Scepticism and the Lost Art of Rhetoric.

I’m not what you would call a garden variety sceptic. For the most part I let most things slide as there are enough people fighting the fight for me already. However if in conversation someone says something that is obviously incorrect or is based on hearsay and anecdotes I’ll usually point it out so that they have to prove their point. I often say to them that “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter, and I’m the best that’s around” since I’ve been known to use argumentative devices and sometimes questionable logic to get people to believe what I say. Once you develop critical thinking patterns it becomes quite easy to pick up on when someone is talking with authority on a topic they have no idea about. I guess that puts in me in the category of the casual sceptic, concerned with ensuring that everyone has the right information and makes their own decisions rather than accepting what they here without question.

It was then last night over my usual Thursday night drinks with friends that the topic of scepticism came up. For the most part my group of friends would fall into the casual sceptic category as we’re interested in facts and won’t blindly believe something until we’ve done our research. My fellow blogger then pulled out a copy of Richard Dawkin’s The Greatest Show on Earth a book which he said felt more like a transition away from the bible bashings that he was famous for and felt more rhetorical, something that is sorely lacking in the sceptic movement’s arguments. This then begged the question: Has the sceptic movement forgotten the art of rhetoric?

I read quite a lot of sceptical material and that’s because it appeals to me. This is probably in part due to my slight anti-mass-media bias as many of the online sceptic resources are targeted at major news outlets who are reporting misinformation. Additionally there’s something that I myself haven’t really thought of, and the sceptical pieces trigger that all too important research reflex in me that sends me off on a couple hour streak through online journals. However they’re preaching to the choir here as I’m already on their side. To the other side their argument isn’t persuasive at all, and comes off as an attack which only serves to strengthen their resolve.

It would then seem that most sceptics make the mistake of thinking that the people on the other side of their argument will be converted using the same techniques that would convince a fellow sceptic of their point. I came to realise this recently that hammering away at someone’s beliefs does not serve to improve their view of you or your argument. More you have to convince them that your side of the argument is the more sensible option, and this is usually done through the use of rhetorical devices and soft power techniques. Sceptics put forth a (usually) scientifically sound argument that would convince a like minded individual of their position but seem to give up in frustration when their argument falls on deaf ears.

Personally it feels like human nature to just assume that everyone thinks along the same lines as you do. It makes life considerably easier as you don’t have to spend half your time considering every aspect of someone in order to communicate with them. However it’s this assumption that seems act as a catalyst to the raging debate between sceptics and their targets. I’m sure one day we’ll see the rise of persuasive arguments from the sceptic movement and if they do it right they’ll get exactly what they’ve been fighting for.

That, or they could convert Oprah into a sceptic. 😉

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.