Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev questions

On 2 January 2017 the Oxford Union posted on YouTube the video of a talk and Q&A by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev. He had delivered it on 15 November, but they held up online publication in order to present me with a New Year gift.

I jest, of course, but it was a very special New Year discovery. Since I first critiqued a speech of his on this blog on 5 April 2013, I have featured him several times; but I have sought out videos of his teaching very many more times. I have seen him impart wisdom to questions, and I have seen him deliver big, set-piece speeches. He is particularly comfortable with the former, but can also be very impressive with the latter. Usually I watch him merely to soak up wisdom, but occasionally I don my rhetor hat. Having watched many hours of him I have found what I perceive to be a chink in his formidable speaking armoury.

This is not a set-piece speech. For one thing he is sitting, and for another he habitually precedes set-pieces with a brief chant which I understand is not exactly a prayer but a device for self-focus. Here he merely begins talking.

If I were in his shoes, I should do the same. This is not a conference with a clearly defined theme on which he can hang a message. His teaching is so wide and far-reaching that he could take his pick of scores of messages without knowing whether they would chime with this audience. Far better to deliver a decorum-creating homily, and then address questions. The homily lasts for a smidgeon over 27 minutes.

I mentioned a chink in his armoury. He often asks rhetorical questions, not expecting an answer and not getting one. But suddenly sometimes he does demand an answer. What is strange is that this often happens when the answer is glaringly self-evident. Nearly all questions, even the rhetorical ones are followed by –

…isn’t it – yes or no?

If you have your audience under your spell and they are immersed in deep thought, a question with an obvious answer is likely to be treated by them as rhetorical because they want to stay with their deep thoughts. Why then toss a stone onto the glassy surface of that beautifully still pond and break the spell? Most speakers would give their proverbial right arm to get an audience in that receptive mode. Yet I’ve often seen him break his own spell – including on this occasion.

Were I to confront him on the subject I have no doubt he would give me a string of reasons; but I think it’s a mistake and that he should not pursue unnecessary answers. And even up against a Great Teacher, when on the subject of speaking I am – naturally – always right…

Do yourself a favour and watch the whole thing. You may not agree with all of it. I think I may have issues with his position in relation to the question that begins at 47:20 and intend to apply some serious thought to it. I also believe him to be profoundly misguided with the ending of his preliminary homily: I fear that he is lazily following a fashionable piety. But an opportunity to stop for an hour and fall under that spell is always spiritually refreshing.

And I shall be forever grateful to him for having clarified a personal conundrum with which I struggled till I first heard him in 2013. I stopped struggling and began embracing it. He addresses it again in the final question which begins at 58:30.

 

Dinesh D’Souza straightens the record

On 9 November 2016 – and I bet you can remember what you were doing that day – The Young Americans for Freedom held a meeting at the Southern Methodist University. It was addressed by Dinesh D’Souza.

His introduction by Grant Wolf begins with one of those rabble-rousing cries of “All Riiiiight!”. Here it sounds particularly lame as it goes out into silence of an apparently stony nature. In fact, as this talk unfolds, it emerges that the makers of this video had no ‘atmos’ microphones in the body of the hall, and we barely hear the audience. Therefore some of what comes from the platform seems unbalanced against lack of reaction.

Before we leave the subject of D’Souza’s introduction, I ought to touch on a mistake that Wolf makes. He lists a number of people to thank for the organisation of this talk, and invites applause. Then he leads the applause. Applauding from the platform is one of those things that feels right, but looks wrong. It also sounds awful because it is amplified through the microphone.

The introduction ends at 6:30, and D’Souza begins speaking at 6:50. The twenty second gap consists of a standing ovation. Before you begin speaking, there is nothing like a standing ovation to persuade you that you are among friends.

D’Souza, after a few relatively inconsequential niceties, begins with a history lesson on American politics. It’s interesting. The interest is not only in the content, but in the very clear way he structures it. My pulse quickens. This guy is good.

So good is he that shortly there occurs a moment that has admittedly featured before with this blog, but very rarely. I put down my notepad and just listen.

What a fascinating, riveting speech! I heartily recommend it.

Because of the stranglehold that the Democratic party has on the US mainstream media, and because the UK mainstream media from the BBC upwards are cast in much the same bigoted mould, we have been fed essentially only one side of the story of the US Presidential election. This speech straightens the record.

There is a book and a movie, entitled Hillary’s America. If you follow that link you will find yourself at the same page as was linked by D’Souza’s name in the first paragraph. There he describes it as The most important movie you’ll see before you vote. Admittedly, as a Brit, I didn’t have a vote in the US election so my not having heard about this till now doesn’t matter. Nevertheless he tells us something of how hard the other side of the argument worked to prevent anyone seeing it.

If we learn nothing else from watching this speech, we discover what an extraordinary achievement it was for Donald Trump to win that election against the massed coalition forces of the US establishment. We also learn that all that we think we can expect from the President Elect and his administration may be so biassed as quite possibly untrue. That means we can go into 2017 with hope.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I shall begin that hope by watching nearly half-an-hour of D’Souza’s Q&A.

Happy New Year.

Ben Shapiro’s paper gelds his message

On 16 November the University of Wisconsin-Madison live-streamed a talk by conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro. He was invited by Young Americans for Freedom.

We have previously in this blog come across the issue of students agitating to ‘no-platform’ speakers. Shapiro is no stranger to this authoritarianism, having been banned by DePaul, and at California State University, Los Angeles, needed protection from a police escort. The inflammatory topic that caused such uproar was Free Speech on Campus.

Here he begins at 4:13, and ends at around 58:30.

Why is he reading a script?

Actually I already know the answer. He sincerely believes that it is a requirement. He is not alone, but he is profoundly wrong. No one needs a script: I have proved it countless times. Watch him during the Q&A after the talk, and you’ll see how good he can be.

It’s a fairly amusing opening. He pokes fun at so-called Social Justice Warriors. I have heard that first minute just twice and could already shoot it from the hip. So could you. So could he. But he doesn’t: he reads most of it. And it’s the moments that he permits himself to shoot little asides from the hip that cause his effectiveness momentarily to lift. You get to see for a couple of seconds how much better this speech would have been if he had learnt how to throw away the paper, and (at least as importantly) been shown how easily he could.

A very short time into his lecture, the protests begin. Repeated shouts of “shame” and “safety” try to drown him out. At this point he shows that he has an arsenal of pre-prepared put-downs to deploy. They are quite good, and have the side-benefit of getting him away from that bloody paper.

Once they have subsided (temporarily, it turns out) he returns to reading his script; and immediately the guts of his performance haemorrage out. It’s actually good stuff, but crippled – gelded! – by being read aloud rather than spoken.

Within a minute or two the moronic shouting begins again. A girl in the middle of the auditorium rises to her feet and berates the protesters. She delivers a beautifully eloquent piece of ad-lib that can be paraphrased as “Shut the … [front door] … and let us listen to the man!” Her interjection earns her a standing ovation, and shortly afterwards we return to listening to Shapiro reading his good stuff for a few more minutes.

It soon becomes apparent that the protesters are positioned in the side aisles and along the back.  They begin to process down towards the stage, line up in front of it, and chant their imbecilic slogans. The audience responds by counter-chanting.

What is sad is that this trend appears to have become ubiquitous in US academe, and is spilling across the Atlantic. What is even sadder is that it comes from above. The evidence suggests that teachers are feeding this nonsense, and that they got it from their teachers.

At the beginning of last year I covered a brilliant talk by Hans Rosling in which he exposes a series of widely-held misconceptions about the world – misconceptions that are exploded by real data. Although he treats the subject lightly it is clear that these lies colour people’s political views, which is serious. At one point he almost throws away (blink and you’ll miss it) the observation that people cleave to nonsenses that can be dated fairly precisely from the period that their teachers were born. Therefore it’s at least two generations of apostolic succession since this stuff was planted.

I remember when students rebelled. Students are supposed to rebel! Student rebellion has today almost died. They are reduced to parroting poison from their pedagogues, which they parrot from theirs. And the poison is political correctness, and at the root of political correctness is the rule that dissent must be silenced at all costs. That is why they hate free speech.

There is a growing movement to push back. Ben Shapiro is part of that movement. If he would only learn that speaking and writing are not the same thing, and learn to do the former properly, he’d be a lot more effective. Freed from the tyranny of that bloody paper, he’d be as good as he is during the Q&A that begins at the one hour point.

Jon Smith sits and talks with …

The Oxford Union, on 14 October, hosted a talk followed by Q&A from Jon Smith, football super-agent.

What I know about football (soccer) could be written in several languages on the back of a postage stamp, but my interest was quickened because the mainstream media suggest that football agents are shadowy lowlife, barely legal beings – bottom-feeders; and given that the mainstream media are almost unfailingly wrong about everything I wanted to learn more. I was also curious as to how and why the Oxford Union had gone out of its way to seek a talk from him. This last was quickly answered by the revelation that he had recently published a book of memoirs. When I had a radio programme, I remember book promotion campaigns as one of the best seams to mine for good interviews.

He is seated.

My mind rockets back more than half a century to schooldays and a class speaking competition. The teacher had surrendered his desk at the front of the classroom,  and we were all invited to use it. All the others enthroned themselves in his seat of power. I, choosing to stand, won. Although the teacher did mention that by standing I showed more authority than the others, I have always liked to believe that there was more than that to my victory.

In The Face & Tripod, I have a chapter entitled The Communication Paradox. This paradox is essentially in how unexpectedly often it is that otherwise good communicators have difficulty with public speaking. I discuss reasons and remedies. In particular I home in on the preposition ‘with’, and commend the mindset of speaking with your audience as distinct from to. Jon Smith is definitely speaking with his audience, and I have a suspicion that by sitting he is helping that.

I feel slightly chastened. When I began teaching and coaching public speaking, nearly thirty years ago, I was a bit of a maverick inasmuch as I sensed (correctly it turned out) that the fashion for formal oratory was on the wain. I was one of the earliest advocates of the conversational-sincerity school of speaking, but I have always stopped short of recommending being seated. Jon Smith is making me rethink. He is showing me that there are circumstances when it obviously works.

He is instantly likeable, sincere, articulate, coherent, everything I would wish him to be. From the moment he starts I want to learn more. That is the equivalent of the author forcing you to turn pages. My notepad is discarded: I am too interested in what he has to say to give a damn about how he says it. And remember: I know nothing about football.

This talk is brilliant. The book is called The Deal: Inside the World of a Super-Agent. I can’t wait to read it.

And the Q&A is fascinating too. I suspect you would never guess his answer to the question, “Who is the most powerful man in football?”

Jay Lehr sits on no fence

On 29 October the Science Director of the Heartland Institute, Jay Lehr, delivered a talk at the AM 560 Freedom Summit in Chicago. He was always going to be forthright: his published headline reads, “There is not now, nor has there ever been, any scientific evidence proving mankind has affected the climate on a global scale.”

With my trainees, apart from nuanced subtleties concerning structure and so on, I drum into them that ultimately they simply need their audience to leave the venue knowing absolutely and unambiguously what you intended them to hear. Here we have an example of a speaker successfully aiming at precisely that target.

Ah yes! His opening reminds us that he is speaking a week and a half before the US Presidential Election.

I have made the point previously in this blog when the subject of global warming came up that sceptics tend to show their workings, and alarmists tend to show their skill at name-calling. Having covered speeches from both sides of the debate, I have found conformity to this rule to have been astonishingly consistent. It was this that first raised my suspicion of global warming. I remember noticing several decades ago in the school playground that name-calling was a substitute for reason, and I have found that true in a wide variety of fields ever since.

Lehr shows his workings. He churns out statistics almost incontinently. They tend often to be ballpark statistics because he is shooting from the hip, and in this setting statistical precision is not particularly relevant. He is practising a technique that I call tactical omission. By making assertions without always substantiating them, he gets more of them in; likewise statistics that are broadly correct. There is a Q&A session after this talk, and if anyone wants to challenge anything he has said, you can bet every thread on your shirt that he can substantiate his assertions and fine down statistics to several decimal places, but he’ll be doing it in the questioner’s time not his own. It’s a useful tactic.

Also it becomes clear that he is talking to an audience that is not overburdened with scientific knowledge, so his arguments and parallels are couched always in lay terms. Scientists might be tempted to scorn this speech for this reason, but I wonder whether they’d dare debate him face to face?

This is another facet of the climate issue that attracted my attention some years ago. Sceptics repeatedly challenge alarmists to debates, and alarmists use an hilarious range of excuses to duck out. What has kept the ridiculous thing going, even though a baby born the last time there was any warming is now old enough to vote, is political pressure and the lobbying of vested interests on a scale that is eye-watering. The climate change industry is one of the largest in the world, but even if the planet does warm it will be infinitely cheaper to cope with it when the time comes than to pretend that we can do anything about it now. Never has there been so much energy worthy of a better cause.

Since this speech the US have elected their new President, and he has indicated that he plans to dismantle the American contribution to this industry. He doesn’t have to do much. If the taxpayer simply stops subsidising it, the industry will collapse on its own. Like many I am nervous of Trump, but if he finally lays this climate nonsense to rest posterity will bestow on his legacy plaudits more noble than anything Obama can claim. For instance it could unlock untold potential by awakening the sleeping giant that is Africa, kept sedated all this time by expensive energy.

Anyone who has followed the climate issue for any time will find little new in this speech, but I love the forcefulness with which he puts it across – not least in his exploding the preposterous 97% consensus fiction which never anyway withstood more than a few minutes examination. I see that he does a lot of speaking. I’m not a bit surprised.

Tommy Robinson and free speech

I read on line an article written by Douglas Murray for the Gatestone Institute. It unfavourably compared the official treatment of Tommy Robinson and Anjem Choudary. I found it interesting because, whatever you may think of either of these gentlemen, the one absolute concerning the law is that everyone should be equal under it. This article suggests that in some respects they are not.

Within days I spotted that Tommy Robinson had delivered a talk at the Oxford Union, and although this happened in November 2014 I had not picked it up at the time. I felt rather ashamed of myself, because as a fervent believer in free speech I like to support it by heralding it on this blog. Well, better late than never …

There was also a Q&A session, but you won’t find it here, Robinson holds the floor for this entire video. Occasionally you overhear protest chanting from outside the hall, but inside the audience listens in decorous silence.

Let me get the rhetor stuff out of the way. Robinson could structure a little more clearly, but otherwise this is what public speaking should be. It is sometimes slightly garbled, but transparently sincere. He shoots from the hip a message that he wants to get across, and he sets about it without affectation or pretence. You can disagree with every word he utters, but I don’t believe that you can justifiably accuse him of hiding behind a false persona.

I tip my hat to the Oxford Union for this dramatic and excellent example of free speech. Providing a platform for views you might expect to find abhorrent, is by far the best way to challenge them.

I don’t think I have anything to add. I simply commend the whole talk. You may hate him throughout; you may not. Either way, I suspect you will come to understand better. I did.

The Q&A is pretty good too.

Matt Ridley reads royally

On 17 October, at the Royal Society in London, Matt Ridley gave a talk that was widely publicised both before and after. Everyone knew that he would be discussing climate change, and adopting a position which would challenge much of its orthodoxy.

This should not be out of the ordinary at the Royal Society which was founded for the purpose of sceptically examining and debating matters scientific, and indeed has a motto – Nullius in Verba – which exhorts it not to take anyone’s word for anything. The trouble is that in recent years the Society had appeared to have become politicised into toeing the establishment line on climate change, and showing to any dissent a level of intolerance which shamed its distinguished history. Therefore the news that this talk would be happening was greeted with eyebrows either raised in surprised and delighted approval, or lowered into shocked disapproval, depending upon the political persuasion of their owner.

Ridley is preceded by Lord Lawson, chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, who first offers well-deserved thanks to the Society for having withstood pressure from “fanatics” in holding this event. Then he introduces Ridley, describing him as “the leading scientific writer in the world today”. Ridley’s flattered astonishment at this description is fun to behold. Lawson also describes this talk as a ‘lecture’. This is a significant word because it literally means a reading, and a reading is indeed what we get.

I know, because he has been on this blog twice before – here and here, that Ridley absolutely does not need a script when he speaks. I tell my trainees that those who have learnt to speak without script or notes, but occasionally have to use them, treat those two impostors just the same, coping much better than those who clutch their paper like a drowning man does driftwood.

Ridley could easily deliver this talk with only occasional glances at his script, but he chooses slavishly to read it. Let’s look at the likely reasons.

Timing. It looks as if this is a 40-minute slot. Ridley actually speaks for a little over 36 minutes, allowing enough time for Lawson’s introduction and also a brief word of thanks and conclusion from Benny Peiser. This is courteous, professional and rare. There are some who could hit that sort of precision without the aid of a script, and Ridley may be one of them, but he has other reasons to read.

His slides. Working with a script enables him to change his slides bang on cue every time. It is safer and more precise.

The Press. You may think that I’m about to point out how, with this controversial subject, he has to watch his wording very carefully to minimise his exposure of being vilified by unfriendly reporters, and obviously there is something in that, but actually the issue is far more mundane. With a speech whose profile is as high as this, it’s a fairly safe bet that the press will have been given a transcript. Therefore he has to stick very close to that transcript. Like verbatim.

I suspect he would have preferred not to have read from a script. It robs him of spontaneity, and makes him prey to those rather lame stumblings that you can get when you read aloud. But he really has no choice.

I usually recommend just one technical adjustment to his modus operandi. Rather than turn over each page of the script, it is a little safer to slide each sheet to one side. This is the system habitually used by Chancellors of the Exchequer for their Budget speeches. It is more hazardous beforehand, because the sheets cannot be fastened together by anything more permanent than a paperclip (so you must number your pages), but provided the surface of the lectern is big enough it tends to be a smoother process. Nevertheless from what I have seen of Ridley, I suspect that he uses his system out of choice rather than ignorance of the alternative.

This lecture is historic, being a rare exception to the one-sided barrage of indoctrination that for years we have been fed by the media. It took place very much at the point of a sword, with alarmists fighting ferociously to try to prevent it. Benny Peiser, in his short concluding address, expresses the hope that it might pave the way for an actual grownup debate between adherents of the opposing climate change opinions. What a wonderful thought!

I shall not hold my breath. For years alarmists have fought to suppress debate, offering not arguments but name-calling. Nevertheless we can hope.