Thursday, March 27

The skills of persuasion

The following post won't make much sense unless you watch this YouTube video first:

Roy Beck is an articulate, long-standing opponent of any move by the United States to increase immigration. His views would appeal to many Australians, and the video, you should agree, is persuasive.

But before we allow ourselves to be persuaded, it's worth looking at how Beck emphasises his points.
  • Beck graphs population levels (the Y-axis) against years (the X-axis). He sets his baseline at a US population of 200 million, so the trendline rises steeply when population rises to 220 million. Start the Y-axis at zero population, and the rise would be almost imperceptible. It's not dishonest, but it can mislead an uneducated viewer.
  • The extrapolation of trendlines into the future is a hairy business at the best of times. Not much more than a century ago, some forecasters said streets would be knee-deep in horse manure as we tried to move all the extra people and their wares around our burgeoning cities.
  • Noddies. If, God forbid, you're a fan of TV current affairs shows, you've seen noddies. A producer goes back and films the interviewer nodding her head, then inserts the clips at appropriate points in the previously recorded interview. Beck focuses his camera on a succession of audience members as they nod thoughtfully.
  • Yet nowhere in the YouTube clip do you see Beck and his nodding audience at the same time. As he delivers his spiel, nothing in the vision shows he's talking to a live audience. Perhaps he is. You'll have to take it on faith.
  • You can't blame Beck for such professionalism, but his confident, articulate and forceful delivery may tend to distract people who should instead focus on the content of his address.

The gumballs demonstration at the end of the clip is clever, but is the US – or Australia, for that matter – really proposing to take millions upon millions more immigrants as an act of charity to relieve poverty and over-population in Third World countries. Really?

We can draw up many arguments about the appropriate levels of immigration, and where the migrants are to come from. I have my thoughts, and you have yours.

What we cannot deny is that immigration is vital for nations, such as Australia or the US, where the birthrate has fallen so far they are not replacing those who drop off the twig. Where will we find the nurses to staff our nursing homes?

In my next post, I expect to tell of Kanyini, a film about Aboriginal loss, and the way the film is being used in Yarn Up, a new schools project to help our children better understand Aboriginal life. Once again, I've paused to make sure any assessment goes further than my first emotional response. Please come back.

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