Sunday, June 12, 2005

Proof by Factoid

I’ve started a factoids log. The mundane reason is to have a shelf for the newsbytes one needs to know to win arguments. The strategic reason is to see what the collection looks like after a couple of months; a pattern might emerge that could be the basis for a broader polemic.

Gather and learning factoids goes against the grain for me. The American penchant for statistical sound bites still strikes me as odd, even after years here. Arguments are built on and won with numerology: Proof by Factoid.

The other pillar of American rhetoric is Proof by Human Interest – a touching story which purports to illustrate, but attempts to validate, one’s case. Those who can effectively combine these two techniques make the New York Times Best Seller List, vide Malcolm Gladwell.

Continental Europeans, on the other hand, prefer to argue from logic and idealism. Idealism, particularly when not supported by logic, can fail gloriously: examples range from Socialism to the EU Constitution.

In reality, arguments are made everywhere by a combination of these four ingredients: factoid, human interest, logic, and idealism. The recipes vary, leading to local styles which are both the same and different. It’s like bread. There is an infinite variety of breads, but most have four basic components: flour, water, yeast, and shortening.

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