The Problem of Neutral Rhetoric

I am reading an article by Brandon McGinley to improve my thinking about the public discourse in America.  Below are some quotes from the article and my thoughts.

Every political argument makes a moral claim.

Do you believe that statement?  I do
though I admit I have probably not taken enough of my political arguments through the sieve; IDing the moral claim behind each and asking myself if I agree.

…those who craft our political rhetoric seem determined to obscure. We are inclined to appeal to concepts such as tolerance and freedom—which are, of course, moral concepts—as if they are ways to avoid reflecting on the moral merits of the policies under consideration.

Aaaah!  Now we are getting somewhere.   “Oh really!” I say.  Let’s see, those who craft, that would be “candidates” of any sort and the media, for sure, as there is slicing and slanting going on all over the place.  Yet, the media is supposed to be part of the reason we are so free in America.  The media in America has become a tool for groupthink.  That goes back to the slicing and slanting that occurs.  When a media person speaks off the cuff and from personal beliefs, he gets his head cut off.

We try to avoid explicitly moral claims in our discourse…

Is that true?   I know it is true with some people.  My bent is that I don’t believe I can get around moral issues.  In my life, most everything I care about has moral values connected to it.

…we see moral discourse as hopelessly mired in disagreement. To make a political argument based on an explicitly moral claim, then, is to appear to abandon objectivity and the hope of consensus.

Personally, I know there will be disagreement with my views.  I admit that I don’t throw things out often that are controversial.  That is one reason I am enjoying this article because it is making me think about what is “worthy” to think about and “worthy” to converse about.

On the bigger stage in the media and in politics, I believe the statement above is largely true.  There are hired “crafters” that work behind the scenes evaluating and changing terms for everything that is put out.   Do we really want to live that way?   We live is a “free” country but if we pull our heads out of the sand and listen, we may be mostly hearing words from “mindcrafters”.  We are being feed a line.  We are being shaped by crafted words without being aware.

…we shift our appeals away from moral correctness to concepts on which we believe there is consensus, such as freedom, tolerance, and equality…we hope to free ourselves and our interlocutors from the burden of making a value judgment…if you believe in a particular uncontroversial concept (and who doesn’t!), then you must agree with my policy prescription…Thus, the façade of objectivity and the possibility of consensus are maintained.

My thought is, just say what you think and give your best reasons for why you think that way.  As I write that I realize I don’t do that perfectly or accurately.   I DO take into consideration to some degree the  audience  I perceive is there who will like what I say or write.

The author then moves into arguments appealing to freedom, tolerance and science as these are areas or values in our democracy where consensus is desired and hopefully achievable.  The examples used under these topics get to be dense and complex.  Let me restate something the author covered under “Appeal to Freedom” which I believe is important.  This truism applies in so many political and other arguments made and by anyone, not just candidates.

Implicit in the rhetorical appeal to freedom is the moral claim that having more permitted activities is, on the whole, better than having fewer. But this is only part of the argument; it also assumes that the presence of the newly permitted activity will not harm society to a degree that will overwhelm the moral benefits of expanding freedom.

A newly permitted activity (enacted by law or other method) will not harm society to a degree that will overwhelm (or negate) the moral benefits of expanding freedom by adding the permitted activity.    It took some thought to get my head around this quote above.   My conclusion is that for most enacted law or legislation is not taken through a cost versus benefit consideration.   I realize that some analysis is performed some of the time but generally it is assumed that because those elected or appointed have experience and “wisdom,” so analysis is replaced with words and an approval process is followed.

“Harm to society” is a moral assessment and that it is not on the radar when enacting some of our laws.

  …science can never provide definitive answers to questions of how to organize society…

I agree with this statement.   We should use the data available to us from science, social and other types.  Science is not a guide without value and moral discernment.  Science contributes greatly to our public discourse but it is not the ultimate guide.

Reclaiming the Higher Ground

The best response to our morally stultified political discourse is simply to call it out—that is, to challenge those who try to evade moral discourse, whether or not they are aware of the evasion, by pointing out the moral assumptions that underlie their positions.

I agree here.  Statements made which have the wrong moral basis should be challenged in a decisive and honorable way.

Like a weed crowding out a garden, moral evasion thrives when it is ignored, and it soon becomes the accepted norm. We must always assert what should be obvious but has been forgotten: every political argument makes a moral claim.

To revitalize American politics, we must banish the conceit of moral agnosticism that allows rhetoricians and entire movements to disguise their deep ideological commitments and avoid robust moral discourse. And the first step to accomplishing this banishment is to challenge the vocabulary that is the linguistic foundation of liberal neutrality.

I leave the conclusion as it stands.  I will add that it is not just liberal neutral rhetoric.  There is conservative neutrality as well.  Doubtless we all are guilty of couching our statements in neutral ways when we intend to bring others along in our thinking.  Some things are morally neutral. Some few things.

The full article is on Intellectual Takeout.






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