Tom Woods: topped and tailed

A couple of weeks ago Intellectual Vision published on YouTube a talk made by Tom Woods at the Mises Institute.

Tom Woods is not only a prolific author and speaker, but the star of the Tom Woods Show, a regular podcast which presents itself with the sort of cheerful razzamatazz normally associated with radio programmes, even including advertising. And why not indeed!

Here he presents himself rather more soberly …

More and more organisations, posting speeches on line, ‘clean up’ videos by topping-and-tailing them. It’s understandable: the market is bound to want these things neatly packaged. For my niche purpose though, I want to see the opening and closing – warts and all. Just as when flying an aeroplane the trickiest part is the takeoff and landing, the biggest test of a speaker is in the opening and closing.  Here, sadly for me, we see neither.

Never mind: whatever preamble we’ve lost, he kicks off in this video with a very clear laying out of his stall: he intends to address the oppression that underlies the Political Correctness narrative.

Interestingly for me I still clearly remember the moment, around a quarter of a century ago, when I first heard the expression ‘politically correct’. My instant, spontaneous, horrified reaction was, “That can mean only totalitarian dictatorship.” I went on to reason that politics was about opinion, which by definition is neither right nor wrong – simply disputed. Therefore the very term was a contradiction, and a revolting one at that. My little rant being over, I turned back to the contributor on the radio programme I was presenting at the time.

I find myself puzzled by Woods’ first two minutes as, at the Mises Institute, everyone in his audience already knows and agrees with what he is saying. Is he there merely to massage their views, or is there more and meatier to come?

He does indeed move into a meatier area, and one with which I happen to be familiar – namely economic disparity in different social and ethnic groups. The PC (I detest the term so much that I shall not write it out again) view is that all inequalities are the result of oppression. In debunking this, Woods proceeds to quote data, case histories and examples that I have read in books by the great Thomas Sowell, and therefore I assume that Woods has read them also. (Actually I would assume that anyway, because not to have done so would have been negligent for someone like Woods.)

At 7:40 Woods confirms my assumption by specifically naming Thomas Sowell.

Despite all this meaty data, I find the speech a disappointment. Perhaps because it told me nothing I didn’t happen already to know, but rather I feel my problem is what I’ve long called the ‘semi-memo issue’. Very many decades ago I wrote a memo to my then boss, neatly identifying a string of mistakes that I felt our organisation was making. I received a dry, though courteous reply, suggesting I had omitted the important half of my memo – the bit that suggested ways to remedy those mistakes. He was far too polished to put it this way, but his unmistakable message was that any half-wit can spot problems. What required ability was the finding of ways to solve them.

Woods begins his speech by complaining that PC permits no argument, substituting debate with cretinous name-calling at best and brutal violence at worst. Quite so. Today this insidious, malevolent, misanthropic malaise has infected in varying degrees the establishment, the civil service, academia, the media, and so on. If what I read of last week’s General Synod is to be believed we may even add the church to that sorry list. One could describe it as metastatic. It is as if Antonio Gramsci had personally orchestrated the campaign.

Woods’ missing half should surely concern itself with at least some semblance of a suggestion as to what can be done about it. Or perhaps that was lost in the topping and tailing of the video.



Jeff Deist: optimistic.

In Costa Mesa, California, 8 November 2014, the Mises Institute held a Mises Circle. These are one-day seminars of information concerning the Institute and its messages.

A few weeks ago we examined a speech made at this gathering by the Institute’s founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.  Today we are looking at a speech by the Institute’s President Jeff Deist.

Almost immediately we learn key things about Deist’s public speaking ability, namely that he has not properly learned how to do it. His microphone technique is essentially non-existent, and he is reading a script. The Mises Institute website tells me he regularly delivers keynote speeches – ye Gods!

He is too close to the microphone, so he pops and distorts horribly – particularly at the beginning. It takes two minutes (max) to teach someone to work a microphone infinitely better than this, and another fifteen to make them really skilled. It can take as little as two hours to free a speaker forever from any dependency on script or notes, and when thus liberated the fluency and potency of their delivery leaps up dramatically. I know there are misguided public speaking teachers who insist that a script is essential, and I have argued with some online. I no longer bother: they’re just wrong.

As the host for the day, with all the attendant welcoming and housekeeping ingredients that involves, Deist takes three and a half minutes to begin laying out his own stall. That’s not his fault: it’s the nature of the beast, but for our purposes it has the advantage of being three and a half minutes when we who are not attending the seminar don’t have to listen but can analyse his delivery. We can watch how he gets steadily freer, more fluent, more compelling and more persuasive during the gaps between looking down at his paper. It’s like watching horses run a steeplechase, with each look at his script being a jump which, far from helping him, actually slows him down and diminishes his power. It is such a pity.

His message is intriguing, particularly for me believing passionately in people and the sovereignty of the individual. I think that it automatically follows therefore that I believe in democracy, but he challenges that. I like my assumptions being challenged. His creed seems on the face of it to be a reductio ad absurdum of what I would regard as a rational standpoint. The Austrian school of economics appeals, as does freedom and small government, but no government…? I must go to the Mises bookstore page and get myself challenged by an anarchist.

Meanwhile my immediate challenge is this speech. Fascinating though I find the content, the speech itself is frankly dreary.  I know that I could transform it beyond measure in just a couple of hours with him; and in the process turn him into a real speaker for life.

Lew Rockwell: a wise head, but a talking one.

At the end of January 2016 in Houston, Texas, the Mises Institute hosted a conference at which one of the speakers was the Institute’s founder and Chairman, Lew Rockwell.

I quite often receive, from past trainees, panic emails about the pitfalls involved in introducing important speakers. They are right to be concerned, because it can be a minefield, but I shan’t burden you here with all the guidelines. There is, though, one very simple principle. The more important the guest, the shorter should be the introduction. Jeff Deist, President of the Mises Institute, clearly knows this rule. He’s gone inside 20 seconds.

When Rockwell begins it takes even less time for me inwardly to groan, because he is reading a script. I may one day devote here an entire post to why speakers should never read a script, but for the moment let me list some aspects of audience-engagement which are damaged by script-reading: credibility, fluency, perceived sincerity, comprehensibility, flexibility, nerve-control, and perceived command of the subject. How’s that for starters? Also – and I admit this is counter-intuitive – if you know what you are doing paperless speaking is safer, much safer, and I’ll defend that opinion to anyone.

Rockwell is a good writer, and I’d love to read this speech, but writing and speaking are completely different disciplines and it is ridiculously hard work listening to it. And this opinion comes from a maverick-by-nature who agrees with nearly everything that Rockwell stands for.

From his own site I found my way to a podcast on which he was interviewed. I was not in the least surprised to find that – shooting from the hip – he was expressive, fluent and coherent to a degree that was unrecognisable from this agonisingly stilted talking-head reading. Furthermore in that podcast he sounded relaxed and at ease, whereas in this speech I am picking up stress symptoms almost to the end.

So why is he reading a script? The answer, in this context, is ironic. He is conforming to an established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Thou shalt write and read thy speeches! The Mises Institute, this conference, this speech, indeed Lew Rockwell himself are all about resisting established, top-down, opinion-moulded orthodoxy. Do you understand therefore why I tear my hair in frustration? One hour over a video-link would be more than enough for me to set him free from that paper tyranny.

A conference from the Mises Institute is nevertheless a treat for me.  I shall stick with it, and pray that another speaker actually speak to us.

Mark Thornton – unexceptionable: unex…anything!

Some years ago I was in a meeting with the training manager of a company that here shall remain nameless. I had already trained their CEO and this discussion concerned the possibility of my working with other executives. He suddenly asked me whether I had any sort of government-recognized qualification in teaching public speaking. I replied that as far as I knew there was no such thing, which was probably a blessing as I could imagine the joy-sucking automatons that would graduate from such a system. He didn’t seem to see the funny side of that, and the meeting ended shortly thereafter.

I think somewhere out there is a school of thought to the effect that it doesn’t have maturity or class unless it’s stuffed-shirt-boring (you may recall the hatchet job I did on an offering by William Hague). This was brought sharply into focus when I came across this speech in which the speaker fought bravely to conceal as much as possible of his personality.

Mark Thornton is delivering a lecture at the Ludvig von Mises Institute in June 2011. He is explaining the difference between Austrian and mainstream economics. He favours the Austrian variety; and I felt bound to confide this information to you because in his struggle to be balanced and even-handed he comes close to hiding that detail. What we have here is 21 minutes of message-lite, emotion-free information, in plain-wrapping. It’s the sort of thing that would have a government-certified inspector of speeches biting his standard-issue clipboard in ecstasy.

Except for five seconds! For that very brief period in an unguarded moment Thornton’s passion peeps out. I’ll tell you a little later where you may witness this minor outrage.

Right at the beginning, from 0:30 there is a section where he explains that Austrian economics is at the same time the oldest, the smallest and the fastest growing school of economic thought. At this point there is a slight teasing suggestion that Thornton is going to get into the driving seat and sell the concept, but no dice.

I really do not know what else to say about this leaden performance. I am no economist, but I find the Austrian doctrine exciting and seductive. Nevertheless if this had been my introduction to it I should not have given it a second glance. It makes me crave to confront Thornton, unpin his communication wings and watch him fly.

He could very easily fly. He knows his subject, and behind all that iron control there is someone who is passionate about it. Do you want to see my evidence? Watch from 19:45, but don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

And the day that some busy-body half-witted politician (a description that fits too many of them) decides to create a quango to oversee public speaking is the day that I shall retire in disgust.