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The Powerlessness of Persuasion

FreedomI 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.

I’d like to toss in my two cents to the case against rhetoric.

Persuasion is everywhere. But like advice, it’s only useful if it’s reasoned and informs accurately. And no different than reasoning, it must always make human rights the bottom line.


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 punishment –  like a true gift, there can’t be strings attached.


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


Keeping it Simple


In the busy, noisy world, the time 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 the math.


Persuasion, respectfully done, and mindful of our rights, has it’s place. The sorry imitation calls for exercising our freedom every chance. But the typical – and virtually unavoidable – kind of rhetoric is long over-due for retirement. Is there a better time than right now to hand it it’s gold watch?


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