Thursday, 30 October 2008

Ad Hominem, or, Sleight of Mind?

Leafing through a book last night, I found, just inside the front cover, an article from 1996 (!) that I thought I had lost, and, as it's so clever, and so funny, I thought I'd share it.

Originally entitled "Conversational Terrorism" and now retitled "Conversational Cheapshots" (post 9/11 etc. etc.), it's a brilliant list of all the things we might find ourselves attempting to assert power and position over someone else whilst in conversation with them. I genuinely hope that I don't use these.

And, whilst I first read the article just after leaving Uni, and many years before considering serving in a political position, I can't help but think how much more helpful it would be if all levels of political debate signed up to eschewing these tactics, and instead re-developed proper debating techniques.

I hope you enjoy the article as much as I do. Here's some highlights to whet your appetite!

Over Your Head
"I'd like to respond to that, but taking into account your background, education, and intelligence, I am quite sure that you would not be able to understand."

Question As Opportunity
A standard response for politicians is to view any question as an opportunity to say whatever they want. The "answer" does not have to have anything to do with the "question" asked. This practice has all but killed the utility of debate and dialog in politics and, unhappily, it is spreading to other areas of life as well. Following are some inconspicuous techniques that allow a deft shift from the question subject to the desired subject.

This or That
Deny that the issue is limited to the question at hand. Redefine the issue to your favorite topic.

"It is not a question of (this) or (that), but rather it is an issue of (whatever it is you want to say.)"

["Are you for or against capital punishment?"] "I don't think the issue is being for or against capital punishment. The real issue facing our country is the federal budget deficit. I propose that we.... "

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