Monthly Archives: March 2023

The Power of being ‘Well-Read’

I was reading a random post recently, and came across a mention of ‘Wandel durch Handel‘, in the context of whether embargoes or increased trade are more likely to induce political change.

So, this is not a particularly innovative concept, being an obvious special case of the ‘how much do you engage/meet people where they are vs. set boundaries?’ question.[2]

However, in a debate (or other timing-critical or adversarial conversation) context, you could see how there being a specific name for this specific incarnation of this concept, and your opponent being able to wield it, would lend them an advantage, as you are momentarily confused, perhaps unwilling to ask what they mean, or waiting for context so you could respond appropriately[3].

So, how do you deal with this? One common tactic is to basically ignore what the other speaker is saying, and focus on your prepared talking points. This can be useful in many contexts (not just political contexts), but (I think) a much stronger method is to be better read, to do all[4] the research on the topic at hand.

For the specific case of ‘Wandel durch Handel’ (which I just noticed has a rhyme that kind of rolls off the tongue, at least the way I pronounce German), general knowledge on foreign policy, international trade, or even speaking German, would have made a significant difference to being able to react to the concept. With warning, one could do the specific research/briefing mentioned above, before the interaction with the hostile[5] person.

There are of course many elements of privilege/class/etc. involved in this conversation, not the least of which is “You don’t even know ‘X’?!? You must be uneducated!” All I can say is that there are people with different levels of rhetorical ability and expertise (and ‘expertise’) on all topics, and the Internet is a great help to level the playing field.

Happy learning!

[1] “Wandel durch Handel (WdH, German for “Change through trade”), also known as Wandel durch Annäherung, is a term referring to a political and economic notion, mostly associated with German foreign policy, of increasing trade with authoritarian regimes in an effort to induce political change.”

[2] And also an obvious corollary to the concept of embargoes.

[3] You can see how this is somewhat similar to a ‘Gish Gallop‘, where instead of deploying a large number of arguments of questionable strength, one’s opponent merely throws jargon.

[4] I don’t exaggerate *that* much when I say ‘all’. If a conversation/meeting/presentation is important enough, you can afford to spend a couple of hours on research, and you can probably make it through dozens if not scores of pages/documents on the topic, which should be enough (assuming you already have a general grounding in the subject), to be able to at least converse intelligently about the specific topic in question.

[5] I use the word ‘hostile’ in the sense of ‘opposed goals’, not necessarily that they would be emotionally hostile. They would just be uninterested in working with you on a solution, hence their use of obstructive or adversarial rhetorical techniques.