OK, I don't know if this is a *manly* skill, but it's a skill, and I've been having a hard time -- for years -- saying succinctly and effectively what I want to see happen in the world of discourse, which is logic and civility -- light, rather than heat; words that clarify rather than befuddle.

That may have been succinct, but not effective.

That is, sound bites are more useful than sound arguments. It seems that stupid things are easier to say in a catchy way than the truth.

You can look up a list of fallacies online, and they're fun to browse through, but -- what's the alternative?

One example of bad rhetoric. (Please, don't derail if you agree with what you think her point might have been; I'm using the rhetoric, not the politics.) Bush had given a speech comparing Osama bin Laden to Hitler and Lenin, and saying if the world had dealt with them sooner rather than later, things might have gone better. Hillary Clinton, then running for President, said:

"George Bush's faulty and offensive historical analogies aren't going to end the war in Iraq, make America safer or bring our troops home."

There's a lot to unpack here, but the bare sentence is that analogies don't end wars. Which is true, and not particularly interesting. It's obvious why she said something true (and trivial) as the main sentence. It's easy to dispute a sentence -- you just say, "Wrong!" -- but harder to dispute subordinate clauses. Which is why a bad-rhetoric pundit rarely just says "Mr. Smith sucks"; he'll say "Mr. Smith's suckiness leads to a climate of awfulness."

The real purpose of H Clinton's statement was to say that the analogy was faulty (but it's a subordinate clause, so she couldn't really say how) and we should be offended by it (on behalf of whom? Hitler? bin Laden?), and to imply that Bush was bad.

If she'd wanted to explain why his statement was wrong, she wouldn't have buried "faulty" like that, or changed the subject in the next sentence ("Americans are tired of the president's efforts to play politics with national security and practice the politics of division"). She could have said, "George Bush's analogy is faulty, because..." and thus contributed to our knowledge. But it probably wouldn't have been nearly as quotable if she had. What a shame -- because that's the part that would have been worth hearing: substantively refuting your opponent's position.

...but picking apart *bad* rhetoric isn't enough (and did you notice how I got all bogged down in one sentence?). I want to promote *good* rhetoric. Socrates did it (with a method most of us find annoying now). What can we do to promote people saying things clearly and with evident truthfulness?

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I like your idea Will. The first and probably the only way to promote this is to practice it firsthand. Moderators may be biased as well in picking apart rhetoric and truth so it really seems that it boils down a personal decision on the part of the person speaking. A second way to promote this is by rewarding it through who you choose to vocally support.

I know I can be inflammatory with rhetoric myself but I generally try and keep a lid on it until I meet with something that I've been beating my head against for years or someone simply offends me. Full permission to call me out or send me a message to help me with moderation.
James, you struck a chord with that last paragraph. From the FWIW Dept., the essay I wrote on Healthcare, and responded so negatively to that one individual's comment is one that was written two years ago. I have been 'round and 'round the topic, been labeled a communist, and told I am a proponent of the re-distribution of wealth...Quite frustrating, and I was not in the most logical of moods when I made my reply, I will admit.

To those who found my behavior offensive...and Jesus Christ on toast, this is difficult for me to even type, much less say, I apologize. I was out of line. If ever asked about it, I will of course deny that I ever said it, but there you have it.

I have spoken to those who live in other countries, and know more about the situation than most, I think. I feel that Will's example of the Healthcare system below, and then the complete change of topic once a problem is presented is an apt description of many things in politics today, not just Healthcare.
I'm with you, too. I tend to hop on my soapbox from time to time, but I try to do it in a way that clearly communicates my point. If I inflame in one breath, I try to put the fire out in the next.

I quickly tire of people who make a statement only to get a rise out of another person. Sparking conversation is one thing; inciting defensiveness and anger is quite another. Not mature at all.

I think James is right on when it comes to the "How" of your question: reward good rhetoric with praise while ignoring the bad rhetoric.

I've tried to moderate discussions between two unreasonably hostile sides, but in doing so, I tend to come down harder on those who misrepresent "my side" of the discussion with their overt hostility, especially in religious discussions. Then I'm called a turncoat, wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, what have you. No, criticizing bad rhetoric gets you nowhere.

People really just want to be heard; if no one responds to their barbs, they might take the lesson and add a bit of honey to their words.
For centuries rhetoric was taught to young men along with math, reading and gymnastics. It's too bad it's not done anymore. The art of the arguement is quickly fading away into feel good bumper sticker philosophy with no substance. Rare is the man that can use logic along with passion to make a point.

The cure, difficult as it may be, is to think before speaking and follow a logical trail from A to B in order to make your point and stay focused on the subject. Certainly a skill no longer found in the average person of today.

I remember taking such a class in college as a pre-requisite for any bachelor's degree. "Critical Thinking," belonging to the Philosophy Dept (?). It seemed like itinerary padding at the time, but I've since come to realize how valuable a skill critical thinking actually is.

If A, then B. A, so B.

It's a lot easier to spot a fallacious argument when you can break it down to such terms.
You've inspired me to improve my rhetorical skills. Bombastic rhetoric is easy for me. Logical and civil...not so easy for me. I believe sarcasm is the lowest form of intellect and ungentlemanly. I use it far too often. I've noticed that society in general uses sarcasm more and more in debate. It's a shame. Logic and reason are far superior. I don't recognize fallacies as quickly as some but I'm going to study them once again and get to know them better.

I'm also a bit too quick to use sarcasm. I think the appeal is in being able to inject humor, flaunt a degree of intelligence, and jab an opponent, all at the same time. It's that last part, though, that makes sarcasm a lousy tool for any serious conversation. He with whom I converse is not my opponent; making him such turns a discussion into an unproductive fight.
Yes, rhetoric along with Latin. Kids hated them for centuries, but now they are extinct we can see the wisdom of them both in the education system to grow a fuctional mind.

Sarcasm is a part of rhetoric, but knowing when and how to use it is the trick. Like anything else, it's become cliche as the unwashed masses use it unknowingly and believe the sarcasim is an end instead of a means. Properly used with a dash of fact, a bit of passion, half a cup of parable, and a spoon full of logic, sarcasm becomes the spice of the meal, not the main course at a rhetorical banquet.

I highly encourage everyone here to read Plato's "Republic". It takes a little getting used to the literary format, but it is probably the best preserved piece of rhetoric from the ancient world, and shows how adults can argue in a civilized manner with mutual respect for both the speaker and the ideas. Along with Plato, the books by Livy and Plutarch have preserved the actual rehtorical speaking in the senate of Rome. From these sources we can see a glimps of what education looked like in the ancient world, and how far we have dumbed down in our public politic.
I had to read Plato's "Republic" years ago for school. I think I'm gonna read it again. Only this time I'll pay attention.

I truly would like to see rhetoric taught in schools. There are a lot of things I think should be taught in schools.
Yes, I certainly notice that. Sarcasm makes finding the truth particularly difficult, not just because it bears no relation to truthfulness, but because it does not offer a counter-position.

For example,

"The National Health System in the UK has problem X."

"Well then, let's just shut the whole thing down! Let granny and grandpa die in their beds -- that'll be cool! Riiight."

...says nothing about problem X, whether it exists, or how to solve it. And if the second speaker is challenged to defend his claim that the NHS doesn't have problem X, he can (correctly) point out that he never said it didn't. He never really *said* anything. He didn't even say that the first speaker wants granny and grandpa to die -- he never mentioned the first speaker at all. He only said *he* thought it would be cool, and we're to get that he didn't mean that, so we're left with nothing at all but bad blood.

Such is the nature of sarcasm.

Idioms and metaphors I think often confuse the speaker -- they aren't deliberate, they're just all he can do. (Maybe the same's true of sarcasm; don't know.)

More later, maybe. Yard sales beckon.
Oh, yeah, right -- like *that* makes sense.

No, I'm just giving an example. Things is, I could have posted that barb after *any* post at all. Sarcasm doesn't show the opponent's absurdity, or rather, it shows the opponent's absurdity without reference to whether there was any there or not!

Yet it's very compact and very powerful (at winning, not at truthfulness). I wish I knew a way to connect that power with truthfulness.
As a student of Political Science and Philosophy, and a young man in this community, I sympathize with many of the above statements. Logic courses have seriously affected how I view my education and have helped hone my own rhetorical abilities. I would suggest that on top of reading classics, it is helpful to review some of the more recent debates, such as those between President Lincoln and his rivals, or Churchill in the House of Commons.

Mathematics is another way in which one can hone their thought and in so doing become more precise in their statements. Joining a debating group or Toast Masters ( I'm sure there are similar groups in America and Britain) is another way in which to practice rhetoric.

A tool which has been useful in my life is something I learned back in high school. My philosophy teacher in grade 10 started us writing 3000 word papers at the beginning of the semester. By the end, we were expected to make arguments of greater depth in as few as 500 words. This greatly improved our abilities as writers and debaters. If you want to practice refining your arguments, compressing them in writing is one of the best ways I've come across.


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