american society, ruminations

Length and Strength

If you’ll indulge me, I’m going to try something. I’ll present the same argument three different ways. I hope that by the end, you’ll understand why.

First

The length of an argument is directly proportional to its strength.

Second

Generally, the length of an argument is proportional to it’s strength. Barring excessively and pointlessly wordy arguments, five words are much less likely to convince than even fifty. Surely five words on taxation can energize those who already agree with you on the topic, but it’s much less likely to convince those that oppose you than is a thoroughly reasoned 500 words. There’s no denying that some may never be fully convinced, but they’re more likely to understand if they hear a thorough explanation than if they hear a sound bite.

Third

I have this idea that the length of an argument is, generally speaking, directly proportional to it’s strength. That is: a long argument is far more likely to succeed in actually convincing someone to change their opinion than a short one. Now, having said that, I should add that not all arguments that are long will be strong. A long and rambling argument is a long and rambling argument. But given a roughly constant rhetorical strength and skill, a short quip is likely to leave the opposition in opposition.

Consider: “A woman has a right to privacy.” If you’re for a woman’s “right to choose” you’re probably convinced that that’s a good argument. But you won’t convince anyone standing outside an abortion clinic with a sign by such an argument. You may succeed, however, if you gave them a longer explanation about how you feel that a woman should be guaranteed a safe medical procedure when she feels it is necessary. And that you also hope that it’s rarely necessary. Surely a sudden conversion is unlikely, but I find it hard to believe that it wouldn’t be more likely.

So too with the argument for “higher taxes,” which the political left in most countries desires. Couched in those terms, it turns off everyone but the most ardent supporters. But expanded to explain all the good that those taxes would empower the government to do on behalf of its citizen, people would become more likely to accept the argument. Soon, they too might take to the streets shouting “higher taxes.” Again, they’re not likely to convince many that way, but they’ll learn.

Much of people dissatisfaction with the “sound biting” or all cultural and political arguments is because they understand the implicit logic of the relationship between length and strength. They understand that you’re much less likely to convince a person in a 30-second television commercial than in a 30-minute discussion. I think that implicit understanding should not only be illuminated, but expanded so that everyone will finally come to understand the argument.

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