Dark arts of rhetoric illustrated

In my post on the dark arts of rhetoric, I proposed the following rule:

If X is the real target of your scorn, don’t compare X to something worse; instead, find excuses to compare other things to X in a way that presupposes a negative opinion of X.

Today I ran across a perfect example of this technique (from a student essay, quoted with permission).

Psalmanazar was a complicated character. There was a sense in which he was a sort of 18th-century Ward Churchill, basing his entire life around fraudulently posing as a member of an exotic race. Yet there was more to him than that; Samuel Johnson — no mean judge of character — once called him the best man he had ever known.

Secret: The point here is to slam Churchill, not to say anything in particular about Psalmanazar. The reader sees “nuanced assessment” (of GP) when actually it’s an extreme assessment of WC.


Footnote for those not in the know: George Psalamanazar was an 18th-century European, probably a Frenchman, whose whole life was an elaborate hoax in which he posed as a native of Formosa. (Wikipedia sums him up best. “Occupation: memoirist. Known for: being an outrageous impostor.”) Ward Churchill is a professional jackass and former professor of ethnic studies whose greatest accomplishment to date has been getting tenure via affirmative action by pretending to be an American Indian.

1 Comment

Filed under Rhetoric

One response to “Dark arts of rhetoric illustrated

  1. Tangential to your post – After reviewing the Ward Churchill phenomenon, I once spent a couple of hours on Google looking up famous supposed-Amerindians – and it seemed the majority of them were imposters.

    Unfortunately I can’t remember whom exactly I looked up, but one was Jamake Highwater – author of The Primal Mind, another was Iron Eyes Cody (the Crying Indian) – and indeed the whole field is replete with false claims.

    For example Carlos Castaneda seemed to lie about everything concerning himself, but certainly his books on South American shamanism were fictional and derived from the UCLA library rather than field work.

    Then of course there was the recent Harvard Law Professor Fauxcohontas.

    Indeed, it’s pretty hard to find any famous Indians who were not either complete fakes, or only very slightly Indian.


    The situation for Native Australians seems to be somewhat similar – Here is the first ‘Aborigine’ Rhodes scholar:


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