Third in a series based on the work of Suzette Haden Elgin. (Links 1,  2, 2a,)

Last time we dealt with two basic verbal attack patterns
Pattern #1: "If you REALLY X, you'd Y."  and the closely related
Pattern #2: "If you really A, you wouldn't WANT to B.
Both could be handled by a basic response

  1. Identify the mode
  2. Identify the presupposition(s)
  3. Respond in NEUTRAL Computer mode TO THE PRESUPPOSITION ONLY
  4. Stay in Computer mode.

Pattern #3, "Don't you even CARE about X?", carries at least three suppositions, can support multiple levels of attack, and can be handled in several new and interesting ways....

Let's take a look at a political example:

"Don't you even CARE about winning the war against terror?"
    mode: Blamer.  
    * You don't care about winning the war against terror.
    * You should care about winning the war against terror; you're rotten not to.
    * Therefore, you should feel terrible about this.

It's the word 'even' and the stress on the word 'care' which identify this as an attack, rather than a leveler's simple search for information.

Another feature of this attack is that all three presuppositions are linked together.  If, indeed, you DO care about winning the war against terror, the second and third presuppositions are irrelevant.

But this is phrased as a yes/no question.  So you have an interesting option available.  

    Leveler response 1): "No. Why?"

Like a chamberpot over the head, much of the charm of this sort of response is it's utter unexpectedness.  And from here on, you can simply wait silently while your opponent spins his wheels.  By the time he finally does get all four wheels on the pavement, he will have completely forgotten that the original goal was to run you down.

The downside to this response is that it will be remembered. You won't be able to do it twice to the same person or in the same group.  

Like most attacks, there is a sucker-bait.  The attacker hopes to get you tangled up in defending how much you really care. No matter HOW much you care, IGNORE THE BAIT and deal with the presupposition.

    Computer response 1): "Why do you think that we needed a war just to arrest a gang of criminals?"
    Computer response 2): "Tell me, Mr. Russert, do you believe that the president's purpose in confusing a criminal organization (like Al Quaeda) with a legal government (which could declare war), was to distract public attention from his failure to secure the ports, or does he have some other motive?"

Note your reaction to the two computer responses.
In basketball, the first one is a free throw and the second is a three-point shot.

Elgin makes a very interesting side discussion on the differing ways that men and women often react to verbal fencing.

Men, Elgin asserts, are trained from boyhood to use verbal fencing as a human substitute for puppy-wrestling. They keep score, but they don't take a defeat personally.

Girls do not play games like this. A woman who has been on the receiving end of a verbal attack will feel typically feel battered, not energized.  Even if a woman has learned to fence with men, she still may lose her balance if a second woman joins on the opposing side.  

Only the politics-as-game paradigm can explain the successful marriage between James Carville and Mary Matalin.

In addition to the above points, Elgin takes the time to detail how power imbalances (parent/child, patient/doctor) can alter the game, creating unique hazards and opportunities.

Most of them can safely be left for readers of the book, but there is one variant of this attack that Democrats particularly need to avoid, because it leaves them open to a deadly counter-attack.

It happens whenever X is particularly awful and could possibly be quantified

    Dem: "Don't you even CARE about the genocide in Darfur?"
    Hannity: "Do you refer to the Irskine report, or the study by the Pan-African Analysis Group?

By the time our Dem figures out that there never was an Irskine report or a Pan-African Analysis Group, the interview is long over.

No new homework for now.  Just add this new attack pattern to the others you watch for, and keep experimenting with your defense.


Originally posted to chriscol on Mon May 23, 2005 at 06:26 PM PDT.

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