Friday, March 28, 2008

Bad rhetorical habits

A good comment I saw today pointed out that one thing which Nick Cohen and friends and many Trotskyist groups have in common are bad rhetorical habits, 'including an extremely aggressive polemical style, a fondness for identifying betrayers and apologists, a keenness for denunciation and for requiring their adversaries to disassociate themselves from one another, and a liking for inference in analysing other people's statements, so that they are made to say what they probably do not. They are unaware of the aggressive, bullying character this gives them.'

This is not, by any means, true of every single supporter of either the 'Decent Left' or Trotsky, but it's a common enough house style to be note-worthy, and it is unnecessary and counter-productive (as both causes at different times have good arguments to make as well as bad).

13 Comments:

At 6:16 am , Anonymous Ben said...

I suppose that whether arguments are "good" or "bad" is a less relevant point than who are the people making the arguments, sometimes.

If you think that the likes of me, Jules, Duncan, Stuart, Nora, Nicky, Rob, et al are figures keen on visceral polemic, then you are entitled to your view, Dan.

But I'm a little more concerned by the authors of Aaronovitch Watch, some of who are connected with a Trot totalitarian (as if there were any other kind of Trot) blog.

I suppose, if you wanted, you could compare "Decents" (the vast majority of whom are well-adjusted moderate members of the Labour Party) with Trots (the vast majority of whom are people with apalling politics and difficult personal circumstances), but that comparison would likely be discounted by most ordinary people.

Maybe it's the moderates who are awfully keen on the extremist rhetoric. Or maybe there are others who are rather more keen, and substantially more malign.

 
At 6:19 am , Anonymous Ben said...

I suppose I may have just shown "a fondness for identifying betrayers and apologists, a keenness for denunciation and for requiring... adversaries to disassociate themselves from one another".

Never mind, eh?

 
At 9:34 am , Blogger donpaskini said...

Hi Ben,

None of this was intended as a critique of my friends (hence the weaselly disclaimer about 'this is by no means true...')

I was thinking more of people writing on t'internet or in print, be it some authors on Harry's Place (Brett is one good example), Oliver Kamm, Nick Cohen or Workers' Liberty and the Weekly Worker. (Of course, discussion on t'internet generally lends itself to this style of arguing, anyway).

e.g. Nick Cohen's book has some good arguments, but it's a much worse book than it ought to be because he uses all of these rhetorical tricks and won't define what he means by the 'Left' so that at one minute it is people who marched against the war and the next it is Gerry Healy. This probably makes it great for anyone who supports Cohen's arguments 100%, but for someone like me who agrees with some bits and disagrees with others, it is incredibly off-putting.

Hope all well, and sorry for any misunderstanding.

p.s. Which Trot totalitarian, and who is connected?

 
At 1:29 pm , Anonymous shake said...

won't define what he means by the 'Left' so that at one minute it is people who marched against the war and the next it is Gerry Healy. This probably makes it great for anyone who supports Cohen's arguments 100%

I don't think anybody actually supports them 100% - at least, anybody who's read the book even vaguely thoughtfully - because of the problems you've identified with it, the fact that what 'the left' is changes on a page-by-page basis. The only people i've seen endorising it uncritically are people who use the word 'leftie' as a term of abuse.

 
At 1:40 pm , Anonymous gastro george said...

... some of who are connected with a Trot totalitarian (as if there were any other kind of Trot) blog ...

... Trots (the vast majority of whom are people with appalling politics and difficult personal circumstances) ...

Do give more details ... otherwise this is purely a unsubstantiated abusive post and, as you say, rather typical.

BTW. I'm a Stopper, and an anti-Decent, but never a Trot, nor ever a sympathiser with Trots. Bad thing broad brushes ...

 
At 1:46 pm , Anonymous Hippo The Krit said...

Shorter Ben: "I have no enthusiasm for visceral polemic, and anyone who says otherwise is a totalitarian mental-case."

 
At 4:56 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

".... whether arguments are good or bad is a less relevant point than who are the people making the arguments, sometimes"

This does seem to be a common attitude these days, doesn't it? However you should think about the risks that follow from such an attitude. Your perception of a person is quite subjective and is influenced by media and PR (which isn't neutral). An argument can be tested by looking at its logic and the facts that are used to support it. If you make decisions on the basis of whether the person saying it has a pretty face or gets a good press, and not on the basis of their arguments, it is possible to make some serious mistakes.

My definition of a "Decent" is someone like David Aaronovitch and Nick Cohen who emerged to say, when Tony Blair was in danger of not getting his second resolution, that it didn't matter whether he got the second resolution we should invade Iraq anyway. I disagree with this position because a) it is against international law and b) we haven't thought through the implications of breaking the taboo against starting wars and c) the risks involved in invading a country to remake it in our own image are very high. Maybe Decents are well-adjusted moderate members of the Labour Party, or maybe they aren't: I don't think that this is particularly relevant. The Decents' argument for breaking the taboo against starting wars is very weak, and quite a lot of it is ad hominem attacks on people who disagree. I'm not too surprised that the invasion of Iraq has turned it into a failed state, because there is quite a high risk that this happens when an outsider intervenes in another State.

I find it very sad that much of the Labour Party is still unable to examine what has hapopened over the last 5 years, is still repeating the talking points like "the surge is working", is apparently still worrying about whether an Aaronovitch Watch blogger knows someone who may be a Trot. I find it very sad that much of the Labour Party cannot see that a great deal of Blair said was wrong and that whether he is likeable or not is another issue. How we deal with terrorism, or the Middle East, or oil supplies, are issue that are much too important to be dealt with through or perceptions of the people making the arguments.

Guano

 
At 4:47 am , Anonymous Ben said...

Well,

I'll tell you what Anonymous/Guano,

I think you are (politely - I'm trying hard here) a muppet.

Now, you seem to be of the view that the Labour Right is a bit silly and misguided. Well, no.

I paraphrase: "...influenced by media and PR... against international law... ad hominem attacks ... failed state..."

Now, beyond the usual pat shit you make some acceptable points. But I'll tell you what - it's basically your job to convince me that you're a sensible figure with reasonable things to say, and not vice versa.

Cos it's people like me in charge of the party, who are progressive columnists, who are setting the agenda.

Not you.

This is something you just have to learn to live with.

Dan, I wasn't having a go at you - in fact it has been far too long. I keep intending to come and see you in Liverpool, as does Jules.

Let me know next time you're in London, and otherwise hopefully you will let me come and see you over the summer?

 
At 8:56 am , Blogger ejh said...

it's basically your job to convince me that you're a sensible figure with reasonable things to say

And vice versa, surely?

I say so because your opening comment on this thread doesn't seem to fall into the categories of "sensible" or "reasonable". And come to that, nobody can actually work out who you're referring to, since you don't say. Would you care to be specific? Your third paragraph in particular is of interest although should you care to discuss anybody's "difficult personal circumstances" I'm sure we'd be enlightened too.

 
At 11:49 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did in fact think of blogging under the name "Swedish Chef". I particularly like the Swedish Chef making chicken in the basket: brilliant!

I agree with EJH, Ben: your opening statement isn't reasonable and sensible. It can lead to situations where key issues are never addressed squarely because you're worrying more about the ulterior motives of the people making the arguments than about the issues. Furthermore there is an obvious problem in your idea that I have to convince you that I am sensible before you listen to me: whatever arguments I present, I am likely to reach conclusions that you find uncomfortable: you are likely to conclude therefore that I am not sensible so you will stop listening.

Guano

 
At 9:04 pm , Anonymous harrythehorse said...

But I'll tell you what - it's basically your job to convince me that you're a sensible figure with reasonable things to say, and not vice versa

Well, tell you what Ben, you've certainly convinced me that you are a silly smug arrogant child.

 
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