Re: SOC/BIO/POL: International Forum on Globalization conference

From: Jeff Davis (
Date: Sun Feb 25 2001 - 13:37:49 MST

Consider Greg's discussion where he starts by quoting Barbara:

>> I agree with Greg that if you want to win an argument, you must understand
>> the opponent's position as clearly as you understand your own. I'd say you
>> must do more than figure out how they're effective at organizing and
>> their message out; you must also understand the rational points in
favor of
>> their arguments.
>Right, Barbara, which is one problem with the nature of discussion

The problem starts with failing to discern the crucial difference between
discussion and debate. In the real world, despite their apparent
similarity, these two words represent phenomena which are poles apart. To
whatever degree you see them as similar, you expose yourself to extreme
political vulnerability. Greg chooses his words carefully and uses them
with great precision, and therefore I conclude that when he used the word
discussion above, he meant discussion. But 'the nature of discussion' is
NOT the issue. Not at all. The nature of debate/political persuasion, not
discussion, is the issue. Discussion is a pleasant and often fruitful
cooperative interpersonal activity. In a political world with real power
and real lives at stake, debate is the rhetorical equivalent of combat.

Greg analyzes

>which is one problem with the nature of discussion about
>issues that greens and other anti-progressives have co-opted in the public
>discourse: They have become subjects of "activism", which is inherently
>polemical and adversarial. By no later than 1980 or so, people who saw
>questions of human interaction with the natural environment as inherently
>political had begun to shape the cultural milieu in which they were
>in terms of "pro" and "anti".
>It would be GREAT if we could unwind this polemical dialectic, and I'm wide
>open to suggestions of how to do it.

That's what I'd like to do.

>I think you're right that always
>looking hard at FACTS, is a way to do this, but it's equally important to
>work the rhetoric "downward" to first principles and moral assumptions.

Right. The key is 'rhetoric' and what it is, and what it isn't. What it
isn't is 'discussion', a fundamentally rational and intellectual activity
employing facts and rational analysis.


>> I would add that most people don't know how to think logically--

>I wish I could be hopeful on this point, but I do not see any increase in
>rationality or critical thinking in our society at large or in the media
>streams that influence it.

A person employing rhetoric--defined as "the art (or study) of using
language effectively and persuasively--must have a talent for the logical
employiment of rhetorical techniques to be successful Critical thinking by
the rhetorician is essential. But those upon whom rhetoric is practiced
will be more easily persuaded--ie manipulated by those rhetorical
techniques--in proportion to the weakness of their (logical) thinking
skills. Since rhetorical techniques derive their effectiveness from
emotion far more than facts, truth, or rational analysis, the smart and
successful rhetorician will dispense with these latter whenever they fail
to provide a competitive advantage, which is almost always. In debate,
which is the medium of rhetoric, winning is everything. Politics is the
dynamic social application of rhetoric. The organization of society and
the distribution of power is the result.

> I see the on-going process of translation
>of ideas and values into ideology, which in turn spawns simple cultural
>icons, sloganeering and manipulative polemics.

Because emotional manipulational 'works', it displaces everything
else--logic, fact, truth, rationality. The only logic that matters is
rhetorical logic. For those who would take pride in their rationality,
remember, pride is emotion.

<snip historical examples of ideological polarities and the consequent
forced choosing of sides and the polarization-moderating principle of


> reason for the
>kind of polarization I describe ... is the tendency of
>the greens to speak of these things as "true" in some absolute,
>decontextualized sense.

Speaking in 'decontextualized' absolutes invokes the emotions directly without
any of the disadvantageous dissipation of too much thinking ("Thus
conscience [thinking] doth make cowards of us all, and thus the native hue
[vitality] of resolution is sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought, and
enterprises of great pitch and moment [emotive power and force], with this
regard [excessive thoughfulness] their currents turn awry, and lose the
name of action.")

>... if one looks at the
>rhetoric of green and luddite ideologues, one sees an almost complete
>of weighing of costs and benefits.

No politician will throw a wet blanket of facts on the fire of his
follower's frenzy--least of all a set of facts which refutes and
demystifies their redemptive and empowering gospel.

>The dystopian, negative view of science and technology has
>somehow become the accepted foundation of just about every "mainstream"
>consideration of these things. For instance, at this point it seems
>inconceivable that someone would fund the production of a major Hollywood
>movie in which science or technology was portrayed in a positive light, much
>less as a tool to be affirmatively grasped to solve human problems.

I'm not convinced this is as much an indication of genuine cultural
hostility as it is a literary quirk. Writers know that human audiences
want heroes with whom to identify. These can be humans, animals, ET, or
'number five'. At the same time heroes need worthy adversaries to serve as
foils for their heroism. Powerful technologies, soulless 'things' of
vastly superhuman power, make terrific villians. They fit the bill
precisely because we are already thoroughly convinced of their power. But
they can just as easily be allies in the literary world--as indeed, for the
most part, they are in the real world--if you can just find another
villian, such as bad humans, bad aliens, nature run amok, or a separate,
but evil, technology.

I've gotten off topic here.

To reclaim the dialectic you must distinguish between the dialectic of
discussion, a fundamentally rational activity, and the dialectic of debate
which is political action in action. In the politics of Luddism the
ambitious self-serving political leadership of the Luddite herd seeks to
whip it into a frenzy and send it stampeding toward their political
adversaries with the intent of stomping, routing, and scattering them into
political defeat. You won't reclaim the dialectic by reasoned and
temperate discussion with the stampeding herd. For this dialectic you need
something with (counter-)action potential like loud frightening noises,
barbed wire, or a stampeding herd of you own, headed on an intercept
course. And then, you only need such a defensive response if the Luddite
herd is genuinely dangerous, and not some phantom of media feedback and
exaggeration. Which is my view.

The luddite-lites of today are mere chittering henny-pennies, impressed
with their own fierce screeching, and intoxicated with the fantastic
delusion--"the impostume of too much wealth and peace"--that they are
crusaders on an heroic mission to rescue imperiled Gaia.

Meanwhile, they're out-manned, out-resourced, and out-motivated by their
opposition. Responsible grown-ups, a vast legion of scientists the world
over, and even vaster legions of hard-working people made eminently
practical by enforced austerity strive for better living through
technology, coping as gently as they can with overprivileged homo hystericus.

Pedantic waste of bandwidth. Nevermind.

                        Best, Jeff Davis

           "Everything's hard till you know how to do it."
                                        Ray Charles

                  The progress of the future depends no longer on
                     physiological evolution but on the reaction of
                         intelligence on a material universe.
                                                                  JD Bernal

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