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A "quick and dirty" look at rhetoric and persuasion.

by Kuririn
12 December 1998
(with an addition, by Kuririn ~ 9 January 1999)
courtesy of reverser's page of reverse engineering

Well, Kuririn has sent his own intro, that you'll find below... less work for me... I'll just add that noone should be left alone against these simple (yet since more than 3000 years -unfortunately- quite effective) rhetorical tricks... If persuasion is the "engineering of consent", as Kuririn points out, let's reverse engineer it, let's crack its protection schemes, the easy ones first, the more complex and shrewd ones later...
Yes, indeed, the society we live in is scary... yet "Light reversers' feet may run swiftly here... more swiftly, maybe, than iron-shod commercialists. Now we have a chance to lessen their lead!". (My own "quick and dirty" attempt at rhetoric and persuasion... why should only our enemies use these weapons? :-)

A "quick and dirty" look at rhetoric and persuasion.
by Kuririn
12 December 1998
I think many among you will enjoy this small effort on my part, (leisure time is rapidly becoming scarcer for me :(
Now friends let us look at just what is "persuasion" in the rhetorical sense... Persuasion is the art, primarily verbal, by which you get somebody (anybody) to do what you want and make him at the same time, think this is what he/she had wanted to do all along. This does not have to mean that the persuader has convinced the "puersuadee" to "do" anything, but perhaps to accept an opinion or adopt an attitude. So persuasion is the "engineering of consent." It is a way of exercising power without increasing resentment.
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Introduction : Regarding the destructive use of rhetoric: The only remedy is for as many people as possible to learn something about how words work so that they will be armored against unscrupulous attacks on their minds and on their pocketbooks. The best defense against being over-powered by the rabble-rouser or bilked by the unethical advertiser is to become thoroughly aware of the power of words and to learn to distinguish legitimate appeals from illegitimate ones.

Persuasion and Power : Persuasion represents power. Perhaps the highest compliment ever paid the power of oratory, the prime form of persuasion in the world of ancient Greece and Rome, is embodied in the story of the death of Cicero. After Mark Antony had caused Cicero to be assassinated, and his head and hands were exposed in the Forum, Fulvia, Antony's wife, stuck a gold pin through the tongue of the dead man to take vengeance on its power.

Anyway if the desire for power was once the spur that drove the young (American, Frenchman, Greek &c) to a study of classics, it still remains the fundamental motive for the exercise of persuasion. Today such occasions are multiplied a thousand fold, but numerous as they are, they are lost in the more massive manifestations of persuasion that pour from printing presses crowd the television screens, fill the airwaves, and blot out the landscape as our automobiles whirl down the highways. Demosthenes and Cicero have been replaced as the masters of persuasion by courses in salesmanship and psychology, charm schools, and other implementations of Dale Carnegie's famous formula "How to Win Friends and Influence People."

The engineering of consent is central to a democratic, industrial society. We live in the age of the advertising man, propaganda expert, and motivation analyst. What was once a limited exercise is now incessant and universal, and the stakes played for go higher every day.

Arguments and Persuasion (contrasting the two) : Argument and persuasion are often lumped together, and their interrelation is indeed intimate. One cannot understand this interrelation unless the two "terms" are sharply distinguished. It is true that people sometimes say, "I am not persuaded of the truth of that argument." But in that case, they're using the word persuade (or the word argument) in a more general sense then is intended (here in this context).

The end of argument, strictly conceived is truth--truth as determined by the operation of reason. The end of persuasion, on the other hand, is assent--assent to the will of the persuader. This distinction between the end of the argument and that of persuasion is crucial, but to profit fully from it we must realize another distinction. The end of argument is achieved only one way, by the operation of reason; but the end of persuasion may be achieved in a number of ways, sometimes used singly, but more often in combination. For instance, Aristotle, in his Rhetoric, remarks on three modes of persuasion, the first dependent on the character and credibility of the persuader, the second on the persuader's ability to stir emotions of those whom he aims to persuade, and the third on the proof of "a truth or an apparent truth."

Arguments and Persuasion (deeper analysis; identification) : We may say (returning again to the differences between arguments and persuasion) that the characteristic end of each (arguments and persuasion) implies a different germ situation. (That from which anything springs; origin; first principle; as, the germ of civil liberty.) The germ situation out of which argument grows is doubt, and argument us. involves some form of conflict. When conflict is involved in argument, the conflict cannot be resolved unless those contending share some common ground; and the minimal requirement for such a common ground is an agreement to accept the dictates of reason. In persuasion, on the contrary, the persuader earnestly seeks to eliminate conflict from the germ situation, and if doubt exists he maintains that it must be shared and resolved in a joint effort marked by mutual good will. Ther persuader's characteristic assertion is that any difference between his point of view and that of the persuadee is the result of only a slight misunderstanding that can readily be cleared up by a little friendly discussion, for they are two persons of essentially identical interests . In other words, what the persuader seeks is the broadest possible common ground with the persuadee, something that goes far beyond the ground necessary for argument. Kenneth Burke author of A Grammar of Motives puts it this way "You persuade a man only in so far as you can talk his language by speech, gesture, tonality, order, image, attitude, idea, identifying your ways with his." Identification, not conflict, is what the persuader seeks, this is the key to his method (and understanding).

Arguments and Persuasion (deeper analysis; experiment) The next time you got to a public meeting on a controversial issue try to heckle the speaker. If he is expert in his business, he will have diagnosed his audience and will know what attitude the majority will take to your attack. If he thinks you have support, or feels that he has not yet found a sympathetic relation with the audience, he will almost certainly say (something like): "Now that is a very good question; let's try to think it through together." Or: "I'm glad you brought that up. Perhaps we can pool our efforts and ..." OR: "That's an interesting way to go at the problem. I've been trying to state it, but you've done it so much better than I ever could." Even when the speaker feels that he already has sympathetic relations with the audience, he may so value his roe as a conciliator that he will pay you, the heckler, this deference. If on the other hand, he is secure in his audience and chooses to answer your aggression with aggression of his own, trying wittily to make a a fool of you for the delight of the public, he is still seeking identification with his audience by provoking and entering into their sadistic pleasure in your humiliation.

Identification (deeper analysis and support of reverser+ from Aristotle)
The persuader cannot achieve identification or exploit the persuadee's relation to a group unless he knows the audience. From the time of Aristotle's Rhetoric on, writers on persuasion have tried to classify audiences with the hope of establishing basic appeals. Aristotle made a basic (and particularly shrewd) classification by age (similar to reverser'+ claim). The young, he said, are optimistic, energetic, brave, loyal, idealistic, quick to love or anger, but they lack calculation, are prey to fads, have no steady goals, and overestimate their own knowledge. The old are skeptical, suspicious, avaricious, dispassionate, comfort-loving, and doubtful of aspiration. But men in the prime may combine the best qualities of youth and age. The important idea here is that writers (throughout time) have suggested many such classifications ... which are essential to the operations of publishing, advertising, public relations, and politics. An advertising man makes classifications in relation to his product, and it is not likely that he will advertise milk coates in a magazine concerned with poetry. Politicians temper their speeches to their audiences: what might get applause in Boston might be suicide in the mid-west (you get the idea). Any "good" persuader will instinctively classify his audience. (Note this well!)

An Addition, by Kuririn, 9 January 1999

/* some more "things" (it leaves out children) which by advertisers standards are the best thing (due to their tax-free income and their developing need to spend and their inability to conceptualize money in general), nor does it mention single-parent families (divorce/death). I also wanted to add in a couple of sections from Tocqueville (particulary) "The taste for self-comfort in america" and better still "why the americans are are often so restless in the midst of their prosperity" . but i doubt it's very good to quote long from great authors (defies moderation). */


Bachelor stage: young, single people not living at home. *Few financial burdens. Fashion opinion leaders. Recretion-oriented. Buy basic kitchen equipment, basic furniture, cars, vactions, stereos, computers.

Newly married couples: young, no children. *Better off finacially than they will be in near future. Highest purchase rate and highest average purchase of durables. Buys cars, refrigerators, stoves, sensible and durable furniture, vacations.

Full nest I: youngest under six. *Home purchasing at peak. Liquid assest low. Dissatisfied with financial position and amount of money saved. Interested in new products. Buy washers, dryers, TV baby food, chest rubs and cough medicines, vitamins, dolls, wagons, sleds, skates.

Full nest II: youngest child six or over. *Financial position better. Some wives work. Less influenced by advertising. buy larger-sized packages, multiple-unit deals. Buy many foods, cleaning materials (machines), bicycles, music lessons pianos.

Full nest III: older couples with dependent children. *Financial position still better. More wives work. Some children get jobs. Hard to influence with advertising. High average purchase of durables. Buy new, more tastefull furniture, auto travel, nonecessary appliances, boates, dental services, magazines.

Empty nest I: Older couples, no children living with them, head in labour force. *Home ownership at peak. Most satisfied with financial position and money saved. Interested in travel, recreation, self-education. Make gifts and contributions. Not interested in new products. Buy vactions, luxururies, home improvements.

Empty nest II: Older married couples, no children living at home, head retired. *Drastic cut in income. Keep home. Buy medical appliances, medical-care products that aid health, sleep and digestion.

Solitary survivor, in labour force. *Income still good, but likely to sell home.

Solitary survivor, retired. *Same medical and product needs as other retired group drastic cut in income.

(source William D. Wells & George Gubar, "Life Cycle Concept in Marketing Research," Journal of Marketing Research, Nov. 1996, pp. 355-63)


Aristotle's three modes of persuasion (deeper yet): As stated before Aristotle's three modes of persuasion are (quoted again for your convenience)

So having pointed out that Aristotle bases the first mode of persuasion on the character and credibility of the persuader let's take a look at what this might mean. The persuader may have, of course, a prestige that precedes his utterance and predisposes the audience to accept him; but there is also the immediate effect, the quality of the person on the platform, on the television screen, or behind the printed page. If the personality of the persuader is not acceptable, identification will be granted grudgingly (if at all). The courses in salesmanship echo Aristotle with brutal simplicity: the first thing you have to sell is yourself. Over the centuries, vats of ink have been spilt analyzing this process, but common sense remains the best guide. There are certain qualities that tend to detract from the appeal that the speaker might have for most listeners or readers. The man will little self-confidence can expect to win little confidence (from others). The man eaten up with self-adulation can expect little admiration. The man who does not respect others can expect little respect. The man who does not know his own mind can scarcely control the minds of others. The man who cannot give sympathy rarely gets it (and so on).

The second mode of persuasion of Aristotle (and a look at slanting and suggestion). Cicero, the master advocate, declared that all emotions "must be intimately known [by the orator], for all the force and art of speaking as a persuader must be employed in allaying or exciting the feelings of those who listen," This clearly, is where the arts of the propagandist, politician, advertising man --and even the poet-- intersect. This is the point, too, that most radically distinguishes persuasion from argument...
The answer lies in the psychical fact, long ago unearthed, that an emotion, however aroused, seeks a justification and a target. The man who has an angry nature goes through life seeking excuses for his anger and targets to vent it. The man with a loving heart, likewise, goes about seeking justification and targets. Furthermore, emotional agitation makes a person vulnerable to suggestion. "Emotional occasions," said William James, "especially violent ones, are extremely potent in precipitating mental rearrangements." Thus the persuader, having worked up the emotion, of whatever nature, goes on to provide the content suitable to his intentions; and this content defines the target for the action he desires. Emotion always craves its appropriate fulfillment. But the persuader may also work, and sometimes more effectively, with long-term emotional attitudes that may represent desires and needs of which the persuadee may be scarcely conscious--or which he may even deny. The advertisement for instance (an old advertisement) for the "expensive" Cadillac (automobile) shoes the vehicle against the background of a baronial establishment, and the gloating owners are, of course, a young, elegant, and beautiful couple, almost as much in love with each other as they are with the car :) Thus all the hidden, unrealistic yearnings of some balding, no-longer-young but still minor executive--the yearnings for lost youth, good looks, fashion, social standing, ample means, sexual conquest, and true love, and the need to express aggressive impulses on the highway with 350 horsepower--all flow together to guide the hand that signs the contract for the convenient time-payment plan. What is most important (aside from cultivating your awareness of the psychological appeals of literature and the potent effects of the technique of persuasion is to constantly scrutinize your own responses. (Note this well!).

Slanting and Suggestion: By slanting is meant the method by which, without violating facts in any narrow sense, the persuader suggests such interpretations as are desired by the persuader. Slanting can be seen in its crudest form in single words or phrases used for connotative values. For example. Mr.(?) is, literally considered, a politician and a senator. The editorial of a newspaper supporting him refers to him as a "statesman" or a "dedicated public servant." But an editorial in an opposition newspaper prefers to call him a "party hack" or a "politico." The literal referent--Mr.(?)-- is the same in both cases, but the aura of connotation is, clearly not. And this leads us from the general question of connotation in persuasion to that of metaphor; for metaphor, too, involves the "smuggling in of emotion" and the control of responses. Let us take an example, the insult visited upon Edward Livingston, an extremely able politician of the early 19th century, by John Randolph of Roanoke, another politician and a famous wit. Livingston, said Randolph "is a man of splendid qualities, but utterly corrupt. Like rotten mackerel, in the moonlight he shines and stinks." The insult covers Livingston's very reputation for brilliance into a liability. The brilliance becomes, in the metaphor, an index to the corruption: the same rotting fish that shines also stinks --the putrescence that exudes adds to the glitter. And consider the use of the word moonlight, which implies that the rotting fish would not seem so brilliant by the light of day; then it would be recognized simply for what it is.

The third mode of persuasion and a little bit more then I'm done! The third being that of achieving assent by proving "a truth or an apparent truth." First to the psychological phenomenon known as rationalization which provides a sort of bridge between emotion in persuasion and logic in persuasion. Rationalization is the use of reason not to seek truth but to justify desires, attitudes, belief, decisions, or actions already determined on emotional grounds. In rationalization the forms of reason are used to work either or both of two kinds of deception: to deceive the self or to deceive others . "Man cannot bear very much reality," (T.S Eliot --"Burnt Norton") and rationalization is man's built-in medicine against reality. We live by self-flattering illusions and self-exculpating alibis. When we catch the ball, we say: "Look, I caught the ball!" When we miss the ball, we say "My hand slipped." Furthermore, we commonly live by decisions that we consider to be reasonably made and reasonably acted on, but that actually are determined by motives that are unconscious, or that we choose to avoid considering. So rationalization is characteristically follows actions, decision, attitude or belief. Its function is to make the past comfortable to live with. Its role is not to initiate but to justify ...To sum this thing up, what distinguishes rationalization from valid reasoning is the motive from which it springs. Even a maniac may be faultlessly logical in argument, but we have to his inspect his premises and his obsessions. (Right?). Now Aristotle held that persuasion has not only to do with "truth," but with "apparent truth," and indeed the most obvious connection of persuasion with logic is its connection with the distortions of logic that we call fallacies. In studying persuasion, as in studying argument, one of the most fruitful fields to explore is that of fallacies. With one difference however: in studying fallacies for argument, you study what you want to avoid in your own argument and to detect in that of others; in studying them for persuasion you, study what, unless you have moral scruples, you may sometimes profitably use. Certainly if you want to study fallacies in persuasion there are a heap load examples in advertising, political speeches, sermons, and commencement addresses. (See at top of page link to my links there is an address to a good page on common fallacies).


Within this century, there has been, as a result of technological development, and as a result of the concentration of financial control, a constant diminution of local and individual channels of expression and debate. Furthermore, public relations experts have tended to narrow the ground of thought and debate--that is, to fix key points that have immediate impact and propaganda value rather than long-range significance. Moreover, the experts tend to reduce differences between persons and platforms, on the theory that in the clarification of issues more persuasive power is lost then gained. For example, various observers have noted that the opinions of candidates for office tend to get more alike as election day approaches. Also what is called the "image" of a man is more important then the man himself or what he stands for, in politics or in other activities. Raymond K. Price, one of the architects of President Nixon's election in 1968, is reported to have declared in the early stages of the campaign that rational arguments would "only be effective if we get people to make the emotional leap..." So the fundamental danger in the massive process of persuasion is the danger that all criteria of thought and judgement will be eroded or perverted, is most clearly revealed in what is called saturation techniques which depend on slogans rather than ideas, repetition rather than discussion, on hypnosis rather than awareness. This danger to thought and judgement is, of course, aggravated by the contempt for , or at least condescension toward, the public that characterizes at least a segment of the professional persuaders, and attitude fairly well indicated by the following remarks of the Whitaker of the famous public relations firm of Whitaker and Baxter:
The average American, when you catch him after hours, as we must, doesn't want to be educated; he doesn't want to improve his mind; he doesn't want to work, consciously, at being a good citizen. But there are two ways you can interest him in a campaign, and only two that we have ever found successful. Most every American loves a contest...So you can interest him if you put on fight... Then, too, most every American likes to be entertained. He likes the movies, he likes mysteries; he likes fireworks and parades...So if you can't fight , PUT ON A SHOW!... (Patrick Marsh: Persuasive Speaking)

On a last note...Aldous Huxley pointed out, in the early optimism engendered by general literacy and a free press, people were naive enough to believe that there were only two kinds of propaganda, the true and the false. They "did not foresee what in fact has happened, above all in our Western capitalist democracies--the development of a vast mass communication industry, concerned in the main neither with the truth nor the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant." And it might also be added that, in the end, the contempt for, or condescension toward, the public affects the public's own view of itself; it becomes cynical toward its own opinions, more or less dimly realizing that those opinions may be a product of manipulation and are lacking in both intellectual and moral content. SO the final contempt, and condescension, is to assume that it does not matter by what process assent is achieved if the assent is to a "good" thing--a good product,show,firm,candidate, or idea. (AND now-a-days commercials don't even take this approach...n.b., the television commercial of the kid who receives his first paycheck (at a fast food restaurant) and while his boss is praising his success of a well worked week, and his future potential (he realizes that the check is just enough to cover a nintendo (or some game) and quits.) Now the process doesn't matter nor does the assent, heh.

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