Misleading rhetoric

February 25, 2010

In his article, Brendon Larson discusses the use of “militaristic” rhetoric to describe the issue of invasive species. Larson argues that the use of metaphor misleads the public, and even scientists, into a false perception of the invasive species issue and how to effectively deal with it.

For example, a recent article in Time – entitled “Asian Carp in the Great Lakes? This Means War!” – proves Larson’s point. In addition to the title, language such as “infiltrating a new home,” or “eradicate them after the fact” (Walsh, 2010) compares the idea of invasive species to an enemy that must be defeated in war. I agree with Larson that this kind of rhetoric leads us to think that a “brute force” approach is the only way to deal with the invasive species problem – which is problematic because this kind of approach is usually the least cost-effective and successful. However, I think that there is some use to this kind of rhetoric. The metaphor is necessary for the public to understand the issue of invasive species. Especially in a popular magazine such as Time, overly scientific language would not be of any use to the general reader.

Larson, 2005. The war of the roses: demilitarizing invasion biology. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Walsh, 2010. “Asian Carp in the Great Lakes? This Means War!”. Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1962108,00.html

the war of the guns

February 25, 2010

Motivational language is an essential part of communication. Yet Larson argues against the use militaristic language. War-like rhetoric is used across many fields, by anyone attempting to motivate any crowd. Specifically, Larson speaks against militaristic language within invasive biology.

Such an example can be seen in Erik Stokstad’s Biologists Rush to Protect Great Lakes From Onslaught of Carp. Yet Stokstad, as any motivator would, exaggerates here and there to emphasize his point. This rhetorical strategy is so widespread in our everyday language – do you ever exaggerate? – that he would be downplaying his issue if he did not use hype. Furthermore, invasive biology naturally leads to the use of war-like terms. Stokstad discusses scientists attempts to keep the carp out of Lake Michigan, where a particular canal is a “key choke point.” The carp is trying to expand its territory, and just as in war, certain locations represent key strategic points, and while the carp may not realize this, the scientists certainly do. For this reason, why should writers feel compelled to hinder their literary abilities to satisfy the worries of Larson?

Larson argument is weak because he fails to prove several of his main points. Considering that metaphors about war relate a complex issue to something everyone understands, I believe that such rhetoric helps the public’s perception because the author is able to motivate the reader, better accomplish his task, by utilizing terms that can be both understood and influential. If the author should not influence his reader to the best of his ability, there is truly no point in him writing. For this reason, Larson’s argument is flawed on the most fundamental basis; he has no right to force ambiguous rules upon authors attempting to make a point.

Larson 2005: The War of the Roses: demilitarizing invasion biology.
Stokstad 2010: Biologists Rush to Protect Great Lakes From Onslaught of Carp.