“Not Pollan’s Technique”

One debates the other side in a rational manner until pushed into a corner. Then one simply drops the argument and slips away, pretending that one has not fallen short of reason but instead transcended it. The irreconcilability of one’s belief with reason is then held up as a great mystery, the humble readiness to live with which puts one above lesser minds and their cheap certainties.

— B. R. Myers

I came across the above quote while reading Jonathon Safran Foer’s book “Eating Animals”. It is from a review of Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”. It refers to a common criticism of Pollan, who after having gathered many facts that point toward adopting a vegan diet simply drops reason and pretends that the argument he just inadvertently made does not exist. If you don’t accept that then you are just missing something between the lines.

I first encountered this type of rhetorical dodge when I was in college. I had a job with many politically enthusiastic co-workers. Having been a philosophy major at the time I asked people a lot of questions about their beliefs. Usually such an activity makes a person well liked. Being interested in what someone thinks has the effect of mild flattery in most situations. What I didn’t realize at the time was that asking too many follow up questions has the reverse effect. That is, asking people how their points are supported by the facts and asking them why alternative explanations wouldn’t fit their views. That doesn’t have the effect of flattering people, for most people it is received a challenge. I’m not on a high horse. I roll that way too.

What I found interesting was at some point in asking people why they thought what they though they would crinkle up their faces and tell that I just didn’t get it. They were privy to some kind of understanding that could not be verbalized.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized that they lost the “argument”. Only that their emotional attachment to their views would not let them see it or admit it. I also think many intelligent people can’t distinguish between “feeling” right and “being” right in some situations.

It is a rare person who can say on the spot that they have been introduced to new information or arguments that they don’t have an answer for and that they are simply not ready to move in another direction yet. Myself included.

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4 thoughts on ““Not Pollan’s Technique””

  1. “If you don’t agree with my point, you must be too stupid to understand it.”

    Hmm…where else have we heard *that* before? 😉

  2. There are several people we both are acquainted with who had that habit. I don’t think the good doctor is one of them. I haven’t seem him do that. I think he thinks people disagree with him because the are immoral.

  3. I thought for sure I’d seen him do it, but I can’t seem to find it right now. Maybe it was on one of the forums that blew up after I picked a fight with him.

  4. The “you don’t agree with me, you just don’t understand” dodge, IMHO, is used by people who don’t have much else. The good Doctor is fast on his verbal feat and he has a whole arsenal of rhetorical dodges to choose from.

    Interestingly, and this may be only my experience, I’ve had this dodge used on me by mostly people on the left. Dumb right wingers use the “you’re a BAD MAN”. Smarter right wingers will just write you off as someone wanting a free ride/socialist/someone who wants to take their money.

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