Observations on Rhetoric and Dialectic

Vox Day distinguishes between rhetoric and dialectic. As Day uses the terms, dialectic is what most people would loosely call “reason,” i.e., it’s basically noting facts and reasoning about them to draw conclusions.* He defines rhetoric here as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.”

In practice, the latter often means pushing people’s emotional buttons. This sounds like a Dark Art if you just leave it at that, but of course like any art or science it can be used for good or evil. And if a person has shown himself to be immune to fact or logic, what else is there to do? Day quoting Aristotle: “argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.”

(* Day has said that “Dialectic is based on the construction of syllogisms,” but that’s too narrow, if by syllogism one means to include only deductive arguments. Day’s use allows for the inclusion of inductive arguments, I’m pretty sure. E.g., “Every gorpf I’ve ever seen was green, so I conclude, probabilistically, that all gorpfs are green.”)

Having been aware of the Rhetoric-vs.-Dialectic distinction for more than a year now, I offer this report to the world, based on Internet interactions with leftists, SJWs, and other varieties of scumbags, liars, and anti-civilization shills:

(1) The Rhetoric-vs.-Dialectic distinction is very real. It’s not something some guy made up; it’s definitely a piece of reality. Once you’re tuned for it you perceive it easily.

I am a regular commenter on a forum in which politics comes up frequently. That people on the left are more inclined to rhetoric and less to dialectic than people on the right is immediately noticeable. Indeed, in retrospect this is not surprising, since we tried dialectic , i.e., facts and logic, on the left for fifty years and that had zero effect on them. (In our defense, dialectic does in fact persuade many people who aren’t already committed leftists. So it’s not like that was a wasted fifty years.)

So you say something, and the lefties on the forum respond with (a) an insult, and (b) often, an insult that is weirdly orthogonal to the topic at hand. (Projection is obviously playing a role here; more on that below.)

For example, you’ll cite stats on the proportion of terrorist acts committed by Muslims compared to members of other religions, and the response will either be something like, “You’re an asshole,” or something like “You’re just angry because you’re suffering from diabetes.” When you don’t have diabetes and have never mentioned the subject of diabetes before. It’s weird. It’s so completely out of left field, it can only be projection, because how else did that topic even enter their head? This is a weird but useful aspect of the left. They reveal so much about themselves with their weird projective insults.

Remember Elizabeth Warren’s bizarre response to Trump calling her “goofy” and “Pocahontas”? Her tweeted response was, “We get it, @realDonaldTrump: When a woman stands up to you, you’re going to call her a basket case. Hormonal. Ugly.” So completely bizarre in that it had no connection to Trump’s tweet. She was obviously just spewing her own insecurities about her appearance or whatever into her Twitter account. This theme is recurrent in interactions with lefties.

(2) That said, there is an aspect of the Rhetoric-vs.-Dialectic dichotomy that should be tweaked. It comes from this observation:

The thing that makes leftists enraged at me is when I use facts to refute their claims.

When they call me a racist and I call them douchebags or whatever, they just laconically call me a racist again or whatever. But when they say that rapes have been steadily increasing over the last two decades, and then I link to an FBI page showing that in fact they’ve been dropping during a large part of that time, I get sheer hatred in response. The level of rage spikes. It goes from a phoned-in “You’re racist (yawn)” to “You goddam motherfucking shit-eating sub-human bucket of puke!!!” So judging by their reactions, they actually are more sensitive to their lies being dialectically proven false than one would think, if one thinks of leftists as being pure rhetoric-bots.

This is not a call to abandon the RvD distinction – as I said, it’s quite useful – but we need to sort out a little more carefully the way it works empirically. Yeah, most leftists are more rhetoric than dialectic, but they are also sensitive to the propaganda value of their outright lies about matters of fact. They know that refuting their lies is a devastating thing you can do to them and they freak out when you do.

I think the key distinction is this: While they don’t care about the truth, they are aware that there are people who do care. So they freak when you definitively refute their lies.

Other thoughts:

(3) The main forum in which I participate has an option to Ignore another poster (i.e., so that his posts are hidden from you) and there are ways to tell when someone has Ignored someone else. Lefties tend to put people on Ignore not when those people insult the lefties, but when they refute the leftists’ claims using facts. Call a leftist a douchebag, and it’s very unlikely that he’ll put you on Ignore. Basically never happens. Refute his cherished assertions about racism or sexism or whatever, and you stand a small but non-trivial chance of being Ignored. Obviously this is related to point (2).

So this buttresses my foregoing point, that lefties are Rhetoric in that they’re more focused on that compared to righties. But they’re not totally blind and deaf to Dialectic; they have enough awareness of it to realize when their important propaganda points are being proven false, and to feel the threat. As Anonymous Conservative would say, it triggers their amygdalae.

(4) A significant fraction of them are absolute pussies – they attack you only after others have started attacking you. This is fascinating to observe. There are lefties who basically never interact with me, who, if two or three other lefties come at me, will suddenly swarm in and add their own little insults. It’s rare to be attacked by just two or three lefties; usually if it’s two or three, it’s instantly five or six. They really are cowardly swarm attackers by nature. And this is so instinctual that it affects their behavior even in an Internet forum in which we can’t physically attack each other, so there’s no meaningful danger. The only-attack-when-others-are-attacking thing is not based on threat assessment. It’s reflexive; it’s how they’re wired. That rabbity herd instinct is a huge deal with these people.

See my post SJW Mobs and Coordination Mechanisms. It is, of course, the same behavior by the same kind of person.

Another way this herd mentality manifests is the oft-observed fact that when they really want to crush you, they tell you that you’re out of step with the herd. This is blazingly obvious projection. You cite some statistic from the Census Bureau, and their response (if it isn’t “You shit-bag!”) is “Everyone else disagrees with you!” It’s obvious that they regard this as the nuclear bomb of debate. They think it’s a crusher. Of course, it doesn’t affect our tribe at all, since we care about truth, not staying in step with the herd. So we’re just baffled. I was mystified for years whenever I encountered this line from leftists, to the point that I wondered if they were actually making some other, more subtle point that I was missing. Nope. Nothing subtle here; it’s just what it seems to be on the surface: They expect you to care about what the herd says, not about reality. Bizarre.

Notice that both tribes generally misunderstand each other: We tried for fifty years to sway them using logic and facts, and have been puzzled and irritated that it all just bounced off them with no effect. No doubt they’ve been just as mystified that they keep telling us that we’re out of step with the herd (whether that’s true or not), without any effect on us.


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