The Powerlessness of Persuasion



I was reading an older post by Steve Neuman on Salon describing his wonderment of the endless reach of rhetoric and the influence it has on what people assume is for real.  As he points out, it’s nothing new. Rhetoric has been around for a couple of thousand years. But that he wishes it was something obsolete comes through loud and clear.


Persuasion is everywhere. But like advice, it’s not to be ladled out unless it’s asked for. And even if requested, there are limits.


Plain, but Precious, Freedom


Consent is required. Every single one of us are free to say no thanks to any pitch without fear of interference or consequence. An offer of reward to listen is no better than a punishment –  like a true gift, it’s strictly “no strings permitted”.


Persuasion is far too often thinly veiled coercion, however pleasant the approach – or even how good the intention. The end and the means must be reasonable. The equation must be balanced. Alarmist rhetoric is bullying, too –  flat out manipulative button pushing. Mr Neuman terms this the trespass of the sacred boundaries. Fair enough, and another way of saying that human rights aren’t being taken seriously.


For all the fiery, scary – or soothing – rhetorical energy poured into any pitch coming your way, how well considered are your basic rights of consent and freedom from interference? If these aren’t being respected, what are the chances the speaker’s conclusions are even worth taking in?



Keeping it Simple


Rhetoric paints the picture, and this in itself is a useful way to communicate. But only getting to see select parts of the scene is no better than having to do the math without all the numbers.


In the busy, noisy world, the time needed to really think issues through is scarce. While Mr Neuman discusses psychological research, I’ll leave it to the psychologists. Uncomplicated solutions are often overlooked. While we need to keep ourselves informed, it’s our undeniable right to choose what we listen to. If the message – or it’s delivery – is manipulative, it’s time to move along and find more sensible, reliable sources.


There’s no obligation explain refusal, But stating that human rights must always come first as we head for the door – or to the comments section before we leave the page – might prompt those who try to make our minds up for us rather than provide factual information we can use to decide for ourselves, to at least do their own math.







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