"Birds Aren't Real" Response Paper

Birds Aren't Real is a project that attempts to raise awareness about conspiracy theories, but it does so in a unique way - it tries to use rhetrickery for good.

As we have discussed all semester, Booth defines rhetrickery as the "whole range of shoddy dishonest communicative arts producing misunderstanding - along with other harmful results. [It is] the arts of making the worse seem the better course." In his book, Booth does not really allow for the fact that rhetrickery can be used in ethical ways. He argues that rhetrickery is always bad. But Birds Aren't Real does attempt to do this. It is not trying to put forward a conspiracy theory but is instead trying to offer a critique of conspiracy theories.

We then have to ask if the project succeeds in using rhetrickery for good. Is Birds Aren't Real a project that engages in ethical persuasion? If so, why? If not, why not? In your 750-word response paper, you will be taking up this question. You will need to provide specific examples both from Birds Aren't Real and from Booth's discussion of rhetrickery to answer this question.

Your goals in this brief response paper will be to use detailed examples from "Birds Aren't Real" (their website, the New York Times article and podcast, or any other materials you can find) to make an argument as to whether or not the project is an ethical attempt to persuade people. You will need to be clear about how you are defining what it means to "ethically persuade" and how that definition does or does not apply to the Birds Aren't Real project.

When providing feedback on this project, I will be asking the following:

  • Have you answered the question of whether Birds Aren't Real engages in ethical persuasion and explained why you are arguing that this is or is not so?
  • Have you made clear how you are defining the concept of ethical persuasion?
  • Have you cited relevant passages from Wayne Booth where necessary?
  • Have you applied your definition of ethical persuasion to the Birds Aren't Real project by using specific evidence and examples from Birds Aren't Real materials and practices?
  • Does the paper observe the word limit, and does it show evidence that you have carefully revised prior to submission?

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