Emotional vs. rational arguments in popular political debate

“Everybody knows that that if [the United States] had concrete information, they would have put it on television all around the world before giving it to the inspection teams.”

I have found myself making this same argument over the past few days, in response to Hans Blix’s request for US intelligence on Iraqi weapons sites. If the US and the UK had the information they claim to possess, the argument goes, then why wouldn’t they hand that information to the weapons inspectors and send them and reporters to those sites for an excellent photo op? Such a move would put to rest all the speculation and serve to provide an enormous boost to the cause for a war against Iraq.

When I found out that Saddam Hussein’s son Uday was making that same argument in Iraq’s state-controlled Babil Newspaper, I stepped back a little. It certainly sounds like a rational argument. After all, with all the satellites and airborne security drones monitoring Iraq, one would be hard-pressed to hide anything in that country. But how does parroting the line of a megalomaniac dictator help my credibility? Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way defending the Iraqi dictator, but consider that I was making this same statement within earshot of an Israeli emigré whose life was no doubt profoundly affected by the Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel during the Gulf War. To someone who was emotionally affected by the very dictator I was seemingly defending, these words must have sounded like blasphemy.

The above scenario points out both one of the advantages and disadvantages of living in a country like Canada, which has both a blend of fresh immigrants and long-time residents. On the one hand, someone like myself, who was born and raised in Canada, can afford to be emotionally distant in political arguments on events in troubled areas. On the other hand, one cannot help but know people who would vehemently disagree with those same rational arguments as they are emotionally tied to the contents of the debate.

Paradoxically, these two sides of debate can be reversed, as is the case with Vic’s response to the recent Maclean’s annual survey. Victor argues against Canadians who would support further restrictions on refugee claimants and Muslim immigrants by alluding to the fact that, had it not been for Canada’s fair immigration policies in Cold War times, his father, a citizen of Communist China, would not have been able to come to this country. By extension, Vic would not be living here either and contributing to the wealth that is Canada. By introducing the personal and emotional aspects to the issue of immigration, Victor counters the rational, albeit flawed, argument that greater restrictions on immigration would result in greater security for Canada.

As the holiday season is upon us, gatherings become more common and, with them, so does popular political discussion. To echo Victor’s sentiment, think before you opine for or against an argument. Do not let emotions like fear or anger cloud your judgement, but instead step back and consider the impact of your point of view.

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