Monday, August 24, 2009

Penetrating the Rhetoric

From Thomas Sowell's The Vision of the Annointed: Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy. A few things to keep in mind when arguing with a lefty wonk or wonk-parrot. And to act as a devil's advocate for your own arguments.

Perhaps a few suggestions might be in order for seeing through much of the rhetoric of the anointed. Some of the tings discussed in previous chapters, as well as this one, illustrate some general principles of common sense, which are nevertheless often widely ignored in the heat of polemics:

1. All statements are true, if you are free to re-define their terms.
2. Any statistics can be extrapolated to the point where they show disaster.
3. A can always exceed B if not all of B is counted and/or if A is exaggerated.
4. For every expert, there is an equal and opposite expert, but for every fact there is not necessarily an equal and opposite fact.
5. Every policy is a success by sufficiently low standards, and a failure by sufficiently high standards.
6. All things are the same, except for the differences, and different except for the similarities.
7. The law of diminishing returns means that even the most beneficial principle will become harmful if carried far enough.
8. Most variables can show either an upward trend or a downward trend depending on the base year chosen.
9. The same set of statistics can produce opposite conclusions at different levels of aggregation.
10. Improbable events are commonplace in a country with more than 250 million people.
11. You can always create a fraction by putting one variable upstairs and another variable downstairs, but that does not establish any causal relationship between them, nor does the resulting quotient have any necessary relationship to the real world.
12. Many of the "abuses" of today were the "reforms" of yesterday.
It's not the use of these tactics during a debate that is ultimately the problem ... it's using them in lieu of actual argument. If you've got stuff to back it up, by all means, back it up. But these tactics are typically used by the Left to end, no, pre-empt actual debate. This IS their argument.

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