Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Roberts/research - due 3/25/11

The Roberts piece ("How to Say Nothing in Five Hundred Words") is a little bit dated, and some of his vocabulary is obscure. Look up anything you don't know. I still love the essay to bits, though your mileage may vary. Instead of summarizing the article, I'd like you to take its advice and try to apply it to your own work.

I've asked you to start thinking about research questions already, and I'd like to continue with that. For your blog, please write one (or a few, if you're really torn) research question(s) that you think you might pursue for the paper. Write me the question, then explain why you've chosen it, and what you think you might end up doing with it. Think about Roberts as you do this. Example:

How do people use the figure of Adolf Hitler when they make political or moral arguments?

I think this fulfills one of Roberts' recommendations, in that it's an unusual topic. It's not something I already know a lot about, but one of my strengths is definitely looking at how people use language and construct arguments, so I think I might be able to handle this. The biggest problem is really that the question is too broad: I might have to narrow it down to something like "on Internet discussion forums" or "on protest signs." There's an unofficial idea called "Godwin's Law" that essentially says that if an argument on the Internet goes on long enough, it will almost always bring up Hitler or the Nazis, and on some forums, as soon as you bring up the topic, everyone will say you've just automatically lost the argument. (That you've "Godwinned the argument.") I'm really interested in the way that people on both sides of the political spectrum refer to Hitler in really strange ways when they're making their points. I've seriously seen, for example, arguments saying that it's evil to persecute homosexuals because the Nazis did it, and arguments saying that homosexuality is evil because most Nazis were secretly gay. I think I'd like to look at the way it's used in different kinds of circumstances.

It's a sort of difficult open-ended question, and I might end up having to tweak it a little, since there's not a single definite answer. What I mostly want to argue, I think, is that invoking Hitler/Nazism is almost never a logical or reasonable claim to support an argument, and recommend that people should just stop doing it in general. I think I can find sufficient evidence to support that, even though ultimately the paper's conclusion would largely be my subjective opinion.

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