Honors Essay for COMM 112: The Relation between Lecture and Readings
Throughout the semester, we have read multiple publications for the H-Option part of this class. Many of these works exhibit the topics and themes detailed in lecture and our textbooks, while others may disregard and contradict certain themes completely. One of the major themes that I found prevalent throughout the semester in class was mainly the fact that people need to be educated in argumentation in order to be effective enough to have solid arguments. This education includes rational thought, avoiding flawed arguments (fallacies), and making sure that these arguments are meaningful and relevant. Another major theme that I derived was also the fact that you can use argumentation with the different models in class to see when someone is not making a reasoned argument. I will use these themes to compare with the h-option works read.
In our first reading, Freakonomics, the first few chapters detail stories of Kennedy and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as the structure and earnings of a gang in Chicago with the introduction of Cocaine and how this was able to offer steady jobs for those trying to make ends meet. I thought that the main purpose of the second part was to inform people that not all drug dealers are super- rich drug lords that make tons of money. No, the people doing the grunt work who are arrested most of the time were just people trying to make enough money to eat. In this book, Levitt and Dubner find that a drug dealer “must we willing to work long and hard at substandard wages. In order to advance… you must prove yourself not merely above average but spectacular” (96). This goes back to the themes presented above because the authors make a strong case for the people affected by drugs through using educated, informed argument. So in a broad sense, the authors back up their argument with first-hand retelling of what goes on, being able to back up their argument effectively.
The next reading, Affluenza, strongly discourages and refutes the blatant consumerism that has stricken our society over the years. I found this reading to be a very biased one-sided argument. While the authors did have good, believable main points, there was no real analysis of the “other side” of the argument. For instance, in chapter four we find this argument:
We now live in a country that has more cars (204 million) than registered drivers. But with that dubious distinction come highway speeds of twenty miles an hour or less at rush hour – speeds that waste $60 billion a year in lost time and wasted fuel…America used to be where both the pizza delivery person and the ambulance driver could get someplace before it was too late. In our brave new world of clutter, both are trapped in traffic. (Graaf, Wann, and Naylor 33)
While this may look like a valid argument, we can analyze this with the Toulmin model of reasoning to see the argument in this book. Brace yourself while I try to utilize this recently learned model to analyze this argument. The main claim I found would be the fact that driving to work in your own car is bad for society. The grounds would be the fact that $60 billion a year is lost in time and wasted fuel (Insufficient sample/ unrepresentative data?), as well as the fact that the pizza delivery will arrive late, and the ambulance driver wouldn’t be able to get to an injured or dying individual soon enough. The warrant, therefore, would be that losing money and lives is bad. I’m not sure that this warrant needs backing, since most would agree with this warrant, but I think that what is missing is the rebuttal. There can definitely be exceptions and reasons why driving cars is better for society, and the authors completely fail to mention these. I think that they would have a much stronger argument if they utilized the refutation of their arguments.
The next reading, Lies my Teacher Told Me, details the corruption of our public school system in relation to history textbooks. I have learned of this in a few of my other classes, as well as in this class from chapter 12 of Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric. I thought that the section of this book followed chapter 12 of L&CR very closely. Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric pushes the fact that public history textbooks are controlled by the government, and are emotionless blobs of data that do no real justice to those heroes who are and aren’t presented in American history. Going back to Lies my Teacher Told Me, I thought that this book also refuted the strong nationalism that has gripped our society. What I liked about the author’s arguments in this book, however, is that he doesn’t openly attack nationalism like Affluenza attacks consumerism, rather it pushes for a more sound nationalism by making more accurate history textbooks. He also uses real examples from history and from textbooks to prove his points. For example:
Textbooks might (but don’t) call Wilson’s Latin American actions a “Bad Neighbor Policy” by comparison. Instead, faced with unpleasantries, textbooks wriggle to get the hero off the hook, as in this example from The Challenge of Freedom: “President Wilson wanted the united States to build friendships with the countries of Latin America. However, he found this difficult…” Some textbooks blame the invasions on the countries invaded. (Lowen 25)
Looking at this specific example, the author seems well informed and able to make a more sound argument because he is essentially able to produce very clear and concise evidence to justify his claim. The book also looks at the counter evidence, as to why the Government would want to censor textbooks, and refutes this as well.
Susan Jacoby’s book, The Age of American Unreason is the next reading I will discuss. In chapter 1 of this book, Jacoby makes the claim that the TV programs, the Internet, and other various media outlets are making the American people as a whole apply less reason to their thinking and arguing. While this may be true, I unfortunately found chapter 1 of the book to be a rather one-sided argument towards her claim. One of the things Jacoby does, for instance, is use the evolution vs. intellectual design controversy as a basis for arguing that those who are anti- evolutionists simply do not apply reason. In this passage Jacoby argues that “the perfect storm over evolution is a perfect example of the new anti-intellectualism in action, because it owes its existence not only to a renewed religious fundamentalism but to the widespread failings of American public education and the scientific illiteracy of much of the media” (22). The evolution vs. intellectual design controversy has been at work ever since evolution was introduced, and I don’t think you can blame people for not giving up what they believe overnight, let alone a few decades. I personally don’t think this was a very good example for her argument.
And in the final reading, chapter 3 of Farhad Manjoo’s True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society, Manjoo argues that a lot of what we experience in our “post-fact” society is not reality, from digitally edited images to the digitized code that computers present to us in an understandable form. Farhad also argues that the media also manipulates photos and fabricates stories in order to control the American public. He also explains the 9/11 conspiracies mostly set off from the documentary Loose Change. Manjoo explains that this conspiracy documentary is “a trick of selective exposure and interpretation and of dismissing as fake the evidence that doesn’t jibe with your views” (92). I personally found Manjoo’s arguments fairly sound, in that he used specific examples of the media controversies and the 9/11 conspiracies to back up his arguments.
Overall, I thought that the readings definitely helped me to better solidify my ideas of argument in class, when looking at these readings from an argumentative point of view. Some supported the COMM 112 lecture’s understanding of argument very well, while others seemed to ignore the ideals and structure of arguments completely. I think that these readings also helped to introduce other themes in lecture, such as the different ideologies and the impact they have on society when the ideology may get out of hand.
De, Graaf J, David Wann, and Thomas H. Naylor. Affluenza: The All Consuming Epidemic. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2001. Print.
Jacoby, Susan. The Age of American Unreason. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008. Print.
Levitt, Steven D, and Stephen J. Dubner. Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: William Morrow, 2005. Print.
Loewen, James W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: New Press, 1995. Print.
Manjoo, Farhad. True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley, 2008. Print.