Perversity – Futility – Jeopardy

I found this comment rummaging through blogs:

This is one of three standard rhetorical tactics identified by the great economist Albert O. Hirschman in his book, The Rhetoric of Reaction (1991). Hirschman uses examples from the last 200 years up to the present times.

The argument ALWAYS goes this way: We can’t do “X,” because: (1) of Perversity: “The change will only exacerbate the problem we are trying to solve.” (2) of Futility: “The change will achieve nothing, because it fails to acknowledge incontrovertible political, social or economic laws.” (3) of Jeopardy: “The change will threaten or destroy some cherished previous accomplishment, such as freedom or democracy.”

Anyone involved in selling policy should read this book. It is remarkable and significant how many comments in the media, and in Mark’s comments sections here, deploy primarily these rhetorical tactics, and only secondarily adduce evidence which appears to be reasonable, although it is often skewed and faulty.

Interesting. I can see where perversity, futility, and jeopardy can be powerful rhetorical tools – but that doesn’t change the underlying reality. It seems to me that any policy should be tested against these three perils. Evidence and logic should prevail, but I like the checklist of perversity, futility, and jeopardy.


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