Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Nothing makes me question my own rhetorical devices as much as when I see them abusively used against my own opinions.  Probably the worst offender is telepathy, where you tell someone you don't agree with why they believe what they do.  Sometimes it's mere strawmanning, but that's the easy case. Sometimes telepathy is less of an all-out bad faith attack and just an attempt to pigeonhole opponents into your own worldview.

To use an example, this post was inspired by the fact that certain bloggers can't seem to stop making definitive-sound statements about what religious people believe and why they believe it.  After all, there are a few billion of us the world over, so saying that you know why people believe in God and a hundred somewhat related propositions is pretty presumptuous. It doesn't come off well in part because believers (like yours truly) can examine their own reasons for belief, find that they are not the reasons the telepath proffers, and then dismiss the telepath's entire argument.

Disproving someone's else's claims about your inmost thoughts is among the easiest things in the world, up there with offending Bill Donohue and making Rousseau sound ridiculous.  But after you've explained to the someone else in question why you actually believe proposition X, the telepath in question might then claim that you're just in denial about your true reasons. This is mostly an illustration of how useless the whole exchange is.  People believe things for complicated reasons, and people that believe different things than us believe them for reasons that can be hard to understand or to shoehorn into our own worldview.  Rhetorical telepathy is generally a bad idea because mind readers we ain't.

Yet I still intend to get at why people believe things when I write for this blog.  To use a couple of easy examples, Lost Causers are generally attached to a traditional (problematic, to say the least) view of 'the South' rather than to a specific set of historical facts and many climate-change denialists are generally more worried about the political consequences of climate change science than the methodology of the science itself.  They won't say it, but a combination of their other statements, their affiliations etc. makes the underlying cause clear.

But I have to check myself and not get too quick to jump to gun.  If you see any telepathic bullcrap, call me on it, okay?

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