Fundamentalists and Flexibles

Rhetoric everywhere. You can’t let your guard down for an instant, no rest for the wicked, hypervigilance is the price of accuracy, and so on. Just tweak one or two little words and you can guide your readers so very subtly in what they’re meant to think, without having to come right out and tell them. This is a story from the Observer about genetics.

The nature versus nurture debate revived from the Sixties, when it had revolved around IQ and had bitter, racial overtones. This time around, it was less to do with race but no less bitter, with genetic fundamentalists such as Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins arguing that ‘the answer lies in our genes’. Opponents, such as media psychologist Oliver James, defended more flexible accounts of human behaviour.

See how it’s done? Just call the people you disagree with ‘fundamentalists’ and the other people ‘flexible’. Simple really. Dawkins and Pinker are in fact not ‘fundamentalists’, they’re just orthodox, middle of the road Darwinians. And Oliver James’ refusal even to listen to genetic explanations (witness his one-man shouting match on Radio 4 in October) is not conspicuous for its flexibility. Ah well. It’s all grist for the rhetoric guide.

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