The Art of Rhetoric

Mark Saroufim
4 min readDec 18, 2019
Rhetoric from Disco Elysium

How can that idiot be the president? How are they so rich? They have 0 logic…. It’s the people that are gullible!!

At first glance it’s easy to dismiss the success of the corrupt as dumb luck, being in the right place at the right time. However, this viewpoint blinds us to how the corrupt become so influential in the first-place. It’s even more infuriating when we see them spout nonsense on the TV, change the subject, attack the person they’re debating and we think to ourselves “none of what they are saying makes any sense”.

But just because politicians don’t seem to be logical does not mean they are not intelligent, in fact they are making use a of a different skill which is less famous than Logic but far more powerful: Rhetoric.

Logical argumentation Dialectic is about the truth, it’s about a group of people asking questions to reach the truth. Rhetoric is about convincing a group of “a” truth, convincing others that what we believe is true.

We often believe that we’re in the enlightenment age because of the internet and it’s true to a large extent it’s hard to hide lies for long on the internet. That said, memes have proven themselves to be of force of nature, memes are Rhetoric, the best memes win elections, the best memes create cults .

We’re in the golden age of Dialectic AND Rhetoric. It’s never been easier to fact check something and it’s never been easier to convince others of our ideas using memes. Fact checking is a time consuming process which involves careful and often tedious study while deceptive ideas in the form of memes can spread far more quickly. As a result memes are fundamentally more powerful than logic because memes spread exponentially fast with little effort on the meme consumer part while fact checking requires conscious and difficult effort on the part of the reader and spreads at best linearly fast.

It was a humbling experience to me when I first realized how little logic my decision making involved. I would often form my opinions and then look for academic looking references that support my thesis. I’m suspecting more people do this than care to admit. Writing down the memes that I believed in has helped me un-think the incorrect ones whether they were memes about nutrition or math or programming or politics or economics.

I’ve been familiar with logical fallacies for years from ad hominem attacks, straw-mans, faulty generalizations, false analogies and many more and these fallacies are often discussed in school. Rhetoric on the other hand is barely mentioned so it’s easy to confuse it as an innate skill. However, Rhetoric can be learnt which means you can use the tricks of the Rhetoric masters that rule your life against them.

Favorite Tricks of Rhetoric Masters You can Borrow

I’ve found 3 broad categories of tricks that Rhetoric masters use.

Change the meaning of words

  • Say works in theory but doesn’t work in practice. Talk about the fallibility of human knowledge
  • If a word has multiple meanings, pick something different than your opponents intent and attack the new absurd argument
  • Appeal to commonsense when it suits you, reject commonsense if it doesn’t suit you
  • Say expressions in foreign languages
  • If you repeat a false statement enough times you can put the audience in a trance where they will believe your statement to be true (suggestion by iandanforth)

Change the argument

  • Refuse to accept clauses if they lead to an unfavorable conclusion
  • Change the subject entirely if you’re losing
  • Introduce false premises to reach commonsense conclusions (bonus if you do this during loud or emotional moments)
  • Make your opponent refute your vague argument then attack their refutation instead of their original argument
  • Make opponents statements more general than they are

Change the debate format

  • Give your side a name
  • If you refute one proof of an argument, you can refute all proofs to an argument
  • If you are ahead, conclude the debate. If you are losing, extend the debate

Attack your opponent

  • Exhaust your opponent physically and emotionally. Scream at them, tower over them and humiliate them
  • Appeal to an authority your opponent admires, then call them inconsistent
  • Accuse your opponent of an -ism
  • If your opponent is getting angry, double down
  • Accuse your opponent of finding evidence that fits their agenda. You can also fabricate an agenda for them
  • If you have more authority than your opponent, tell them you don’t understand their point

Make sure to use these tricks against your least favorite politicians, you’ll need all the help you can get. You can be sure that they have either read these techniques elsewhere or they’ve been coached or they’re naturally really good at it.

Remember they can’t be both stupid AND be ruling you for 30 years.


Hopefully now you’re better able to identify and deal with the BS politicians say. If you’ve noticed a trick that I haven’t mentioned, please let me know, I’d love to add it.

I’d like to thank Kabalan Gaspard for invaluable feedback on an early version of this post.