Saturday, November 26, 2005

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

Recently a lady who I like and respect made the comment the she did not understand how anyone could be a conservative. She was speaking of my political persuasion, and those of some of my friends. It made me think about the political argument that is raging these days, and the nature of the two sides, liberal and conservative.

Listening to the extremes as I do on radio and on television, and reading the political news stories, I get a sense that we as political debaters are motivated by different forces. Liberals seem to be motivated by pathos, or feelings, and Conservatives seem to be motivated by logos, or logic.

This is demonstrated by the arguments put forth by the two sides. Liberals use words like “unjust” or “fair.” (“We should each pay our fair share of taxes.”) Conservatives tend to argue using historical precedents, facts and figures. (“The top 50% of taxpayers pay 96.54% of all income taxes”) While these arguments are made most vigorously when dealing with extreme cases such as the war in Iraq, they are used in various degrees when discussing abortion, gay marriage, and the role of Christianity in American society.

This difference in starting points is the reason the most extreme – read “loudest” – arguments get nowhere in actually persuading the opponents. In fact, it becomes ever more clear that their objective is not to persuade opponents, but to influence the public discussion.

There is a huge problem with this. Aristotle indicated that the best way to persuade is to use not only pathos and logos, but also ethos, or credibility. Those who start with a completely different base of beliefs have no credibility with their opponents. And while Liberals have tried to claim that they are “open-minded” or “fair,” the public debate has become two non-intersecting loops, with neither side really addressing what the other is concerned about.

One problem with the Liberal point is that they ignore history. This is not because they are stupid or ignorant, but because they can not get the pathos, or feeling of historical times. They are therefore left with only what they have experienced in their own lives.

Santayana’s oft-quoted remark about those who are ignorant of history may be glib, but brings up these questions: What did American citizens feel when they saw what Hitler was doing in Europe? How did they feel when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor? How did families feel with the deaths of thousands of their fathers, sons and brothers in the D-Day invasion?

Liberals can not answer these questions, because to do so would evoke the question that is even more important: What did these Americans do?

This is inconvenient for Liberals; because the “greatest generation” went on to do what had to be done. Americans defeated Hitler, defeated Japan, defeated Mussolini and all their followers.

Specifically when discussing the Iraq war, – either one, take your pick – and the battle against Islamic terrorists, the underlying assumption of Liberals seems to be “If we only understood each other better, we could end the violence.”

Conservatives have the underlying assumption of “We do understand them. They want to kill us and remove our way of life from the planet.” The president of Iran bluntly said as much in a recent speech when discussing Israel.

John Lennon sang “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I would say that peace was given a chance, and the Islamic terrorists pretty much put the kibosh on that on September 11, 2001.

Although the United States has traditionally been an ally of Israel -- its proponent and protector whenever necessary -- America has been a leading instrument of peace between Israel and the Muslim world – do we remember Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat shaking hands on American soil? Liberals seem to forget such things. Do we remember that Anwar Sadat was assassinated by his own people for trying to achieve peace? Liberals seem to forget that, also.

At the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes during the one showcase that tried to prove we could put aside our differences and coexist peacefully.

History has shown that Islamic terrorists are not interested in peace. They are interested only in eradicating first Israel, and then America. Liberals are determined to ignore such inconvenient facts. Their historical starting point they is the Vietnam War. Therefore it's the only example they cite in their arguments. (If you don't believe this, Google "Iraq, Vietnam.") Unfortunately, Liberals also selectively choose what current events are important to their argument, like a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. Camp David and Munich are just words on a map to them.

While I sincerely believe that we should “give peace a chance,” I wonder: On that December evening in 198o, if John Lennon had seen the gun that Mark David Chapman held…. what would John have done? Give peace a chance, or defend himself?

As for my friend who can’t understand how anyone could be a Conservative, I offer this ubiquitous quote: “Anyone who is not a Liberal as a youngster has no heart; anyone who is not a Conservative as an adult has no brains.”

I guess I just don't understand how anyone could be a Liberal.


Anonymous said...

Although you say ethos, pathos, and logos are all necessary, the underlying message of your blog seems to be that logic wins over feeling. Logically, it is impossible to gain peace by waging war (unless of course you advocate either wiping the enemy out completely or forcing them to assimilate to our beliefs). Almost continually since the onset of the agricultural revolution, humankind has been at war. Historically, it seems that war is not a good way to aquire peace. But as a liberal, I have to ask the most important question. How does this war make you feel? It seems to be wrong from all three directions.

wordkyle said...

Your comment "it is impossible to gain peace by waging war" is just wrong. (See Japan, Germany, Italy and WWII). You prove the point I made in the column -- you simply ignored history to try to make your argument.

How does the war make me "feel"? Terrible -- but better than I felt on September 11; and I honestly believe that if the US didn't do something, then such attacks would begin to occur more frequently here in America.