Kenneth Burke on “identification by innacuracy”


Alterezza (pride, arrogance)

“Alterezza” [or “pride,” by Ripa, Cesare], uploaded by October 20, 2016 by Fondo Antiguo de la Biblioteca de la Universidad. With Creative Commons license at https://flic.kr/p/MWPKH3

A passage in Kenneth Burke’s 1973 essay on “The Rhetorical Situation” sheds light on self-persuasion that occurs when we use a tool or technology that gives us the illusion that we have greater power or agency as individuals than we really do. A similar logic operates on an economic and political level:

[….] to walk faster, or run faster, one works harder. Similarly, to drive faster on a bicycle, one works harder. But when I learned to drive a car, I suddenly found myself confronting a quite different realm of motives. For I needed but press down the gas pedal the slightest bit more, and the car would pick up terrific speed, with no more work on my part.

Here was a fantastic coefficient of power. And surely, I thought, here is a fundamental moral problem. It seemed to me that we, as individuals, are easily tempted to mistake these mechanical powers for our very own.

Give a man a few dollars to spend in a supermarket, and he might spontaneously feel superior to some primitive tribesman who could make a living in a wilderness, whereas under such primitive conditions this self-adulating idiot would purely and simply starve to death.

Such thoughts concern man’s identification with his machines in ways whereby he mistakes their powers for his, and loves himself accordingly.

There is also the kind of deceptive identification whereby an individual who may be personally modest and unassuming becomes deceptively aggrandized by thoughts of his citizenship in a powerful nation. [….]

For, only too often, such identification is but the failure to distinguish between one’s country and the decisions of certain politicians who happen to be in a position to get the nation into foreign embarrassments* that are by no means causes for rejoicing. Look more closely, and you see that the embarrassment* is not really the nation’s but that of certain officials whose interests are not necessarily identical with the nation’s interests.

Our identification with these two great unwieldy leviathans–technology and the state–is central to the rhetorical situation as we now confront it.

(pp. 269-270)

Burke’s insight into rhetorical situation shows that a situation is not merely geographical, and not merely based on the target audience’s ideological assumptions, but is also based on technological and economic circumstances that (falsely, illogically) attribute greater power or importance to the audience’s self-identity.

Ultimately a human is not “of one substance with” his or her machine, or money, or the decisions of their country’s head of state.  Yet a common person often identifies themselves with their technology, money, and country in ways that are taken for granted and unexamined.

The existence of these technological, economic, and political premises must be acknowledged as assumptions in many people’s experience. They can be used (or unethically misused) by a rhetor/speaker:  they are part of the “rhetorical situaton” of a speech, an advertisement, a tweet, a conversational statement, or an email.

However, it’s worthwhile to philosophically ponder this premise. How much of our own identity is falsely based on circumstances and technologies that we can’t attribute to our own agency?  To what degree is it rational to attribute to ourselves as individual citizens the historic virtues of an entire nation or the recent decisions of its leader? How often do we judge ourselves or others by the size of a bank account? How much of the amount we earn (i.e. hourly wage), is based on economic factors rather than the inherent social and physical value of our work?

*NOTE: Burke seems to be using the word “embarrass” not merely in the contemporary meaning of “A feeling of self-consciousness, shame, or awkwardness” (Oxford Dictionary, ca. 2017) but in the older, slightly more intellectual meaning of “to perplex; to distress; to entangle” (Embarrass; Embarrassment, 1858). The term often meant a financial entanglement.

References

Rhetoric has enriched itself in new media — Albaladejo


  • Is rhetoric an antiquated perspective on communication now that we have new media?
  • Do we need an entirely new rhetorical theory to account for the strategies, powers and constraints of discourse in new media?

No, old rhetorics still apply as the old media of orality and writing and symbolic communication are subsumed and restructured within the new.

In addition, rhetorical theory has grown and will grow new branches that account for the expansion and adaptation of rhetorical practice into these technologized realms.

Tomas Albaladejo writes intelligently of the expansion and adaptation of rhetoric to varieties of new media:   — (paragraph breaks inserted)

The historical and systematic communicative strength of rhetoric enables it to deal with new kinds of discourse, since they keep the essential components of rhetorical discourse.

Cyber-rhetoric or the rhetoric of digital discourse (Albaladejo 2005a) could be considered one of the latest steps in the evolution of rhetoric. Digital discourse is a complex construction consisting of linguistic, visual and phonic components, which has a rhetorical foundation and manifestation as a whole.

In addition to the rhetorical shape of digital discourse, one must also take into account the rhetorical construction of all written and oral texts contained in web sites, as well as the rhetorical discourses hosted by them, as in, for example, Martin Luther King’s discourse /I have a dream/, which can be read, heard and seen on the World Wide Web.

Nevertheless, cyber-rhetoric is basically nothing other than rhetoric.

Cyber-rhetoric is rhetoric, as the rhetoric of written discourse is rhetoric, and the rhetoric of journalism and other mass media is rhetoric.

The different prefixes, adjectives and nominal complements added to the noun rhetoric are used in order to delimit an area within the wide field of rhetoric, and they must not be understood to be a way of proposing or promoting a rhetoric different from rhetoric as a comprehensive system that was historically founded and developed. They are rather a way of enriching rhetoric by stressing its plurality and suitability for the different kinds of discourse and the different means of achieving communication.

One of the characteristics of the development and evolution of rhetoric is the expansion of its area of practice and study within the field of communication, together with the fact that rhetoric has never been withdrawn from the spaces where it has previously worked.

Thus, today we can hear oral discourses, such as those delivered in courts and parliaments, but we can also read written rhetorical discourses, like editorials or leading articles in newspapers, and we can also see, hear and read digital rhetorical discourses.

Rhetoric has carried to new communicative areas the experience that it has obtained in the areas where it has formerly worked.

In this way, rhetoric has enriched itself and has provided tested and renewed tools for the practice and study of discursive and persuasive communication.

Adaptation to the needs that have arisen in the ongoing evolution of communication has always been a challenge for rhetoric, but this is the key to its usefulness.

From p. 27-28 of:

  • Albaladejo, T. (2014). Rhetoric and discourse analysis. In I. Olza, O. Loureda, & M. Casado-Velarde (Eds.), Linguistic insights: Language use in the public sphere: Methodological perspective and empirical applications (pp. 19–51). Bern; Oxford: Peter Lang.

This phrase echoes:

“rhetoric has enriched itself and has provided tested and renewed tools for the practice and study of discursive and persuasive communication” (Albaladejo, 2014, p. 27)

Rhetoric is not dying in a new media environment.

It is expanding, enriching itself and providing tested and renewed tools for both rhetorical practice and rhetorical study.

The loss of rhetorical education


In my previous two articles I have discussed the “Slander of rhetoric” occurring in media articles on the Internet.  A related phenomenon is the gradual erosion of rhetorical education at the postsecondary level.

I believe that the denigration of rhetoric in society is happening in part because “good rhetoric” has become so invisible and unmentionable due to the widespread loss of formal, systemic rhetorical education throughout many countries’ educational systems.

Many people don’t even know when they themselves are using rhetoric anymore, largely because they don’t know anything about its broader definitions, its history and theory.

“No, I’m not using rhetoric. I’m just writing an article.” “No, I’m not using rhetoric, I’m just managing a company” or “I’m just a mayor. Or a scientist. Or an engineer.

Um, I’m pleased to inform you that yes, you are using rhetoric, you just don’t see it because society has hidden “good rhetoric” from you by refusing to name it as “rhetoric” where it is in action in your life and profession. You haven’t been taught to recognize good rhetoric.

Let’s consider how invisible good rhetoric has become, and how its invisibility is associated with the idea that all rhetoric is bad.

  • Consider how controversial rhetoric itself has become, and how people are expected to distrust all things called “rhetoric.”
  • Consider why it is so hard to consider one’s own communication as rhetoric, and why a good politician can never survive long if they admit they are using rhetoric.
  • Consider how easily convinced people are even by false or divisive arguments if they imagine that they are merely “simple, clear communication,” and that rhetoric is entirely absent.

Continue reading

Let’s not slander Rhetoric(a)


Rhetorica

Rhetorica hovers as a young man receives rhetorical instruction in this late Renaissance image from the Netherlands.   Source: Cornelis Cort [1533-1578] nach Frans Floris: Die sieben Freien Künste: Rhetorica.

I’m sure I’m not the only person who sighs at all the abuse hurled at dame Rhetorica lately in the media. It’s downright slander and abuse of a beneficent art.

I am not complaining that there’s a lot of bad rhetoric going on in the world. Of course there always is, and perhaps there’s been a lot more bad rhetoric around us lately than there has been since World War II, and it’s driving more people to remark on how bad the bad rhetoric is.

I’m complaining that while this bad rhetoric is occurring, it’s counterproductive and wrongheaded to blame rhetoric itself and drag the art and use and NAME of rhetoric through the mud in headline after headline.

I have subscribed to a Google Alert for “rhetorical.” Today, September 3, here are some of the phrases used in headlines:

  • Nicolas Sarkozy’s absurd zero-sum rhetoric on Calais shows how quickly Europe is falling apart (Telegraph.co.uk)
  • After The Olympics, Women Should Earn More Considering The Sexist Rhetoric And Ignored Talent (Forbes)
  • The Clinton campaign’s slippery rhetoric on Trump’s ‘immigrant’ plans (Washington Post)
  • G20 to go long on rhetoric, short on economic policy: experts (Yahoo news)
  • EC spokesperson on “escalation of rhetoric” in Balkans (B92)

The negative contexts and adjectives surrounding the word “rhetoric” continually throw dirt on the reputation of this glorious art. Rhetoric can be zero-sum, sexist, slippery, and lack policy.

Can you find the word “rhetoric” used with positive adjectives?  You could pile up dozens more negative adjectives than positive ones by googling rhetoric today.

However, it’s even more troubling to see the naked word “rhetoric” used without any qualifying negative adjective, as if rhetoric alone was something essentially bad and ugly. The final example in the list above is one instance of slandering rhetoric itself, as if merely “escalating rhetoric” means escalating tension and disagreement toward violence.

Let’s stop slandering Rhetorica. Let’s renew her reputation, beauty, strength and glory. I believe we need her more than ever today.  Continue reading

Website analysis in Calgary Herald


My participation in an interview with Tony Seskus, a journalist at the Calgary Herald newspaper, spurred me to write this blog post on mayoral candidates’ websites a couple of days ago:

Website rhetoric of mayoral candidates

Now some of the content has appeared in this article —

Can mayoral hopefuls emulate Obamamania?

By Tony Seskus, Calgary Herald June 27, 2010…

for a bit of fun this last week, I asked Tania Smith at the University of Calgary for her thoughts on a selection of mayoral candidate websites.

Smith teaches a course in advanced professional and technical communication, where students work on real-world web design projects and study online communication.

She reviewed the websites of nine mayoral candidates and scored them on first impression, message and readability, and interactivity, giving up to five points for each.

Calgary Herald website: http://www.calgaryherald.com/

Canadian Society and the Study of Rhetoric


CSSR website screenshot, version updated May 21, 2010

As a Canadian member of the CSSR (Canadian Society for the Study of Rhetoric) who did not attend this year’s conference (I’m taking a year off all conferences), I appreciated David Beard’s Blogora article for his flattering and interesting analysis of what the conference was like.

In his posts on the Blogora of the Rhetoric Society of America, (see posts titled CSSR, I, and CSSR, Day 2, under his username syntaxfactory)  David writes,

“I’m fairly sure that, if every American rhetorician could experience a CSSR conference, it would change their expectations of what a first-rate rhetoric conference can accomplish.” (CSSR, I)

I know or am acquainted with many of the people he writes about so it was like seeing them all over again through another’s eyes, and I feel proud to know those are my colleagues being written about, several of them coming from my own department’s graduate programs. Many Canadian rhetoricians will appreciate what David has written.

In this post, I take up some of David’s thoughts on the comparison of rhetoric conferences and rhetorical cultures in the US and Canada, and add my own elaboration on several points of comparison:

  1. Interdisciplinarity
  2. Bilingualism and multiculturalism
  3. Academic community, culture and discourse.
  4. The rhetorical cultures of the surrounding societies in which we live and work

Continue reading

Fear of public speaking — a worn-out cliche?


MunchTheScreamClip

from Munch, "The Scream," Wikipedia Commons

How many times have you heard or read the claim that the average person fears public speaking more than they fear death?

If you search online for “fear of public speaking,” you will not be likely to stumble upon articles from psychology journals in the first few pages of hits.   This is what you will find — web sites that are providing advice or coaching on public speaking.

In such essays and speeches, it stars as an introductory strategy.  The fear is often vaguely cited from hearsay, and often involves a misinterpretation of the usual survey methods and results.

When a speaker fails to back up specific claims about the “fear of public speaking,” it becomes a rhetorical cliche.

This article examines the potential benefits and harms of using it as an introductory cliche, and the benefits of investigating the research further. Continue reading