Sheridan Baker, in his book The Practical Stylist (6th edition) has an outstanding section on straight and crooked thinking. In order to elevate America's ability to challenge those who want to manipulate others, it's past time for all of us to understand these ideas. In particular, I think there are two concepts--preferences and persistences--that Republicans use to manipulate uneducated people here in the South.
Quote Mr. Sheridan:Dispute Your Preferences with Care
Preferences are something else again. They are farther from proof than opinions--indeed, beyond the pale of proof. And yet they are more firmly held than opinions, because they are primarily subjective, sweetening our palates and warming our hearts. De gustibus non est disputandum: tastes are not to ge disputed. So goes the medieval epigram, from the age that refined the arts of logic. You can't argue successfully about tastes, empirical though they be, because they are beyond empirical demonstrations. Are peaches better than pears? Whichever you choose, your choice is probably neither logically defensible nor logically vulnerable. The writer's responsibility is to recognize the logical immunity of preferences, and to qualify them politely with "I think," "many believe," "some may prefer," and so forth.
So go ahead, dispute over tastes, and you may find some solid grounds for them. Shakes peare is greater than Ben Jonson. Subjective tastes have moved all the way up beside fact: the grounds for Shakespeare's margin of greatness have been exhibited, argued, and explored over the centuries, until we accept his superiority, ias if empirically verifiied. Actually, the questions that most commonly concern us are beyond scientific verification. But you can frequently establish your preferences as testable opinions by asserting them reasonably and without unwholesome prejudice, and by using the secondary evidence that other reasonable people agree with you in persuasive strength and number.
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Handle Persistences as You Would Authorities
That an idea's persistence constitutes a kind of unwritten or cumulative authority is also open to logical challenge. Because a believe has persisted, the appeal goes, it must be true. Since earliest times, for example, man has believed in some kind of supernatural beings or Being. Something must be there, the persistence seems to suggest. But the appeal is not logical; the believe could have persisted from causes other than the actuality of divine existence, perhaps only man's psycholigcal need. As with authorty, new facts may vanquish persistent beliefs. The belief that the world was a pancake, persistent though it had been, simply had to give way to Columbus and Magellan. For all this, however, persistence does have considerable strength as an indication of validity, to be supported by other reasons.
This is used to manipulate simple people to hate homosexuals. Instead of keeping the argument on the question, "Should all Americans have the right to fall in love and marry freely?" they appeal to very-old prejudices. This is still very important for the next election because this issue is the primary explanation for what happened here in North Carolina last time. Republicans used homophobia in the black community to split Democratic constituencies apart. African-American congregations were encouraged to vote against President Obama, or else not vote at all in some sort of "protest" against gay rights. Now Republicans are encouraging openly gay, African-American candidates to challenge progressive Democrats in solidly democratic districts in the primaries, so as to knock them off and make it easy for Republicans to win in the general election. Voting for the gay candidate, here, now, will guarantee that gay rights will be destroyed because they will be easily defeated in the general election. Unfortunately for the African-American congregations that refused to vote for Democratic candidates, it also means that African-Americans, Latinos, students, Social Security recipients--everyone who is not a billionaire--will have their voting rights infringed and their interests ignored if not destroyed.