Rhetorical Tricks

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Now, one of the things I’ve been thinking about in the context of developing a more sophisticated system for handling diplomacy in an intrigue heavy setting like A Song of Fire and Ice is rhetoric. My aim here is to avoid reinventing the wheel — The art of Rhetoric already has thousands of years of history in observing and identifying elements of speech. The most obvious would be the fallacies: ad hominem, ad populum, et cetera. Now rhetoric as-is remains too complicated for me to want to try to simply add some game-mechanics to it and call it a day.

Naturally, having been brought up in the modern world, I only have a very feeble grasp on Rhetoric. My knowledge of it is entirely self-taught, as I find myself more often than not engaged in debates online. That said, even a feeble grasp of rhetoric is more than most people. I’ve always thought of rhetoric as something that a sufficiently logical person reaches to in order to understand precisely how arguments work or don’t work. The sad truth, though, is that most people are not interested in intellectual rigor. The world is often too complex, and rather than trying to understand a network of interactions we are bombarded by simpleminded linear thinkers and their snake oils. And, of course, such a disposition against simplemindedness needs to be tempered with a pragmatism that sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and try to solve a problem.

I’ve spent the better part of the last decade engaging in debates online and offline. I’ve been around the block, so to say. So I was browsing through some of the RPG-Theory blogs and came along this load of claptrap. The tactic here is one that I’m fairly familiar with, as it tends to work well with my general philosophical stance on debate — If you are defending you are losing. Creating a scenario in which only a limited set number of relevant responses can be given and then outlining those responses within the framework of your own paradigm is a great tactic because, unless the other person is wise enough to see what’s going on, they’re forced to be on the defensive. Any counterattack to the tactic is likely to fail because, even if your opponent can see through your trick, the majority of the audience will not be able to. If your opponent tries to deploy a strategy to discredit your tactic it will look like they are engaging in sophistry.

I don’t quite know why people find it convincing, but for whatever reason setting out possible responses and a priori “framing” those responses seems to increase trust in the speaker. Perhaps because a debate tactic that gives the impression that you can predict the future gives you an air of authority? Perhaps it is the impression that this tactic gives that you have an informed, articulated, and coherent world-view? The latter is particularly ironic because, while the tactic certainly can be deployed as part of an informed world-view, more likely it is deployed out of a dogmatism that is unwilling to accept alternatives to its propositions. The conclusions are so spurious that one needs to deliberately lead the audience down the path of fallacy in order to get them to accept it.

Alas, it’s all futile.

Update: Unbeliever at MMODIG posts an appropriate response.

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