Rhetoric – Outrage

7 Jun

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Language

One of the most interesting things about the rhetoric used by the BDS “movement” and similar Israel-disliking organizations is that the BDSers’ life on the psychological extreme (discussed here) means that the rhetorical tactics they employ also tend towards the extreme.

When one is dealing with a “normal” political situation, even one as heated as our upcoming Presidential campaign, there are forces that keep discussion within general bounds of civility.  Certainly candidates will drop innuendos about their opponent’s inadequacy for the job, while surrogates get much more specific and accusatory.  But the simple fact that a candidate feels the need to be perceived as even-tempered and fair (even if he or she counts on others to do the dirty work) implies an understanding that public discourse needs to follow certain civilized rules.

The public is also interested in variety, which means using the same tactic over and over again is likely to bring diminishing returns, especially if that tactic is perceived as controversial or extreme.  And one of the rhetoric tactics that tends to wear out its welcome fast is Argumentation from Outrage.

Argumentation from Outrage is considered in informal fallacy, that is a fallacy not based on breaking any formal logical rules (such as All Dogs are Animals, All Cats are Animals, therefore all Dogs are Cats – a formal fallacy which is wrong even if you substitute letters, imaginary animals or nonsense words for Cats, Dogs and Animals).  But with an informal fallacy, the actual content of the argument is relevant or, in the case of Argumentation from Outrage, how that content is presented.

Argumentation from Outrage is usually brought up in discussions of cable TV or radio political talk show hosts who seem to be able to break into a screaming fit at the slightest provocation.  Just spend ten minutes watching Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews shrieking at a guest for doing nothing more than correcting their grammar and you understand the phenomenon.

In that context, Argumentation from Outrage is meant to short circuit reasonable debate by raising the temperature to such a degree that the only choices an opponent to the screamer has are to (1) capitulate; or (2) begin screaming back (usually a losing proposition for a talk show guest inexperienced at public howling who does not control the microphone or editing booth).  And while such a tactic may play well to a talk show’s fan base which gathers to watch their hero put wrong-minded guests in their place, most people who play in politics put the brakes on such tactics (especially when playing before a mixed audience of friends, foes and undecideds).

But as we have seen, people playing the BDS game have no such brakes for the simple reason that “the audience” for them are not real people, but simply props in a fantasy-laden drama going on in the boycotters own heads.  Which is why if you point out the inconsistencies in their arguments, they’ll fly into a rage.  If you point out their hypocrisy of snoozing while Hamas missiles fly but rousing themselves into righteous fury when Israel shoots back, they’ll fly into an even bigger rage.  If you point out that their “movement” draws its strength from being aligned with the needs and goals of wealthy and powerful states, they will burst a blood vessel.  In fact, doing or saying anything that challenges their self-perception as courageous and virtuous human-rights champions speaking truth to power means it’s just a matter of seconds before someone’s face is two inches from yours shrieking abuse and spewing saliva (either literally or virtually – although without the saliva when this dynamic plays out in online debate – as it inevitably does).

The point of Argumentation from Outrage is to raise the discomfort level so high that people will avoid further attacking (or even questioning) the person having the tantrum.  Most normal people, after all, don’t like being in situations where emotions are running red hot.  And a boycotter losing an argument knows this, which is why they tend to explode so readily in hope of making it impossible for normal debate to continue.

This helps to explain why anti-Israel “dialog” tends to be so shrill.  I have frequently teased certain writers (like those responsible for this Muzzlewatch site) of starting their writing in a snit and then working themselves into frenzy of accusation and fury.  But if you think about it, starting an argument in a state of outrage is yet another way of avoiding a debate you know you cannot win.

The trouble (for the BDSers anyway) is this perpetual outrage is used to justify all kinds of behavior that – as mentioned previously – tends not to play well with a general audience which does NOT like to be patted down on the way to class by a bunch of Israel haters dressed up in Israeli soldier costumes during some campus protest, does NOT like to have their concerts or theatre performances interrupted by people shrieking slogans and waving banners, and does NOT trust people who seem to be shouting, even when the situation doesn’t warrant it.

Not only are these tactics counter-productive in and of themselves, but they also tend to get old and tired rather quickly.  Which may help explain why the boycotters seem to be having such a difficult time getting anyone to notice them these days, much less take them seriously.

Next… Association

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3 Responses to “Rhetoric – Outrage”

  1. fizziks June 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    I am a huge fan of the “fantasy politics” analysis. It explains a lot about radical Islam, as well as extremist anti-Israel antics.

  2. Jon June 9, 2012 at 6:43 pm #

    I wish I could take credit for that idea, but I owe it all to Lee Harris who first explained and popularized the notion here:

    http://www.hoover.org/publications/policy-review/article/6232

    You can find out more about his books and see more of his writing at http://www.lee-harris.org/. It's well worth reading every word he's written.

    • fizziks June 9, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      yes, I have read the Harris piece and that is what I was referring to :)

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