Saturday, September 29, 2012

The utility of rhetoric

This one is for Ted, who has moral qualms about the use of rhetoric.  I'm not going to appeal to Aristotle's authority, but will simply caution against blithely dismissing the man's reasoning... and note that he seems to have anticipated at least a part of Ted's objections by a few thousand years.  Note that he defines rhetoric as: "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion."
Rhetoric is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites, so that if the decisions of judges are not what they ought to be, the defeat must be due to the speakers themselves, and they must be blamed accordingly. Moreover, before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.

Here, then, we must use, as our modes of persuasion and argument, notions possessed by everybody, as we observed in the Topics when dealing with the way to handle a popular audience. Further, we must be able to employ persuasion, just as strict reasoning can be employed, on opposite sides of a question, not in order that we may in practice employ it in both ways (for we must not make people believe what is wrong), but in order that we may see clearly what the facts are, and that, if another man argues unfairly, we on our part may be able to confute him....

[I]t is absurd to hold that a man ought to be ashamed of being unable to defend himself with his limbs, but not of being unable to defend himself with speech and reason, when the use of rational speech is more distinctive of a human being than the use of his limbs. And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things except virtue, and above all against the things that are most useful, as strength, health, wealth, generalship. A man can confer the greatest of benefits by a right use of these, and inflict the greatest of injuries by using them wrongly.

It is clear, then, that rhetoric is not bound up with a single definite class of subjects, but is as universal as dialectic; it is clear, also, that it is useful. It is clear, further, that its function is not simply to succeed in persuading, but rather to discover the means of coming as near such success as the circumstances of each particular case allow.
Therefore, I conclude that the wise man who is capable of dialectic will not restrict himself to its use, but will also utilize rhetoric when that is a form of communication more suitable to both the audience and the situation.  As for morality, it is worth noting that the first kind of rhetoric depends upon the personal character of the speaker.  It is neither moral nor immoral in itself, its morality depends upon how it is used.

28 comments:

Soga said...

Basically, MPAI. And since MPAI, sometimes you just have to speak their language to get through to them. The goodness of the purpose for which a rhetorical message is delivered is imputed to the message itself.

Sure, Hitler used rhetoric...

But wouldn't you use rhetoric to dissuade the general WW2 German public from the Nazi ideology if dialectal (logical arguing) means were failing to produce fruits?

Cryan Ryan said...

"But wouldn't you use rhetoric to dissuade the general WW2 German public from the Nazi ideology if dialectal (logical arguing) means were failing to produce fruits? "

Depends on your situation. My German ancestors came to America pre-WW2, then became affluent by working in munitions plants, creating the weaponry to firebomb Germany (and presumably the hometowns of their parents/grandparents)

Interestingly, they were sympathetic to the German cause.

But...the pay sure was good.

Anonymous said...

Aristotle is smarter than any man alive today

Pablo said...

"...and there are people whom one cannot instruct."

It was true then and it's true now.

The Stranger said...

Jesus communicated to most by telling stories.

When Jesus got into public debates, he won with snappy one-liners (that also happened to be logical and accurate).

It may not be good that most folk aren't cut out for dialectic but for those who are Christian, it is a reality that God himself has acknowledged and worked with.

I don't have an equivalent argument for the non-religious folks outside of 'Reality is what it is.'

Matthew King (King A) said...

Mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad props for the extended quote from the Rhetoric. We need much more of this, and much less of the observational anecdotalism.

There is a place for both theory and observation. But the game zeitgeist is entirely too bottom-heavy with street knowledge. The finest thinkers in the game genre eventually run out of first-hand example, mature into a broader scope of contemplation, and begin to wax theoretical and abstract -- only to discover themselves ill-equipped for the task from having never studied the methodology of the great and venerable.

"Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct [thinker]," and all that. What anti-theory "pragmatists" and worshipers of experience misunderstand is the practicality of theory, which functions as lubricant in the engine of game. The more one neglects an oil change, the worse one's performance will gradually, imperceptibly become.

Learn game from the originals. It's not like men are indisposed to an education in the classics. Most former students will admit they missed out on something fundamental when they stand before a bookshelf of green and red Loeb volumes. They have no guide out of this era of novelty worship, anti-DWEM hysteria, short attention spans, and the feminist bitch-envy of Wisdom herself. What mountains of treasure lay dormant and ready for plunder! how easily we're satisfied with cheap knock-offs from the flea market!

αἰὲν ἀριστεύειν

Matt

Matthew King (King A) said...

Aristotle's Rhetoric is particularly useful in its delineation of the three types of rhetoric between logos, ethos, and pathos. Applied to game, sexual persuasion (seduction) leans heavily on ethos or reputation and pathos or emotional expression. Indeed, the whole idea of "frame" and "hand" and "social proof" can be expressed through Aristotle's notion of ethos.

Gamers often misapply or altogether dismiss logos because it is notoriously the least effective among women. They see this ineffectiveness and misapply it to game theory itself. So they concentrate on ethos and pathos and derive street credibility through those lenses exclusively, even as the logos among (white, obsessive, scientific) men behind the scenes goes into overdrive: we analyze method to within an inch of its life on these blogs, create logical rules dictating the boundaries of game, and constantly argue the logic of one approach over another.

The Persuasive Arts are the Persuasive Arts. Greek and Roman culture worshiped the rhetorical masters as near demigods. They did all the hard groundwork for us and codified it into precepts that have withstood millennia while the shysters come and go; what remains is simple translation.

In the absence of intellectual-exploratory confidence, many would-be game students of the classics instead satisfy themselves with obnoxious hackery like Robert Greene's Forty-Eight Laws of Power and Art of Seduction, which, like the moon, transmits a dim reflection of the sun of the classics, and his tertiary explorations of secondary sources seem like brilliance to those who have never escaped the night.

Learn Greek! Heck, you've already integrated α, β, and ω. (And lowercase omega looks like a woman's naked ass. What more can a gameboy want?)

Matt

kh123 said...

"And if it be objected that one who uses such power of speech unjustly might do great harm, that is a charge which may be made in common against all good things..."

Some coworkers were on the Time Machine kick and were trying to answer the question "What 3 books would you take if you were rebuilding civilization from scratch?" One said jokingly "Bible, Torah, and Koran", with the other saying "Eh, I'm not sure I would want to start religion again".

So I guess the same goes for currency or speech - so many problems with either one that you'd never want to use either again, right?

[Might be worth noting the first speakers' 1st gen from Red China, the second's 2nd or 3rd gen from Japan; both thoroughly whitewashed, with the latter having been brought up Christian.]

Cane Caldo said...

Thanks for this post.

Obsidian said...

Hello VD,
Been silently reading along the past week or so's posts and have been greatly enjoying the discussion. I think we may have quite a bit in common - and since my name has come up in these parts in as many days, I would like to drop this on you and your readers:

Obsidian To Ms. Susan Walsh Re: The Politics Of "Swirling"
http://obsidianraw.bravejournal.com/entry/104557

I think it speaks precisely to what you've been developing over the past week or so. More to come soon, and looking forward to participating in the discussions.

O.

Stickwick said...

There really isn't anything new under the sun. People think they're breaking new ground when they ask a Big Question, but we just keep coming back to the same questions the Greeks discussed millennia ago.

Markku said...

Obsidian To Ms. Susan Walsh Re: The Politics Of "Swirling"
http://obsidianraw.bravejournal.com/entry/104557


I would say exactly the same thing: "The issue makes me uncomfortable", and then I'd shut down all discussion. What I would in all honesty mean, is that I might accidentally say something that lands me in court, so it's much wiser to avoid it altogether. But since that is risky too, I'd use the "uncomfortable" line.

Markku said...

Some people might see it as cowardice. That's all right. But I'd see it as not being a hill to die on.

Markku said...

Realtalking between individuals of different races is rare, and requires a great deal of trust.

Ted D said...

Vox - Thanks for the assist. I'm trying to finish up reading "The Game" so I can dig into your suggestions.

I think a good bit of my reluctance to use rhetoric comes from my upbringing. I was told any lie is bad, even if it is a lie of omission. Trying to hide or divert attention away from my point was considered a lie of omission, therfore bad.

Basically I was instructed from an early age to be forthcoming and truthful, and led to believe trying to persuade anyone was wrong. I've used rhetoric before as I've indicated, but only when I was required to do so. (The paper had to use rhetoric,etc.) Of course, that was under my incorrect belief of what rhetoric is, so I am sure I've used it more than I believe.

I suppose in the end it comes to down purpose and intent. Used for good intent it is simply a tool. But I will need to get over my moral objections to manipualtion (or at least manipulation for my own personal gain?) before I can feel comfortable doing so.

I can't help but feel like letting go of that ideal is somehow diminishing my morality. But I feel the same way regarding the Red Pill and Game.

Is it simply that "morality" is based in a fanstasy? Is it a fool's errand to even try to remain moral and ethical in the Modern West?

Daniel said...

Morality has nothing to do with it, Ted. There's no moral code against rhetoric, and in fact, it could be argued that the man who refuses to use rhetoric for the benefit of those who can be persuaded to correction through no other method is akin to a bad Samaritan.

Rhetoric, after all, can spare lives, instruct the fallen, inspire the lost, etc.

How can this be construed in any way as moral and ethical? Rhetoric is a tool, not an ethic. Mussolini spoke Italian. Does it mean that language is dictatorial?

Ted D said...

Daniel - "How can this be construed in any way as moral and ethical? Rhetoric is a tool, not an ethic. Mussolini spoke Italian. Does it mean that language is dictatorial?"

Nope. Like I said, any attempt at persuation at home was met with resistance and instructions to not "mince words", as it was often put to me. I'm honestly not trying to be difficult, but it seems I have some incorrect notions to get rid of.

That being said, I'd like to comment on this:

"it could be argued that the man who refuses to use rhetoric for the benefit of those who can be persuaded to correction through no other method is akin to a bad Samaritan."

And who elected said man to be the savior of these people? How can anyone decide that THEY no better than the rest of the world that HE/SHE should be persuading them to to anything at all?

My issue is not with rhetoric as a tool. The issue is: who am *I* to decide I know better than you, and set out to persuade you to my opinion? Isn't it just a little arrogant to assume such a thing?

Ted D said...

"How can anyone decide that THEY no better than the rest of the world that HE/SHE should be persuading them to to anything at all?"

Wow fail: How can anyone decide that THEY know better than the rest of the world that HE/SHE should be persuading them to to anything at all?

Daniel said...

And who elected said man to be the savior of these people? How can anyone decide that THEY no better than the rest of the world that HE/SHE should be persuading them to to anything at all?

For starters, the King who said, "I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

Friend, it is not arrogant, much less indicative of a messiah complex,to help people who are observably worse off than yourself.

In fact, quite the opposite: who are YOU to abdicate your simple social duty for loving your neighbor?

Logic dictates that there will be times when you do actually know more than others around and do have some wisdom to share via rhetoric.

Yesterday, a bunch of residents from a group home were out on an outing with their able-minded handlers. Was it arrogant of the handlers to use rhetoric to determine how a mute, retarded man wanted to use his time out?

To the contrary: it would have been arrogant for them to use the dialectic - he wouldn't have followed it for a second.

When I find out that a person cannot speak English, it would be arrogant for me to continue speaking to them in English and pretending that they could draw the proper conclusions. What is not arrogant is simply switching to their language, or, in absence of that, to a universal language (like pointing around and hand gestures).

Rhetoric is the simple common language - Esperanto, if you will. The dialectic is the deeper, more beautiful language that is understood by a smaller number of people, but more detailed. The dialectic can better frame, for example, Plato's ideal form of the good, but rhetoric can better help some people to actually know what good can be done.

Obsidian said...

@Markku:
"Realtalking between individuals of different races is rare, and requires a great deal of trust."

O: Oh, no doubt; evidently, Ms. Walsh sees things quite a bit differently.

Pity...

O.

Peregrine John said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peregrine John said...

(once more, with decent grammar)
Daniel, that was an excellent description, which I'll keep handy. It plays into something I heard a few months ago which neatly deflated the notion that all judgement is bad. There was quite a lot to it, and I'm unlikely to present the concepts as well as the speaker, but as well as demonstrating the necessity - from survival onward - of making judgements, he pointed out that to condemn judgement as a concept is, itself, very judgmental, often obnoxiously so.

For what it's worth, Ted's objection, though a bit on the late-night-coffee-house-discussion feel of things, seems earnest, rather than high and mighty. As such, he's in far greater danger of making himself a doormat than a hypocrite, which in my eyes is a lesser problem.

Remember also the natural follow-on question to "love your neighbor as yourself," which of course is, "Who is my neighbor?" and the answer to that question as famously given.

Ted D said...

Well it took me years but I am hopefully past my days of being a doormat. I was never much of one with "people", but I did allow myself to become one in my first marriage. And like I said, I'm finding that it is NOT just because of my mistaken ideas about women. It seems there are a great many underlying ideas that are mistaken as well, and those form the foundation of how I see and interact with the world.

I have always tried my best not to be hypocritical. In my mind, it is pretty high up on the scale of "bad shit" a person can be. I do judge harshly, but I don't exclude myself from that judgment. In fact, I have always believed that I'm harder on myself than the rest of the world, and that IF I were to judge them to the same level as I do myself, very few would make the grade. Of course now I'm finding that it might not be their fault since it really just comes down to actual ability instead of laziness or lack of focus. Not that there is anything wrong with being a judgmental bastard, but more that I've been judging people with the wrong mindset. It will take me some time to digest the fact that some (many?) people simply do not have the capacity for what I consider to be basic thinking skills. Not even deep logic or philosophical stuff, just basic step by step linear thinking.

I will say this, many things make more sense under this model. I could never figure out how so many people can spend most of their lives simply plugging away without a thought to the big picture. I wont say that I am thrilled with my career or "lot in life", but I know that what I have now is a direct reflection of the effort I put into it. It seems that most people don't even make that simple connection between being miserable, and making the decisions that got them there.

I know that many of you are probably shaking your head thinking "welcome to the real world" or some such. Right now I have to admit I feel a bit like Cypher. "Why oh why didn't I take the BLUE pill..."

Daniel said...

Ted D -

There was a very interesting study done a few years ago that tested incoming computer science students against the coding understanding of outgoing freshmen following instruction.

The pre-test discovered that something like 40% of all students in computer science, before instruction, could grasp coding concepts. After instruction? Those same 40% could grasp them.

I can't find that study, but Middlesex University has a lot of research that supports that concept: some people can think (in this case, in code - the dialectic) and some people simply can't.

http://www.eis.mdx.ac.uk/research/PhDArea/saeed/

Daniel said...

Oh - one point of clarification: the researchers believe they can predict who will fail and who will succeed. I think they are chasing vapor there. The point is that they are right that there are, consistently, people who do fail and who do succeed.

I'd argue that that is inherent to the human experience. There are certainly people that I know who are capable of following a logic chain in one instance but not another, and who can eventually come around to the dialectic even if they had to "practice" via rhetoric.

I also know people who, barring an act of the divine, will be rhetoric-only folks for the rest of their lives.

Peregrine John said...

Daniel, this sounds only too familiar to me. We are definitely on similar paths. It is a little jarring to find that, contrary to what we've always been told, there are modes of thought that are measurably and irrefutably superior to others, and those capable of the higher modes can learn to communicate in the lesser. It's against everything our equalist society insists upon, but acknowledging the truth - even only to one's self - is a blessed relief.

Ted D said...

Daniel - "I can't find that study, but Middlesex University has a lot of research that supports that concept: some people can think (in this case, in code - the dialectic) and some people simply can't. "

I get that now, but it will take some time for it to sink in so I can figure out what if anything I need to do with that new knowledge.

Peregrine - "It's against everything our equalist society insists upon, but acknowledging the truth - even only to one's self - is a blessed relief."

Right now it feels much more like horror than relief, but I think it will settle into relief after a bit of thought. I think my real issue with all of this is that equalist attitude. I was fed a great deal of it growing up. The funny thing is, while I was often told to keep my thoughts in check, I was never instructed to participate in activities that were less intellectual. So although my family may have promoted behavior that would push me towards intellectual pursuits, it always came with the warning that being "too smart" was no good. "To smart" was the phrase used when I would attempt to act on my thoughts. That is, when I determined that I believed someone else was wrong, I was scolded and told I was being too judgmental. It is as if my family did their best to give me the tools to lead, and then did their best to instill the fear of leadership in me strong enough to keep me from leading.

I find myself wondering at this point: what is the use of high IQ, logical thinking, and leadership at all if we are all "equal". And, since we all here can agree that all people are NOT equal, then is the natural course of things that the intelligent always rule the less intelligent? If so, then not only are we not equal, but there is NO SUCH THING as freedom. The less intelligent people live under the rule of the more intelligent, so they are not free. And the more intelligent are strapped with the responsibility of making sure the less intelligent are content enough to keep rebellion down. And, if they are moral and just, with ensuring that things are as fair as possible between those two groups.

I know, nothing new under the sun. My reading time has been short, so I haven't started on Vox's suggestions yet. I imagine I'm probably proving my case in regards to the IQ discussion. Right now I suspect there are some highly intelligent people reading this thinking "good Lord I wish he would just get it already!" I'm trying, I promise. It isn't so much that I don't understand the material, but much more about having to change my perception of my place in all this. I've been a reluctant follower most of my life, because I was taught that it was my place. It has always chaffed a bit, but I figured that was my personal struggle to deal with. Perhaps the problem was more that it wasn't my place to follow, and it chaffed because it was a bad fit. At this point, I'm not sure there is anything to be done about it regardless.

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