01 June 2006

Weary of Well Speaking

I have a terrible bias against good public speakers. Here are some possible reasons for this:

  • Perhaps this is because I am not one. My presentation tends to be terrible, given that I tend to cry when I am nervous or discuss anything I care about. People who can remain unemotional when discussing something important lack passion or conviction in my eyes.
  • To me, good speaking tends to indicate a lack of substantial ideas, glossed over with flowery language and anecdotes. Unlike much of the international community, I actually find comfort in the fact that President Bush is a terrible speaker, because it indicates to me he is sincere in his thoughts, elected for his ideas, not for his charm. One of the main reasons I would never have voted for Kerry was his speaking ability: smooth, eloquent, and able to speak about nothing for hours. Very typical of the modern career politician, and in my view, the main enemy of progress in government. Politics (and by extension, life) seem to be so much about how you say things and who you are, rather than the actual ideas you have. Rather than consisting of plans and positions, so much of any speech is just vague filler statements, the kind that I would slash through with my red pen if it were an essay.
  • Debaters. Bad experiences with debaters. Something seems so wrong to me with the idea of debate competitions. We teach students to argue either side of an issue, as if your personal convictions, or actually truths, about right and wrong are not really that relevant. They are taught to cut into flaws in evidence and presentation, undermining their opponents not by superiority of ideas but by seeming technicalities. They ignore, or cover up, the valid points of their opponent, pitting the worst of their opposition against the best of their own thought. This seems to me a short, sloppy, and least-effective method of argumentation. If you really want to prove something true, you must take your opponents' best arguments, rather than their worst, and you must acknowledge the weaknesses of your position. Only if you can convince someone in spite of both of these things have you truly found truth.
Does anyone else feel this way?


Not Too Pensive said...

Personally, I yearn for a Reagan right now.

Bush is, without doubt, a smart man. Yet his foot is so entrenched in his mouth that it can be difficult to perceive him as such. I agree with what you say about a more genuine nature, but I don't think eloquence necessarily makes one disingenuous.

An eloquent speaker can better help people fall behind a cause, be more impressive to foreign leaders and populations (as odd as that might sound), and give greater confidence in their positions.

Properly packaging an idea is vital to selling it. Sad? Perhaps, but true.

As far as debate, I'm not sure where you're going with your argument. Attacking your opponents' premises is a basic part of tearing down his/her assertion, and attacks should focus on weakness rather than strength. While I'll agree with you that simply tearing down arguments does little good, it remains important to proving/disproving an argument. Perhaps the debate competitions like those you describe don't actually "prove" anything, but they do hone logical reasoning skills.

I'd write something a bit more flowery, but it's late and I'm tired. Also, I wrote this without using a spell checker, so I wouldn't appear too eloquent ;-)

nicolaepadigone said...

Elder Dalin H. Oaks is an eloquent speaker and sincere. In regards to Bush, no he is not sincere, nor smart (but that's just my honest opinion). Neither was Kerry.

bawb said...

I'm not sure whether you're trying to make more of a psychological or philosophical point (i.e., whether you are trying to persuade us that good public speakers are compensating for something or trying to explain that you tend to feel that way).

Either way, I agree with most of your points. Personally, I enjoy phrasing things flowerily, but in any discussion, I expect me or my opponent to be able to say, "Oh, come off it; do you really believe that?" and be answered honestly. Debating is, I'd say, good mental practice, but not much of an earnest contribution to the search for truth.

Liz Muir said...

Not too pensive: I realize that in the real world, packaging is very important. That's what I have the problem with. I wish it wasn't, and try to make my own perceptions that way.

And yes, tearing down your opponents premises is a good way to tear down his position, but not a good way to arrive at truth. I balk at the idea of arguing for the sake of being good at beating someone in an argument, rather than for the sake of getting at truth. All the debaters I meet seem to simply argue with people just to see if they can win. All of our conversation should be in pursuit of the truth, in my opinion, and debate seems to be the opposite of that. The only useful characteristic of it is that it teaches logical reasoning; however, it teaches it in a way disconnected from truth.

BAWB: Actually, I'm really not sure what point I'm trying to make. I was just stringing together some points that have been floating in my head. Mostly the inspiration was that I've been feeling especially bitter since one of my coworkers is a debater, and I'm sick of him simply poking at the minor details of what my argument is, rather than simply addressing my valid points.

bawb said...

Ah, yes. That gets old quickly.

bawb said...
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