Saturday, April 07, 2007

Sly Semantic Moves

The post title is lifted directly from an clever little snapshot from Investor's Business Daily. Here is the lede.

In a sly semantic move, a Democrat House Committee secretly ordered the removal of all references to the "Global War On Terror," nonchalantly claiming it wasn't political.
Driving home the point, here are three examples of "junk myths"as follows...

This time it arises from three junk myths, outlined by Vice President Dick Cheney Monday in a Birmingham, Ala., speech:
• That the war on Iraq has nothing to do with 9/11.
• That it's possible to support troops without supporting victory.
• That cutting and running from Iraq will put the U.S. in a better position to fight terrorists elsewhere.

Let's see now.

Just this week I heard a radio talk show host complaining about a rhetorical trick of those who would destroy the president, betray the troops and gladden the hearts of terrorists was the phrase "everybody knows." Opening an argument by saying "everybody knows" is a clever tactic designed to frame the debate in a way that can be best won by those who use the phrase.

He's right, of course. But then he is one of the most gifted pracitioners of the art of rhetoric. He should know. It takes one to know one. "Everybody knows" is a variety of "junk myth," an illegitimate rhetorical trick to win an argument by deceit rather than scoring logical points.

Comes now IBD to illustrate. Here are the fleshed-out premises of the first line.

The war on Iraq (not IN Iraq, mind you) is all about 9/11, even though the perpetrators were all from Saudi Arabia (not Iraq), the home country of OBL, a Sunni extremist (religious) whose principle link with Saddam (secular) was a shared impulse to keep Shiites under control (Saddam) or better yet, wipe them out altogether (OBL).

See how that works? If there is a shred of commonality, then a link is established, no matter how thin. And so the war DOES, after all have "something to do with" with 9/11. Isn't that neat?

Notice how a silent argument is applied here. The silence is a way of refuting this junk myth with another one just as compelling....everybody knows. In this case, of course, Everybody knows the war is connected with 9/11 or else this junk myth would not have found currency, would it? That's what I call fighting rhetorical fire with the same rhetorical fire.

Using a similar argument, one could argue that fly swatters are (of course) the best weapon to use against flies on a summer day. No one in his right mind would argue against fly swatters on a picnic. But what about a crazy notion like, say, the protection of a screen? Better yet, what about cleaning up a pile of manure or landfill that may be upwind of the house? Might that not yield a more realistic and longer-lasting solution to an infestation of flies? Puh-lease. Gimme a break.

The other two points do not employ the same -- excuse the expression -- sly semantic moves, but something very close and just as effective.

When you bring up the notion of "victory" without bothering to clarify what may be meant by that term, only a fool would argue for defeat. This primitive argument is an echo of the old winning in Vietnam arguments. It was never clear at the time what the word meant, but it was tossed around all the time as though it had meaning. That was the same conflict that gave us that delightful line that In order to save the village it was necessary to destroy it.

Finally, cutting and running is the obverse of cheering for defeat. Not too much to be said about that.

This Sly Semantic Moves game seems to be lots of fun for the chattering classes. It's being played by both sides of the argument. To me it is about as interesting (and enlightening) as tic-tac-toe.

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