Wednesday, May 19, 2004

How to be a modern obfuscator

Obfuscatin'! It's the way of today - the all-purpose debating tactic that defends all kinds of otherwise indefensible abuses from climate change through the war against Iraq to speeding. As a service, the Yorkshire Ranter offers a brief guide on how to employ this scientifically proven technique to win your ideological battles tool. Yes, you too could appear on the BBC as the "balanced" guy opposing whatever the scientists have come up with. You thought only neo-cons and reactionaries could obfuscate - but those days are over!

1. We need More Research
This is a devastating move in the right hands. After all, you can hardly be accused of anything for saying there ought to be more research into a problem, right? It sounds reasonable, respectable, balanced. And if your opponent is a scientist, they are hardly going to say no. The key is this. If the matter isn't settled, it's much easier to put it aside. This plays to the instinct for the quiet life. After all, if we ignore it - it might go away, or the researchers might discover that it was all right all along. The point is to make sure that it remains in question. Hence you demand further investigation, more research, or more patience. This morning's Radio 5 discussion had a man from a rightwing motorist lobby who used this brilliantly. He declared that there should be more research into accidents caused by people driving too slowly. This was meant to be an argument against speed cameras. The point being that he could not be accused of extremism because he wanted - more research! The world political version is the argument that, if we just give it time, everything Tony Blair said about weapons of mass destruction will be vindicated. It's like Schrödinger's Cat - until the Final Investigation reports, you're not wrong yet!

2. False consistency.
The Speed Camera Guy demonstrated this one beautifully. That remark about people who drive too slowly is, of course, not an argument against speed cameras at all. He didn't actually try to say that driving like a nut is entirely safe. Instead he amalgamated the entirely different question to it. This is one that shouldn't work but does - it can't stand up logically, but if you do it quickly enough and with conviction people don't challenge you. Another example, on global warming, is the chap who says "What about the sunspot cycle/increased plant growth/trees?" The point being that even granted those, the problem still exists. But including them gives the impression that somehow they devalue it. It also has the benefit of using up a lot of time in subsidiary debating about trifles. It serves to keep you off the real issue, too. Which brings us nicely to...

3. Fake concessions give respectability.
This is the classic technique when faced with someone who is inconveniently right. As the degree of scientific certainty about global warming increased, the right has had to use more and more of these to support its self-interest. As you can no longer seriously argue that carbon dioxide emissions are fluffy and nice, or that driving fast is safer, or that Iraq in 2003 could have nuked us all in 45 minutes, you use technique 3. This is to throw out a pre-emptive concession on the central issue. ("Of course, climate change is one of our major concerns for the 21st century, but..insert 1 or 2 here", "I'm all in favour of road safety, but..", "I'm sorry if we did not fully explain our concerns about Iraqi weapons, but") Having secured the centre, you then implement 1 or 2, safe in the knowledge that you cannot be accused of extremism or unreason. The way to spot these, incidentally, is the concession-but phrase. The classic is, of course, "I am not a racist, but..."

There are also a few standard concerns to use. You can rely on saying that something is happening too quickly (often in conjunction with 1), that the public has lost confidence (this is a great one, because you can effectively say that it doesn't matter if the other side are right), or that some sort of hazy power structure is behind it.

With that, I hope you'll all be able to go out and be happy little obfuscators.

No comments:

kostenloser Counter