Monday, July 11, 2011

Beware of "Argument from Intimidation"

Dear Friends,

If you count yourself among the rapidly declining number of Americans who still sincerely and passionately care about the kind of nation (and world) we leave behind, then here is serious tool that can assist your efforts.  In the raging culture war for the soul of America (and the world), this is called "ammunition".

First, please recall one of the more egregious examples of arrogant idiocy that fell from the mouth of Comrade Nancy Pelosi during the infamous (and treasonous) debacle that culminated in the alleged "passage" of Obamacare.   During a news conference with Comrade Pelosi, one very sharp, courageous reporter had obviously seen the multi-thousand page tower of babbling legalese known as “Obamacare”.    When he asked Ms. Pelosi to reveal the logic by which Obamacare was permitted by the U.S. Constitution, her response was classic, unguarded Leftist regurgitation, of the kind used whenever “Progressive” logic is challenged:

She glared at him incredulously,
then with slow deliberation, she uttered:

You   cannot   be   serious!”

What did Ms. Pelosi do here?   Simple.   She revealed her intellectual impotence, by using “Argument from Intimidation” – the rhetorical equivalent of a wordless clubbing from an infuriated primitive. With these words, Comrade Pelosi gave us a view directly into the dark, vitrified place where her soul should be!  This behavior is so deeply embedded in the “Progressive” psyche, that they often use it unconsciously. It is an understandable mental habit, because almost all arguments in favor of “Progressive” ideology are irrational, and thus cannot be logically defended or promoted.

During the Clinton era, George Stephanopoulos conducted an interview with Bill and Hillary.  At one point in  the interview, George asked them a perfectly relevant and valid question.  They evaded his question, using a version of this tactic.  Both Bill and Hillary simply sat there in silence, staring directly at George as if he had not asked the question.  Being a typical Leftist, George naturally failed to insist on an answer and just moved on to the next question.  Apparently, it was sufficient for George to be on record as asking the question, because doing so would burnish his "impartiality" halo.  This was back in the days when high-profile "journalists" still maintained a pretense of impartiality.

This behavior has been identified and described by many sharp minds. One of the clearest and most useful came from the timeless work of Ayn Rand. Ms. Rand described this tactic many times. One example was in her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness”.    As early as 1945, she predicted that argument from intimidation would come into wider and wider use as America continued to plunge toward self-inflicted destruction.   Following the line below is an excerpt from that book, in which she described this thinly veiled, barbarism.

I believe it is useful for everyone to be aware of this tactic.  That awareness will help you identify those times when “Argument from Intimidation” is directed at you, but more importantly, when you may be unconsciously tempted to use it on others. Either way, it is a rhetorical tactic that reveals how close someone is to the mindset of a prehistoric brute. If you look for it, you can find many examples scattered throughout America’s public discourse.  To help with a book I'm writing, I am collecting examples.   If you see an example of "Argument from Intimidation" used or reported in any media channel, I would really appreciate you posting a comment to this article that contains a link or a copy in the form of text, audio or video.

Here is your ammunition …
[My comments inserted]

“There is a certain type of argument which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling debate and extorting an opponent’s agreement with one’s un-discussed notions. It is a method of bypassing logic by means of psychological pressure . . . [It] consists of threatening to impeach an opponent’s character by means of his argument, thus impeaching the argument without debate. Example: 'Only the immoral can fail to see that Candidate X’s argument is false.' . . . The falsehood of his argument is asserted arbitrarily and offered as proof of his immorality. [… even as his opponent exposes objective proof of his own immorality by using the tactic.]

In today’s epistemological jungle, that second method is used more frequently than any other type of irrational argument. It should be classified as a logical fallacy and may be designated as 'The Argument from Intimidation.'

The essential characteristic of the Argument from Intimidation is its appeal to moral self-doubt and its reliance on the fear, guilt or ignorance of the victim. It is used in the form of an ultimatum demanding that the victim renounce a given idea without discussion, under threat of being considered morally unworthy. The pattern is always: 'Only those who are evil (dishonest, heartless, insensitive, ignorant, etc.) can hold such an idea.'

The Argument from Intimidation dominates today’s discussions in two forms. In public speeches and print, it flourishes in the form of long, involved, elaborate structures of unintelligible verbiage, which convey nothing clearly except a moral threat. ('Only the primitive-minded can fail to realize that clarity is oversimplification.')   But in private, day-by-day experience, it comes up wordlessly, between the lines, in the form of inarticulate sounds conveying unstated implications. It relies, not on what is said, but on how it is said — not on content, but on tone of voice. [IOW, silent contempt]

The tone is usually one of scornful or belligerent incredulity,
“Surely you are not an advocate of capitalism, are you?”
And if this does not intimidate the prospective victim—who answers properly: “I am”, the ensuing dialogue goes something like this:
“Oh, you couldn’t be! Not really!”
“But everybody knows that capitalism is outdated!”
“I don’t.”
“Oh, come now!”
“Since I don’t know it, will you please tell me the reasons for thinking that capitalism is outdated?” “Oh, don’t be ridiculous!”
“Will you tell me the reasons?”
“Well, really, if you don’t know, I couldn’t possibly tell you!”

All this is accompanied by raised eyebrows, wide-eyed stares, shrugs, grunts, snickers and the entire arsenal of nonverbal signals communicating ominous innuendos and emotional vibrations of a single kind: disapproval.

If those vibrations fail, if such debaters are challenged, one finds that they have no arguments, no evidence, no proof, no reasons, no ground to stand on — that their noisy aggressiveness serves to hide a vacuum—that the Argument from Intimidation is a confession of intellectual impotence.”
– Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness, pg. 139: “The Argument from Intimidation”