Rhetorical Martial Arts: How to keep your cool, counter attacks, and advance you position in the war of words (c) Futurescapes 21C All Rights Reserved 2019
Tactic #8: Red Herring
Posted March 1, 2019, rev. March 2.
In Part A, I outlined a rationale for a course in Rhetorical Martial Arts (c) and seven of the most common logical fallacies employed by political tacticians including our opponents in the culture war. They are: Ad hominem; Smears, slur; Lies, deception; Conflation; Contortion; Straw man; and Psychological projection.
Note: Over the course of the last month and a half, I drafted Part B covering the next eight most common logical fallacies. To my chagrin, it looks like the piece accidentally went down the edit hole. Today, I begin again with a look at the first of these additional eight popular rhetorical tactics.
Picture a castle or fortress under bombardment by an attacker. Over time, as the catapult reigns down tons of rock, it begins to open up breaks in the fortress wall. Conservatives and common sense Canadians have been under daily bombardment in the war of words for decades. Their opponent is very clear regarding the intended effect on resisters and their positions. It is to: disparage, degrade, defame, demean, debase, deflect, defuse, damage, destroy, distort, distract, discredit, dissemble, deflate, displace and disperse.
8.0 Red Herring
In a debating context, a red herring is introduced by one party in order to throw an opponent off course and deflect audience attention, thus blunting the impact of the latter's argument. The red herring may be appealing, but is, nonetheless, an irrelevant issue. According to one source, the history of the term relates to the use of fish in training tracking dogs, wherein a puppy's ability to track a fox or badger was tested by dragging a herring across the trail. If the puppy got distracted or confused by the scent of the herring, it clearly required more training. (1)
It's a bit like the magician or illusionist who uses a series of flourishes with his left hand in to distract the audience's attention from his manipulation of a prop with his right hand. Culture war combatants often employ tactics similar to those of magicians as deception is central to their success. Essentially however, use of the red herring ploy is an attempt to seize control and elevate a particular agenda or initiative over that of an opponent. Earlier this year, Trump wanted to talk about funding for a southern border wall. Democrats countered with an attempt to shift the focus of public attention to the DREAM Act (development, education and relief for alien minors) and affected youth, referred to as DREAMers. (2)
The more recent Venezuelan crisis has surfaced a red herring or two. A favourite used by Neocon regime change supporters is "socialism." We're supposed to consent to the Washington regime change operation being conducted against Venezuela presumably because socialism is bad. And presumably Washington is concerned with helping the oppressed and starving people of Venezuela achieve a better life. (If you believe that, then you haven't learned the lessons of Iraq, Libya and Syria very well). The issue isn't the virtues or failures of socialism. The central issue is the right of a sovereignty nation to manage its own affairs without the threat of outside intervention.
I suggest that the more emotion-laden the "distracter" is, the more effective a red herring it is likely to be. You might be in the midst of an intense debate regarding the problems inherent in Trudeau's plan to significantly boost the number of immigrants allowed annually into Canada. You're laying out the points one by one -- our over-burdened social services infrastructure (education, health care,) a crisis level lack of housing and new demands on law enforcement, and so forth. Your opponent interjects, "But you just can't ignore all those people Trump is turning away. That's inhumane." You pause for a second.
It's juicy and its tempting, but you sniff a red herring. If you go for the juicy fish, you know that you will lose your focus and any chance of securing agreement regarding your point. You also will have allowed your opponent to divert the attention of your audience. You continue, "As I was saying, there are several indicators telling us that Canada lacks sufficient infrastructure capacity for increased numbers of immigrants at this time. And the real problem is that Mr. Trudeau hasn't yet been willing to talk to Canadians openly about it." Congratulations. You have averted the trap of the red herring.
If you opponent suddenly resorts to the standard Social Justice Warrior insult like "racist," "anti-immigrant," or "xenophobe," it tells you something. First, it tells you that you have hit a nerve, and your opponent has no response to your argument. And, second, it is clear that your opponent is looking for an exit and a way to end the conversation. See Part A, Number 6. "The Smear or slur."
On Friday, March 1, the Liberal government came under intensive media attention regarding it's handling of alleged corruption on the part of the Montreal engineering firm, SNC Lavalin. (3) (4) The discomfort of government became obvious. I predict that the demand for red herring is about to increase.
Update March 4: Trudeau has selected his herring. See March 3, 201 Globe and Mail: Trudeau will attempt to change the channel on SNC-Lavalin, focus on climate plan. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-trudeau-to-change-channel-from-snc-lavalin-focus-on-climate-plan/
1. Red Herring; Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_herring
2. Trump seeks 25 billion for border wall, offers 'Dreamer' citizenship, Reuters, January 24, 2019 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-whitehouse-idUSKBN1FD2UU
3. Christie Blanchford: Wednesday sounded and felt like the death knell for the Conservative Government, National Post, February 27, 2019 https://nationalpost.com/opinion/christie-blatchford-today-sounded-and-felt-like-a-death-knell-for-the-liberal-government
4. Rex Murphy: The Trudeau virtuecrats come tumbling down, The National Post, March 1, 2019, https://nationalpost.com/opinion/rex-murphy-the-trudeau-virtuecrats-come-tumbling-down
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