Courtesy Reuters

Six Ways of Confusing Issues

Anyone wishing to master the art of confusing the issues, scoring effective but unfair debating points, and persuading others to miss the point, should make a study of what is widely accepted in the West today as enlightened, liberal discussion of international politics. Many politicians, some of whom perhaps agree with Wilde's proposition that to be understood is to be found out, make no sustained or imaginative effort at clarifying issues and explaining policies; and many intellectuals seem to consider marching, sitting, signing, visiting, going to jail and attending conferences (all activities which involve contributing prestige rather than intellectual talent) as more important political activities than attempting to raise the standard of public discussion. Debating devices which are manifestly unfair and which can do nothing but mislead are accepted as normal weapons of controversy, even by, and in fact especially by, those who make the highest moral claims for their case. Such techniques are not for the most part new, but it is interesting and perhaps important to see how they are applied to the facts of contemporary international politics.

Here, then, is a short list of techniques of confusion that seem to be meeting with considerable success. The list does not claim to be comprehensive; others will be able to add their own examples.

The first technique is to confuse ends and means by insisting on treating a disagreement about means as if it were a disagreement about ends. This involves the initial tactic of appropriating some widely accepted goal to the particular means being advocated. It is seen in operation in Britain at present in controversies about disarmament. Almost invariably, except when some lunatic fringe is involved, these are controversies about means. They arise because people give different answers to questions as to the best way of securing peace. Is it better to be well armed in the hope of securing peace? Or is it better to adopt one of the innumerable schemes for disarmament? These are serious questions

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