Close reading: informational text
Incorporating opposing viewpoints | Reading
- [David] Hello, readers. Let's argue. In writing, argument is a kind of fight. But I think it is unwise to think of it as a one-way conversation. The best arguments do not plunge forward heedlessly. They do not steamroll opposition. Rather, they seek out opposing arguments and incorporate them. Good readers pay attention to how authors acknowledge opposing viewpoints in an argument. Doing this makes it easier to decide how well thought out an argument is and determine whether the author is knowledgeable and thoughtful in their position. Now, I do not practice the martial art of Wing Chun. But that style of self-defense is famous for techniques that block and strike at the same time. Your opponent's fist comes in, you redirect it away from your body, and in that same motion continue your momentum into its own immediate counterstrike. Acknowledging the existence of opposing viewpoints has two main applications, which are pretty different. First, maybe you're not on any side of the argument and you wish to straightforwardly describe the conflict, like a journalist reporting on a lawsuit. It's a journalist's responsibility to truthfully portray the full scope of information on a topic, bringing every piece of relevant and plausible information to bear. The author provides equal time to the disputants and tries not to provide their own opinion here. That could look like this. Ms. Adeyemi contended that Mr. Dupont stole the cookies from her cookie jar, and that furthermore, she had baked those cookies in the first place, thus strengthening her claim to the said cookies. Of the 24 cookies baked by Ms. Adeyemi, she alleges that 10 of them were taken by Mr. Dupont. Mr. Dupont, however, contended that as he was the person who made the cookie jar for Ms. Adeyemi in the ceramics class he took, he is entitled to the occasional cookie. He does not dispute the 10-cookie figure, adding only that they were "delicious." Judge Huang, upon reviewing testimony from both parties, sided with Ms. Adeyemi, saying that you are not entitled to a cookie just for being a good friend one time, and that next time, Mr. Dupont should ask for permission. Now, looking at that situation, my personal opinion is that it is inappropriate to steal your friend's cookies. An opinion that any right-thinking person should share. But injecting opinion may not be appropriate in all cases. So okay, that's the first case. Reporting on multiple sides of a dispute without getting involved yourself. Now, the second reason, the second application for including opposing viewpoints in an argumentative piece of writing is that Wing Chun thing, the block as you strike technique. It makes your argument stronger if you anticipate possible objections to it, address them, and strike them down all the while still making your argument in the first place. Let's take this example from the website. This piece is about the lost colony at Roanoke. A bunch of English settlers disappeared under uncertain circumstances for reasons still unknown. And the author's trying to make the case that although theories for the disappearance exist, the truth is still beyond our grasp. So in order to make that case, they address several different theories that attempt to explain the disappearance. Many people have tried to solve the mystery of the lost colony. Historians and archeologists have searched for answers for hundreds of years. Some possible solutions are: A, Native people killed the colonists on Roanoke Island. B, the colonists were all killed on Roanoke Island by disease. C, their town was washed away by a hurricane, and the people drowned. Or D, they all left Roanoke Island and went to live in some other place. Now, watch what the author does as they systematically go through each theory and address it. I've only excepted the first two, so let's look at those first two. A, when John White got back to Roanoke Island in 1590 he did not find any bones or bodies or any signs of fighting. Bones last a long time. If Native people had killed the colonists, there would probably have been some remains or other signs of violence. We can guess that the colonists were not killed on Roanoke Island. B, when the English first came to Virginia, they're using a 16th-century spelling, they brought diseases with them, such as flu and smallpox, that were new to the Native communities. They had no immunity against them and many died very quickly. Letters written by the colonists tell us that the English remained healthy. And remember, no bones or bodies or graves were found. We can guess that the colonists did not all die of disease. So the author's saying that these events are unlikely, taking the theories seriously, and then thinking them through to their conclusions. But demonstrating why they don't seem very likely explanations. Why do they think it's unlikely that Native people killed those colonists? There aren't any remains or signs of combat. Why does it seem unlikely that they died of diseases? There are no graves or remains. The thesis is, nobody knows why. Here are two counters to it basically saying here's why, and the author says here's why these are unlikely to be true which weakens those counterarguments and strengthens the original. Block, strike. My overall point is this. Don't ignore the potential counters to your argument. Incorporate them, analyze them, and redirect their energy into your own position. And when you read, notice if the author is acknowledging counters or ignoring them. If they ignore them, you should be suspicious. Why are they ignoring them? If you can answer that, then you can learn anything. David out.