City's Finest: Ken Responds - Birdman Replies

Thanks Ken


[Ken writes:]


Let me clarify my position. I do not attack or defend the police. My point is that Weekly Letter #499 is an example of bad, unpersuasive rhetoric. To whatever extent you have gotten me upset (and I’m not particularly upset) it is not due to the content of your Letter, but rather to the way in which you make your points.

You write that you could have written a balanced but boring one-sentence essay about the police. I.e.: "The police can be abusive sometimes, but we sure are a lot better off WITH them than WITHOUT them." You expect that I would agree with this, which is not necessarily the case. This is because that in the extremely unlikely scenario that all police departments were to suddenly and simultaneously stand down, something else like them would inevitably spring up in their place as a matter of spontaneous generation. And that something else would not necessarily be worse than what we have now. Anyway, this takes us away from my point.

If the only balanced thing you can write is your boring one-sentence bromide, and if you refuse to write boring things (“truth,” in your opinion, in this case), then perhaps you should remain silent on the issue. You write that sometimes truth is “just the (boring) recitation of simple facts, but most of the time it is the recitation of SELECTED facts, which can come across very differently. Some would -- not unreasonably -- call this propaganda -- something which we usually think of as ‘bad’ because it is skewed, but in fact the root meaning of propaganda is to PROPAGATE (ideas).” Here you are simply playing on the lexical ambiguity of *propaganda*. You’re equivocating.

You say that one purpose for your over-the-top rhetoric (and I do not think that is too strong a term for the Letter at issue) is “the purely personal one of expressing myself.” I find this to be quite plausible and perhaps more true than you might want to admit.

You write that “I can't put forth this idea [that we have a problem with police power] with a ‘fair and balanced’ ‘essay’ like the single-sentence one above, so instead what I do is to select facts which then illustrate my point . . .” Here your disjunctive premiss is fallaciously supported. You want me to believe that your only options are the boring and the illicitly reasoned.

Let’s talk about that supposed psychological truth of your rustic old friend. “Learnin’ is churnin’," he said. I knew that was comin’; you often bring that up. Surely you would agree that the fact that your old friend said this, per se, does not make it so. I put the following to a person with a background in psychology: “The best way you can get people to learn is to get them upset, a condition in which cerebral ossification is broken up and new ideas are then able to find some lebensraum.” I was told that this could sometimes work, but it can have a tendency to backfire under the wrong conditions. Situations where this confrontational approach can work would be: EST workshops, Communist re-education camps, drug-rehab facilities, sensitivity training workshops, and (to a lesser extent) public schools. To be effective, a facilitator must be in a position of free-swinging domination over his subjects. You are not in such a position. Those who agree with you will read you enthusiastically; those who do not will delete your messages and stop visiting your web site. There *are* those who are capable of changing their world-view as a matter of self-realization, but you would have an uphill battle proving that the rhetorical style that you demonstrate in the Letter at hand is likely to facilitate this.


[Birdman replies:]

Dear Ken:

Truly I am surprised by your reactions. Possibly this is because I did not express myself very well, so let me very briefly summarize my main point, in hopes that this will make it more understandable to you. That point is just this: When a person is upset over a problem, as I am about the growing police state in America, then his rhetoric heats up and becomes more biased -- as you would say, more over the top, less 'fair and balanced'. That can be said of most of my essays. They are polemics, philippics, things which reflect my disturbance over some problem. I am not really concerned in making them 'fair and balanced', in the sense of trying to make the presentation of both sides equally forceful. But on the other hand I HAVE been concerned to respond to all substantive arguments against my position. And since my essay follows this long-standing pattern, I am surprised that it seems to have upset you. Indeed, of the several responses that I received, there were NONE which were critical, and one which rather raked you over the coals.

Beyond the above, I really do not see anything in your most recent letter to respond to. So I guess my best strategy is just to shut up. -j


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