Monday, April 16, 2007

Can You Imagine Fifty People a Day...Friends, They May Think It's a Movement

To build upon some of my previous posts concerning what I feel is our society's lacklustre public dialogue (the ease with which we can dismiss a candidate for the smallest of bad PR, a general gleeful indignation with which we confront those that offend (clearly, this has a special significance with the recent Imus affair)). As I have been living in South Africa for the past two months, with only 3-4 channels to scan through on my tv (one of which plays cricket at all hours, an wholly unwatchable sport), my televised intake has grown increasingly focused and honed -- to the point that I basically watch clips from Comedy Central, MSNBC, and Real Time with Bill Maher, and dip the occasional finger into the Fox News gruel (Please, Sir, can I NOT have some more). This very limited and admittedly biased exposure to television, however, has afforded me the perspective that I needed to find some of these more deleterious trends in our national discourse.

On a fairly recent episode of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton -- an extremely controversial figure and one of Bush's more antagonistic appointees. Bolton proposes his philosophy regarding presidential appointees, submitting that it is the duty of the president and his job to represent those (presumably solely those) who voted for him and appoint people who share his overall ideologies. Stewart returned with the example of Lincoln in reference to Lincoln's cabinet that was made up of a broad spectrum of political loyalists, many of whom disagreed with their President. So, with Stewart's more than reasonable historic example not even fully out of his mouth, Bolton quickly dismisses him, saying something to the effect of "I don't think you're right on the history there." The trend that this example...ahh, exemplifies is the envocation of historical citations, used either to dismiss the person you are debating or to silence the conversation. (Luckily, Jon has his own show and answered back the next night.)

In our current age, for those arguing on the rationally wanting side of a debate, a victory can achieved if you have managed to undermine your opponent's ability to prove their point, however honest and rational it may be (in fact, the more rational thier point the bigger your victory for not letting them make it). Do you, reader, remember the game "500"? One kid is the Thrower and shouts out a number (100, 200, 300, you get the idea) as he throws a ball into a small crowd of would-be catchers. If you were amongst this group and the ball is clearly out of your reach, your best bet is to somehow sabotage anyone elses chance of catching it. That's basically what this argumentative tactic is -- to use esoteric knowledge of history to silence you opponent or to dismiss someone else's knowledge out of hand is like pantsing the guy next to you so he won't catch the ball. A stretch? I think not.

So, here is my proposal. When someone tries to throw some irrelevant, yet oddly impressive factoid from American History your way, just smirk back and say, "Well, Tippecanoe and Fuck You, too!" And be sure to emphasis the last bit with all the gravitas of Lt. Col. Frank Slade. My theory, and I have not yet put it in practice, is that this will nullify any ground they have gained in the debate with their useless historical reference. I mean, what could they say back to that?You'll have beaten them at their own game. It's actually quite breathtaking. The rebuttle both alludes to an esoteric piece of American history (William Henry Harrison's 1840 campaign slogan) and also piques with a sort of ironic cruedity.

So, If you find yourself (in a dark alley and would like to press ahead, please turn to pg. 138) in a heated debate with Christopher Hitchens on Real Time with Bill Maher, or have inadvertently landed on a bar stool next to John Bolton and over a few too many rounds of shots enter into a political argument, don't let them garble the debate by trying to stun you with unecessary trivia. Just remember what we said, and they won't know what hit 'em.

Note: There is a definite distinction between admissible and warranted historic references for use in political discourse, this post only refers to those that are unecessary and used to spite or dismiss rather than enliven and edify.

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