I’ve got a lot of gripes about the tone and structure of public discourse these days. How about you? There are the obvious things: the name-calling, the boosterism, reflexive opposition, and so on. But there are some things that bug me even more. Here are a few.
The general form that this take is I am an authority on A; therefore, you should believe/accept/respect my opinion about B. The most conspicuous offenders in this area are show business personalities. I’m a movie actor; therefore, take my advice on China/global warming/Iraq, etc.! There’s another form of this that I find even more infuriating: I’ve been writing about A for a long time; A is a little like B; therefore, I’m an authority on B!. Journalist Thomas Friedman is a conspicuous example of this.
Dont’ let the complaint about lack of editting in blogs compared to, say, newspapers fool you. I think the real gripe that newspaper columnists (or reporters or editors who want to be columnists i.e. practically all of them) have against blogging is that it makes bootstrapping much harder. There’s almost bound to be somebody out there blogging who actually knows something about the subject and is willing to call you on it.
Bait and switch
This one really bugs me. In this trope the advocate frequently makes a genuinely strong, convincing case for the problems with X. The advocate then proposes solution Y. The problem is that Y may have only a vague relationship to the problems the advocate made in making his or her case. That was my gripe with the Iraq Study Group report: they did a really excellent job in identifying the problems in Iraq. Their solutions addressed resolving those problems only indirectly.
You won’t have any difficulty in finding other examples of bait and switch. It’s used in practically every issue that we face. Our army is broken! We’ve got to withdraw from Iraq. If the problem is that our army is broken, the solution is fixing our army. Global warming is causing climate change! The U. S. must reform its economy (but China doesn’t need to). That’s a non sequitur unless America’s putting changes in place can prevent global warming’s causing climate change without China’s cooperation. That’s far from obvious. Some African Americans are trapped in institutionalized poverty. Give subsidies to African Americans who aren’t trapped! Another non sequitur. We must end the war in Iraq. Withdraw American forces. That’s true only if the war will end as a consequence of American forces withdrawing. The examples of bait and switch are legion.
Got any pet gripes about public discourse of your own?