• Shelly Nueve

Understanding How to Use Words: The Best Ancient Weapon Against Tyranny

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

By Shelly Nueve, Contributor

Mind Your P's and Q's!

If you look in the Urban Dictionary for the above colloquialism, the P stands for Peace, and the Q stands for Quiet, as in Peace and Quiet. Essentially it means you need to mind your manners. It can also mean to be on your best behavior, to preserve the Peace. With this in mind, what would "American" Ps and Qs be? Could these be the ideas that we value most and wish to preserve in order to truly remain American? What of it?

Most American children learn in high school that our democratic republic stems largely from the ancient Greek and Roman forms of democracy and the republic, where debate and philosophical discussions took place daily. This is more and more disappearing from the classroom and leaves little room for the type of debate common to ancient societies.

Searching in-depth for more details, you might land on Stanford University's page on Ancient Political Philosophy, which tells of the origins of these ideas from specific Greek and Roman philosophers. The most famous Greek philosophers were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In contrast, the most referenced Roman republic speakers were Cicero and Seneca.

The Romans often encouraged their listeners to think for themselves using philosophical arguments. The Socratic method, used by the Greeks and so named because Socrates often posed questions to his students, challenges the underlying assumptions of those debating. This method is still used in modern-day law schools.

What should all American's ask themselves?

What are our own versus our collective priorities? How do we define justice? Does the individual matter more than the community or vice versa? These are healthy questions that help develop our logical minds and eliminate exclusivity. We likely can agree that we are striving towards inclusivity and not the opposite.

Modern philosophers have troubled themselves with questions of Utilitarianism versus the individual's rights, or even property rights. In the nineteenth century, the founder of Utilitarianism, Jeremy Bentham, at first believed that the rights of the many were "incompatible" with the rights of the individual citizen.

According to Cambridge.org, one of Bentham's successors, John Stuart Mill, argued that in the long run, Utilitarianism did support "strong rights both of democratic participation and of individual freedom of action." For example, when considering how we all share the road when we drive our vehicles, whether owned, leased or borrowed, we practice a freedom of movement that is self-directed. We each pay road and fuel taxes to our cities and counties in order to have access to those roads.

So, what do we care about most? What are the top tier favorites in each state? This is what we should always question each time we head to the polls, right? Yet, we still find discussing politics such a taboo? We need each other as soundboards. The biggest adversary to progress is groupthink or "echo chambers." We need opposition to challenge our assumptions regularly. It both grows our society and stabilizes it. We really do need each other's differing opinions. We need the devil's advocate, so to speak.

To that point, we turn to another interesting character: Abraham Maslow. Maslow was a psychologist from New York, born at the turn of the twentieth century. He is best known for his self-actualization theory and hierarchy of needs, according to Britannica Online. Maslow realized that we each have innate needs or drives that must be met before achieving the next step in our own evolution. We need food, water, safety, and security. After that, we feel free to pursue true happiness from friendships, a sense of community, and then further, self-actualization – where a person can truly achieve full potential.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is practically an accepted universal truth. Why, then, do we deny one another many of these essentials? Can we not first look to those areas of our country where our fellow citizens can't get food, water, shelter, safety? How can we approve of expenditures that deny our own these needs while flushing our funds down the tubes to foreign entities? Why? Ask yourselves what did you expect? Why are the poorest among us not important enough for you to stand by the basic decision to provide funds, education, safety, and water for our poorest cities?

Here are some more questions that can be asked to make sure we do not give in to a narrowed view of our world. We want to think inclusively, right?

Flawed arguments can cloud our logical judgment. Have you ever been pressured into buying something you didn't really need or want? Did the salesperson appeal to your vanity or sense of fear? What if the price went up later and you really needed that widget or sweater or car add-on? Well, that salesperson used a fallacious argument to help you conclude that you should indeed buy that object.

A fallacy is a false argument that doesn't support a logical conclusion. When engaging in a healthy debate, each person makes statements that logically draw to a conclusion. The conclusion is supported by true and provable statements and facts.

Here are some commonly used fallacies that sidestep logic directly or indirectly:

  • Straw Man: misrepresenting an opponent's argument in a weaker version in order to refute it.

  • Ad Hominem: an argument that attacks the person, the debater, instead of the merits of the argument. Example: "You're a consistently untidy person, so why should we believe what you saw?"

  • Slippery Slope: arguing that 1 thing can easily lead to another, and then further something worse, so the 1st thing should definitely be prevented. However, there is usually little evidence connecting these circumstances.

  • Appeal to Emotion: an argument that makes you feel guilty, or another negative and extreme feeling. It can also appeal to your vanity or fear of losing/missing something.

  • Appeal to Popularity: if everyone else jumps off a bridge… everyone is doing it…

  • Appeal to Probability: assumption that because something probably or possibly could happen that it is certain to happen. You may likely experience an auto accident during your lifetime vs. you are certain to experience an auto accident during your lifetime

  • Begging the question: ex? A form of circular reasoning in which the initial statement is assumed (without sufficient evidence) to be true. The reason our product is in such high demand is that everyone wants it.

  • Correlative-based: ex? Faulty assumption that correlation between two variables implies that one causes the other. My accident occurred when it was dark out; driving in the dark causes car accidents.

  • Circular reasoning: ex? An argument that re-states itself rather than proving the validity of the argument. Only a crazy person would drive at night, so anyone who drives at night is crazy.

  • Equivocation: ex? Use of ambiguous words or phrases or "doublespeak" to create the appearance of validity. Person pulled over for DUI "I've only had a few beers." (a 12-pack is "a few," right?)

  • False Dilemma/Dichotomy: ex? Oversimplification that typically presents polar either-or options when in reality, there are more options available. America: Love it or leave it

  • False Parallel: ex? Assumes without sufficient evidence that two things that are similar in one aspect must be similar in another. If we can put a man on the moon, we can put a man on Mars.

  • Red Herring: ex? A form of distraction or misdirection that sidetracks from the main topic and is often irrelevant and emotionally charged. Violent crime in our city has risen 25% this year; however, our efforts to combat the existential threat of climate change are really making an impact.

One final question…

Do you understand paltering?

Paltering is lying but uses some part of the truth to mislead you. In using part of the truth, it's still not enough of the whole picture to see the full misdirection of the statement. For example, you lend your car to a friend and ask if there were any issues with your car. The friend responds with how traffic was horrible, delayed their arrival, and hardly drove above 20 miles per hour, but they still had a good day. Now, you could assume that there were no issues, but that didn't answer your yes or no question.

The full story is that your friend hit a curb and bent your rims on the right side, but your friend was telling the truth when they said they "still had a good day" and hardly used the gas pedal on your car. It's a good habit to ask more questions and investigate further for yourself. Do not make assumptions to fill in gaps.

"The Greek ideal was that, with justice as a foundation, political life would enable its participants to flourish and to achieve the overarching human end of happiness (eudaimonia), expressing a civic form of virtue and pursuing happiness and success through the competitive forums of the city. Whether justice applied to the city's relation with other cities was a further and highly contested point, memorably explored in Thucydides' recounting of the "Melian Dialogue" in 416 BCE, in which emissaries of the Athenians debated the meaning of justice with the leaders of the island-city of Melos, a city they were threatening with death and disaster should they fail to submit to Athenian imperial demands." ~Standford.edu website on Ancient Political Philosophy

The larger picture is about progression overall, of course, but not at each individual's expense. Therefore, we need all citizens to exercise their rights, know and respect others' rights, and teach by example the behavior of both. We need to do this so that younger generations can see it for themselves, to enable them to choose their own Ps and Qs.

At the end of the day, we need to be examples of what we believe in through our deeds and words. Words are critical in this time – choose them wisely and use them well. Words are the best weapon in the fight to preserve our union!


[Note: Our bloggers are independent writers with their own constitutionally granted opinions, viewpoints, interpretations, and feelings. Their views do not always represent that of American Reveille LLC. Regardless, we support their right to free speech and a medium to express it! Got a problem with that? Go somewhere else!]


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