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Since my local paper refuses to cancel its syndication contract with Ann(droid) Coulter, I have found myself writing numerous letters and opinion pieces to its editorial pages objecting to her presence in every possible way. The good news? Most of them are published. The bad news? The need for my latest attack below:

Gloria:"Did you know that 65% of the people murdered in the last 10 years were killed by handguns?"

Archie:"Would it make you feel any better little girl if they was pushed out windows?"

Gloria:"Wow, that's convoluted logic!"

Archie:"Yes, and that's the kinda straight thinking I'm trying to put across here."

--from All in the Family, one of the most striking demonstrations of convolution in television history. Carroll O'Connor, the masterful actor who portrayed Archie (lovable bigot) Bunker, earned an M.A. in English and was as liberal as he was brilliant. Had he not believed the opposite of his startling punch lines, the satire wouldn't have worked.

While convoluted simply means twisted, convoluted logic denotes a kind of reasoning that isn't reasonable at all. In the example above, does it make sense to defend the over-accessibility of handguns, as Gloria was implying, by pointing to another method of slaughter, or would Archie have been more convincing by pointing out that handguns also prevent bad guys from committing crimes when in the hands of the good guys? His reliance on irrelevant distraction set up the joke; not understanding the term delivered the pay-off.

Scripted and executed by experts, and in the harmless (or, arguably, instructive) context of fiction, Archie's rejoinder summons hearty laughter. Unfortunately, one more commonly encounters this rhetorical device in serious essays, in which convoluted logic is cynically employed to persuade the reader of an otherwise unsupportable conclusion. Would "we" really be "fighting them here" if we weren't engaged "over there," for instance?  Or, if "we" weren't "there" because no one sent us "there" in the first place, would they have necessarily come "here"? Or, considering recent developments in the terror department, are "they" trying to fight us "here" regardless of whether we are "there" as well? Rather than address the issue or accusation, the practitioner of convolution says no, don't look there, at the charge that's been leveled, but here, where I'm about to make you do the explaining (in this case, literally "there" and "here").

Conflations (guns are the equivalent of windows?) are unfair, misleading, or inept comparisons. Whether deliberately or inadvertently, they reduce the debate to the level of a dismissive shrug. If x number of troops have been killed in Iraq in y amount of time, and an even greater number of people have died in car accidents in Los Angeles (or some other large city) in the same period of time, how does the latter justify the former? Or is the more salient question what connection, other than untimely demise, is there between the latter and the former? Is the writer suggesting that the number of deaths in war isn't as much as it seems because, look over here, even more people have died in a less insidious manner? Is the writer, while not admitting it, actually minimizing the deaths in Iraq, notwithstanding the number, because other people are dying contemporaneously under other circumstances? Just as Archie would be on firmer ground sticking with hand guns as opposed to throwing windows into the mix, the conflationist might do better to argue the righteousness of the war itself than cheapen the discourse by evoking automobiles.

How persuasive are these techniques? Not very if, in order to sustain one's thesis, one must resort to what amounts to changing the subject. The trick is in following the dislogic of the case as it's being laid out. As if convolution and conflation weren't challenging enough, another favorite of dishonest polemicists is the dreaded projection. This one (and no, I have no handy Archie Bunker illustration) is easy to spot. It's simply insisting that the opponent is guilty of the accuser's own characteristics and hopefully making that assertion before the other side can. Is your side ignoring, evading, or circumventing legal restrictions in order to achieve certain goals? No problem. Just call your adversary a law-breaker and stop him dead in his tracks. Or have you been actively disenfranchising minority communities by making it more inconvenient if not difficult to vote? Presto, the other guy is the racist, not you. As he struggles to grasp the absurdity of your declaration, proclaim victory in the debate and beat a hasty retreat.

That's all for this installment of how to win enemies and influence gullible readers. Stay tuned for the next edition, in which I will discuss name-calling and preposterous proposals, such as America-haters, the fragging of retired colonels, bombing newspaper headquarters, revoking women's right to vote, and converting unwilling nations to Christianity. In other words, the kind of "straight thinking" worthy of a present-day Archie.

Originally posted to elouise on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 04:58 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  You forgot to add (0+ / 0-)

    Coulter is an Archie Bunker alright, but s/he gets a huge MSM laugh track that doesn't fit the sensibilities of sentient beings. There's no humor there, but a lot of folks hoping to convince us s/he's funny.

    (0 / 0), (0 / 0), it's off to kos we go, with a...

    by doorguy on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 05:11:01 PM PDT

    •  doorguy (7+ / 0-)

      The character of Archie Bunker also had an inner decency when he faced the reality of situations despite his blustering rhetoric. I've never got that sense from Ann Coulter that there is an inner decency to touch. It's like there's a dark void where it should reside.

      Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. Sherlock Holmes.

      by Carnacki on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 05:19:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Having said some of the things she has said (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Carnacki, anniethena

        I wonder whether it's possible for her to say or do anything that would indicate even a shred of authentic decency underneath. That would make an interesting (though totally vapid) marketing challenge.

        (0 / 0), (0 / 0), it's off to kos we go, with a...

        by doorguy on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 06:33:26 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Archie Bunker was a product of his upbringing, a World-War II vet who had quit high school to support his family, and had raised a family of his own on a factory job. He was the embodiment of a generation who saw the world as changing too rapidly for them to keep up; who didn't always understand what was going on around them, and tried to react to it by retreating into an ugly past. In many ways, he is an analogy of his times, or a certain aspect of them, anyway. And I suppose that one could say the same of Ann Coulter.

        Yet there are two glaring differences: 1) Ann Coulter is educated, and should know better; 2) Archie Bunker is a TV character, and Ann Coulter is all too real.

      •  just out of curiosity... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but isn't comparing a real human with a fictional character a little dishonest?

        Bunker couldn't actually conceive of being anything that his creators (writers, directors, and actors) wanted him to be.

        It seems to me that Ann Coulter has the free will to be who she is. She chooses to use the nasty, vile attacks she does. Bunker couldn't even be without the above stated a fictional character, he never had the free will option.

        "Computer. End holographic program...Computer? Computer?"

        by kredwyn on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 07:40:50 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  kredwyn (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DCDemocrat, tvb

          On the other hand, Archie Bunker seems more real than Ann Coulter. I've known people like Archie Bunker. I don't think we could meet people like Ann Coulter in real life outside of working in a psychiatric institution.

          Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. Sherlock Holmes.

          by Carnacki on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 07:49:32 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  somebody didn't get the memo (0+ / 0-)

    I just received word from the Grand Poobahs, the Big Cheeses, the Head Honchos, the Top Dogs, the Big Kahunas...

    Not one more Ann Coulter diary.  Ever.  Period.

    The missive, delivered to me the old-fashioned way, via Western Union (to drive the home the point), read as follows:

    weather forecast

    The palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise. - Paine

    by Cedwyn on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 05:15:41 PM PDT

  •  MSM (0+ / 0-)

    Manchurian Stream Media!

  •  No Coulter is worse (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    esquimaux, anniethena

    Archi Bunker was intended to be a lower-middle class, uneducated, ineffectual bigot.  His bigotry was the product of poor education, relatively low intelligence, and association with people who were largely like himself.  He was more confused than evil, and completely pwoerless to affect or understand what was going on around him.  He saw his positions as being attempts to hold on to the little he had.  

    That doesn't make him right, but it makes him understandable and even sympathetic, in a way.

    Ann Coulter is a privleged, educated, intelligent jackass.  She has had every opportunity to learn. Her bigotry and hate is designed only to further enrich herself.  Also, sad to say, she does have the power to saay others.  

    There is nothing understandable or sympathetic about her. She is an evil greedy bitch.  (Those of you who have read other posts by me will realize that I rarely use such words.  But here, it is deserved.  She is a bitch.)

    Republicans worry about our souls and their bellies. Democrats worry about their souls and our bellies

    by plf515 on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 05:26:20 PM PDT

  •  I disagree (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Coulter is far more evil, sinister, and scheming than Archie could ever be.  Archie was a racist xenophobe, for sure, but he was more misled and simplistic, than actively evil.  Ie, every now and then an episode showed that deep deep down inside he had some warmth in his heart.

    Coulter, on the other hand, takes pleasure in actively spewing hatred (Bunker didn't).  Coulter delights in appealing to people's fears to instill her hateful propaganda, Bunker didn't have the ability nor desire to do so.  Bunker was really more of the simpleton that was led astray by the rantings of a Coulter type.

  •  Archie had a heart (0+ / 0-)

    and would occasionally show a glimpse of humanity, even for Meathead. Ann runs solely on batteries and Aqua-Net.

    You wanta the fist? TASTE-A THE FIST! -4.50 -4.72

    by spelunking defenestrator on Sun Jun 25, 2006 at 05:41:15 PM PDT

  •  Colbert (0+ / 0-)

    I've been thinking recently that Stephen Colbert may have taken some of his TV persona approach from the Character of Archie Bunker.  A supposedly ignorant individual who stridently holds to a view, which is contradicted by all facts, actually displays to the audience that those views are, obviously, wrong.  
    Of course, Colbert's audience knows that at the outset.  Bunker's character was often a surprise to the thinking members of his audience.  He actually managed, sometimes, to get people to re-think their stand on a position by showing just how ignorant it was.  

  •  I'm sorry. (0+ / 0-)

    This was a terribly misleading title. I shouldn't have used it. It threw the conversation way beyond the scope of my essay. In fact, the title I used for my local paper is "UNfair Game." It's supposed to be a pun but I suppose that isn't clear either.

    I was writing about misleading and downright dishonest rhetorical devices - specifically convolution, conflation, and then, imposed by a word limit, a little about projection. I used the All in the Family quote, which I remember from first-run viewing, as a lead-in but it was only an example, and threw in Coulter (not even by name) at the end because she's the worst offender and frankly I enjoy taking potshots at her, then came full circle by comparing her to Bunker because a friend of mine said it would be more effective. (Having said that, I agree with every comment insisting she's much worse than Bunker could conceive of being.) But it really isn't about her so much as the underhanded way she argues her points.

    Which means the introduction to this Diary is not exactly on the up and up either. I realize that now. Please accept my apology. These titles are very tricky for me.

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