The rhetoric of understated disdain

The rhetoric of understated disdain, by Peter Bolt. The Australian Church Record Issue 1890, October 2006

Sometimes the skill of the putdown lies simply in adopting the right tone. At other times it is more effective to have no tone at all. Such understated disdain is as beautiful an instrument of destruction as the prick from a poisoned thorn on a red Valentine’s Day rose. Understated disdain has two crucial features. First, a clear statement of your opponent’s belief. Secondly, there must be absolutely no ‘loading’ of emotion one way or the other. This has to be a statement, no, less than a statement, it has to be an understatement.

She thinks women shouldn’t preach to men.
He thinks practicing homosexuals shouldn’t be clergymen.
They are liberal voters.
You drink earl grey tea.

The external beauty of the rhetoric is rose-red. There is no caricature here. No misrepresentation. No sneering. No expression of disagreement. None of the usual weapons of argumentation, so often present and bristling for a fight. Your opponent is completely disarmed, because they simply have themselves reflected back upon them. ‘Yes, this is what I believe’. But then, the lack of embellishment, the complete baldness of the way in which the fact is simply stated, pricks the skin. ‘… so what is wrong with that?’ (they think).

The only sound in the air is the sound of their own dearly-held opinion. No judgement. No condemnation. Nothing. Nothing-but their own belief. Then the poison enters the blood stream. Isolation. Aloneness. Apparently no argument is needed. No tone of voice. No emotional investment from the attacker. The opinion simply needs to be stated. And as it hangs in the chilled air in all its isolated aloneness, it is self-evident that it is met with the disdain-of the entire world.

Of course it would be useful if the Australian Church Record itself took note of this.