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One-Sided and Two-Sided Arguments

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Mistaking "Quick and Dirty" Soundbites for Argument


And What Does That Really Mean?


California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 15, 2008
Latest Update: June 15, 2008

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When and How to Use One-Sided and Two-Sided Arguments

This issue came up in the primaries with Clinton's emphasis on her appeal to the "working classes." And it come up again in McCain's town hall meeting preference. It's was studied formally in the American Soldier, by the first American sociologists, who were enabled to study large groups because they were required to participate: they were in the armed services in World War II. A captive research group - and the beginnings of American sociology.

One-sided arguments would favor McCain's choice of town forums, two-sided arguments would favor Obama's more intellectual approach. But research would classify the two approaches as appealing to those with less education and more education respectively. From the American Soldier, way back in World War II. And the research comes from the very context in which McCain is opposing Obama - the Iraqi war.

  • Introduction

    Essay and explanation of concepts, along with link to more contextual materials.

  • Article backup with commentary and highlights by jeanne, for reference when studying this issue.


    • Discussion Questions

      1. Why are two-sided arguments a problem when persuasion must be quick and dirty?

        Consider time limitations, both in time the persuader has to convince the audience, and in the audience's attention span or willingness to listen. In both of these instances, quick and dirty appeals. You can't take the time to get into a detailed debate. That was the issue in the American Soldier. GIs in Europe had to be convinced to go back into battle in the Pacific after they had just won the war in Europe. If we took too long to convince them, their emotional need to get away from the killing fields they had just experienced and get home to their families would make convincing them even harder.

        What do we mean by "dirty?" When pressed by time and conflicting needs, you don't want to get side-tracked by ambiguity and different interpretations. So you settle for, in this very short term, the reasoning I give you in this sound bite is THE reasoning. You want to hold onto the FOCUS. No going down other paths. Stay focussed on the one we need you to adopt. That's not good debate argument. BUT IT IS good persuasion when you're limited to sound bits.

        But there is one other consideration. If your audience is well enough educated to recognize the "dirty" aspect of your sound bite, then you can't ignore the complexity and ambiguity without losing their trust and belief in your intelligence. So "quick and dirty" works better with a less sophisticated audience with less education and argument experience. Two-sided argument works better with the more sophisticated, well-educated audience. That's really the difference with "working class voters" and "elite voters." Not class, not intelligence, but how much experience they have had with the "dinner table" arguments that do explore the many nuances of every complex issue.

    • References:


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