alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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LJ Idol Season 8 - Week 31: The Art of Arguing

This is my entry this week for therealljidol. I invite you to read and vote for the many fine entries. This week's topic is "Polemic."

Hi, everyone! You probably all know me already, but for those who don't, are you hiding under a rock? Seriously, though, I'm Sham Flannery, and I host unbelievably popular shows on both cable television and talk radio. I am thrilled that your professor asked me to speak to your Video Production class. Professor Greer tells me that this semester you'll be producing your own shows to air on the local cable network, so I'm here to tell you a little of what I know. You probably won't be as successful as me, but who knows?

Now, they call me a pundit, but I like to call myself a truth-teller. And I'll tell you a little truth right now. I'm not interested in arguing; I know I'm right! (LAUGHS) What I'm interested in doing is getting my version of the truth ingrained into people's heads. That's the only real way to change the world. Trying to "convince" somebody? You're wasting your breath.

Let's start by talking about some ancient history: Aristotle. Try bringing that name up on a cable news show, and you'll see how quickly a guest's eyes will glaze over. That's OK: their lack of knowledge is my advantage.

Aristotle said that all arguments can be won by using one of three appeals: logos, ethos and pathos.

Now, according to Arostotle's stuffy arguments -- did you notice what I did there? Sounding like the "common man" by putting down intellectualism? You'd be surprised how effective that is. Anyway, as I was saying, Aristotle talked about logos, or logic, saying you could convince people by making strong, clear claims; providing strong evidence; and acknowledging the arguments of the opposition. Clearly, Aristotle was in lala-land.

Logical arguments are overrated. Do you think that even half of my audience has the patience to listen through a half hour of logical arguments? Do millions of people show up for the National Debate Club Championship? (SNORTS LOUDLY) Yeah, right. Look, I provide plenty of facts and figures to back up my arguments. I bring stacks of paper with me into the studio, so that I can point emphatically to them. At my direction, my graphics person prepares graphics with statistics on them. It's hard to argue against a bar graph. My production assistants dig up damaging quotes that I can use against my enemies. Some of them are even more damaging if you leave off the second half of the sentence.

But here's the thing. None of that matters. The truth is -- and I'm here to talk about the truth, right? -- the truth is that I can produce evidence to back up any point I want to make. When necessary, I can bend the facts a little to fit my purpose. I can always come up with "facts." But you know what matters even more than facts? Repetition. Don't believe me, ask John Kerry what it's like to get Swiftboated. The more often you repeat something, the more it rings true.

I'm not going to waste much time talking about Aristotle's second appeal: ethos. He seemed to believe that an audience is more likely to side with a speaker if he establishes himself as well-informed, confident, sincere and honest, and humane and considerate. Let me break it to you gently: the nice guys don't win. Not on the football field, or in politics, and definitely not on cable television.

Rather than bending over backwards to make yourself seem like a bleeding heart softie "good guy," you need to make the other guy look bad. Accuse them of distortion, unfairness, and dishonesty. Rail loudly against their loose morals and intolerant ideas. Proclaim that you stand on the shoulders of Justice itself, while your opponent wallows in a pit of indecency. You might think that's going too far, and you know what I tell you? It's not far enough. Not in my line of work, baby.

Am I getting you riled up? Am I upsetting you? Or are you secretly hoping you get a chance to high-five me later? That's called pathos, and it's the final appeal. An appeal to pathos is an appeal to the emotions. Aristotle said that if you do it well, you can reinforce logical arguments and create a bond with your audience. He recommended appealing to such higher emotions as idealism, beauty, humor, nostalgia or pity. Yes, well, he had it part right.

Emotion is very effective, he's right. But he left out a few. Appealing to beauty and nostalgia: how quaint! Appealing to fear can be much more effective. You don't believe me: look at the ads for the presidential election. Sure, they started out all nice and optimistic, talking about how their guy is a great leader, blah, blah, blah. But as we get closer and closer to the election, you see nothing but negative ads, all of them trying to convince you what sort of fresh hell you'll find yourself in if you elect the wrong guy.

According to Aristotle, if you use all of his appeals well, you'll convince your audience. Unfortunately, you would probably also put them to sleep. Like it or not, if you want to be a success, you'll want to forget about Aristotle and listen to Sham Flannery. (POINTS AT HIMSELF WITH A JERK OF THE THUMB) Hey, I promised you the truth, didn't I?

Any questions?

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Tags: fiction, lj idol, news, season 8

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