Arguing doesn’t always mean getting angry. Sometimes it means persuading, trying to make a civilized attempt to convince others of a viewpoint. That’s what Jay Heinrichs has in mind in his Thank You for Arguing, subtitled, What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.
breezy and humorous book does something very remarkable. It encourages the lost art of respectful efforts to convince in an age when yelling, insulting and lying are taken for granted in public discourse. But there’s more. Heinrichs walks us through the classic strategies of rhetoric from Cicero to Belushi.
We expect him to cover the canons of logic, and he does. But he also explains appropriate appeals to emotion, how to communicate objectivity, the power of using the future tense, and how to tune in to your audience.
The humor often comes in his one-liners, in stories he tells about how this expert keeps losing arguments to his wife and children, and in unexpected examples from pop culture and politics.
also offers memorable names to classic strategies: The Mikey-likes-it! Argument for a fortiori. The Chanticleer fallacy rather than post hoc ergo propter hoc. The Eddie Haskell Ploy (making a concession of an inevitable point against you look like a willing sacrifice). He even promotes the virtues of chiasms (“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”). So what is not to love here!
The problem of course is that those with bad intentions can use these same techniques for selfish or destructive purposes. While Heinrichs gives a nod to this problem, he doesn’t really resolve the dilemma. Heinrichs is an arms dealer selling weapons to both sides of a conflict.
Nonetheless, assuming the virtue and good will of all who read this review (and since the book clearly encourages civil discourse), I commend these time-test tips whether you are talking to others at work, at home, at a public hearing, or at a tailgate party.