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Kelvin Quintyne 2014

FOUN1002 Language: Argument

Common Techniques in Religious and Political Persuasion


Here are my short notes on the earlier given list of common persuasive techniques (some of
which are also informal fallacies, indicated by an asterisk) found in religious and/or political
persuasion compiled by Korah Belgrave. For more information on informal fallacies please check
Part 2 of With Good Reason by S. Morris Engel.

Since we have already discussed the use of the following techniques when we analysed
persuasion in advertising, I will not elaborate on them:
Repetition
Association and suggestion
Slogans
Appeal to emotion
Assertion

Identifying with the audience


Making people feel like the speaker/writer understands their position/circumstances/feelings can
be an effective persuasive technique as people like to feel understood. A listener/reader may not
be as receptive to a message if the sender seems to have little in common with them on what they
deem to be important.

Flattery
Since people like to feel good about themselves, telling people what they would like to hear
about themselves can sometimes be an effective way of ensuring a receptive audience.

Inoculation
Similar to the principle use in medicine, inoculation in persuasion works by introducing the
audience to a position the speaker/writer is opposing in a way that would cause the audience to
reject it. This is supposed to prevent the listener from entertaining the merits of that opposing
position should it be presented as reasonable by someone in support of it. For a more concrete
everyday example of inoculation, consider how most people in Western countries are taught to
view issues such as arranged marriages, communism and one-party systems of government. Also
consider how members of particular religious groups are taught to view the doctrines of other
religious groups.

Mixing good points with bad points


Sometimes when someone makes poorly substantiated or unsubstantiated claims, the person may
try to disguise the weakness of their arguments by mixing them among other claims which are
well supported and would be deemed reasonable by the target audience. It is hoped that the
audience would accept all of what is presented by paying most attention to the good points and
not be too critical, if at all critical, about the weaker points.
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Pinpointing the enemy


This is a powerful propaganda technique in which someone or some people are identified
explicitly as some sort of danger or threat to the target audience. It is often used in wartime but is
not limited to it. One recent example is the portrayal of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida in
Western media.

Contrast
Emphasizing differences rather than similarities between two positions is an effective
polarization technique.

Slippery slope
A slippery slope argument presents a prediction of a sequence of undesirable outcomes resulting
from a single action without offering a logical link between the cause and stated effects. To
identify this fallacy, one needs to evaluate the presumptions being made on the link between the
cause and what is being predicted.

Carrot and stick


The offer of a reward or some pleasure (a carrot) to the audience for some desired action along
with some punishment or pain (a stick) for noncompliance is a common strategy in religious and
political persuasion. This two-pronged tactic is exemplified in the promise of heaven or hell
depending on one's conformance to God's laws in Christianity, or promises of prosperity if on
votes for a particular political party and desolation if one votes for a rival political party.

Appeal to authority
Appealing to a source that has some prestige in the minds of the audience or to someone who has
expert knowledge is an effective way to establish one's own credibility. However, appealing to
authority does not by itself prove anything. For example, the authority of deities and sacred texts
are respected only by those who believe in them, and while it makes sense to cite a physics
expert's discussion on physics, whatever the expert says is not valid simply because he/she is an
expert: the physicist needs to provide evidence and sound reasoning in his/her discussion to be
taken seriously by a critical audience.

Persuasive Strategies Particularly Common in Political Persuasion


Below is a list additional persuasive techniques commonly found in political persuasion.

Personal appeal
Some people are more persuasive because of certain attractive qualities they possess (eg. physical
attractiveness, charisma).

Oversimplified cause
Sometimes a phenomenon may have multiple causes, but only one of the causes is credited to
serve the persuaders purpose. This oversimplification is often aimed at an uncritical audience.
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Rumour mongering
In marketing word-of-mouth advertising is known to be a powerful strategy because people are
often more trusting of the testimonies of people that they know. Spreading rumours in a similar
way can be an effective strategy in politics as one can make unverified claims which may at
times be inappropriate or even unlawful to declare in a public forum. It plants ideas in the
audiences minds which uncritical minds may believe if they hear the claim from someone they
respect.

Use of technical data


Technical data, such as statistics, is often useful to increase ones credibility with any audience.
If garnered using scientific methods and delivered objectively, technical data can reliably
substantiate claims. However, technical data can be manipulated to confuse or mislead audiences.
You can read further on this in How to Lie With Statistics by Darrel Huff.

False dilemma/oversimplified choice/either-or fallacy/bifurcation/black-and-white fallacy


This persuasive technique is also a fallacy, involving the presentation of limited options or
distinctions when more alternatives exist. To identify this fallacy, one must recognise the unsaid
alternative options.

Special pleading
This involves the application of a double standard: one for the persuader and a stricter one for
others. The persuader exempts himself/herself as an exceptional case, unworthy of being held to
the standard directed at others. (For a concrete example, consider the stance of countries
possessing nuclear weapons and their attitude towards countries who are trying to develop them.)

Tu quoque
This fallacy of relevance involves arguing that an opponent is not acting in accordance with
his/her thesis. While this common technique may be effective in discrediting an opponent, it is
still a flaw in logic because the actions of a speaker do not validate or invalidate the content of a
claim.

Loaded question/complex question/trick question


If the answer to a question is embedded within the question itself, there is no attempt on a fair
enquiry on the part of the speaker. It is a tricky way of getting an opponent to inadvertently
confirm the askers preconceived notions.

Argumentum ad hominem
This strategy is a fallacy involving attacking an opponent instead of addressing the opponents
thesis. It serves to discredit the opponent, but logically, this does not discredit the content of the
opponents argument.

Argumentum ad populum/mob appeal


Appeal to the masses involves the use of emotional language to gain support from a crowd rather
than the use of logical reasoning.
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Persuasive Strategies Particularly Common in Religious Persuasion


Below are two common strategies in religious persuasion:

Appeal to a deity/deities and any sacred texts associated with it/them


This strategy is normally only effective with an audience that believes in the deity/deities the
persuader refers to, and believes in the credibility of any associated sacred texts/teachings,
otherwise this strategy is easily dismissed by the audience.

Partial commitment
Very often a resistant audience will not be convinced to accept something right away, but might
instead accept an invitation to at least engage with the persuader in some way. For example,
some evangelists may offer literature, discussion of a Bible passage, faith-based literature, or
even an invitation to their church or Bible classes to a resistant audience. The hope is a
successful partial commitment to engage in discussion a resistant audience may eventually lead
to changing that audiences attitude and beliefs on the subject.