Sanitizing rhetoric

Seebs put up a post on “eliminationist” rhetoric:

So, seriously. Drop the eliminationist rhetoric. Stop demonizing the people you disagree with. Start asking them what they believe instead of telling them what they believe. Stop mistaking your beliefs about the likely outcomes of their actions for their intent in taking those actions. Instead of organizing groups of like-minded people who sit around holding everyone else in contempt, start seeking out people you disagree with and really listening to them.

Consider that “eliminationist” means “full of, and emitting, shit”. It may seem like a pun, but if you keep it in mind while reading various diatribes calling for people to be forced out of office with guns if necessary, you may find it clarifies the matter substantially.

I responded:
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I can’t take credit for the term, it’s quite common. And it is used to refer, not to feces, but to extermination of individuals or groups..

Those points aside, I agree with the general point; it’s related to the invalidity of the ad hominem argument. Your opponents’ motives are not entirely irrelevant to their arguments; if someone takes a particular public position, you may reasonably think that he might have taken a different position if he did not have a financial interest in the outcome, although of course he might not. Maybe the causality runs the other way; he acquired the financial interest because he already believed in whatever position he took. It’s fair to mention those possibilities, but they do not ultimately determine the truth of his conclusions.

Whatever position you take, there are people of the opposite opinion who are smarter than you are, better educated, more expert; not all of them, but enough that it is their opinions you must address, no matter their motives. It is then easier to treat their opinions respectfully, and as a result you are less likely to alienate those of your opponents who are more stupid, ignorant and incompetent than you are.

As an editorial writer, I tried to remember that. Not that I always succeeded.
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It’s also worth noting that not all uses of language that involve metaphors invoking violence are either intended to incite violence or even disrespect, or likely to do so. Seebs frequently addresses his cats in the most graphic terms, and they pay no mind to him at all.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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