"Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak."

It comes as no surprise to me that we seem to see this approach taken by an uncomfortably large number of people from the entertainment industry; those who are paid to pretend they are someone/something other than themselves. The palpable failure of the news outlets to push back in interviews with these people using pointed questions based on undeniable facts gives them a free pass. The damage is done because too many of our fellow citizens are too wrapped up in trivialities to absorb and retain an informed, adult perspective on issues of consequence. Instead, they parrot foolishness from their favorite celebrity.

There is a certain satisfaction in turning a committed leftist inside out with the facts. Beating someone's A-game has its own rewards. When the best someone has to offer is what Michael Moore or Rosie O'Donnell has to say, it is is simply depressing that anyone would offer "Well, so-and-so said that...." as a basis for taking a position.

Posted by Bob at June 20, 2007 09:15 AM

"Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak."

Certainly, you do have to do more than say, "I'm just saying, what if..." but I think there is a lot of value from examining issues from both sides. And from asking the questions -- provided you are willing to search out answers that don't only support your hypothesis.

Michael Moore is not a political scientist or an economist -- he's a filmmaker. At the end of the day, he's trying to sell tickets to films and that does, whether he wants to admit it or not, have some effect on what kind of work he does.

But by the same token, no issue is black and white. And is what he does a bad thing if people use it as a way to educate themselves more, as opposed to taking his opinion (or any other's, for that matter) hook, line and sinker?

I long for the good old days when debate was a mandatory subject in school. Arguing a point that you don't personally believe can be a remarkable learning experience. And the tools you learned in those exercises -- identifying rival hypotheses, understanding that there is a lot proof necessary for a direct cause/effect statement, keeping the argument valid and contained -- would certainly make for more worthwhile discussions today.

Posted by Non-Essential Equipment at June 20, 2007 12:09 PM

Excellent post, Sarah.

Non-Essential...I agree with you that it would be very worthwhile for more kids to be exposed to debate (although some of today's trends in college debate, and even high school debate, are a trifle strange). The study of rhetoric was once considered an essential part of a liberal arts education.

But when you say "no issue is black and white"...surely, there are factual issues that *are* black and white. Either Sam robbed the bank, or he did not. Either Atta and his crew crashed the plane into the building, or they did not. (Unless you are making a quantum-theory multiple-universes argument, which seems unlikely from the context)

Arthur Koestler wrote an interesting piece on the whole nuance/shades-of-gray thing.

Posted by david foster at June 20, 2007 10:09 PM

You are right -- there are factual issues that *are* black and white. Did Sam rob the bank? Sure, at the end of the day, there's only one right answer. But which answer we lean towards, naturally, is going to depend on how the evidence is presented and our own interpretation of that evidence.

That's where, I believe, that devil's advocate can be useful.

I liked the Koestler piece. But sometimes I wonder if the reason that there is so much attention paid to some of these crazy theories is because of the way the evidence was presented in the first place. Especially when it was presented in a "this is black, the end" kind of format. You have to admit that our executive branch is quite fond of absolutes.

Posted by Non-Essential Equipment at June 21, 2007 02:26 AM

non-essential...actually I don't agree that our executive branch is particularly fond of absolutes. For example, the phrase "axis of evil", which is often portrayed as Bush absolutism, is no more black-and-white than were the things said by FDR and Churchill about the Axis powers of their time.

Posted by david foster at June 23, 2007 11:54 PM