Lifting the Fog – Exercises in Analytical Discourse Evaluation
AbstractThere is a thick and persistent fog hanging over our democracies. When one looks at our political discourse, be it in parliaments, newspapers, or official and unofficial reports, one cannot help noticing that it is not an exchange of well-presented, developed, and structured arguments. Rather, it is full of ambiguous statements, unverified assertions, appeals to inspiring but vague values and speeches that sound somewhat like actual arguments, but are at best only partial arguments-leaving many important premises implicit and unspecified. This fog makes it difficult to evaluate what participants in any given political debate are saying. After all, if it is not clear exactly what people are saying, it is impossible to determine if it makes sense. And if it is not possible to determine whether what participants in a debate are saying makes sense, the decisions that are made on the basis of that debate are also likely to be compromised. For one thing, the decisions are unlikely to be good decisions. After all, in democracy, debate and political discourse are used to consider the pros and cons of certain courses of action. If that discourse is plagued by vagueness, the decisions made are likely to be misguided. Furthermore, foggy discourse makes it difficult to explain in coherent and clear terms why a certain course of action was taken. This undermines the legitimacy of those decisions, and the trust in government. For short, if the moor is full of fog, it is hard to know if you are going the right way, and you are likely to get lost.
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