Infographics are like philosophical dialogues, but shorter

dialoguesNon-Believer: I have no idea what you mean. Infographics are nothing like dialogues.

Believer: Do you even know what a dialogue is?

Non-Believer: Duh. It’s what we’re doing right now.

Believer: Sure, but do you know what dialogues are for?

Non-Believer: Stop treating me like an idiot!

Believer: But that’s kind of the point of philosophical dialogues. They’re a device for putting forward one point of view, while seeming to embrace two opposing ways of thinking.

Non-Believer: So, you’re saying I’m just a dumb asshole who’s here to prove a point, while you lecture me and poke holes in my belief system?

Believer: Precisely. Dialogues were commonly used by Plato in his Socratic dialogues. In these, Socrates interrogates another thinker, challenging his views, uncovering his prejudices and ultimately leading him to admit that he was wrong all along.

Non-Believer: Like I’m ever going to admit that.

Believer: So, infographics are like dialogues.

Non-Believer: They are so not.

Believer: In a contemporary infographic, there are two elements – an arresting image juxtaposed with a pithy slogan. They are a modern form of propaganda.

Non-Believer: Possibly. But they are also an ideal form of mass communication for the internet age.

Believer: Which is what makes them so dangerous. They’re exactly what I was telling you about when I discussed the dangers of the meme.

Non-Believer: You’re so wrong. According to studies, infographics have been shown to improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends.

Believer: That might be true of infographics that display complex data in a simple form that can be easily grasped. People like Professor Hans Rosling are masters of this form of information presentation, showing complex trends, like how the world is becoming less divided due to technology and globalization.

Non-Believer: Exactly.

Believer: But what if the image is of a cute dog or a grumpy cat, and the caption has nothing to do with the image and is entirely unsupported by facts?

Non-Believer: That would be bad. But how is that related to a dialogue?

Believer: Don’t you see? They’re both just rhetorical devices for putting across a particular point of view.

Non-Believer: I don’t see it. In the case of a dialogue, two opposing points of view are presented impartially, and one is demonstrated to be true while the other is false. In an infographic, only one view is presented.

Believer: That assumes that a dialogue really involves two people and wasn’t simply written by one person pretending to be two.

Non-Believer: You’re saying they don’t really represent the opposing views equally?

Believer: Yes.

Non-Believer: You’re right. I agree with you entirely.

Believer: I knew you would eventually.

Non-Believer: Perhaps a picture of a dinosaur would have been a whole lot quicker.

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19 responses to “Infographics are like philosophical dialogues, but shorter

  1. When I argue with myself, I find dinosaurs distracting. Owls and Unicorns seem to help me convince myself to my way of thinking though.

  2. Rhetorical dialogues can have their purposes, but I can’t recall many being fair to the opposing side. Dialogues between actual people are almost always far messier and less ideologically affirming, but often much fairer. There’s a reason why both the prosecution and defense generally get to make their case in court.

  3. Cute dogs and grumpy cats are very convincing. Double-like on this post Steve.

  4. Interesting take, Steve. I’m inclined to disagree, but I’m not sure why (habit, perhaps? 🙂 ). Aristotle did define rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (nothing about using images instead of words!).

    I think my objection may stem from that a good dialog, while I agree does have a single point of view it’s pushing, at least raises the opposing points (in order to demolish them). There is also that a dialog is more often more deconstructive than an infographic. They can also be more simplistic than a verbal argument.

    What interests me more is how infographics often represent the loss of nuance and detail (or even thoughtfulness) that seems to plague modern thinking.

    • Yes but the reason dialogues raise opposing points of view is to dismiss them as irrelevant. It’s often a straw man argument technique. Discussion on blog comments is completely different in nature (as Mike says, and as this exchange between us demonstrates.) It’s often nothing like what happens in a dialogue.

      There’s nothing new about propaganda, except that it’s now far more likely to be homemade instead of official state communication. That makes it crude, pervasive and insidious, as you so rightly say.

      • I absolutely agree infographics are (usually) a form of propaganda (sometimes they’re merely education rather than pushing a POV). I think that’s why I seem them as slightly different than dialogues.

        There is a difference, I think, between persuasion and propaganda. I’m not sure there’s a hard line, more of a spectrum. As some point persuasion becomes inauthentic, even dishonest, and then it’s propaganda.

        Perhaps this is less about the tool (the infographic) than the way it is used. I’ve seen infographics that are purely educational and others that were making a very strong, and biased, point of view.

        “…the reason dialogues raise opposing points of view is to dismiss them as irrelevant.”

        Which is why I wrote “good dialog” in my first comment. Again, this is more about how a thing is used than the thing itself. There are dialogues that fairly explore both sides (sometimes with the view that one side is much more incoherent than the other and will surely lose in any fair fight).

        How a dialog handles the opposing view can speak volumes. If it does unfairly dismiss it as irrelevant, this often sticks out like a sore thumb and ends up having the opposite effect than intended. People react to the lack of authenticity (which is exactly why Donnie Boy Trump and Feel the Bernie Sanders are doing so well; people are aware of, and fed up with, all the falsity of politicians, even good ones like Clinton).

        The key with dialog is the dialectic and infographics lack that entirely. I do see your point. Totally. But I think it’s conflating two things that are (at least somewhat) different (but also somewhat related).

  5. “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”
    – Chuang Tzu

    “Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull.”
    – H.L. Mencken

  6. “Happiness is the absence of the striving for happiness.”
    Yet which is cause and which effect?

  7. Oh, yes. A question for which the mind finds only the conundrum of endless division. Yet it must be asked and pondered to allow us the opportunity, the ever-present opportunity, of feeling unity, feeling the universe we continually create from nothing (a process which all languages, including mathematics, ultimately fail to describe).

    [Apologies for straying from the original topic]

  8. No problems, Chris. Anyone who knows what it is to create a universe from nothing is welcome here!

  9. This is fantastic! Although, I think a lot of Plato’s dialogues are potentially self-aware on this score. In a lot of ways, Thrasymachus is the real winner of the Republic, while Aristophanes and Alcibiades take the Symposium. And in the Gorgias, Callicles never gives in, but just rolls his eyes and tells Socrates to have fun talking to himself – and then that’s exactly what Socrates does. That doesn’t make this any less hilarious or accurate, though.

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