How To Stoke The Flames

Two op-eds popped up on my Facebook feed this morning. Both could widely be viewed as "good articles," and yet underneath the sheen, both are utter garbage. By "garbage," I mean to say that both articles use weak rhetoric to evoke passion in those readers who already agree with the author. It's a form of "preaching to the choir," but it's a particularly smug one because it includes a thin veneer of intellectual credibility, which beguiles its more worthless true nature.

Am I being unfair? Maybe. You can find these articles here and here. Read them for yourself, then come back to this blog post, read below, and tell me whether or not you agree that these pieces fit the general form I am about to describe.

Okay, friends, here's how you write an effective op-ed piece!

  1. Step One: Identify a serious issue that cannot easily be solved.
  2. Step Two: Identify a trivial issue with high signalling value; the more it appeals to readers' vanity, the better.
  3. Step Three: Draw a parallel between the two issues.
  4. Step Four: Use the simple, ego-padding solution to the trivial problem as a means to imply that the serious, difficult problem could just as easily be solved, if people were simply more like the right-thinking readers of the op-ed (and its author, of course).
  5. Step Five: Op-ed goes viral.
In the first article I linked to, the rather serious and difficult problem of Bangladeshi corruption is compared to the dog-whistle issue of Charlie Hebdo. Oh, of course! All we need is more respect and decency, then we can overcome deeply entrenched government corruption! It's so obvious!

In the second article, libertarianism's troubling history of bigotry is compared to... wait for it... GamerGate! See how easy it is to "fix" libertarianism? All we have to do is expunge the nerds! Once again, nerds provide an easy and effective whipping-boy (oops - microaggression! I mean "whipping-person") for the "right-thinkers."

The sad thing here is that I actually agree with both articles. But because the rhetoric in each is so cheap, I'm left wondering if I agree because the points made are good ones, or merely because it's difficult even for critical-thinkers to rise above the tide of mood affiliation.