Thursday, May 17, 2012

Paid spokesperson for a bad idea

For critical thinking classes, I want to create a series of "talking head exercises," where students have to play spokesmen for proposals that are stipulated in advance to be really bad ideas. The first scenario I thought of goes like this: There are two courses of action, and one is twice as risky as the other. Option A has a 15% chance of a Very Bad Outcome, and Option B has a 30% chance. The Payoff if the Very Bad Outcome is avoided is the same in each case. You, the student, have been hired as a TV spokesperson for Option B by an organization that for some reason (money, ideology) wants to see it happen. You need to write up a series of talking points and coaching tips to yourself for your next TV appearance.

The answer for this particular scenario would involve two bullet points:
  • Emphasize  that both options have risks 
  • Avoid direct quantitative comparisons. 

The spokesperson needs to say things like "Look there are no guarantees in life. Even if we took option A, there is a possibility of a Very Bad Outcome, perhaps from set of circumstances X. [Elide the fact that these circumstances are unlikely.] If we want the Payoff, we are going to take risks. All we are saying is that we should give option B a chance."

If we got really fancy, we could do role play in class, although right now I don't do any public speaking type stuff in any of my classes. It would be nice to do this in combination with studying the techniques used by people in history advocating for what we now all agree are very bad ideas, such as Bill Buckley's oh so rational arguments for segregation, or the talking points for people paid to say that cigarettes don't cause cancer.

I need more scenarios, though.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I liked this book:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Rhetoric-Reaction-Perversity-Futility/dp/067476868X

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Looks interesting! Thanks!

Unknown said...

This is a long shot, but your students could try a rhetoric which turns bads into goods, through a sort of "bad things --> stoic endurance of bad things --> virtue" transmutation.

If the plan is riskier with no greater reward, say that willingness to take risks is a necessary precondition to achieving anything truly worthwhile. Then having established that risks are necessary, accuse those shying away from the plan of failing to display manly fortitude in the face of risk (not in exactly those blatantly gendered terms -- you want to appeal to anxious masculinity, but not make it obvious that that's what you're doing). Then hold up the superior virtue of proponents of the risky plan as a reason to support it.

Similarly, if the rewards of the proposed plan are lower without any reduction in risk, students could talk about how the desire for the larger reward demonstrates greed and the desire for a "quick buck," and how the less rewarding plan, by eschewing the maximal reward, demonstrates prudence, discipline, etc.

I like the idea, by the way.

Unknown said...

This is a long shot, but your students could try a rhetoric which turns bads into goods, through a sort of "bad things --> stoic endurance of bad things --> virtue" transmutation.

If the plan is riskier with no greater reward, say that willingness to take risks is a necessary precondition to achieving anything truly worthwhile. Then having established that risks are necessary, accuse those shying away from the plan of failing to display manly fortitude in the face of risk (not in exactly those blatantly gendered terms -- you want to appeal to anxious masculinity, but not make it obvious that that's what you're doing). Then hold up the superior virtue of proponents of the risky plan as a reason to support it.

Similarly, if the rewards of the proposed plan are lower without any reduction in risk, students could talk about how the desire for the larger reward demonstrates greed and the desire for a "quick buck," and how the less rewarding plan, by eschewing the maximal reward, demonstrates prudence, discipline, etc.

I like the idea, by the way.