Sunday, November 06, 2005

Language and Persuasion and Bush's War

Some of the commentors on my recent blogs have begun addressing the phenomenon of persuasive speech. I thought I would jump in with two feet since an interest in that was what led me to look at the language of television advertising. I focused on TV advertising because I was ahead of the curve in owning a video recorder and felt that I could be talking about things that others were not. Some questioned using TV as the primary source of data on the grounds that it is a visual medium, where language is of secondary importance, but to say that would be as wrong as saying that dramatic plays or movies are visual phenomea in which what is said is of secondary importance. In fact, TV advertising is doubly linguistic in nature because we have to deal with dual visual inputs -- pictures and language in the form of writing -- as well as dual audio imputs, speaking and music, which can include singing. Right now I can't think of an ad that has written language, speaking, and singing all at the same time but it has surely happened. So we get language in both channels, visual and auditory. Obviously, advertisers exploit this to the hilt, or, at least, they did back in the days I did my research by overloading us in the hopes we wouldn't notice the small print. Not much has changed.

Persuasive speech or writing consists of communication with the intent of reinforcing beliefs, changing beliefs, or adding new beliefs. Ads for specific deodorants are surely designed to cause users of that deodorant to stick with it, as well as getting some to change from another brand to the one being promoted. But there was a time before people started using them that such ads were intended to convince nonusers that if they didn't use them they would stink and therefore drive their friends away. Deeply implanted in my brain is a pair of sentences I got from ads for Dial soap, a deodorant soap, "Aren't you glad you use Dial? Don't you wish everyone did?" As a site for the Dial Corporation notes, in 1953 Dial became the leading anti-bacterial soap partially because of this line. This ad pissed me off back then which is probably why I remember it. Coincidentally, when I last ran out of bar soap, I looked in our cabinent and found a bar of Dial going unused (probably for years) and I am using it now. I smell as sweet as a spring flower. In a nutshell we can say that the purpose of persuasive communication is to affect belief formation whether or not what is communicated is true.

Purely informative communication can have these same three effects but that is not the intent of the informer. A professor says what he or she says in an effort to provide truthful information to students and the effect of that can be to reinforce some student beliefs, to change some student beliefs, and to cause some students to acquire some new beliefs. Advertisers will tell you that their intent is to inform but don't believe it for a minute. Their intent is to get you to purchase the products and services provided and that will often be inconsistent with telling the truth. I am not naive enough to think that professors don't sometimes engage in persuasive communications as well but I would hope that they did stick to saying truthful things.

While we are on the subject of being truthful, which, of course, was the topic of the last blog, let me note that a professor is obligated not just to provide truthful information but in fact to provide all of the relevant truthful information students are in a position to understand. I mean this to cause you to think of the courtoom oath that the person being sworn in promises to provde "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." We can be absolutely sure that advertisers would never tell us the whole truth, assuming that they tell us the truth at all, were they not forced to.

The manufacturers of Listerine once claimed that it killed the "dandruff germ." The Listerine people weren't the only ones that believed in a dandruff germ. Check out Newbro's Herpicide. Listerine moved on to be our first line of defense against cold germs. "Wet Feet? LOOK OUT FOR A COLD--Gargle with LISTERINE QUICK," a print bit which I got from a 1943 study. It took years for the FTC to force the company making this nasty tasting stuff to cease and desist and to run corrective ads. What they did was use this disclaimer, "While Listerine will not help prevent colds or sore thrats or lessen their severity, Listerine's strong formula keeps your breath clean for hours--it kills the germs that can cause bad breath." The problem with this is that they make no admission that they had lied for decades about killing cold germs. They moved on to the germs that can cause bad breath and have added the germs that cause gingivitis. Based on their labels, they seem finally to have a winner after their long trek though a fantasy world full of dred germs. What we can be sure of is that this company wasn't telling the whole truth, assuming they were telling any part of it during the dandruff germ and cold germ days.

Now, let us move on to George Bush and his administration. We know that one member of his administration has been indicted for lying to the FBI and to a federal Grand Jury and the prosecutor isn't done with them -- Karl Rove seems to be "Offical A" and he is still on the hot seat. But I am concerned about worse lies than outing a CIA agent, bad as that is, and that is the Administration's failing to the tell "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about such issues as Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction, Iraq's alleged dealings with Niger to acquire nuclear materials, and alleged intimate connections between Iraq and Al Queda (one of the fruits, I fear, of the use of torture). Read this drawn from this morning's Columbus Dispatch, which originated asa NY Times column by Douglas Jehl.

A high al-Qaida official in U.S. custody was identified as a likely fabricator months before the Bush administration began to use his statements as the foundation for its claims that Iraq trained al-Qaida members to use biological and chemical weapons, according to newly declassified portions of a Defense Intelligence Agency document.

The document, an intelligence report from February 2002, said it was probable that the prisoner, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, "was intentionally misleading the debriefers" in making claims about Iraqi support for al-Qaida’s work with illicit weapons.

There are others credited with helping out the Bush war machine by such fabrications including a source called, quite appropriately, "Curveball."

Among others, an Iraqi exile whose code name was Curveball was the primary source for what proved to be false information about Iraq and mobile biological-weapons labs. And U.S. military officials cultivated ties with Ahmad Chalabi — the head of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group — who has been accused of feeding the Pentagon misleading information in urging war.
Did the Bush administration lie to the American people by citing such sources as "credible" or was it just guilty of failing to tell the American people the whole truth?

There is no question that the Bush Administration, including Bush, Cheney, Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Rumsfield, and Wolfowitz deliberately deceived the American people -- only the most partisan brain dead Bush supporters could believe otherwise. I, for one, believe that anyone failing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the American people to get them to support a war that has led to the death of over 2,000 American citizens and to injuries to many thousands ofAmerican troops and to the deaths and injuries inflicted on the many thousands of noncombatant Iraqis who got in the way of our weapons, is guilty of a war crime and should be prosecuted and that includes not just overt lying but also failing to tell the whole trugh which would have included informaiton available to the Administration from CIA reports questioning some of the "intelligence" they were relying on, Wilson's report on Niger, and dealing with arguments any college student could have constructed regarding what might go wrong when a predominently Christian and Jewish nation invades a Muslim one. We are now struggling with the aftermath of the initial hostilities, which is largely due to the fact that the Bush administration chose a rosy "best case" scenario for the aftermath of the war rather than the totally predictable, looting, the need to prepare to rehabilitate an infrastructure that was destroyed by Saddam's neglect and the war, and a totally predictable insurgency predicated on the fact that many Muslims would see us as engaged in a religiously motivated war, by the fact that the Sunnis who benefited from Saddam's rule had no alternative but to fight. These Sunnis had to know that they were the odd Iraqis out in a "new Iraq." I didn't actually claim above that Bush is guilty of a war crime but I hope I have caused you to think about the question. Which is to say that this was an effort to use language to persuade.

Tweet This!


Blogger The MetaKong said...

Well said.

3:38 PM

Blogger IbaDaiRon said...

Hear, hear!

5:25 AM

Blogger Mimi said...

What drives me batty are the people--most of those I know--who mindlessly accepted, supported, and even championed war. What in the WORLD could they have been thinking? It may come down to the idea of bowing to "authority" or maybe most people are simply stupid. What do you think?

6:11 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

The Bush Administration cynically exploited fears generated by the 9/11 attack to get people to support the war. During the run up to the war, a very large percentage of people falsely believed that Iraq had something to do with it. You can thank the Bush's brainwashing team for that.

After we have gone to war the American people seem nearly incapable of distinguishing supporting the troops from supporting the President. I believe we have finally reached the point that the people are making that distinction. What it takes -- true of Vietnam and Iraq -- is the people beginning to see that our people are dying for a losing cause. No one wants to be the last person to die in a war, especially one as fraudulent as this one, and no one wants to be the parent or wife/husband or child ro friend of the last person to die.

8:08 AM

Blogger Tracy Lynn said...

Well said and well reasoned.

9:06 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

J-G I've been trying to get to my site to apologize for picking on you. You turned of your comments, tho. I don't like to use L.guys site to have a private conversation. It was rotten of me to bait you. My conscience is nagging at me.

3:17 PM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:23 PM

Blogger Mrs. Geezerette said...

|>t, you can email your apology to Jennifer. Just go to her profile where you will find her email link.

Frida, you may have something there. Look what happened to our Japenese American citizens during WWII under FDR.

Language Guy, I remember that Dial soap commercial. Admitting so dates me. As to truth, my mother always said this, "Politicans! They are nothing but a bunch of liars." That sounds to me like the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (I jest somewhat.)

5:12 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Ya know I never did get political w/you. I hate politics worse then religion. It is interesting to me that you are so involved in 2 illogical concepts? religion, spiritual. & politics, emotional.

9:07 PM

Blogger Dusty said...

My Grandmother would agree that this country can be a gracious host. It was gracious enough to take her from her heathen parents because they were INDIAN, then gracious enough to help her forget how to speak her tribes language and when she was assimilated they were gracious enough to place her up to be adopted by a WASP family that displayed American characteristics.

My Taiwanese Aunt would agree that we can be gracious. She was born in a Japanese Internment camp.

Do you know how many people have died in Guantanamo Bay? No? That's the point, nobody does.

As for all of them being terrorist. I would suggest you read ANYTHING Amnesty International has written about it.
Try this one.


Ask your Grandmother's friend, did Hitler look like a monster in the beginning?

(Here's an interesting fact, in post war Germany (1923) the Deutschemark had inflated to 130,000 million marks to an American dollar.)

9:13 PM

Blogger Dusty said...

Sorry for being so late... Had to work.

My Grandmother born in July 18, 1914- Was born of the Blackfoot tribe and she had 8 children. (Fun fact, in 1920 her adopted mother used the brand new right, the ability to voted, Democratic, to anger her huband.)
My father was the youngest of the 8.
My mother was the oldest of 6. One of her 6 married a female from Taiwan who was born in America in 1944 in a Japanese Internment camp because her family happened to be oriental. They left the country never looking back in 1947 until she met an American man. (1973)

WWI started in July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia after it fails to meet the conditions of an ultimatum it set on July 23 following the Sarajevo assassination of Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria. It ended with the Armistice of November 11, 1918. But June 28, 1919 it was finished officially with the Treaty of Versailles which required that Germany claim full responsibility for causing the war, and pay war reparations to the allies. Germany also lost territory to many surrounding countries, had its military forces severely limited and was stripped of its overseas and African colonies.

Hitler came in somewhere between here.

WWII started on September 1, 1939.

In 1923 French and Belgian troops invaded the Ruhr, the most important industrial region. The Germans responded with a policy of passive resistance. They refused to have anything to do with the French, especially work. Germany was already broke, with reparations to pay, and now they had lost some of their most important income. The German government did not have enough money to pay for the cost of the resistance in the Ruhr, so they printed more. (Like writing checks when you have no money in the bank)
By November of 1923, the Deutschemark had inflated to one hundred and thirty thousand million marks to one American dollar while in 1922 it was four hundred marks to an American dollar.

Green Peace was fined $7000 dollars for damage to the Indonesian reef.

Amnesty International brought legal cases brought against media professionals highlight continuing flaws in the Indonesian legal system and indicate disturbing attempts to restrict fundamental rights to freedom of expression and opinion and the public’s right to access to information.

My point to all this is we can’t sit back and say we are the good guys no matter what. To be a gracious host, you need translators at checkpoints. To know the culture and respect it because WE are a FOREIGN GUEST in their country. We aren’t even the host. We have a habit, confusing might and right.

12:42 PM

Blogger Dusty said...

BTW The end of WWI we made the Germans sign the Treaty of Versailles stated that Germany had to responsibility for causing the war, and pay reparations to the allies, lose their territory to the surrounding countries, limit military forces and give up its overseas and African colonies. This is why they were so broke.

12:52 PM

Blogger Lisa Jean said...

Did you know that you're my linguistically inclined hero?
Well, you are

6:42 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

You know, Frida, I never understood it, untill you explained it.

7:02 PM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

I'm zipp'n the lip & throwing away the key.
L.Guy, don't yell at me, this time.

8:10 PM

Blogger Dusty said...

Now we know its history but why is it a legal back hole? Why when we are pushed to release other nation’s citizens do we give the blanket answer that it isn’t part of our country? Castro can’t even tour this facility.

You might have misunderstood my intentions. I have no problem with prisons. I do have a problem with detainees. These are people who are not charged with a crime. They may or may not be a hazard to themselves and others. I don’t like the idea the government doesn’t have to have a trial. They have no legal rights. You think terrorists are scary but that word has become synonyms with the boogey man. The real terror is the fact our government can take anyone and drop them into the black hole without thinking of the ramifications.

If we are diving up prisoners like a soccer team, I want the two Australian, six UK nationals, the 8 remaining children under 16 and the religious leaders who they still have not determined if they pose a threat but they have been in the prison for four years. I know all of my neighbors, they come over at midnight to coffee. The joke and tell stories till about one in the morning. I think these people would make an excellent addition. The bawdy jokes might embarrass some of the religious cast but they would learn to love the people behind the jokes.

3:31 AM

Blogger Dusty said...

The hypothetical scenario, as a regular soldier, I don’t know the language. (Honestly, all I can say in Arabic is f**k you and ice cream.) This has been a problem, which we are not working to correct. Interrogation would be useless. You would bind them, call for an interpreter and hope the information isn’t time sensitive.

Why would you even pose this question? We are talking about people who are detained not being a soldier. The field is a very different world. Our troops are out manned, haven’t been given the resources such as language skills and the equipment is faulty. They haven’t been taught the customs. I will never speak against what they have to do to survive.

I do rail against the government who has people in detention that no longer has information vital to any of the progress being made. It is a place to forget people, the human area 51.

3:53 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

j-g a cunundrum; I would of course access the situation, then try persuation(you never know, maybe he was drafted & wants to come over to the right side) if that didn't work I'd try manipulation(not all arabs are crafty & wise, I surmise) Coercion? hmm, let me look it up(if i've learned one thing one this site it's to look up the word)
1.to restrain by force
2.to compel;to consrain
3.to effect by force;enforce
I'm assumming 3 is the one. How to coerce? First I'd try tickling him untill he begged for mercy & cried unkle.
My point is j-g, mabe there are more options then holding a gun to someones head or beating them up.

9:37 AM

Blogger Maureen said...

Getting back to the issue of incomplete truths or outright lies in advertising, this is probably as old as advertising itself. (Well, maybe not quite - check out the 2000-Year-Old Man's riff on advertising.)

Recognizing and skewering such "truth impairment" isn't new, either. WS Gilbert, of Gilbert & Sullivan fame, has a character in The Gondoliers (premiered 1889), the Duke of Plaza-Toro, who has fallen on hard times. To improve his financial situation, he incorporates himself and in Small Titles and Orders he and his Duchess explain their improved cashflow. Among other things, they lend themselves and the distinction of their titles to social climbers and to products which they may or may not use and service providers they may or may not frequent ("and say that they make for the Duchess").

Plus ca change...

11:38 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

What the hell are you talking about?

11:42 AM

Blogger Maureen said...

I was commenting on the section of Language Guy's original post (the comments have, of course, taken a different direction) in which he discussed the paucity of "truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth" in advertising. Nothing new under the sun, at least in that respect.

11:56 AM

Blogger concerned citizen said...

Yeah, that happens(I mean the disscusion takes diff. directions) Sorry, the j-g person is making me testy. Acually we are all hung up on the new topic of Intelligent Design. Arrrgh

1:47 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could never have said this better myself without using profanity. I wish you could write my critical thinking and language essay that I'm researching right now.

I agree with everything you said, and admire how you said it.

4:15 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home