Getting into the Hang of Reading Against the Grain (Reading Response 4)

Chapter four begins the discussion of academic argumentation. Pullman defines it as when “assertions are presented with supporting evidence to an audience who will agree or disagree but won’t vote or otherwise make a binding decision” (228).

While reading the beginnings of this chapter, I began to find myself making more notes in the margins, asking more questions. Even when Pullman provided his first definition in this chapter and then compared it to debates, I questioned it. I realized I was reading against the grain more. Before, I had to consciously make an effort to question the material presented before me. Now, the questions would form themselves as I read. I still didn’t ponder everything presented, but I did notice a significant improvement from my readings and notes I had done before. I felt like I was truly developing as a critical reader.

For example, let’s go back to Pullman’s relation of academic argumentation and debates. Chapter four states that academic argumentation is different from debates in the sense that debates involve people who are competing to win while academic argumentation has all sides considering  “getting it right” (228). I found this interesting because it almost implies that debaters are not doing the “right” thing but that they are simply using everything they have to only “win” against their component. Their argument could even be “wrong.” And what does “right” here even mean? Pullman also highlights that academic argumentation can be competitive too, but he fails to recognize that debates could have “right” sides.

Here’s another example. Pullman examines an academic audience and explains that academic arguments are skeptical and need to provide evidence (229). He provides us with the advice of “The better the evidence, the better the argument” (229). “Better” is another vague term that usually has a strong meaning in our language. But what does “better” evidence mean? Does it mean more relevant or recent evidence? Something from a credible author? Actual primary sources? All of the above? It’s kind of like watching the food network station (If you’ve seen Ina Garten you may know what I am  talking about). The chef is in the midst of cooking a meal and she says make sure you drizzle some “good” olive oil on top. What does “good” mean here? Obviously in both of these situations we assume something positive that enhances the overall argument or meal. However, doesn’t it imply that in some situations there will still be a better item than the one we chose as “better?” Is this another case where we have different ideas of what is better, or at least “good,” anyways?

To further explain, I’m going to analyze another section in the reading. Pullman examines proofs, one of which is “Narratives” (231). I find that narratives sometimes come off as more convincing than other proofs. If this is the case, would that mean narratives are “better” proofs than other proofs/evidence? I would argue no because while narratives are sometimes seen as more convincing, they are also only a one-time example. This can lead to fallacies when developing arguments because there is only one example for reference. It might have happened to someone, but did it happen to anyone else? Does a personal experience add more weight to persuasion? Think of reviews online for restaurants or items. One good review or bad review might not make a difference. To the person who wrote the review, they could argue they are right because they have a deeper connection from their experience. Multiple narratives, however, might change minds because that means multiple people who had an investment in something also had an experience worth noting in some way. Of all these examples, what is the best proof and evidence?

In fact, Pullman brings up a lot of interesting ideas in this chapter. One of which is the formula in developing academic argumentation which includes things like intros and conclusions and my previous analysis of proofs and evidence. The reading is a bit brief on conclusions. Pullman highlights that a conclusion is mostly for an audience and warns readers to be careful over how they word things, like don’t call people an “idiot” if they do not agree (231). This was also interesting in the fact that, assuming we are writing academically, it almost seems obvious that we should be thorough but always respectful and professional. However, that does not mean it always happens. Considering our political climate, this seems to expose how not everything that “should” be a certain way is that certain professional way.

While chapter four reviews multiple different topics, the last topic that really caught my interest was the discussion of modality. Modality is defined as the “level of expected commitment to the argument” (231). Through his discussion on this, Pullman reexamines proof and explores the ideas of argumentative errors. “How much proof do you need?” he asks. With that question in mind, the author describes to readers that no matter how much proof we have, some people will not be convinced. As an example of this, he said that some people still don’t believe the Holocaust happened (232).

Now, to me, this is a very loaded statement to read against the grain. To what extent do these people believe it didn’t happen? Is the proof of lives that were lost not enough to convince them? What about the Holocaust is not believable, because as “facts” go, it is hard to argue with numbers?  Even if the numbers could be off by a little, there were still lives lost. Is it the meaning or “reason” behind the Holocaust they do not believe? Is there a point in even arguing in situations like that where no amount of proof can convince someone?

The last point he makes is that the timing of an argument makes a difference, as well as the presenter of an argument makes a difference in its persuasion. Is Pullman referencing kairos and ethos here?

I found the beginnings of this chapter to be very thought-provoking. What did you guys think? Do any of you find yourself reading against the grain more? So far, I have only been reading against the grain in classes but I wonder if I began to read public news more I would find this skill emerging there too. Did anything I say here make you guys want to read me against the grain?  

Framing as a Force of Persuasion (Reading Response 3)

The first part of chapter three analyzes the five canons of rhetoric and highlights Platonic dialectic and Aristotle’s topics. The first interesting idea that was readdressed through the chapter was the definition of rhetoric itself and how Pullman depicts it as mostly persuasive instead of focusing on its other components. For instance, the author’s example of his doctor friend and his olympic patients really highlighted rhetoric’s placebo effect, or in this case, a solely persuasive factor of rhetoric. While a rational argument wouldn’t be  just telling the athlete what he or she wants to hear, the doctor still uses the placebo effect, or rhetoric, in order to reassure the athlete in the most persuasive way. This example clearly favors rhetoric’s persuasive quality and I believe it leads to more of the misleading or manipulating ideas that people usually have about rhetoric.

Another idea that Pullman discusses is Aristotle and his role in rhetoric. Pullman compares Aristotle’s ideas on rhetoric as the same or at least very similar to Gorgias’ ideas on rhetoric (134). However, reading against Pullman’s grain, later Aristotle’s topics are revealed and his definition of rhetoric is much more in-depth than Gorgias’ definition is. In fact, the reading only covers a few of Aristotle’s special topics and oratories. The book focuses on the forensic oratory which is Aristotle’s least favorite oratory but would likely be Gorgias’ favorite or only oratory, further highlighting their differences.

The most interesting part of the reading though ends with framing. I think it’s especially revealing how Pullman defines framing as to “control an argument’s outcome by constraining the terms, trying to force [emphasis mine] people to see the issue as one way when it could be others” (149). I can reconnect this definition of framing back to the earlier definitions of rhetoric as something persuasive and even forceful. Not only that, but Pullman highlights that framing is everywhere just like rhetoric and persuasion are. I tend to see this because almost everything is framed in a least some way to help a person develop an intended idea over something. The examples I always think of and am aware of most of the time are survey samples. This is a problem because instead of allowing someone to form his or her own thoughts, the questions are framed in a way that already influence one’s decisions. Something like this is especially dangerous in a survey or voting situation at polls. A lot of legislation that wants to be approved is framed in a way where voters cannot possibly disagree with it without prior knowledge. What are some examples that you have seen of framing?

 Furthermore, I think Pullman uses his own idea of framing with the language or ideas he chooses. One example of this is the author’s take on e-books vs. paper books. Pullman frames his argument for an object’s purpose and not the “look.” He frames the section by saying that things that are easily accessible are more purposeful and then references that paperback fans’ love the “feel and smell” of a real book, i.e. not purposeful. What Pullman does not mention is the fact that things can be easier to read on paper and easier to understand or follow giving paperbacks more purpose than depicted before. All of these interesting layers prove to be important when considering rhetoric and its effect on persuasion.

Fictional Stories and the Art of Persuasion

Chapter two discusses the persuasion process. Pullman reviews how it is a long process and that it is something done everyday. He then proceeds to cover each concept that is involved in a persuasive act which takes into account the presentation of self, presentation of others, stereotypes, audiences, and emotions.

One especially compelling section of the reading was the stereotypes section. Pullman classifies stereotyping as a “generalization from weak or irrelevant data” (68). He then highlights that stereos means “firm” or “impression,” which explains why stereotypes so often seem to stick as an explanation of something. What was most interesting though, was Walter Lippmann’s meaning of stereotypes and why we use them.

Stereotypes are a method used to filter everything that happens in our lives. Similar to a previous discussion in logic, stereotypes are used because there is too much in the world to actually process and analyze everything. Essentially, they are a shortcuts. Lippmann also explains how he believes stereotypes are like fictional writing. I thought this was a very interesting take on stereotypes, especially as someone who reads fiction a lot because I could understand the relationship more. Stereotypes are just ideas, like fiction, of what real life is. There is usually not a deep analysis of something or someone. It is more of an assumption from what we can “see” and what we have previously experienced. Fiction writing is very similar in the way that a story is not real, but it is based on many stereotypes and experiences from life. This could also be why sometimes people find fictional stories unrealistic, because stereotypes and fiction are both weak representations of the universe. More over, the reading then discusses how personas are fictionalized representations. In other words, to persuade or be persuaded, fictional things have a big role in what works and what doesn’t work for persuasive acts. However, I did find it difficult to see the differences in personas and stereotypes since both are formed from generalized ideas of an audience. Do stereotypes represent groups while personas are single person representations? Can a stereotype, that isn’t well-known and broadly used, not be formed from just one experience and person? Are personas unethical to use in persuasion if they aren’t truly representing a person?

One final thought about the reading was Pullman’s coverage on emotions. Emotions contribute to almost everything a person does and it seems to be a leading factor in any persuasive situation.  Pullman provides a broad list of emotions that contribute to persuasion but I found the role they play with audience to be the most revealing. Pullman states that sometimes we only express our emotions when we know we have an audience and as an example of this, he discussed a toddler crying (89). I found this to be particularly interesting because, reading against the grain, I also think a lot of emotions do not want to be shown. Emotions like embarrassment, as an example, which would only become worse with a “group” present. Even though events and groups can alter emotions, sometimes, nothing will make you feel differently and, even more so, sometimes you do not want to express what you are feeling. Furthermore, what role do these secret or unchangeable emotions play in persuasion? Are they more influential than public emotions because another person cannot respond to the emotion and change their persuasion tactic?

All of these things that we experience in daily life, such as good character, stereotypes, and emotions, affect the way people persuade and are persuaded. Learning to recognize each will help with the analysis of any persuasive act.

Reading Response Chapter 1/pgs. 1-19

Chapter one is about the evaluation of persuasive acts. As the author explains, this means being able to recognize and examine different tactics that people use when convincing others whether or not to believe an argument.

One section of the reading that I thought was especially interesting was the inductive reasoning section. Pullman describes inductive reasoning as a form of logical explanation. He explains that often times just one vivid example can influence an argument. This reminded me of the “one bad experience” idea. Pullman offers the examples of a dog attack and restaurant food poisoning to further explain and he recognizes how powerful these examples can be. I found his explanation to be particularly moving because I recognize this reasoning frequently in my life. In my family, we call it a bad “memory stick.” While we can recognize that it is irrational, it does not change our minds. Even if other people continue to eat at “restaurant A” and walk away healthy, my sister will not because of the one time she did not walk away healthy. Or maybe someone had a bad fall while at a hiking trail and he or she is now afraid to go back to that trail because of the bad experience. Pullman himself calls it a once-bitten error. In reality, it could simply be considered a traumatic, or at least relatively upsetting experience, that made someone swear off of something forever. These experiences follow the idea of inductive reasoning, where one event leads to a conclusion, but overall, inductive reasoning does not provide enough evidence to support an argument.

This illogical reasoning can easily be connected back to the psychological aspect of persuasion. Many times people cannot disconnect their own fears or beliefs to truly examine something rationally and this is what leads to inductive reasoning or, additionally, what the chapter covers as fallacies. One fallacy listed was wishful thinking. While wishful thinking may seem like a good thing in some cases, Pullman points out that it can be an error in developing a persuasive argument. Fear, another fallacy the chapter highlights, has times when it is useful but also times when it is wrongfully used to persuade someone. Both fallacy examples are deeply connected to psychology because they are strong emotions, hope and fear, that are rooted within us. This suggests that the psychology of emotions and traumatic events is linked to persuasion as whole because we are unable to separate the two. 

Furthermore, the chapter reveals that one has to recognize these psychological influences, or “logic” and fallacies, in order to delve deeper into a persuasive argument. It is easy to believe a convincing argument, but it is harder to analyze and question the argument in a way you would have never thought to before.