tigtog doesn’t get it

I recently came across an old post from hoydenabouttown.com that referenced an argument about rhetoric I made on Pharyngula. Basically, I was saying that one’s argument should match one’s goals. The sexist goals of PZ and others do not match their goals of making people more aware of what they see as sexism, thus their rhetoric is just awful. That isn’t to say it is awful for their in-group discussions. I expected to see harsh rhetoric from PZ and his followers. That’s what his audience wants, so he delivered. The problem is when they want to appeal to anyone else. No one is going to listen. Try getting an event organizer to book more female speakers by calling him a sexist, privileged pig who wants to take away women’s rights to vote. See what happens. So once I made my argument and everyone thoroughly misunderstood it, I cited Cicero who made the same basic point all day long: rhetoric should match goals. Unfortunately, author “tigtog” of hoydenabouttown.com doesn’t seem to get it:

Using this quote as if Cicero thus obviously advocated politely rational rhetoric is so hilariously ignorant about how Cicero actually used rhetoric in practice to garner an audience and persuade them to his will! Nobody who was actually familiar with Cicero’s most famous successes as an orator could possibly imagine that he was recommending civil argumentation.

(I didn’t actually use a quote, but I digress.)

tigtog then went on to discuss specific tactics Cicero used. None of it got to my point. Again, rhetoric needs to match goals. The times when Cicero used harsh rhetoric matched his goals and spoke to his audience. If he did the same thing in 21st century American politics, he may have been seen as just another asshole who is petty and flies off the handle. Or not. All politics are local, so – as always – it all depends on his audience.

People just don’t seem to get it. I’m all for harsh tones when harsh tones work. I feel they are more honest, so I prefer them. Just look at the hilarious lashing Richard Lenski gave to creationists. The second letter he sent to the morons at Conservapedia was far from nice, but it’s hard to deny its greatness. And, oh gee, look at his third sentence:

I expect you to post my [second] response in its entirety; if not, I will make sure that is made publicly available through other channels.

In his first response he was fairly cordial. He was just responding to a few silly creationists. However, his second response was designed to be seen by scientifically-oriented people. That’s why he explicitly said he would make it public one way or another. So in each letter we see appropriate rhetoric: in the first he answered nicely so as to more easily move on from the situation while remaining professional; in the second he ripped them apart so everyone could laugh. That pretty much nails the sentiments and arguments of Cicero in every regard.

So, again, my argument is simply that one’s rhetoric must match one’s goals. In fact, that was Cicero’s argument. This makes tigtog wrong twice. First, she has implied that I would not advocate for harsh tones. Saying as much is to willfully disregard everything I have said. Harsh tones are great when used correctly. Second, I never argued what Cicero thought was the best or worst specific rhetoric one way or another anyway. That’s just poor reading comprehension on her part.

Oh, and using an embarrassing misunderstanding of another person’s argument as a premise for one’s own argument is also bad rhetoric. I don’t know if Cicero ever felt the need to be explicit on that point, so maybe tigtog can enlighten us all.

One Response

  1. My late Republic/early Empire Roman history might be a little rusty, but I don’t recall it turning out well for Cicero. Something about his hands being parted from the rest of him, not to mention his head, and displayed in the forum… At any rate, well put regarding Cicero and his view of proper rhetoric.

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