I can assure you that there is a connection between the Ancient Greek philosopher and the environmental catastrophe we are facing today. Specifically, I’m only one chapter into Aristotle’s The Art of Rhetoric and already there is truth to his words. Turns out, there are idiots in the world who will believe anything if persuaded – who knew.
The reason I am using climate change as my example is because it is, for reasons equal parts baffling and obvious, a topic seemingly up for debate in mainstream discourse. Something that has been proven so many times, by so many people, and for so long, yet there is a surprising portion of the population that either believes climate change is a hoax or that mankind has not had a significant impact on it. The second reason I mention it is because we (Australia) have an election in little over a week, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to cast your vote based on climate policy.
The quote below is from The Art of Rhetoric:
“Moreover, (2) before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct. Here, then, we must use, as our modes of persuasion and argument, notions possessed by everybody…”
For whatever reason, those who deny the reality of climate change are those who Aristotle claim are unable to be instructed with fact. Rhetoric, therefore, is the tool (or, should I say, art) that people must use in order to convince others that what they are saying is not necessarily true, per se (regardless of the actual truth), but is truer than the arguments and persuasion put forth by the opposing side.
Already there are two issues – not in what Aristotle had to say, but in how people approach these climate change deniers. On one end (the ‘for’ side, given the debate terminology), there are those who will simply resort to insulting people for their lack of knowledge or intellect. While they are not wrong in their statements, recent history tells us that insulting and marginalising people into moulds they aren’t a part of will only force them to fit that mould – the 2016 US election comes to mind. Those who do partake in genuine discourse, however, and provide legitimate sources to try and prove their point, are to be commended.
On the ‘against’ side, there has been an incredibly powerful and successful campaign for decades from the fossil fuel industries and the media/politicians beholden to them. This campaign, bankrolled by millions and millions of dollars, has only one purpose: downplay or deny outright the effect human activity has had on the global climate. “Follow the money”, I have had some people tell me as they explain how I’ve been duped by the globalists and Al Gore on their climate agenda. I would suggest they take their own advice.
And so we end up in a position where Aristotle’s idea of rhetoric is not used to convince people of fact in the absence of instruction, but instead see it warped to take advantage of that absence to propagate falsehoods. We often wonder how so many people can believe the spin of the Liberals (Australia), Republicans (USA), or the Conservatives (UK) when it comes to the climate debate, but that is because we are viewing it from an educated and informed point of view.
Uneducated people, by circumstance or by choice, are more susceptible to propaganda spread by the loudest speakers, which usually tend to be those who are screaming lies. But before you accuse them of being so foolish, consider this quote from The Art of Rhetoric (this is the bit directly before the above quote):
“Rhetoric is useful (1) because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the decisions of judges are not what they ought to be, the defeat must be due to the speakers themselves, and they must be blamed accordingly.”
Now, I don’t entirely agree with that – while the speaker is mostly to blame, even those that “cannot be instructed” should have some form of critical analysis and take the time to research for themselves (preferably from reliable sources, not echo chambers). This brings us back to the point I made above – rather than condemning climate deniers, however worthy of condemnation they are, that anger should instead be directed at the politicians, media organisations, and destructive industries that peddle that misinformation.
When participating in a debate, even in such an informal setting as a social media feed, your ability to communicate effectively and, yes, politely is what will win people over. It is an uphill battle when we are up against three insanely powerful components of a well oiled (pardon the pun) propaganda machine pumped up with dirty money, but it is a fight we cannot afford to lose. Voting for politicians who take the climate disaster seriously and reaching out to others with the intention to educate is the best way forward.
Coincidentally, the parties taking climate change seriously (Greens) or seriously enough to still be plausible (Labor) also wish to increase funding for the public education system – two no longer endangered birds with one renewed Parliament.
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