June 23, 2009
New Addition to the Encyclopaedia of "Argumentum ad Defatigationem"
I have a new one for you.
"Argumentum ad Defatigationem" is Latin for argument by exhaustion -- arguing in so fatiguing a manner that one's opponent just gives up and stomps off -- after which the arguer jumps up and down and shouts "I won!" It's a favorite trick of liberals (and too many libertarians); but liberals especially bring a tasty flavor to the proceedings with a number of rhetorical stunts that appear paralogical, but are actual diabolical.
The first one I identified, many years ago, was Argument by Tendentious Redefinition; this occurs when proponent secretly redefines a common and usually deplorable word -- but he relies upon listeners clinging to the original definition in order to tar his opponent with inuendo and subconscious slander. The classic example is a radical feminist who secretly redefines "rape" to include all heterosexual sex -- then repeatedly accuses ordinary heterosexual males of being "rapists."
Today's entry is a very different antic; I'm dubbing it Argument by Promiscuous Propinquity: One conducts it by taking two or more utterly disparate incidents and smooshing them together, one right after the other, to create the illusion that they are all the same incident.
If that seems a little vague, let me offer this clean example. Submitted for your approval, here are the first three grafs of the New York Times story linked above, titled "Tapes Reveal Nixon’s View of Abortion":
On Jan. 23, 1973, when the Supreme Court struck down state criminal abortion laws in Roe v. Wade, President Richard M. Nixon made no public statement. But privately, newly released tapes reveal, he expressed ambivalence.
Nixon worried that greater access to abortions would foster “permissiveness,” and said that “it breaks the family.” But he also saw a need for abortion in some cases, such as interracial pregnancies.
“There are times when an abortion is necessary. I know that. When you have a black and a white,” he told an aide, before adding: “Or a rape.”
And here are the fourth and fifth grafs -- the immediate successors to the above:
Nine months later, after Nixon precipitated the resignations of two top Justice Department officials and forced the firing of the special prosecutor looking into the Watergate affair, Ronald Reagan, who was then the governor of California and would later be president, told the White House that he heartily approved.
Reagan told the White House that the action -- which would become known as the “Saturday Night Massacre” -- was “probably the best thing that ever happened -- none of them belong where they were,” according to a Nixon aide’s notes of the private conversation.
What do those two statements have in common? Nothing at all... except that both were recorded by the same device in the White House.
But what are readers to infer they have in common, this vile expression of racism and eugenics attributed to Richard Nixon, followed by Reagan's hearty approval? Clearly, the intent is that inattentive readers (that would be most of them) should mistakenly believe that Ronald Reagan approved of aborting biracial babies.
There is no transitional language between the two excerpts to alert readers that the reporter, the aptly named Charlie Savage, is making an abrupt, right-angle turn to a completely different subject. And in particular, note the phrase "nine months later;" if you simply sidle up and whisper "nine months," the first thing most Americans would think of was pregnancy -- further fostering the illusion that Ronald Reagan "heartily approved" of racial eugenics.
(Ronald Reagan is only mentioned once more in the article, in an almost parenthetical aside.)
Now, I have no idea whether the Times correctly quotes Nixon in context; but that's not relevant to this point. And it's utterly unpersuasive to object that the story does not explicitly state that Reagan's hearty approval was for Nixon's alleged eugenicism (nor does it explicitly say that the approval was for the firings and forced resignations). This gives Mr. Savage "plausible deniability," speaking of Nixon.
But really, words are my business; in a court proceeding, I would be a qualified expert on the subject. I know when someone is using language not to edify or enlighten but to obscure and mislead.
This series of five paragraphs is no accident: In the realm of serious, written, edited, and published prose or journalism, the Lizardian Rule of Intent reads, Never attribute to mere stupidity what can adequately be explained by malice; particularly when the object of the malice is, in fact, viscerally hated by the maligner. (If the same sort of appalling elite-media juxtaposition had befallen Barack H. Obama, I would more readily extend the benefit of doubt. Also, a mistake like calling the 2008 Republican VP nominee "Sarah Pallin" cannot be explained by malice and is clearly just a tyop to be shrugged off.)
Anyway, that is the new entry. I've thought about it for a while; I was going to discuss it right after the One's Apologia to the Moslems, when Paul Mirengoff at Power Line was defending the president by noting, with courtroom precision that bespeaks well of his talent as an attorney but not so well of his appreciation of political voice and tone, that Obama had not explicitly equated Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the Holocaust.
Understanding Argument by Promiscuous Propinquity allows us to note the strangely inappropriate closeness, within the speech -- adjacency, in fact -- of the two incidents: Jews under the Nazis and Palestinians under the Israelis... a propinquity that defies benign explanation. But in that case, the transitional rhetoric made it kristall clear that he was comparing them: After describing the Nazi extermination of Jews, and before introducing Israel's entirely reasonable responses to Palestinian terrorism, Obama connected them by saying "on the other hand." That makes clear he is comparing one to the other... and context made clear he was equating, not contrasting.
So I abjured, awaiting a cleaner example; and here I have found it!
Argument by Promiscuous Propinquity... keep an eye out for it in future.
Hatched by Dafydd on this day, June 23, 2009, at the time of 5:58 PM
TrackBack URL for this hissing: http://biglizards.net/mt3.36/earendiltrack.cgi/3709
The following hissed in response by: Geoman
“Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.” Ian Fleming.
My favorite is the use of "far right". Many mainstream politicians seem to dwell there. Yet I cannot even remember anyone using the term "far left". In fact the left is never called "the left" by anyone except a few conservatives. It is always liberls, or even progressives.
My favorite recent example is how the press loves to characterize the ruling mullahs in Iran as "conservative". Yet most of their ruling principals are in fact "far left". Worlwide revolutionary takeover? Check. Price controls and subsidies? Check. Control of business? Check. Lots of useless rhetoric about helping the poor? Check.
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