Aristotle Thinks Your Argument is Invalid

Have you ever been in a public bathroom stall, sitting there minding your own business, when someone in a stall next to you starts talking? You’re convinced that they’re either crazy or desperate for attention in the most inconvenient and inappropriate of contexts. Unsure of what to say, you offer polite mumblings of assent to their strange questions and oddly phrased commentary. Hurriedly, you finish your personal business in order to exit the awkward conversation as quickly as possible only to discover that your stall-neighbor is also exiting. You wash your hands silently, trying hard not to make eye contact with this person, who is continuing to talk. It is at that point you notice your bathroom friend is holding a cell phone. Embarrassed, you realize you were never involved. A conversation was taking place, but you weren’t in it. Welcome to the internet, where people are talking but no one is actually listening.

Let’s face it: The internet is a cesspool. A false sense of anonymity combined with an overly easy medium for spouting one’s opinions (no matter how ridiculous they may be, as this blog demonstrates) has created an atmosphere of something I call fuckery. My favorite line from Shakespeare is “What fuckery be this?” (Insert totally credible citation here.) There is always some fuckery to be read on the internet and for some reason I can’t fathom, I waste a lot of time reading that stuff. No one is even talking to me.

Actually, I’m not sure who some of these internet writers are talking to. It seems they are attempting to craft the perfectly phrased persuasion in order to convince someone of something. But what? Will the right words left on the comments page of a random news article about Indiana steer sinners away from their chosen sin-filled lifestyle? Is someone talking to me? It’s hard to know if I’m the audience when a self-identified straight, white Christian man presents his logical and well-developed argument at the bottom of a BuzzFeed post about Ted Cruz, explaining how my desire for equal rights is squashing his personal liberties, while using words like “faggot” and “feminazi.” Maybe his audience would become clearer if he threw in the N-word for good measure. Also, the frequent use of “libtard” always makes me receptive to viewpoints other than my own.

Call me a cynic, but these don’t seem like effective communication strategies. Seriously, who is the audience for this argument? This is a question I ask my freshman composition students when they begin writing a paper. If your audience is either ‘people who will never be convinced no matter how much “evidence” you present’ then I put it to you that you are wasting your breath. Or bandwidth, which is much more valuable. Conversely, if your audience is ‘people who will believe everything you say despite your lack of any credible evidence at all’ then the question is, what’s the point of crafting a good argument? That’s called preaching to the choir. Can I get an Amen?

This issue of audience isn’t my idea. I am using Aristotle’s model for good rhetoric—the key features of argumentation are audience, purpose, and context. (Admittedly, I’ve taken a few liberties with my paraphrasing.) If you don’t have an audience willing to hear you out, you can’t achieve your purpose. Considering part of the context I’m discussing here is the doggone comments section of a random internet post, well, that’s sort of significant. I’m going out on a limb here and suggest that the internet isn’t the best place to convince the opposition of your argument’s validity. I think Aristotle will back me up on this.

In summation, I don’t think the internet pundits are talking to me so I’m going to look at cat pictures for the next twelve hours because I think the kittens actually are.