Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Restating our opponent's perspective

Social media has been abuzz about an interview of Jordan Peterson by Channel 4 News in the UK. This kind of thing would usually frustrate me but the interviewer so often misrepresented and mischaracterised Peterson it made the whole think farcical and therefore amusing. Perhaps the funniest comment was by John C. Wright,
Please count the number of times in this video the female interviewer says the words “so what you are saying is” and then count the number of times the male interviewee agrees and says, “Yes you have understood me exactly.”

By my count, the first number is infinite, and the second is zero.
Though I agree with some things that Peterson says and disagree with others, it seems that Cathy Newman was not even interested in understanding his position, whether that be because of ignorance or intentional distortion. There are things to be learned from this episode such as claims of subsequent threats against Newman were generally false and therefore we need to be suspicious of many claims by the media. Or that requesting your allies to refrain from bad behaviour will be used by your enemies as justification that such behaviour is occurring. But there was a comment made in the Atlantic which is worth highlighting. Conor Friedersdorf writes about an interview technique that he sees used increasingly frequently: where the interviewer restates the interviewee's response in his own words,
Then, another person restates what they purportedly said so as to make it seem as if their view is as offensive, hostile, or absurd.
After going through several examples Friedersdorf comes to this conclusion,
Newman repeatedly poses as if she is holding a controversialist accountable, when in fact, for the duration of the interview, it is she that is “stirring things up” and “whipping people into a state of anger.” 
Exactly. The divisive person paints his opponent as divisive. This is the problem many have with the left. It is not just that we disagree with their position, it is the dishonesty combined with the fact that they are being divisive at the same time claiming that their opponents are the divisive ones. It is rank hypocrisy.

Creating dissension for the sake of it is a tactic of the evil one. It is to be avoided. Paul pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to get along (Phi 4:2). Elsewhere he says to warn a divisive person twice before having nothing further to do with them (Tit 3:10).

Now I have left leaning friends that are very honest, and I grant that many people on the left and right genuinely believe things that happen to be false. Further, this tactic is wrong when those on the right (or purported to be so) use it. But the use of this technique is an argument that the media (predominantly the left learning) are biased against righteousness: they use tools of the Devil. I am not saying here that the left are against truth because they are often wrong (though I think they are), I am saying that they are the most guilty of deliberately mischaracterising their opponents to justify their own narrative.

Friedersdorf concludes that he  wrote his article as,
an argument that the effects of the approach used in this interview are pernicious.
Exactly. We restate our opponent's perspective so that they may clarify whether or not we understand them. Not so that we can put lies in their mouths, lies that they do not even believe.

One may argue, what of rhetoric? Is not rhetoric the same kind of method we use in debates to win arguments?

In short, no. The point of rhetoric well done is to appeal to emotion in making an argument. But the man of God is only to use rhetoric in pursuit of the truth. Showing the consequences of an opponent's argument is not the same as saying he holds to premises that he most certainly does not.

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