Ten commonly misused terms

August 5, 2011 at 2:37 pm (Arts and languages, Evolution and psychology, Mass media)

1. Social construct

Social construct refers to a specific and arbitrary social arrangement. It can be compared to the idea of a social contract, although a social contract often involves common knowledge while a construct does not.

In critical studies and in other fields, there has been a trend of labeling pretty much every social or natural phenomenon as a “social construct”, often with the implication that it is imaginary and undesirable. But many of these “social constructs” can be attributed to natural causes, and are completely unrelated to society.


  • Languages are social constructs.
  • Gender roles are largely social constructs.
  • The idea that “romantic love” exists is a social construct.
  • Language use is not a social construct.
  • Gender is not a social construct.
  • The feeling described by “romantic love” is not a social construct.

2. Ad hominem

The notion of argumentum ad hominem is distinct from the notion of personal attacks. Argumentum ad hominem is to relate a person’s argument with his character; if someone states that homosexuality is immoral, and is revealed to be a closet homosexual, it is an argumentum ad hominem to question his hypocrisy, though it is not intended as a personal attack. It is also logically permissible.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible to make a personal comment without making an argumentum ad hominem, and in fact this is very common in daily conversation – “It’s not what you said, but the way you said it” “I don’t like your attitude” – etc.

3. Ethos, pathos, logos

These are commonly known as the three “modes of persuasion”, but they are nothing of this sort. Ethos (sense of authority/credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (reason) belong to the audience. The three modes of persuasion are appealing to ethos, appealing to pathos, and appealing to logos.

These terms are also often confused with each other. For example, Brutus’s speech to the citizens in Julius Caesar is often cited as an appeal to ethos or pathos, but it is in fact mostly an appeal to logos. While he talks about his love of Caesar, and of Rome, it was not an attempt to establish his own character or appeal to the audience’s emotions, but to justify the act of killing Caesar as a reasonable decision. One can speak of his own character and of emotions without it being an appeal to either ethos or pathos.

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American media and oppressor narratives

July 4, 2011 at 12:17 pm (Mass media, Politics)

About six weeks ago, a few days after the Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) allegations surfaced, I received my latest subscription of TIME Magazine (Asia). The cover read “Sex. Lies. Arrogance. What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs”. Knowing fully well what the content is about, I put it on my shelf fully wrapped and decided that I would only read it after DSK is vindicated (or proven guilty – but I thought that would be extremely unlikely).

Today, as DSK’s accuser is expected to be charged with perjury after admitting to lying under oath, I finally unwrapped the magazine and read the cover article. There is not much that I can say, besides my sincere and unrealistic hope that the author loses her job; frankly there is not much that I was surprised by. Here are a few quotations from the article:

“How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age…that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?”

“And so he sat in a cell at Rikers Island, a short flight but a long fall from his $4 million Georgetown home…” (emphasis mine)

“Paris lawyer Emmanuel Pierrat recalls a young woman who told him of a violent encounter with Strauss-Kahn. “She wanted to know whether I thought what I heard would form the basis for a solid legal case,” Pierrat says. “I told her I did.” In the end she decided to drop the complaint, fearing the media circus, the very good chance she’d be accused of being a liar or worse.(emphasis mine)

“the political challenge facing DSK was less his lechery than his lifestyle; it’s hard to be a Socialist icon living the life of a plutocrat. Photographs of him climbing into a friend’s $142,000 Porsche caused a furor…”

“conspiracy theorists were quick to suspect a setup…they argued…Admirers were more likely to throw themselves at him…”

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