Linguistics Consciousness Raising (2) <very long>

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 12:39:50 +0900

Anthony Dean Dauer asks, in re "Linguistic Consciousness Raising
<very long>"

"So ... am I to understand from the first part of your argument that
logical fallacies are actually fallacies themselves and should not be
taken into consideration when analysing an argument?"

Not at all. What I have done hear is set aside truth claims, assessable
through facts and logic, to foreground the rhetorical frame. Here, I'd
like to say a bit more about that.

The basic move is to isolate a topic by removing it from contexts that
might be distracting or irrelevant.

My earliest awareness of writers consciously making this move is in
Plato and Aristotle, in the separation of philosophy (perceived as the
domain of truth) from sophistry/rhetoric (perceived as the domain of
opinion and persuasive devices apart from truth).

It is, also, of course the basic move in experimental science, where the
scientist does all that she can to isolate the key variables from
extraneous factors that might corrupt the results. Since, at least,
Galileo and Descartes, the key variables have been those that lend
themselves to mathematical representations.

The success of experimental science and, thus, of the mathematical
representations on which it depends has fueled the dream of a pure
mathematical language that would ultimately explain everything.
Pythagoras is the ur-Father, but the modern history, as I know it,
begins with Leibniz and peaks with Whitehead and Russell's _Principia
Mathematica_ and (the early) Wittgenstein's _Tractatus Logico-
Philosophicus_ Ayer, Popper, the Vienna Circle, all the classic logical
empricists build on these foundations.

The whole of statistics is in one way or another an attempt to
implement the basic move in mathematical terms in the face of
uncertainty. The basic statistical conclusion is either that (a) something
is only random chance or (b) something more is going on.

What then of linguistics? Following Saussure, the basic move in
linguistics has been to isolate phonology and syntax (the elements most
easily represented in formal logical, i.e., mathematical, terms) from
semantics, the domain of "meaning" which when treated in similar
terms has always turned out to be deeply problematic.

What I have done in developing the example provided by the paragraph
I examined is use the basic move but invert the usual subject. Instead
of foregrounding the facts and logic in question and reacting to the rest
in purely emotional terms (thus implementing the logical empiricist
program to the full), I have chosen instead to foreground the rhetoric
and explore its implications in a more detached (it is, after all, the basic
move) manner.

My inspiration has come from many sources, but the most accessible is,
perhaps, McCl.oskey's _Rhetoric of Economics_. McCloskey is writing to
and about his fellow economists, but what he says applies, I suggest, to
all the social sciences. We have well established conventions for dealing
with facts and logic, and these are what we teach our students. The
most cursory glance at even the most "scientific" literature quickly
reveals a plethora of stories and metaphors. Their importance to
communication is obvious, but we lack conventions for assessing when
they do and do not work, or, more importantly, what makes one more
better than another.

In my own work, I have found a useful guide in James Fernandez'
_Persuasions and Performances_ and the notion that labeling in social
interaction is usually metaphorical, i.e. a way of pushing the subject up
or down, in or out, in the cognitive-emotional manifold that is culture.

Consider, for example, Whorf's discovery {thank you again, Mike Cahill] that
labeling gas cans full or empty had radical consequences for the ways in which
people behaved around them. An evil streak in me notes how delightfully wicked
it would be to liken some of our colleagues (those who flee debate or rant) to
empty gas cans. By suggesting that they are filled with vapor and ready to
explode but utterly unprepared to fuel substantial debate, we would, in
Fernandez' terms, be putting them down and out. We might even, in consequence,
make them angry enough that they would remove themselves.

Which bring's me then to Dauer's observation that the whole first half
of "Linguistic Consciousness Raising" might be taken as a long tu
quoque, "You're another!" and thus inherently fallacious. Here I
observe that I took some care to avoid the "tu", i.e., "you" by refraining
from naming names. Again I feel that evil streak rising-- dear Anthony, "If
the 'tu' fits, wear it."

I would rather draw your attention to some principles taught to
workers on a telephone crisis line:

(1) Avoid the use of sentences that begin with "you." Such sentences are
typically heard as judgmental and often inflammatory. The exception is
"You are feeling _____," which is used as a way of acknowledging and
validating the caller's feelings.

(2) Use "I" statements in talking about your own feelings. Instead of
"That's outrageous," for example, try, "When I hear you say X, it makes
me angry because Y."

(3) Respond to angry assertions by adopting a warm but neutral tone.
Paraphrase, i.e., "I hear you saying that X [rephrased in calmer, more
neutral language]." Be tentative, "I've heard people say that...Could be
I suppose, but...."

Learning to talk this way is hard, especially if what you've grown use to
is the adversarial style popularized by the legal profession in the U.S.A.
and encouraged by academics who forget that participants in Oxford
Union Debates were generally securely ensconced in a privileged class
and social circle and willing to forgive and forget and go out for a drink


John McCreery
February 13, 1996