Thomas Sowell the Closer

Posted: August 14, 2022 in Debate, Fascism, Free Speech, Narrative, Politics, Tacky, Writing
Tags: , , , ,

In sales and marketing (as I understand them), one of the principal techniques to close a sale is to generate momentum by getting the prospective mark buyer to agree to a series of minor statements (small sells) leading to the eventual purchasing decision (the big sell or final sale). It’s narrow to broad, the reverse of the broad-to-narrow paragraph form many of us were taught in school. Both organizational forms proceed through assertions that are easy to swallow before getting to the intended conclusion. That conclusion could be either an automotive purchase or adoption of some argument or ideology. When the product, service, argument, or ideology is sold effectively by a skilled salesman or spin doctor narrative manager, that person may be recognized as a closer, as in sealing the deal.

Many learn to recognize the techniques of the presumptive closer and resist being drawn in too easily. One of those techniques is to reframe the additional price of something as equivalent to, say, one’s daily cup of coffee purchased at some overpriced coffee house. The presumption is that if one has the spare discretionary income to buy coffee every day, then one can put that coffee money instead toward a higher monthly payment. Suckers might fall for it — even if they don’t drink coffee — because the false equivalence is an easily recognized though bogus substitution. The canonical too-slick salesman no one trusts is the dude on the used car lot wearing some awful plaid jacket and sporting a pornstache. That stereotype, borne out of the 1970s, barely exists anymore but is kept alive by repetitive reinforcement in TV and movies set in that decade or at least citing the stereotype for cheap effect (just as I have). But how does one spot a skilled rhetorician, spewing social and political hot takes to drive custom narratives? Let me identify a few markers.

Thomas Sowell penned a brief article entitled “Point of No Return.” I surmise (admitting my lack of familiarity) that is a conservative website, which all by itself does not raise any flags. Indeed, in heterodox fashion, I want to read well reasoned arguments with which I may not always agree. My previous disappointment that Sowell fails in that regard was only reinforced by the linked article. Take note that the entire article uses paragraphs that are reduced to bite-sized chunks of only one or two sentences. Those are small sells, inviting closure with every paragraph break.

Worse yet, only five (small) paragraphs in, Sowell succumbs to Godwin’s Law and cites Nazis recklessly to put the U.S. on a slippery slope toward tyranny. The obvious learned function of mentioning Nazis is to trigger a reaction, much like baseless accusations of racism, sexual misconduct, or baby eating. It puts everyone on the defensive without having to demonstrate the assertion responsibly, which is why the first mention of Nazis in argument is usually sufficient to disregard anything else written or said by the person in question. I might have agreed with Sowell in his more general statements, just as conservatism (as in conservation) appeals as more and more slips away while history wears on, but after writing “Nazi,” he lost me entirely (again).

Sowell also raises several straw men just to knock them down, assessing (correctly or incorrectly, who can say?) what the public believes as though there were monolithic consensus. I won’t defend the general public’s grasp of history, ideological placeholders, legal maneuvers, or cultural touchstones. Plenty of comedy bits demonstrate the deplorable level of awareness of individual members of society like they were fully representative of the whole. Yet plenty of people pay attention and accordingly don’t make the cut when offering up idiocy for entertainment. (What fun, ridiculing fools!) The full range of opinion on any given topic is not best characterized by however many idiots and ignoramuses can be found by walking down the street and shoving a camera and mic in their astonishingly unembarrassed faces.

So in closing, let me suggest that, in defiance of the title of this blog post, Thomas Sowell is in fact not a closer. Although he drops crumbs and morsels gobbled up credulously by those unable to recognize they’re being sold a line of BS, they do not make a meal. Nor should Sowell’s main point, i.e., the titular point of no return, be accepted when his burden of proof has not been met. That does not necessary mean Sowell is wrong in the sense that even a stopped close tells the time correctly twice a day. The danger is that even if he’s partially correction some of the time, his perspective and program (nonpartisan freedom! whatever that may mean) must be considered with circumspection and disdain. Be highly suspicious before buying what Sowell is selling. Fundamentally, he’s a bullshit artist.

  1. notabilia says:

    Your raising of Godwin’s Law is taken under advisement, with a caveat. Overused terms do lose their power, but sometimes the fault is in the discipline’s tameness, not the apposite terms.
    Nazism was a real and monumental event, and should be repeatedly studied, as in David De Jong’s 2022 book “Nazi Billionaires.”
    Of course, Nazism was an outgrowth of many antecedents, most notably fascism and racism. Surely these two ideologies are at play today, with even overt references to “Hitler’s generals” now popping up in today’s news.
    Should we ignore the term? The other side is tired of being tarred with it, and of being tarred with “fascism,” so they try to take the sting out of both and lob the epithet back weakly and erroneously, a la Sowell.
    Fascists calling anti-fascists “fascists” – there’s human communication for you.

    • Brutus says:

      Thanks for your comment. I take your point and agree that Nazism was and is real and that everyone with a moral compass should be vigilant whenever it rears its ugly head. But you give Sowell (and others) too much credit in attempting to defang the epithet by using it sloppily. What? They was to later reclaim the term for their own use? Pshaw.

      My assessment is that Sowell, whom others rarely fail to pronounce “brilliant,” lowers himself frequently to the level of middle school argumentation. He’s particularly fond of leading others to bogus conclusions via juxtaposition without ever having to state things manifestly. “Our enemies use trains to transport people. You know who else used trains? Nazis.” So goodbye public transportation (a worthy public good the automotive industry has stuffed down in the U.S., unlike Europe and Japan), since it’s so obviously a fascist tool of the power elite. Nope, he’s just lazy and dumb with his argumentation, which might work with some but not me.

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