Well, it deserves to be anyway
I like the more vulgar (and widely understood) term - bullshit 🎯💩
1st noticed that debate was becoming performative rather than substantive in academia 40 years ago. The goal was no longer to humble you with superior arguments, but rather to intimidate you into silence. Social media has only exacerbated the problem.
The major recent change is the widespread adoption of propaganda. Yes, sophistry existed in antiquity but it didn't scale. In the 20th century propaganda was first developed by governments who had major resources and unusual contexts (pliant media in wartime) where it could spread easily. You only see the development of propaganda at industrial scale in the last few decades given the growth of large, powerful companies/political interests able to invest in "communications programs." The traditional media/academic/legal "gatekeeper" function that used to limit the flow of corporate/political propaganda has not only eroded but has often been totally corrupted.
While the term "propaganda" is often misused a proper definition is consistent with the description of sophistry here--e.g. argumentation designed to shift listeners focus from evidence and logic to highly emotive (often tribal) themes that reframe complex issues where there is considerable uncertainty into simplistic black/white us-versus-them terms. "Agnotology" is the form of propaganda (the tobacco industry's war on scientific evidence is a classic example) where large numbers of purported "experts" use massive amounts of complicated unverifiable claims to overwhelm public discussion.
So "sophistry" in private discussion was converted into industrial scale corporate/political "propaganda". Social media helped shift the poisonous practices of propaganda back into widespread private discussion.
Truly excellent article. Can I suggest a followup at some point concerning WHY we're seeing so much of this now? Increasingly I notice a kind of sense of entitlement to being right. Whereas once most intelligent people understood that it took hard work- reading, thinking, debating, thoroughly understanding opposing positions- even to get into the game, let alone claim superior understanding of anything, there now seem to be a great many people that believe merely showing up and asserting themselves is enough.
Yes, I think you're exactly right, postmodernism basically just books down to modern day sophistry and it's out of control as a trend influencing what passes for discourse. There are heavy prices to be paid for it.
The beauty of this argument is painful.
Appreciate reading your naming and cogent analysis /historical context of this issue which seems responsible for the back drop of dreariness and dread in current life. Since, as Joni Mitchell noted, ‘Everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes’, I’m curious if you know how past societies have outrun/survived/(battled and won???) against this enemy?
I am amazed that you have been able to so clearly put into words what I have (sadly) observed myself but (also sadly) lacked the ability to articulate. Thank you so much for that. I no longer speak with anyone where I live due to fear of death by gunshot. I suppose there are others like me where I live, but I don't know who they are. So I have now become the exception to the rule which posits that no man is an island, due to being surrounded by an ocean of heavily armed extremists, and my unwillingness to swim among the sharks in search of specks of civility which may not even exist. About 25 years ago when I read Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death, I started noticing the shift away from dissemination of information by printed media towards broadcast media and the simultaneous shift towards extremist punditry and away from discussion based on objectively factual information.
One of the best kicks to the anthill I've seen in a long time......
Splendid, spot on piece. Should be taught at schools along with Umberto Eco's famous quote “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community ... but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It's the invasion of the idiots” and yes, I'm referring to the public idiocy amplified by social media scourge, it goes hand in glove with sophistry.
Re: the following sentence (a eureka moment for me): "You might even say that the sophists were laying the groundwork for our post-truth society. And they were doing it 2,500 years ago." One of the most striking demonstrations of that very groundwork and its connection to present-day thought can be found in Robert Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance." The significant conflict in the book is not between father and son but between the narrator-father and his U. of Chicago graduate committee that had denied him the Ph.D. in philosophy because of his misreading of Plato. The narrator sublimates his personal conflict into a 2500-year battle between A. "Reason" (which he calls "dialectic") and B. "Sophistical," or pre-Socratic, thought (which he calls "rhetoric"). Of course, he defends the pre-Socratics in a struggle in which B prevails--i.e., rhetoric ultimately triumphs over truth.
I enjoyed reading your article, and the comments here. What's important to me is that people participate in the discussion. Otherwise, it's just big heads talking down to you, from some lofty plane they think they're on. Thank-you, hopefully your ideas make it to the larger public. Even if it confuses some people - that is the beginning of a change in thinking.
Truth. Honesty. Clarity. Kindness. Rules to live by.
It’s fun to ponder the sophists who don’t share my politics. It’s more fun to ponder the sophists who do share my politics.
Not even one whole day as a member, and I get to see the word(sophist(ry)) I've used for the last 10 years, or so, more than any other time in my life. Ted! The article is great!
Insightful, incisive, and true