Just Doesn’t Get It

Rhetoric of Reason

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When it comes to persuading people, a catchy bit of rhetoric tends to be far more effective than an actual argument. One rather neat bit of rhetoric that seems to be favored by Tea Party folks and others is the “just doesn’t get it” device.

As a rhetorical device, it is typically used with the intent of dismissing or rejecting a person’s (or group’s) claims or views. For example, someone might say “liberals just don’t get it. They think raising taxes is the way to go.” The idea is that the audience is supposed to accept that liberals are wrong about tax increases on the grounds that its has been asserted that they “just don’t get it.”Obviously enough, saying “they just don’t get it” does not prove that a claim or view is in error.

This method can also be cast as a fallacy, specifically an ad hominem. The idea is that a claim should be rejected based on a personal attack, namely the assertion that the person does not get it. It can also be seen as a genetic fallacy when used against a group.

This method is also sometimes used with the intent of showing that a view is correct, usually by claiming that someone (or some group) that (allegedly) disagrees is wrong. For example, someone might say “liberals just don’t get it. Raising taxes on the job creators hurts the economy.” Obviously enough, saying that someone (or some group) “just doesn’t get it” does not prove (or disprove) anything. What is needed is, obviously enough, evidence that the claim in question is true. In the example, this would involve showing that raising taxes on the job creators hurts the economy.

In general, the psychology behind this method seems to be that when a person says  (or hears)”X doesn’t get it”, he means (or takes it to mean)”X does not believe what I believe” and thus rejects X’s claim. Obviously enough, this is not good reasoning.

It is worth noting that if it can be shown that someone “just doesn’t get it”, then this would not be mere rhetoric or a fallacy. However, what would be needed is evidence that the person is in error and thus does not, in fact, get it.

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  1. I am tempted to say, What part of “just doesn’t get it” don’t you get?

  2. Ben Bernanke, the American Fed chairman, said it is politics that is hurting the ‘market’ and the nation.

    It is the Tea Party that ‘just doesn’t get it’ in their constantly play politics with the economy. Or maybe they do, because they want Obama to fail.

  3. When arguing outside fora like TP one cannot always rely on logic saving the day. Often enough having laid out ones case logically and with all the necessary evidence possible, people still refuse to accept ones point. In this case ‘just doesn’t get’ becomes the only response possible, as you have mentioned at the end. However the person/s at whom the comment is aimed ‘still won’t get it’.

  4. As you say, the fallacy itself is blindingly obvious. But it is also peculiarly potent – and that’s interesting in itself. Why is it seemingly spreading as a rhetorical tool?

    X “just doesn’t get it” invites the listening third party (the TV viewer for example!) to step on board and ‘get it’, as if the proposition being supported is common sense which they ought to share.

    It can also discombobulate even an intelligent, empathetic interlocutor; the more willing you are to accept rational difference, that sometimes we really are speaking from across a cultural divide or using different language games (etc etc), then the more likely you are to give a sympathetic listen when someone uses “you just don’t get it” against you. The fact that no further explanation may be forthcoming just leaves you blank for a moment and they move on to their next point.

  5. Once I asked a good girl-friend what another not-so-good girl-friend meant when she called me a ‘male chauvinist pig’

    ‘Oh’ she said ‘that’s what a woman calls a man when she isn’t getting enough of her own way’

    The psychological techniques of deception , the Big Lie, and marketing are interesting and worthy of discussions.

    They are all based on the implicit assumption that a person’s world is not the real world, but is in fact a projection or reflection of it whose form is a direct consequence of their insecurity and/or psychological rigidity.

    Saying ‘they just don’t get it’ is flattering (You DO get it, don’t you?) and makes THEM stupid and who can resist the schadenfreude?

    Like all good ploys, it also entirely absolves you from explaining to them what it is they simply don’t get. Because they don’t get it!

    Catch 22.

    The Emperors new clothes.

    When did you stop beating your wife?

    We all say it… so it must be true.

    What do you mean, I cant read because the book is upside down? Any one who can read can read a book anyway way up!

    Because proposition A depends on a priori assumptions about the nature of the world that cant be proved but does actually seem to apply to the real world experience, it is no more and no less valid than proposition B, which also depends on a priori assumptions about the nature of the world but leads to no useful predictions whatsoever.

    the list is endless. It’s all common knowledge in Sales and Marketing:

    – the Big Lie. So big no one would dare to lie about it. (cf Too Big to Fail) (All men are created equal)

    – Fear Uncertainty and Doubt “But can they guarantee that their product works or even exists or is reliable. We can guarantee ours is” (although we haven’t even started developing it: All I want is your signature in blood or an X on the ballot slip).

    – always target the decision maker and forget the end user aka “No one ever got sacked for buying IBM” – a rationale of why FUD works. which is why car adverts feature male oriented desire fulfillment and food adverts feature female oriented adverts,.

    The simple defense to all these is to realize – and its amazing how long it takes people to do this – that someone somewhere is not informing you of their honest, well structured and well thought out conclusions. No, they are simply selling you a product in which they have an interest, and from the narrow tactical standpoint of closing the sale, the truth is simply irrelevant. ALL that counts is perception. What you can be made to believe is true. And the one things that helps first of all is that they can indeed convince you first that their opinions are exactly what they are not, that is, honest, well thought out and disinterested. The first thing a dishonest man must do is resemble sincerity and honesty.

    All’s fair in love, war and marketing.

    Start from the default assumption that everyone is trying to sell you something and all are arrant liars.

    Then move on to cross check the claims of the very few who seem to be telling the truth.

    Sometimes one is pleasantly surprised.

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