Public (non-) apologies: The discourse of minimizing responsibility

The frequent realizations of apologies in the global arena since the beginning of the 1990s, has turned the speech act into a common device for image restoration. In spite of the advantages that public figures can benefit in contemporary politics of trust from apologizing, the speech act still poses a threat to the public figure’s image. Apologies can undermine the public figure’s desired face, and project an image of a person who is lack of professional capabilities. The aim of this paper is to examine how public figures realize creative forms of apologetic speech in order to minimize their responsibility for misdeeds, while calculating the costs and benefits in producing apology utterances. Based on the analysis of 354 apologies made in the Israeli public discourse between 1997 and 2004, I demonstrate tactics which range on four main categories of minimizing responsibility for misdeeds: compromising the apology’s performative verb (e.g. using the verb sorry or regret instead of apologize), blurring the nature of the offense (e.g. by apologizing for a specific component, rather than the entirety of the offense), questioning the identity of the offended (e.g. claiming that no one should be offended by the act) or questioning the identity of the offender (e.g. explicitly denying direct responsibility for the offense).

Zohar Kampf, Journal of Pragmatics, Volume 41, Issue 11, November 2009, Pages 2257–2270.

Strategic manoeuvring with direct personal attacks

The main finding of a comprehensive empirical research project on the intersubjective acceptability of the pragma-dialectical discussion rules (Van Eemeren, Garssen & Meuffels, 2009) is that ordinary language users judge discussion moves that are considered fallacious from an argumentation-theoretical perspective as unreasonable. In light of this finding it is remarkable that in everyday argumentative discourse fallacies occur regularly and seem many times not to be noticed by the participants in the discourse. This also goes for the abusive argumentum ad hominem. While abusive ad hominem attacks are judged to be very unreasonable discussion moves when the unreasonableness of clear cases of this fallacy is rated in experiments, in real life this fallacy remains undetected more often than not. In this paper it is argued that this paradox can be explained by analysing abusive ad hominem attacks as a mode of strategic manoeuvring which takes on a reasonable appearance in real life situations when it mimics, as it often does, legitimate critical reactions to authority argumentation. The hypothesis that abusive fallacies are seen as less unreasonable when they are presented as if they are critical questions pertaining to the argument scheme for authority argumentation than when they are clear cases was tested systematically in two experiments. The results of these experiments confirmed the hypothesis.

Frans H. van Eemeren, Bart Garssen & Bert Meuffels.

Collective Motion of Humans in Mosh and Circle Pits at Heavy Metal Concerts

Human collective behavior can vary from calm to panicked depending on social context. Using videos publicly available online, we study the highly energized collective motion of attendees at heavy metal concerts. We find these extreme social gatherings generate similarly extreme behaviors: a disordered gaslike state called a mosh pit and an ordered vortexlike state called a circle pit. Both phenomena are reproduced in flocking simulations demonstrating that human collective behavior is consistent with the predictions of simplified models.

Source: Jesse L. Silverberg, Matthew Bierbaum, James P. Sethna, and Itai Cohen, Phys. Rev. Lett. 110, 228701 (2013). (H/T Bwana_Mrefu)

Propaganda and Rush Limbaugh: Is the label the last word?

A content analysis measured the performance of much‐labeled talk show host Rush Limbaugh against traditional and modem standards of propaganda. A month of Limbaugh’s syndicated radio program was recorded off air. The tapes were randomly sampled for topic segments defined as the units of analysis. Trained coders working in pairs rated each sampled segment on 40 questions, grouped to test seven hypotheses about Rush Limbaugh’s performance, and t‐tests were used to test the variance of scores from the neutral median. Although Limbaugh was not found to use the majority of traditional and modem propaganda techniques or to conceal the source and purpose of the ideas he presented, he was found to have a political agenda, to espouse that agenda openly, and to employ a minority of propaganda techniques. The findings support the notion that analysis of the message source, individual techniques of presentation, and the totality of the message may be more important to effective understanding than the assigning of labels.

(William N. Swain, 2009)


Despite strong scientific consensus that global climate disruption is real and due in significant part to human activities, stories in the U.S. mass media often still present the opposite view, characterizing the issue as being “in dispute.” Even today, the U.S. media devote significant attention to small numbers of denialists, who claim that scientific consensus assessments, such as those by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), are “exaggerated” and “political.” Such claims, however, are testable hypotheses—and just the opposite expectation is hypothesized in the small but growing literature on Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods, or SCAMs. The work on SCAMs suggests that, rather than being a reflection of legitimate scientific disagreement, the intense criticisms of climate science may reflect a predictable pattern that grows out of “the politics of doubt”: If enough doubt can be raised about the relevant scientific findings, regulation can be avoided or delayed for years or even decades. Ironically, though, while such a pattern can lead to a bias in scientific work, the likely bias is expected to be just the opposite of the one usually feared. The underlying reason has to do with the Asymmetry of Scientific Challenge, or ASC—so named because certain theories or findings, such as those indicating the significance of climate disruption, are subjected to systematically greater challenges than are those supporting opposing conclusions. As this article shows, available evidence provides significantly more support for SCAM and ASC perspectives than for the concerns that are commonly expressed in the U.S. mass media. These findings suggest that, if current scientific consensus is in error, it is likely because global climate disruption may be even worse than commonly expected to date.

William R. Freudenburg.

Ford & al 2002

Resistance to change has generally been understood as a result of personal experiences and assessments about the reliability of others. Accordingly, attempts are made to alter these factors in order to win support and overcome resistance. But this understanding ignores resistance as a socially constructed reality in which people are responding more to the background conversations in which the change is being initiated than to the change itself. This paper proposes that resistance to change is a function of the ongoing background conversations that are being spoken and which create the context for both the change initiative and the responses to it. In this context, resistance is not a personal phenomenon, but a social systemic one in which resistance is maintained by the background conversations of the organization. Successfully dealing with this source of resistance requires distinguishing the background conversations and completing the past.

Source. Jeffrey D. Ford, Laurie W. Ford, Randall T. McNamara, (2002) “Resistance and the background conversations of change”, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 15 Iss: 2, pp.105 – 121.

The Conceptual Structure of Social Disputes

By Thomas Homer-Dixon, Manjana Milkoreit, Steven J. Mock, Tobias Schröder, and Paul Thagard.


We describe and illustrate a new method of graphically diagramming disputants’ points of view called cognitive-affective mapping. The products of this method—cognitive-affective maps CAMs—represent an individual’s concepts and beliefs about a particular subject, such as another individual or group or an issue in dispute. Each of these concepts and beliefs has its own emotional value. The result is a detailed image of a disputant’s complex belief system that can assist in-depth analysis of the ideational sources of the dispute and thereby aid its resolution. We illustrate the method with representations of the beliefs of typical individuals involved in four contemporary disputes of markedly different type: a clash over German housing policy, disagreements between Israelis over the meaning of the Western Wall, contention surrounding exploitation of Canada’s bitumen resources, and the deep dispute between people advocating action on climate change and those skeptical about the reality of the problem.

[Source.; via PaulM]

The Clucking Theorem

Excessive Speech, Civility Norms, and the Clucking Theorem, by Barak Orbach & Frances R. Sjoberg, Connecticut Law Review, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2011.


The classic free-speech axiom is that the cure for bad speech is more speech. This Article considers the possible social costs of speech, focusing on speech strategies that impede and degrade change, even if the speech itself is socially acceptable. The Article introduces The Clucking Theorem, which states that human nature unnecessarily inflates the costs of processes related to proposed legal changes. Clucking is a form of externality – it is an action that inflates the social costs associated with discourse over a new or revised norm. It also alters transitions, degrades the quality of reforms, impedes certain changes, and facilitates undesirable transitions. This Article’s inquiry into the characteristics of clucking is supported by a qualitative study of debates and disputes over changes to backyard chicken laws in more than one hundred localities between 2007 and 2010. This study emphasizes that certain clucking characteristics are unrelated to the significance of the issue at stake, the size of the population, or the innovation in the proposed change. In synthesizing the study, this Article identifies five categories of individuals who engage in clucking: losers, winners, status quo enforcers, political opportunists, and human roosters. Finally, this Article stresses that civility norms and procedural rules are viable means to reduce the social costs of clucking.

via Excessive Speech, Civility Norms, and the Clucking Theorem by Barak Orbach, Frances R. Sjoberg :: SSRN.