Confessions and Fundamental Differences

The below was said by a StarDestroyer.Net poster in regards to my review of Wayne's blog post:

Has he not noticed that writing persuasive documents is one of the cornerstones of versus debating? (Discussions of canon policy don't exactly fit well into the other cornerstones: the scientific method and application of physics and other sciences.)

Bingo, we have a winner: there's the problem confessed right there.

It's just like I said before when quoting another guy's confession:

Part of the problem might revolve around a term commonly used to describe discussions about which fictional universe would win in a war. You see, it is often called "the versus debate", the "Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate", et cetera. It would, perhaps, be better if it were called the "Star Trek vs. Star Wars rational discussion and careful analysis by a group of open-minded individuals interested in determining the Truth of the situation" . . . but that, as you can see, would be quite a mouthful.

. . . and, sadly, would be an entirely incorrect description of many of the folks involved . . .

Those who treat this as a formal debate will invariably end up approaching the following position, espoused by pro-Wars debater Ian "Kynes" Samuels:

1. Debate is not a search for truth. It is an exercise in rhetoric.
2. As it is not a search for truth, positions which I do not personally agree with may be adopted to win.
3. The objective of debate is to emerge the "victor," having used superior rhetorical tecniques [sic] to gain victory.
4. Any tactic empirically effective at advancing a position should be used.


Obviously, the above concepts, while theoretically valid for crooked lawyers and other debate practitioners, are invalid in any honest inquiry. An idea is not right or wrong based on the rhetorical techniques used to defend it . . . the idea either conforms to reality, or it doesn't. Add to that the fact that, inevitably, some have concluded that incessant flaming and character assassination are empirically effective means of advancing one's position (which is true, provided that one's audience is composed of idiots), and the Star Trek vs. Star Wars discussion can take some ugly and peculiar turns.

If you're a slick salesman who can persuade someone that 2+2=5, then I'm sure that's great for you. However, that doesn't make the belief correct, not even if you believe it yourself.

Again I point to the fundamental disconnect between their worldview and my own.


Anonymous said...

I find there is something of an important problem lying right here:

Writing persuasive documents is considered a cornerstone, yet so is the scientific method.

The process of science is all about avoiding the messiness of rhetorical persuasion, at least in theory. If you're going to apply scientific method with rigor, you have to (as a consequence) give up a variety of strong rhetorical methods.

Rhetoric and the scientific method make very poor partners.

Anonymous said...

I respectfully disagree. The scientific method can in fact make a powerful ally to effective rhetorical devices, but it is also a dangerous ally.

The art of persuasion is only really effective if it is backed up by strong evidence and factual information. Witness what occurs when rhetoric is used without support: dishonest argument and efforts to distort the truth in any way possible to convince the reader.

The scientific method can at least allow the benefit of truth to a rhetorical argument, but it is a double-edged sword. If the evidence proves contrary to the argument you are attempting, you are faced with an unfortunate decision. You can either concede the argument (the rational, if sadly rare option), or you can do what everyone else does, and continue to rely upon rhetoric (and dishonesty) alone.

The scientific method is powerful and utterly logical. However, we must be prepared to accept the consequences of the inquiry, whatever the facts truly are.

Author said...

The post above is quite correct, from the point of view of an orator. That is to say, rhetorical persuasion efforts without any reason whatsoever are quite ineffective, and indeed probably cease to be rhetorical persusasion at all. Rhetoric needs at least shoddy reasoning to enable it to be.

However, my point (and that of Jedi Master Spock, I think) is based on the opposite point of view, i.e. the view from the scientific method. The scientific method is, by its nature, opposed to the inclusion of rhetorical persuasion devices. Clever turns of phrase and carefully-selected argument formulations are antithetical to being led by the evidence alone toward the most reasonable conclusion.

This is not to say that the two must never meet, or that persuasion is invariably evil. Indeed, the modern creationist agenda has only recently forced scientists (as opposed to pro-evolution hobbyists) to wake up and realize that they must engage the enemy on their own terms.

But still it is a marriage of necessity, and not the foundational bedrock of the evolution argument. This is not the case in regards to SD.Net's pro-EU rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

I was in fact referring to those dishonestly continueing to peddle pro-EU rhetoric in that example. They have clearly, knowingly, and repeatedly made the choice to defy the great body of evidence (or worse, corrupt the evidence until it supports their arguments!).

Rhetoric and science can only be used together effectively when proceeding from the scientific standpoint, and incorporating known facts into discussing a question in a rational manner! This is not done by certain persons you have had experiences with, rather, the activities in the preceding paragraph seem more likely.