2019-05-25 Leveling up your rhetorics

I used to think that I was very smart. People told me so and therefore it felt obvious and true. Now I know better and I think I know what happened.

As a kid, I thought there were two kinds of people, smart people and not-smart people.

When I was a late teenager, maybe 17 or 18 years old, I realized that appearing to be smart was a result of how people talk. I learned to use logic. Things were true or false. Conclusions where valid or invalid. Propositions could be generalized or not. I remember saying that I felt as smart as my parents. They must have been about as old as I am now.

My friends knew how to talk. We wrestled verbally in bars and restaurants, in living rooms and school courtyards. We polished our rhetorics. I bought the posthumous book my Arthur Schopenhauer with the 38 ways of being right. It was a book describing 38 logical fallacies, talked about their use, and how to counter them. I felt I was at peak smart.

Slowly, cracks started showing. My partner said she didn’t want to hang out with me and my friends because we were so argumentative.

That’s how I learned about the various levels of rhetorics. I’m saying “levels” because I felt I was learning new things and “leveling up” but I don’t think there’s an inherent order in these things. I’m talking about the order I learnt them in but I know my partner learned them in a different order. We learned from each other.

So here are a few things that weren’t obvious to me when I grew up.

Being factually right isn’t everything. If you are right and other people are wrong, you may have the power to stop them in a public setting – maybe!

  1. Perhaps people don’t want to listen to you. You are argumentative and they know it. They don’t enjoy your company. If you’re not in their company you can’t tell them about how right you are. You being right is useless if they don’t want to listen. Making them want to listen to you requires the building of trust. You must be of use to other people. People must want you in their company.
  2. Sometimes access to the medium makes a difference. They are wrong but their interview is being printed in the national news. Your comment is right but appears in an online forum full of trolls. Being right doesn’t help your message getting heard. You need to network and make friends in power before you can speak truth to power. These days, in our time, speaking truth to power doesn’t matter if nobody is listening.
  3. Sometimes you are right and they are wrong but they are well prepared and you just have a list of things you want to say. They can frame the discussion, trick you into admitting things you don’t know, things that are besides the point and thus you end up not making your points but making a fool of yourself. Preparation, practice, delivery – they can be more important than being right.
  4. Sometimes everybody agrees that something is right and yet nothing is done. Others are wrong and still their ideas are acted upon. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

Think about these things whenever you see idiots doing the wrong thing in office. There are many reasons why they can pull it off and you cannot. Unless you’re one of these politicians reading my blog in which case repent and change your ways!

Oh, and I didn’t even talk about the ways we talk to convey sympathy and understanding and trust and hurt and everything else that doesn’t care about right or wrong.

Now you know how I learned that I’m not smart. There is so much to learn and just learning how much there is to learn is hard.

Tags: Philosophy


Well said! You see, polishing your rhetoric does help 🙂

AlokSingh 2019-06-20 08:42 UTC

Haha, thanks. 🙂

– Alex Schroeder 2019-06-20 09:20 UTC

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