Indirect Speech #1 – The disguised sneer

In dialogue between humans, there are some fundamental ways in which one can easily reduce the chance of a positive outcome to the dialogue down to zero.
One of the ways in which you can be effective in discussion is to extend the principle of charity to the person at the other end of the dialogue. This requires an initial assumption that the other person is trying to engage in a good faith discussion, followed by verification that this is in fact true.
We validate the extent to which the other person is showing good faith by parsing their words carefully.
Now…some people read better than others, so this is not a foolproof concept.
There are, however, a number of ways in which you can quite easily convince the other party to an attempted dialogue that you are not interested in good faith discussion. Some of them are obvious. Some are not so obvious, and some are rather subtle.
Obvious approaches include:opening with a slur or a snark in the first sentence, often preceded by “you”. Words like “libtard”, “sheeple”, “snowflake” or “Trumpaloo” are prime examples. They make the writer look both juvenile and mean-spirited.
The next worst thing is to use strawman accusatory words like “statist”, “marxist” or “bleeding heart”. Those, in addition to making the writer look juvenile, are usually assumptive about the person on other end of the dialogue, and make the writer look like he or she is trapped in binary thinking. it’s not a good message.
The more subtle signalling is the use of indirect speech.
The first rhetorical device is the use of pre-inoculation. A classic example is beginning a response with “with the greatest respect”. This is usually deployed by the writer for one of two reasons:
– They fear that what they are about to say will be contentious, so they are engaging in pre-immunization
– They have no respect at all for the person or persons they are talking to, and they are attempting to offset this by excessive politeness
The second rhetorical device is the use of ingratiation. This usually takes the form of an introductory sentence such as “here is one for my conservative/liberal friends”.
The first thing that enters my mind when I read rhetoric like this is “why are you writing this?”. As a preface, it adds no content to the discussion.
The second thing that I wonder is whether the writer really has any respect for the positions or views that their “liberal friends” or “conservative friends” hold. In my mind, what I am really reading is “this is one for my conservative/liberal friends, who I consider to be idiots”. It is a form of dog-whistling, the communication of a message of dismissal in advance of the actual argument or response to a discussion point.


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