October 8, 2012

How Things Work

Aristotle pointed it out oh so many years ago: Humans are moved by emotion more than logic or facts. So using pathos as your primary appeal is an entirely legitimate rhetorical strategy. But pathos does not give one ethical permission to take a Machiavellian route to one’s political ends. For example:

Leading the charge of what were quickly dubbed the “B.L.S. truthers” was none other than Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, who posted an assertion on Twitter that the books had been cooked to help President Obama’s re-election campaign. His claim was quickly picked up by right-wing pundits and media personalities.

It was nonsense, of course. Job numbers are prepared by professional civil servants, at an agency that currently hasno political appointees. But then maybe Mr. Welch — under whose leadership G.E. reported remarkably smooth earnings growth, with none of the short-term fluctuations you might have expected (fluctuations that reappeared under his successor) — doesn’t know how hard it would be to cook the jobs data.

Pointing out that this is nonsense is, of course, a form of nonsense in itself given human nature cited above. But it’s a form of nonsense I’ve engaged in myself and will continue to engage in until the end of civilization — sometime around 2020 I think.

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