I had a professor in graduate school who was fond of saying that if you allowed him to define the terms of debate he would win every argument.
Perhaps the truth of his assertion is one reason why so many contemporary debates about polarizing issues—abortion, global warming, stem-cell research, gay marriage—descend so quickly into meta-arguments. I tell first-year writing students that there's a difference between winning the rhetorical argument and actual persuasion. We invest so much time in the former, often to the point of not caring about how we win the argument, that we frequently fail miserably at the latter.
Polemics in the form of documentary, like political speeches or ads, too often invest all their energy in revealing the tricks of their opponents' trade rather than advancing their own arguments. They are all rebuttal (condemnation, actually), no affirmative argument. For the first thirty minutes or so of Cool It—Ondi Timoner's documentary about "skeptical environmentalist" BjØrn Lomborg—I feared it would fall into this familiar pattern of preying on political associations and identity politics to simply make barbs about those with opposing views and do nothing more.
Funny thing, though, once the film exonerates Lomborg from the mutually exclusive charges that he is a feckless idiot providing ammunition for those who would fiddle while the world burns and a knowing hypocrite who lies for a living, it actually settles down into an interesting, thought-provoking, and useful examination of the pros and cons of various approaches for dealing with global climate change.
It is worth underlining in the strongest possible terms that Lomborg—author of The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring ...1
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