A Model Argument
Imagine a series of strongly constructed arguments. Each is on the same topic, each is arguing to the same conclusion, all of them are correct. Now your job is to pick what you believe would be the most persuasive argument to the majority of readers. Now of course, if one argument is clearly better it’d be the easy choice. But let’s stipulate that if we have 100 arguments in our contest they are practically indistinguishable from one another. Everyone has the same task, they have to decide which argument most people think that most others will think that most others will think is the most persuasive. Get that?
As a judge and reader in this contest would you choose which argument happens to be most persuasive to you personally, even if it’s barely indistinguishable in logical cogency from the other arguments? What would your Treffpunkt (meeting point) be for deciding on what others will decide?
The aim becomes not to make any absolute judgement of beauty but to find a focal point of this process of thinking. How do we agree on that? The reader must figure out the realized convention without the benefit of communication. “Pick the most beautiful” might be the stated rule, but that could be significantly more difficult than picking the redhead, or the one with an interesting gap between her two front teeth (Lauren Hutton) or the mole (Cindy Crawford). Anything that distinguishes becomes a focal point and allows people’s expectations to converge. For this reason, we should not be surprised that many of the world’s top models do not have perfect features; rather, they are almost perfect but have some interesting flaw that gives their look a personality and a focal point. (my emphasis)
This is something I’ve always found problematic about traditional journalism business models. You often find solid information or analysis buried or twisted by the search for neat framing or catchy conceits.
Certain qualities make arguments stand out more than others. Andreas Kluth over at The Hannibal Blog shares with us one of John Steinbeck’s creative motivators: anger. Kluth also finds that anger focuses and energizes his storytelling. I find that anger often sharpens my writing as well. Human nature seems to have paired anger and argument. Picture a person arguing – you’ve probably pictured them as angry. Notice that many of the most popular opinionators are also the angriest. Anger focuses, but is anger also a focal point (there can be more than one) for argument? Have I distracted from my argument with this discussion of anger?