C e O d N i C t E o A r L i E a D l
Robert Wright is the science writer for Time Magazine. Because he writes for this popular magazine, he enjoys the attention of many readers who look to him to provide them with the latest news from the scientific community. After reading The Evolution of Despair, an article written by Wright, I came under the impression that he is both reporter and commentator, but not explicitly so. Wright utilizes a variety of rhetorical tools to establish trust and confidence in his readers, thereupon interjecting his own opinions without arousing suspicion.
The article's first paragraph is a perfect example of how a writer can establish intimacy with his reader. The following example demonstrates Wright's use of first person and emotional appeal:
"Whether burdened by an overwhelming flurry of daily commitments or stifled by a sense of social isolation; whether mired for hours in a sense of life's pointlessness or beset for days by unresolved anxiety; whether deprived by long workweeks from quality time with offspring or drowning in quantity time with them - whatever the source of stress, we at times get the feeling that modern life isn't what we were designed for" (1).
Everyone, at some point, has experienced the feelings that Wright describes. And with the pronoun 'we' Wright tells his readers, 'Yes, I have been through the same things.' This sort of statement is like a token of good will. The readers feel that Wright understands their plight and thus are more likely to listen to what he has to say.
With this trust established, Wright moves on to the task of building confidence in his readers. He lives up to his title of science writer by providing various statistics ("As of 1993, 37% of Americans felt they could trust most people, down from 58% in 1960" (4).) and reporting the findings of numerous professors and scientists ("The anthropo-logist Phillip Walker has studied the bones of more than 5,000 children from hundreds of preindustrial cultures, dating back to 4,000 B.C." (2).). This serves a three-fold purpose: 1) to give credibility to the article, 2) to provide subject matter on which Wright can comment, and 3) to indirectly establish the moral character of Wright. On this last point, explicit endorsement of Wright by these respected authorities is absent and unnecessary. The mere appearance of support from these sources is sufficient enough to suggest the validity of his views.
Wright's persuasive approach is a method that an aspiring orator might adopt. Instead of the written word, this article might be presented orally. It is no difficult task to imagine Wright standing before a podium, addressing a large crowd contained within an amphitheater. With eyes and ears focused upon Wright, the audience would be guided through the very process of intimacy, trust, and confidence, so that they would be prepared to accept the thoughts of their altruistic speaker.
With this well-designed preparatory sequence, it should be of little effort for audience or readers to understand and accept Wright's views. However, this is where a problem arises. Wright, deliberate or accidental, accomplished a burial of his ideas through excess citation of outside studies, the very studies that should give strength to his argument. While reading, the reader may find it difficult at times to differentiate between the beliefs of Wright and those of the people he cited. When it is apparent that Wright is expressing his opinion, it usually seems to hint of deviousness on his part. Returning to the image of the orator, the orator could be a politician. After all, Wright does include a little bit of politics in his article: "Taxes, as Newt Gingrich and others have patiently explained, slow economic growth. True enough. But if economic growth places such strain on community to begin with - a fact that Gingrich seems to grasp - what's so bad about a marginally subdued rate of growth" (4). If the article is intended as an expose' on evolutionary psychology, it probably is not fair for Wright to be discussing religion either: "Natural selection, for better or worse, is our creator, but it isn't God..." (4).
Wright finishes his article with the following statement: "The pursuit of More can keep us from better knowing our neighbors, better loving our kin - in general, from cultivating the warm, affiliative side of human nature whose roots science is just now starting to fathom" (4). In the final assessment, the reader may be left wondering, as I was, whether Wright wished to support or discard evolutionary psychology. Or maybe neither. In light of the last sentence, the entire article could be just a well-crafted personal attack on capitalism. If this is true, Wright's effort in persuading the reader can be appreciated. His guile in doing so cannot. After all, where is the justification for concealing an editorial within a scientific piece?
Wright, Robert. "The Evolution of Despair" Time Magazine Vol. 146 No. 9 28 Aug. 1996: 1-4 (Full article is included for the use of citations because original page numbers could not be obtained.)