to be ashamed of. That’s a trick that never seems to fail. Heller - Catch - 22.

Casuistry is the ability to deny everything, say anything and flip any position.

The point of the new rhetoric isn’t so much argument as abuse through convoluted language..

Science is a badge of our sophistication, while all other sources are a reminder of our primitivism.

French scientist Alexis Clairaut wrote in 1727:

‘a truth that is glimpsed’ must be verified by ‘a truth that is demonstrated’,

This needs an empirical, rigorous and scrupulous process of discovery, sound inferences, valid assumptions and disciplined logic. Dr Samuel Johnson cautioned that “power is insufficient evidence of truth”. That conscious objectivity, through empirical methods, reveals the true nature of reality, offering us the means by which we can distinguish between reliable and unreliable evidence and assertions.

The forensic principle has everything to do with the discovery of accurate and validated information. The credibility of the exponent based on its ability to distinguish between fact and fiction by testing conflicting evidence.

The discipline of interpretation is to discriminate between contesting claims. The strength of all claims is measured by robust, independent and material evidence. Dishonest interpretations are characterized by tendentious interpretation and inadequate evidence. Decision makers have discretionary prerogatives to select the evidence and salience the respective weight. If this is done genuinely, the final conclusions will be accepted. Where the evaluation is questionable, doubt, credibility and trust becomes eroded.

James Murdoch broke from his father, Rupert because:

“I reached the conclusion that you can venerate a contest of ideas, if you will, and we all do and that’s important. “But it shouldn’t be in a way that hides agendas. A contest of ideas shouldn’t be used to legitimize disinformation. And I think it’s often taken advantage of. And I think at great news organizations, the mission really should be to introduce fact to disperse doubt — not to sow doubt, to obscure fact, if you will.

Professor Brian Cox, believes the humility is the highest virtue required in good science.

Identify the people with blustering certitude and don’t believe them, Science is not a collection of absolute truths. Scientists are delighted when we are wrong because it means we have learnt something."

Distinctions of language: #

The English language has many confusingly words that are similar yet opposite in meaning. English is an organic, evolving and democratic world language because it is so forgiving. Words constantly change their meaning by sloppy misuse or by changing times and needs.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master - - that’s all.” (Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 6)

rational - logical thought process

rationalise - contrived reasoning with an ulterior purpose.

Disinterested – impartial, detached or uninvolved.

Uninterested - not interested, unconcerned, indifferent

Assertive - quiet, forceful, insistent claim to one’s rights or opinions.

Aggressive - forceful attacking offensive claim to rights/opinions.

Authoritative - highly respected, regarded or revered

Authoritarian - imperious, bossy, bullying

Reaction - instinctive reflexive or visceral response – knee jerk.

Response - considered, reflective thoughtful or deliberated response.

Reflexive - without consideration - automaton

Reflective - due consideration - thoughtful

Right - entitlement that cannot be taken away - inviolable

Privilege - entitlement granted under trust

Revenge: - a personal subjective, impulsive reaction

Avenge: - a considered response in pursuit of social justice.

Simple - Easy to do or understand

Simplistic - Lack of complexity or sophistication, a distortion of truth

Public Interest - Information needed by the public to form informed decisions.

Public Curiosity - Titillation, prurient or salacious material to sensationalize news

Well - a state of being often in regards to health

Good - morally upright or righteous

Whatever you do should be done well; but it is even more important to do some good.

Four main weapons of false arguments: #

First - it unleashes a torrent of attacks contesting even of the tiniest points, so as to wipe the critic’s original point from everyone’s mind;

second - it attacks the critic personally and pitilessly;

third — somewhat paradoxically — it ignores the critic;

and fourth, when all else fails, it simply continues asserting something as true as if no one has ever shown it was false.

Once powerful people have made up their minds on something, it develops a momentum of its own that is almost impervious to facts, reason or argument

Only during the present century have the proper interpretive tools become available through the development of such disciplines as anthropology, archeology, and cultural history to discover the something closer to reality.

Decisions need to be for the many; not the few.


Also known variously as poisoning the well, mudslinging, attacking the person rather than the argument – playing the man not the ball…., it is a classic ploy in debating contests.

It is one of the oldest tricks in the book for winning arguments – already clearly identified, labelled and widely discredited from Greek and Roman times.

A more earthy analogy; it employs the caged-monkey technique of punditry, simply flinging faeces at opponents until something sticks. (apologies to Jeff Sparrow –

Finding dark motives is the stock-in-trade of advocates attempting to smear their adversaries. It’s easy work. Slamming your opponent’s with relentlessly negative motives means you don’t have to grapple with facts; you don’t have to answer arguments; you don’t have to do any home work; and you can’t be disproved. In this environment, those taking a contrary (or even a more nuanced) view quickly become “damaged goods”, reputations are undermined and the information that informs judicial understanding diminished. It becomes one of the clearest indicators that rather than being a disinterested arbiter, the advocator is an engaged participant in the arguments.

Even before Trump, the very phrase ad hominem has been rendered obsolete, almost incomprehensible. An argument that is directed against a person, rather than the position they are maintaining? Online a person is the position they’re maintaining and vice versa. Opinions are identities and identities are opinions. Quoting Freud, Voltaire, Conrad Black… often invites the opinion – “I don’t believe anything they say”.

Bernard Keane There’s something deeply wrong with Australian discourse:

“The level of debate in Australia has been falling in recent years. Trump accelerated it, plumbed new depths for what it was permissible to say in what passed for civilised democratic discourse. But it was falling before him. That first became clear under Julia Gillard, who was subjected to a hateful barrage of misogynist abuse. But it’s got worse since then.”

Sagacious investigators realise showing acute mental discernment and keen practical sense, comes only with curiosity. Socrates, that sagacious Greek philosopher, believed that the easiest way to learn was by asking questions.

Or Alice in Wonderland, when scolded for asking too many questions, replies: “No I won’t; the more curious I am, the more I learn”.

Red Herrings #

Flashy fish who swim in front of the predators to draw them away from those they wish to protect.

An older term for what today Lynton Crosby, also known as the “wizard of Oz”, shamelessly calls all the dirty tricks of a demagogue – whatever it takes. Slag the opponents at every turn. Misrepresent reality whenever it is convenient.

The bag of tricks includes rhetorically embracing populist positions full well knowing the ensuing fury from the Left will sustain the issue on the national agenda for days at a time. This is also known as “Dog Whistle Politics” or “Wedging your opponents” so they have nowhere to run.

Crosby is also renown for his signature “dead cat” manoeuvre. Boris Johnson described the strategy like this:

“There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.”