This is basically what my brain does during any discussion, big or small. It’s what I graduated with a degree in, and it is probably the most central belief I have and it informs all others.
The best argument is all that matters.
The best arguments are convincing because of they speak to the specific effects the argument has on the audience, they reveal personal bias in the speaker, they respect and accept the premise of the opponent, they are concise and clear, and they come from a place of well supported facts.
That’s what I believe.
The group that made the graphic above did a good job of breaking down Cardinal O'Brien’s words, and not knowing much about the man or even the particular struggle being spoken of, it certainly appears that they did a good job, but the main issue is, does it matter anymore?
At least in America, there seems to to be no respect for actual debate anymore, sides don’t ever really listen to each other, they are so pumped up by those who think and feel the same prejudices they do, that they just tune out the other side, or worse, scream over them.
I am not telling the world anything that hasn’t been thoroughly hashed out a million times over in a million op-ed pieces in the last decade, but as a rhetorician, I do think I can identify, structurally at least, the source of why good arguments, useful, helpful debate, has disappeared in this country.
Though I am sure the name calling, the hyperbole, the self-righteousness are all harmful factors in having a successful discussion about important issues, the most glaring to me is the idea of the accepted premise.
It’s simple, really, to have a discussion, both sides must decide on the premise of what they are discussing, in many ways it’s the most important aspect of the entire process. I remember studying in school the Abortion debate and my amazing teach, Mrs. Mary Anne Trasciatti, pointing out why it never gets any closer to resolution on either said. One side considers themselves Pro-Choice, they are for a woman’s right to choose what to do to her body and consider it a woman’s health issues. The other side considers themselves Pro-Life, they believe that abortion is murder, that it is killing a living thing and that it represents a moral and societal issue. No side claims to be Anti-Life, or Anti-Choice, no one is marching to limit women’s rights and no one is campaigning to kill infants. They aren’t having the same argument, in any real way, it’s not an argument at all.
Unfortunately, it seems ALL discussions have developed this dynamic, and in that way there are no discussions anymore, not debates, nor arguments even, just yelling.
I would blame the impassioned speakers involved, but to be honest, I am far more angry with those who studied rhetoric and choose, cynically, to use it’s tools to their advantage in this way. Marketing “experts” who talk about “changing the discussion” and “pushing bullet points” are actively espousing this technique, and it is those people I blame more than anything, because they are very aware of what they are doing.
I wish we taught rhetoric to children at a younger age, it is certainly easy to understand, and in many ancient cultures it was taught almost immediately. It would help protect us from anyone trying to con or trick us in life, not just in arguments, and it would arm children with much needed protection against the tide of willful deception and evasive tactics used to keep us from making informed decisions.
The American people are more than capable of making informed decisions, and anyone not giving us the opportunity to do so, on any side of the aisle, should be taken as an insult to our intelligence, and should be treated the way you treat someone who has been disrespectful to you.
I’m just sayin’, does it matter what’s right, or only who’s right?