Being Defensive

January 22, 2011.

One of the most provocative books I've read in the last couple of years is George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. In part it's an exploration of how the Right has shaped American political debate, but it's also introduces a very powerful idea: names can be more persuasive than logic. Names are powerful things. Consider how challenging it is to argue against the phrase Right to Life. Who wants to be against life? No one, which is why that slogan represents an excellent example of framing a debate by aggressive naming. (Not really related, but I accidentally ended up in a march for Life in the Marina today while trying to go on a bike ride. Go, San Francisco.)

Keeping the importance of naming in mind--and remembering your fallacies--opens up an additional layer of depth to meetings and conversations. A personal favorite is framing someone defensive, or an explanation as an excuse. Any response from the framed is automatically categorized as bullshit: it prevents reason from being weighed neutrally. Instead their words will be greatly diminished, and their rage greatly elevated.

So dear reader, please remember that unless you're hoping to verbally rape your conversation companion by rendering them powerless and ignoring their viewpoint, leave these words at home.