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E-Pluribus | March 4, 2022
The importance of donor privacy, when affirmation is a disservice, and why "rhetoric" shouldn't be a pejorative term.
A round up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Scott Blackburn: Exposing Donations to Political Causes Can Chill Free Speech
An important though controversial aspect of free speech is how it relates to how one votes with their wallets (think Citizens United). Scott Blackburn at Reason sees recent attempts to expose the identities of donors to various causes as having an unacceptable chilling effect on free expression, zeroing in on the trucker protest in Canada, but also applicable to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 as well.
The right to support causes privately and keep our associations to ourselves is important to a healthy and stable civil society. We cannot rid our communities of people and businesses that disagree with us. If people who object to Black Lives Matter or the Tea Party harass every small business that supports these causes, we would soon live in a world with very few small businesses—or very little free speech. Privacy of donations allows everyone to participate in political causes without sacrificing their ability to work and live in a diverse community.
As the Supreme Court ruled in 2021's Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, "effective advocacy of both public and private points of view, particularly controversial ones, is undeniably enhanced by group association." In that case, the Court upheld the rights of Americans to keep their memberships and financial support for causes and organizations private from state officials unless the government had a legitimate reason to seek the information.
In a world without donor privacy, only the loudest, wealthiest, and most shameless voices are heard, particularly in the internet age. Outrage can be harnessed faster than ever before to target individuals who otherwise would never have cause to see their name trending on Twitter.
Read the whole thing.
Leor Sapir: Misguided Affirmations
Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage: Teenage Girls and the Transgender Craze famously raised awareness of the runaway train of medical gender transitioning among children and the medical and mental health professionals facilitating it. While some progress has been made in the mainstream press in addressing the problem more openly, Leor Sapir at City Journal writes that those efforts still leave much to be desired.
Last November, the Washington Post published an op-ed by Laura Edwards-Leeper, founder of the first American clinic to offer medical transition to minors, and Erica Anderson, a transgender psychologist, titled “The Mental Health Establishment is Failing Trans Kids.” Edwards-Leeper and Anderson raise alarm bells about the “skyrocketing” number of teens seeking hormones and the clinicians who provide them with “sloppy, dangerous care” out of misguided compassion. Though the authors still “enthusiastically support” the affirmative model, they express concern over a political climate that treats any denial of hormones on the basis of a child’s “trans self-diagnosis” as cruel and bigoted.
Edwards-Leeper and Anderson had apparently first contacted the New York Times, but the newspaper deemed their submission not newsworthy. Two of the nation’s top experts and leading advocates of affirmative care believe that hundreds if not thousands of American children are likely being fast-tracked to unnecessary mastectomies and future infertility, but the Times did not think this significant enough to deserve the attention of its readers.
Is the newspaper having second thoughts? In January of this year, it took the unusual step of conceding that a debate exists among medical professionals dedicated to the mental health of gender-distressed youth over the merits of “affirmative” care. This marks a welcome departure from its previous approach. Yet the article continues to make claims that, if not outright false, are highly misleading without the appropriate context and qualifications.
Read it all here.
Erec Smith: Why Rhetoric Still Matters
Uses of the word “rhetoric” today often seems to connote insincerity or at least a one-dimensional presentation of an issue or idea designed more as spin than persuasion. At Discourse Magazine, Erec Smith, a professor of rhetoric at York College, explains why rhetoric is important and would actually help address some of the seemingly intractable problems of our age, such as tribalism, subjective versus objective truth, and the apparent inability of many to see an issue from the opposite point of view. (The article is the first of a two-part series.)
Rhetoric was a primary subject in formal learning from antiquity to the middle of the 19th century, when it was replaced by the study of literature and absorbed into the kind of English department we all recognize today. Exactly why it fell out of favor is a matter of debate, but now that rhetoric has made an academic comeback in the past 50 years as a distinct discipline, we would do well to know what it is and why it is so important.
[ . . . ]
Aristotle provides the first succinct—and probably most cited—definition of rhetoric in Western literature: the ability, in any given situation, to discern the available means of persuasion. By “available means of persuasion,” Aristotle means that different modes of persuasion—references, figurative language, word choice, etc.—will not affect all people the same way. For example, if you are trying to persuade people of the merits of organized team sports, you may speak differently to a staunch individualist than you would to someone more communally minded. When speaking to the individualist, using the saying “There’s no ‘I’ in team” would not help your cause, whereas the phrase could be a selling point for the one who values community. Thus, considering your audience is a key to persuasion.
Aristotle identified three kinds of rhetorical appeals or framings by which persuasion is achieved. The first appeal is logos, most simply understood as the use of reason to make a case. However, logos denotes not only reason, but empirical information, maxims, historical references, testimonials and even fables (as allegories). Also, he advises the reader on how to frame arguments in ready-made templates—what he called topics—to assist people in making and refuting arguments. The second appeal is pathos, the appeal to emotion. Aristotle realized that humans are emotional beings; thus, a rhetor should understand and use emotion when trying to persuade. He even took time to discuss when and where to induce particular emotions for the utmost effect, including sadness and anger. The third appeal, ethos, is the appeal to one’s character—people are more likely to believe someone who is trustworthy and credible. For this reason, Aristotle said that ethos may be the most important of the rhetorical appeals.
Read it all.
Happy Anniversary to the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism!
Some thoughts from Lyell Asher on anti-racism teaching and historical context:
Robby Soave of Reason on YouTube’s bizarre “misinformation” policy:
Finally: “International Cat Federation bans Russian cats from competitions.” Needless to say, the cats do not care.