Unless you’ve been living in a soundproof box your entire life, you’ve probably had a disagreement with somebody. It may have been over something as silly as whether or not ketchup belongs on eggs or whether Amelia Earhart really crashed her plane or became a government spy instead. But the arguments that really stick with us, the ones that grind our gears to the point of wanting to throw something across the room aren’t the ones that we perceive as trivial; they are the ones that challenge our most strongly held beliefs, the beliefs that define who we are and what we live for. Scholar Jim Corder summarizes these beliefs by explaining that, “each of us creates the narrative that he or she is” (p.16). In other words, we listen to some things, ignore others, and craft our beliefs, experiences, expectations, values, etc. based on what we choose to perceive and how we perceive it. Ultimately the narrative that we create is our identity, and arguments become more than a display of evidence, but a reflection of who we are. Because of this, scholars such as Joe Moxley suggest that when we attempt to argue with someone whose point of view differs from our own, they often feel threatened (Moxley).
The problem that occurs when our narrative is threatened is that we have a tendency to ignore what our perceived opponents have to say (Moxley). For example, if someone identifies as being pro-life and is protesting outside of an abortion clinic, they most likely won’t listen to a pro-choice woman who claims that the child she is carrying is a result of an abusive relationship, and that by getting an abortion she is saving that child from a life of abuse. On the flip side, if a pro-choice woman is passing by a group of pro-life protesters and they make their case, she’ll most likely pass by them without a second glance, or feign listening when in reality is is too upset to hear them out. Because people stick to their beliefs like gum to shoe soles, scholars have come up with suggestions as to how one can increase their chances of changing another’s perspective on various issues. For our final project in Digital Rhetoric, I will use several of the tactics that are discussed below in order to enhance my ability to be persuasive.
Moxley suggests that when crafting an argument, we must make sure that our audience feels as though their point of view is valid, understood, and not all that different from our own (Moxley). When done well, I feel that this could be very effective because it makes one feel like they are listening to “one of their own” while sneakily introducing opposing ideologies. In other words, it is the difference between ambushing your enemy and having a fireside chat with them, or the difference between me making an accusatory Youtube video for my final project and making something that is powerful in a less aggressive way. I imagine that this tactic as outlined by Moxley isn’t the easiest to execute because some values and beliefs are polar opposites of one another. I mean, I’d have a really difficult time calmly talking with Hitler and saying that his beliefs are understood and okay but that maybe he should lay off of killing people. In other words, there are some arguments that I feel could be dangerous to validate.
Jim Corder admits that he has no idea how to guarantee that someone will listen to another’s argument, but he has some suggestions. Similarly to the Moxley, he says that one should not take an authoritarian approach towards crafting an argument (Corder p. 29). Rather than pretending to be all-knowing about a topic and shoving beliefs down an audience’s throat, one must tactfully introduce one’s argument in a non-confrontational manner. This is a tactic that I am likely to use, as my personality type prevents me from responding well to anything that can be perceived as either egotistical or aggressive, and I imagine that others might feel the same way. Corder also says that the argument we craft should not merely be a result of thoughts that appeared in our brains, but a result of study and research (p.29). This is important to note because many of us live in our own bubbles and, as ignorant as we may be, we refuse to learn the facts and logic behind the things that we wish to argue outside of the knowledge that we believe we have. In order to establish a sense of ethos, I think that at least some research should go into creating my final project.
Rebecca Solnit has a completely different opinion from Corder and Moxley. She says that we are so focused on convincing people to buy our argument, that we forget the value of sharing our argument with those who already agree with us (Solnit, p. 1). According to her, what we need to focus on instead of converting people is on getting the people who share our beliefs to be committed to a cause and to take action (Solnit, p. 2). I understand how satisfying and empowering it can be to speak into an echo-chamber. I also understand that sometimes we focus too much on arguing with opponents as opposed to getting things done. However, unless we have the courage to confront those with differing opinions, we will constantly comes across dead ends. For instance, if 5 people manage to get a bill into law that puts a cap on acceptable factory emissions, they may feel as though they’re working towards eliminating climate change. And maybe they are. But if the rest of the world feels that these five are wrong and refuse to change their climate-killing behavior, then the small victory of the 5 climate change believers won’t matter in the long run.
What I am ultimately saying is that there must be a balance between persuading others to take action, and inspiring others to share your point of view. I’m not yet sure whether I want my final project to be more motivational or inspirational, but I will certainly consider the benefits of each as well as the tactics that can be used to achieve each as discussed above.
Corder, J. (1985, Sept). “Argument as Emergence, Rhetoric as Love,.” Rhetoric Review Vol. 4 No. 1. Pp 16-32.
Moxley, J. (2010,December 17). “Rogerian Argument.” Retrieved from https://writingcommons.org/index.php/open-text/genres/academic-writing/arguments/318-rogerian-argument
Solnit, R. (2017, Nov). “Preaching to the Choir.” Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved from https://harpers.org/archive/2017/11/preaching-to-the-choir/
Header image courtesy of Viktor Hanacek at Picjumbo