The Ethical Skeptic

Challenging Pseudo-Skepticism, Institutional Propaganda and Cultivated Ignorance

The Art of Rhetoric

Rhetoric is an opportunist, desperate for an avenue of entry through any means of persuasion and locution – a form of such extreme commitment to a conclusion that it bears not the ethics and honesty of poetry. An answer seeking a question which then targets a victim – a disliked topic or person.
Don’t be fooled. Rhetoric always defends an answer – always targets a victim. It is the opposite of poetry. It is the opposite of the process of sound science.

The Art of Rhetoric is the process by which dogmatic truths are enforced through the impugning of an antithetical idea or person. It consists of two components: Opportunistic Persuasion and Opportunistic Locution. These two elements are the subjects of the last two blog posts in The Ethical Skeptic:

How You Persuade Makes All the Differencethe ethical skeptic button

How You Say It Makes All the Differencethe ethical skeptic button

unmitigated bullshit - CopyWhen we sequence the two activity sets together, we educe a process which is in its essence, the reverse of science. Rhetoric is a method of convincing a dilettante audience, and even a scientifically trained audience to submit to consensus on an idea – which holds potentially questionable empirical merit. Neil deGrasse Tyson cites that scientific literacy is what empowers one to spot when someone else is full of bullshit. That might be partly true; however, to Neil’s discredit the vast majority of our scientists, even less Social Skeptics, are not well trained enough in philosophy to understand the tenets of what constitutes bullshit in the form and nature of rhetoric. One cannot conduct the process of science in typical social discourse, nor is holding a set of prescribed answers which were handed to you, indeed science. Thus I am skeptical that Dr. Tyson’s one liner is correct. Spotting rhetoric however, is a useful skill; the ability to spot those arguments which seek to take the place of sound methods of science. Rhetoric is designed to trick smart people into consensus through sleight-of-hand persuasion and locution. It is the container ship which docks at the port of bullshit. Similar to Methodical Cynicism being a martial art, Rhetoric is an Art – a rogue doctrine among the humanities.

An Answer Looking for a Question Looking for a Victim


/philosophy : argument : bias : inverse logic : sleight of hand/ : appearing to be focused on a given topic or a given case example, when a slightly different or less acceptable somewhat related position is actually being surreptitiously promoted. Enacted through opportunistic measures, desperate for an avenue of entry through any means of persuasion and locution – a form of such extreme commitment to a conclusion that it bears not the ethics and honesty of straightforwardness, science, transparency or poetry. An answer seeking a question which then targets a victim – a disliked topic or person.

rhet destroyIt is not simply science after all which equips a person with the tools necessary in detecting bullshit. It is the quality and rigor of one’s philosophy inside their discipline. That is why it is called a Doctorate in Philosophy, a PhD. Facts are peppered about by all sides in most debates. Facts do not necessarily lend deontological knowledge (truth). It is the structure and nature of argument which reveals both the credibility of the arguer, as well as potentially the soundness of their argument. A seasoned philosopher can discern the difference between a dogmatic shallow skepticolyte, and an authentic lay or professional scientific researcher. Take the current blog series among Social Skeptics demonstrating rhetoric about one of their favorite topics of obsession (why they obsess over this I have no idea):

Answer (truism): Ancient and cultural folklore is an unsound basis from which to make a claim that any folk-legend-monster exists or ever existed.

Question (rhetoric): Do “cryptids” exist, or are they simply figments of social archetypal folklore and imaginations?

Victim (target): Therefore, since it is most likely that the answer substantiates the question (apparent coherency), there is, quod erat demonstrandum, no substantiating evidence supporting any crypto-zoological being like Bigfoot.

The Ethical Skeptic does not believe in Bigfoot. But he also does not believe in bad science either.

Backward science is one of Social Skepticism’s primary means of enforcing consensus. Notice that, as always, no actual science is employed in the above process of rhetoric. If we pepper the process above (and in the below exhibit) with ‘facts,’ it renders the process no less an Art of Trickery than it already is in its essence. This is the chief craft of the most senior of Social Skeptics. It is pseudoscience.

The Art of Rhetoric - Copy

An Example of Rhetoric in Journalistic Propaganda

diabetes - Copy - CopyThe following example is pulled from today’s INQUISITR. It consists of a short prejudicial propaganda article by Shelley Hazen, published September 9th, one day after a diabetes study summarized on September 8 2015, outlined how diabetes has grown in 24 short years, to affect half the American population. In an effort to head off public unrest over the idea that something might have caused this precipitous upsurge in disease, social epistemology outlets such as INQUISITR were instructed to head off unauthorized ideas, via push articles for immediate promulgation. This is a regular observable, repeatable and measurable occurrence of Social Skepticism. Some key features to note, which delineate rhetoric based propaganda:

The Ten Features of Rhetoric Based Propaganda
  1.   It is fast in its retort (often right on the heels of the release of disliked information)
  2.   It employs the worst of pathos based persuasion (polemic, apologetic, obdurate, philippic, coercion)
  3.   It protects a single buried Answer (with a capital A)
  4.   It is promulgated through the same, very familiar media channels
  5.   It is written by low-experience, dilettante journalists – compliance minded B students who don’t know any better
  6.   It is fraught with semantic and locution breaches
  7.   It is written in simple to construct, imprecise and non-scientific phraseology
  8.   It lacks technical competency on the subject being discussed
  9.   It falsely spins scientific and research principles into totally different understanding
  10.   It assumes an unmerited position of authority.

Well, as you can see below, the article is a case study in rhetoric. It bears all the elements of opportunistic persuasion, in this case in the form of an obdurate to apologetic. It cannot be a polemic or disputation because it offers no hint of any opposing viewpoint or substantiation of its “Answer” buried as lede inside the prejudicially framed text. Second, it follows through on the persuasion by taking the question raised (Has diabetes risen with obesity since 1988?), and feeding that via a disconcertingly large series (read that as – this person would not last five minutes in one of my labs or firms) of locution foibles into a

prescribed Answer: Type 2 [diabetes] is caused by poor eating, lack of exercise, and being obese.

assumptions they they want to slip by:

  1. poor eating and lack of exercise increased as a precursor to this 20 year period of diabetes increase. When in fact, this is not the case at all.²
  2. poor eating and lack of exercise are the source of the obesity epidemic. When in fact, it is gut flora which is being identified by science as the culprit. Gut flora being altered by a substance we are ingesting on a regular basis.³

The Targeted Victim:  The idea that diabetes causes obesity. The idea that something introduced into the American diet since 1988, has precipitated a dramatic rise in pre-diabetes, and that obesity and pancreatic failure are the later symptoms and not the disease or cause itself. This is the antithetical idea which is targeted by Social Skeptics. Shelley Hazen’s medical pseudo-authority might be even palatable, if there were not at least 11 other maladies which have also skyrocketed in the last two decades (pancreatic cancer, rosacea, skin disorders, childhood diabetes, autoimmune disorders, thyroid disease, IBS/InfBS/Crohn’s, liver distress, kidney disorders, etc.).

click on image to enlarge

example of rhetoric 2 - Copy

Such is the nature of journalistic propaganda from push-media outlets. Such is the nature of apparent coherency spun by social epistemologists for your consumption and consensus. Such is the nature of Social Skepticism. A lie in so many words. An answer looking for a victim.

Such is the nature of rhetoric.

TES Signature

¹  Hazen, Shelley, INQUISITR: Do Half of American Adults Have Diabetes? The Numbers May Not be That Clear Cut;

²  Physical Activity Statistics: No Leisure-Time Physical Activity Trends | DNPAO | CDC“. WHO. Retrieved Sep 9, 2015.

³  Science Daily: VIB – Intestinal flora determines health of obese people, Aug 28, 2013;

September 9, 2015 - Posted by | Argument Fallacies, Tradecraft SSkepticism | , , , , , , , , ,

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