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Dr. Joanne F., writing teacher extraordinaire with eight years experience reading and editing student papers, told the class to write an argumentative essay. She said, “Think of something that angers you and compose a thesis that presents your subject effectively. Now research the topic with your thesis in mind and write edit, write, edit, write, edit... I want you to create four drafts. Your final draft should be persuasive and effectively establish ethos, pathos, and logos.”1

So, I thought about it all week -- what angers me? I noticed American flags -- on poles, plastered on car bumpers, in diners and movie theatres, spray painted on lawns... that’s it! Patriotism angers me. So I wrote On Patriotism, a condemnation of patriotism based on its negative connotations and its use in media to promote bias.

A snippet of my paper:

Recently, an episode of television’s Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher contained a program segment in which Maher argued “that the American policy of lobbing cruise missiles into the desert from 2,000 miles away and bombing Kosovo from high altitudes was more cowardly2 than the actions of suicide attackers who brought down the World Trade Center.

Sponsors of the ABC series deeply criticized Maher for his “unpatriotic” remarks. Excuse me; the title of the television program is Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher. The aim of the program is to present politically incorrect views, i.e. views not held by the “patriotic” majority. It seems that the majority, in their crusade to promote bias, would like to name this program Patriotically Correct with Bill Maher, or remove the program altogether.

My paper looked promising, until Joanne said to use an argument on the opposing side. "For example", she said, "you might include the idea that the promotion of patriotism is beneficial, because it fosters peoples' willingness to donate money to anonymous victims affected by tragedy".

Ok, but to me, it does not make sense to add an argument on the opposing side, as that will devalue my argument: Patriotism angers me, so why would I want to promote it?

So I wrote to Joanne:

Dear Joanne,

You said it is worthwhile to present an argument on the opposing side, in order to show that the author is open-minded. But, I don't understand why I must do this. If I introduce an argument that opposes my argument, I discredit everything I said prior. Why would I want to discredit my own argument? I'm stuck here. What should I do?

Thanks,

Joe.

She replied,

“Well Joe maybe it's just me and my need for ethos.”

I wrote back,

“Joanne, While writing this research paper on the evils of bias, you just led me to the conclusion that I, myself, am biased. :)


1Joanne is a student and promoter of Aristotelian rhetoric.

2 Troubled Timing Takes Maher Beyond 'Politically Incorrect' Paul Brownfield, Los Angeles Times staff writer.

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