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Finally, spin-doctors notoriously create mind-fog by abusing langauge. Sometimes they utter deliberately vague or ambiguous sayings. Sometimes they simply make fine-sounding claims and offer no proof. You have heard this many times: "Our product delivers twice chocolatey goodness and only half calories!!" (And Joe Fried-potato, who happens to be wider than your dining room, AGREES!!). The simple way to fight mind-fog comes from asking questions that clarify.
For instance, in your criminology course, you might ask Professor Plumb, "Professor, you said something about a candlestick in a library. Precisely what did you mean by "candlestick," and did you mean to refer to this literally, or as some sort of symbol that stands for something else? Press point, when you feel that someone tries to sell you something, as it were, under-the-table -- and make them sell it over-the-counter instead. Make them say just what they mean, clearly and precisely.
Once you have a clearer idea of nature of claim he wishes to promote, you can toss it into pool of "noted claims to compare and contrast," first measuring that claim by itself, and then by checking it against other claims in pool. Some claims will swim, while others will plunge like Titanic at an iceberg party.
Here, just below, we have collected a few of our favorite sayings popular on college campuses, most of which we have heard Professor Spin mumble more than once from his academic pulpit. Not only do most of these refute themselves, but they also don't get along with each other very well, as we will see. Our helpful and irreverent responses to these appear in brackets.
1. No one can really know anything for sure, when all is said and done. [Really? Are you certain?]
2. All religions are equally valid [Most, but not all, religions deny this] [But we are absolutely sure this is true anyway].
3. We must tolerate all views [except those which deny this][Which includes most, but not all, religions] [but we are absolutely sure that dissenting religions are all equally wrong][And, of course, we will not tolerate those dogmatic religions].
4. There are no ethical absolutes [And we mean absolutely none] [Note: This claim contradicts #1, 2, and 3 also.]
5. Slavery is wrong [Although this is true, we put it here so you would notice that it contradicts #1, #2, #3 and #4, which shows that claims 1-4 are false, but popular enough anyway].
6. Education is key to solving world's problems [Unless we count all logical problems created by educated people (see above) who say impossible things]. [Note: this also contradicts #1, #2, and #4.]
7. Your western views are too binary [You see, there are only binary views, and non-binary ones -- which is itself a binary view -- oops] [hint: all views logically exclude some other views] [Which, of course, shows that NOT all views are equally valid] [Some views, like "the earth is flat" are just goofy, and these are only "equally vaild" with other stupid ideas].
8. Religion is responsible for killing too many people [which implies that murder is wrong, even though this sounds like a moral absolute] [This also contradicts claims #1-4, and #7.] [And note that, if this statement were true, it would render all religions equally bad, not "equally valid," whatever that might mean].
9. Bible-thumping Christians are too dogmatic. [It is written: Thou shalt not be dogmatic!] [And we are sure of this] [So, follow instead OUR dogma, even though it refutes itself] [Which means that BTC's should not be tolerated, contrary to #3 above] [And that their religion is not "equally valid" with non-thumping religions, contrary to #2].
We could go on, and have great fun doing it, but you get point. This band of hired accusers failed to coordinate their testimonies in advance. And so many of views promulgated from academic pulpits turn out just a little nuttier than Jif. Just because a confused-but-confident professor, politician, or spin-doctor says it loudly and often -- this doesn't make it true. So when she says, "question authority," you might want to take her at her word, and start by putting her own claims on chopping block first.
In any case, by keeping these five rules handy, you can arm yourself against all manner of rhetorical shenanigans and verbal skullduggery.
Christopher Brown enjoys writing articles and books, building websites, trading stocks, and blogging. He has taught both English and Philosophy at two colleges, tutored many students, and hosted a radio talk-show. Now, he manages the Ophir Gold Corporation blogsites.
To visit them, go to Writing With Power at http://scriberight.blogspot.com or OGC's Free Web Traffic at http://ophirgoldcorp.blogspot.com