Robert Wright’s Article “The Evolution of Despair”Robert Wright’s Article “The Evolution of Despair”Robert Wright is the science writer for Time Magazine. Because hewrites for this popular magazine, he enjoys the attention of many readers wholook 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 cameunder the impression that he is both reporter and commentator, but notexplicitly so. Wright utilizes a variety of rhetorical tools to establish trustand confidence in his readers, thereupon interjecting his own opinions withoutarousing suspicion.The article’s first paragraph is a perfect example of how a writer canestablish intimacy with his reader.
The following example demonstrates Wright’suse of first person and emotional appeal:”Whether burdened by an overwhelming flurry of daily commitments or stifled by asense of social isolation; whether mired for hours in a sense of life’spointlessness or beset for days by unresolved anxiety; whether deprived by longworkweeks from quality time with offspring or drowning in quantity time withthem whatever the source of stress, we at times get the feeling that modernlife isn’t what we were designed for” (1).Everyone, at some point, has experienced the feelings that Wrightdescribes. And with the pronoun we’ Wright tells his readers, Yes, I havebeen through the same things.
‘ This sort of statement is like a token of goodwill. The readers feel that Wright understands their plight and thus are morelikely to listen to what he has to say.With this trust established, Wright moves on to the task of buildingconfidence in his readers. He lives up to his title of science writer byproviding various statistics (“As of 1993, 37% of Americans felt they couldtrust most people, down from 58% in 1960” (4).) and reporting the findings ofnumerous professors and scientists (“The anthropo-logist Phillip Walker hasstudied the bones of more than 5,000 children from hundreds of preindustrialcultures, 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 whichWright can comment, and 3) to indirectly establish the moral character of Wright.On this last point, explicit endorsement of Wright by these respectedauthorities is absent and unnecessary.
The mere appearance of support fromthese sources is sufficient enough to suggest the validity of his views.Wright’s persuasive approach is a method that an aspiring orator mightadopt. Instead of the written word, this article might be presented orally. Itis no difficult task to imagine Wright standing before a podium, addressing alarge crowd contained within an amphitheater. With eyes and ears focused uponWright, 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 theiraltruistic speaker.With this well-designed preparatory sequence, it should be of littleeffort for audience or readers to understand and accept Wright’s views.
However,this is where a problem arises. Wright, deliberate or accidental, accomplisheda burial of his ideas through excess citation of outside studies, the verystudies that should give strength to his argument. While reading, the readermay find it difficult at times to differentiate between the beliefs of Wrightand those of the people he cited. When it is apparent that Wright is expressinghis opinion, it usually seems to hint of deviousness on his part. Returning tothe image of the orator, the orator could be a politician. After all, Wrightdoes include a little bit of politics in his article: “Taxes, as Newt Gingrichand others have patiently explained, slow economic growth. True enough. But ifeconomic growth places such strain on community to begin with a fact thatGingrich seems to grasp what’s so bad about a marginally subdued rate ofgrowth”(4).
If the article is intended as an expose’ on evolutionary psychology,it probably is not fair for Wright to be discussing religion either: “Naturalselection, for better or worse, is our creator, but it isn’t God” (4).Wright finishes his article with the following statement: “The pursuitof More can keep us from better knowing our neighbors, better loving our kin in general, from cultivating the warm, affiliative side of human nature whoseroots science is just now starting to fathom” (4). In the final assessment, thereader may be left wondering, as I was, whether Wright wished to support ordiscard evolutionary psychology. Or maybe neither. In light of the lastsentence, the entire article could be just a well-crafted personal attack oncapitalism. If this is true, Wright’s effort in persuading the reader can beappreciated.
His guile in doing so cannot. After all, where is thejustification for concealing an editorial within a scientific piece?Works Cited:Wright, Robert. “The Evolution of Despair” Time Magazine Vol. 146 No.
928 Aug. 1996: 1-4 (Full article is included for the use of citations becauseoriginal page numbers could not be obtained.)