Thursday, May 9, 2013


The most characteristic feature of twenty-first century argumentation is the sound bite. It can also be the most deceptive. It can make you feel like something has been communicated or a point has been made when neither has really happened. Now I am not opposed to pithy sayings. I post proverbs; I am on Twitter. But pithy sayings need to be supported by thoughtful consideration. Otherwise they fall short of their purpose. They are useful to make people think, but by themselves they are a poor substitute for real thought. Perhaps the worst form is where the catchiness  of the saying or the memorableness of the jingle is the real selling point. One of the worst offenders in this regard is commercials, where often practically indistinguishable products (and if they are distinguishable you probably will not be able to figure it out from the commercial)  vie for our attention through often irrelevant cleverness. Now it may not matter a great deal which, out of several differently marketed though nearly similar products, you buy. But in the land of ideas it may make a huge difference which idea you accept. And there is a danger, even if you have the right worldview, of falling into promoting it on the wrong basis.

The problem with this is it sets people up so that when someone comes along with a cleverer slogan, not necessarily a better argument, people will embrace it without thinking. Now I know of no promise that God will provide us with the cleverest slogan. And frankly, what is the cleverest slogan for one person may not be for another. Also, what sounds clever may depend on your preconceived notions. This frequently leads to just plain circular reasoning, assuming your position and coming up with a clever slogan to promote that position which simply assumes its underlying premises. Therefore, if you follow this procedure you can end up with one of two extremes. You can have people who constantly jump from one idea to another, depending on what they heard last or who said things best. Or you can have people firmly entrenched in their positions, neither considering their opponent's position nor able to convince their opponent of anything, because they are assuming the very thing to be discussed. Now I am not against any kind of interesting statements to try to capture attention and get people to think. But somewhere we need to think through our positions and convince people to think through theirs. Otherwise we are simply mindlessly following what sounds good.

No comments:

Post a Comment