Jan 22, 2013

Attracting an audience by implying their rationality or irrationality

Through various means, and over the long-term, a writer attracts a particular audience for his writings. Content is one means of drawing readers in. A writer who writes about chess will, all other factors being equal, build an audience of individuals interested in chess. Style is another factor. A writer who writes clearly and integrates his points thoroughly will tend to acquire an audience of clear thinkers.

Another element of style is the writer's treatment of each link in the chain of fact, value, emotion, and action. Rational readers can learn a fact in the text they are reading. When they connect that fact to a value they hold, they will automatically experience an emotion. If the value is a high one, and the circumstances are appropriate, readers will take action. For example, if a writer says, "Smith Company has published my new book, Preventing Dental Problems," then those readers who respect the writer's knowledge and are concerned about their dental health will feel hopeful about their future dental health and either investigate the book further or take direct action to purchase it. The writer has stated a fact, perhaps including expected benefits of knowing that fact; readers connect that fact to their own values, experience an emotion, and take action.

EXAMPLES. Consider two cases, one at each end of a style spectrum. The first is an announcement published in the "Objectivist Calendar" column of The Objectivist Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 1 (January, 1962), p. 4. It says:

The next New York series of "Basic Principles of Objectivism" will be given at the Hotel Roosevelt, 45 St. & Madison Ave., at 7:30 P.M., on twenty consecutive Tuesday evenings, beginning February 13. Registration is now open.

This first case presents facts, and it relies on rational readers to recognize the value. (In a longer announcement, and in a different, more general publication, a rational writer might have identified the benefits of attending, but would still let readers make the evaluation and the decision to act.)

The second case is a composite of insulting announcements I have seen recently:

Gladys Grumbly, the most awesome speaker of the day, will be talking about introspection at the Wilshire Community Center on February 12 at 8 pm. You will love her presentation! You owe it to yourself to go! Sign up now! Don't delay and don't miss this absolutely fantastic opportunity!!! Click on the name below and be certain to Like this page now!!!

This second case insults rational readers. It presents a clich├ęd and "floating" evaluation ("Awesome"? In what way does it create a sense of awe? In whom? So what?). Further, the second announcement tells rational readers what emotional response, "love," they will feel and further insults rational readers by saying that they "owe" it to themselves to attend, not allowing readers to connect the announcement to their own individual hierarchy of values. Lastly, the announcement degrades its readers by commanding action (using the imperative mood), not merely giving instructions for implementation.

RESULTS. The writer in the first case is writing objectively, that is, writing about facts and allowing rational readers, his only intended audience, to evaluate those facts and take action. The writer in the second case is assuming his robotic readers must be pushed into evaluating, feeling, and taking action.

The writer of the second case will eventually lose rational readers—those who want to evaluate, feel, and take action at their own initiative and in the context of their own personal values. The readers who accept such abuse and remain the writer's followers will tend to be automatons. The writer may then wonder why he has such a seemingly passive and unintelligent audience.

Over the long-term, the writer creates his audience through a process similar to natural selection: Assume readers are irrational, write accordingly, and the rational ones will go away; or assume readers are rational, write accordingly, and they will continue to pay attention to one's writings as the years go by.

Burgess Laughlin
Author of The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, here


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Burgess Laughlin said...

Thank you for the comment (and confirmation).

However, the comment seems misplaced. Should it not be a comment on the June 4, 2013 post ("Is Reading the News ...")?

Also, please remember to use your name when commenting. Sadly I must delete the comment if no name is supplied here.