Showing posts with label rhetoric. Show all posts
Showing posts with label rhetoric. Show all posts

14 July, 2017

Language front: from which all wars really begin.

The relations between rhetoric and ethics are disturbing: the ease with which language can be twisted is worrisome, and the fact that our minds accept these perverse games so docilely is no less cause for concern. ~ Octavio Paz

To handle a language skillfully is to practice a kind of evocative sorcery. ~ Charles Baudelaire

Less is always more. The best language is silence. We live in a time of a terrible inflation of words, and it is worse than the inflation of money. ~ Eduardo Galeano

 In spite of the historical precedence dictating the fighting a war on multiple fronts almost always leads to disaster, nearly every war we are in is fought this way.

The culture war is no different. The New Wave Fascists have been at it for longer than most of the centrist Left realizes... and only now,  when it looks like the Nazis popped out of the closet all of a sudden to attack anything they consider liberal -- whether it's funding for the arts, free speech, higher education, or the previously sacred privacy of the voting booth -- do they decide that maybe, just maybe, something ought to be done.

Back when there were rumblings of a budget proposed by then newly elected Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin that would de-fund the Kentucky Arts Council, I reached out to artists groups online, asking if it wasn't the time to begin organizing a response.

I was called a reactionary and told that the then Democratically controlled legislature would protect the arts. Then the mid-term election came and the Republican Party, with it's New Wave rejuvenation, took the legislature away from the Kentucky Democratic Party. Then, the people who previously called me reactionary, who said there was nothing to worry about, were suddenly faced with the realization that MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, THEY OUGHT TO PAY ATTENTION.

By then, national politics were on everyone's minds, and the thought of a Tin Pot Fascist in Frankfort and a Fascist Godhead in the White House was just too much. And we saw how that worked out.

But the truth is that Bevin didn't win because of a sudden surge of conservatism in Kentucky. Except for Louisville, Lexington, and Frankfort -- and, thanks to Kim Davis, my heart's home Rowan County -- Kentucky is largely a conservative state. It has been for years.  The reason Bevin won, other than the KDP's decision to run a cardboard cut out for Governor, is because he embraced a language and a rhetoric that was already in place. That language and that rhetoric was established by early right wing culture war veterans like Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon, Dick Armey, Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Mitch McConnell, and Rush Limbaugh... language that later picked up and funded by the Koch Brothers, spread by the likes of Bill O'Reilly Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Alex Jones, Richard Spenser, and others.

The same is true of Trump's election win. I have written before that Trump did not create the New Wave Fascism that carried him into the White House. I'm not sure that Trump is particularly ideological -- as opposed to Bevin and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom walk the social conservative culture war that they talk. Trump has been successful not because he's an innovator, but because he's had a good nose for where the trends are. He saw his chance and took it, and in the process took the GOP, the electorate, and the entire country for a ride.

Neither Bevin nor Trump invented the language of nationalism. Neither one of them invented the rhetoric used by creationists, anti-choice activists, or those opposed to marriage equality, LGBTQIA rights, racists, and other bullies.  To suggest they somehow crafted their messages in some For White Men Only vacuum gives them entirely too much credit and ignores history. It also lets everyone else who insisted that these folks were too marginal to ever impact the larger culture off the hook.

The ugly has always been there. And now we have to face it on every front before it consumes everything.

Part of this means that those of us who are word workers -- writers -- have to start taking the language back. We cannot speak of democracy, equality, peace, and love if we do not have the words.


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11 September, 2012

Southern Jaunt: Rhetoric Junkie

Politics, n. Strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. -- Ambrose Bierce

He may look like an idiot and talk like an idiot but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot. -- 
Groucho Marx

I was going to begin by talking about events local here in Paint City -- recent updates regarding some free advertising in the Letters to the Editor page and misquoting of my words by a local disgraced ex-political figure, and a recent visit to the local Rotary Club chapter, among other things. And I still will discuss those things at a later date; but first I have to get something out of the way.

I am a rhetoric junkie.

Political speech is particularly interesting to me, and I've had a lot of it to ponder lately. From local politics to Presidential campaigns, to Facebook flame wars: the more I talk, the more it seems to bring out the most interesting kinds of folks. Folks without whom our political process might actually be able to achieve something lasting, something noble. Hell, something. But folks are folks and ideas, like bird droppings,  fall on the intellectually suited and unsuited alike.

A few words about the Democratic National Convention: like every stage show, it had it's stars and it's boors. Sandra Fluke and Bill Clinton rank near the top of my list, other than Obama for sheer rhetorical skill. Jennifer Grandholm is a carnival barker, and I like the cut of her jib. But Sandra Fluke impresses me in that she refuses to be silenced by Congressional Republicans or by Neo-con talk radio pundits. Ran through the ringer, called a slut, a whore, her character impugned beyond reason... and she still speaks out. Kudos.

Clinton? Well, shit. What can you say about Bubba? He is, without question, the single most effective political figure in this generation of politicians. He still knows how to reach out to a crowd, and he does it well. Say what you want about his getting a blow job in the Oval Office... but he wasn't the first, and he won't be the last.  He's got political and cultural star power.

Obama? I've said it before and I'll say it again. The guy is a master rhetorician. He knows how to give a speech. In comparison to Romney, Obama's speech delivered a tone, a message, and an image. He knows how to make it about himself without really saying so. Romney's RNC speech was the equivalent to


And while heard a lot from Romney about tax cuts for wealthy people being good and I heard a lot from Obama about the middle class, I would just like to point out that in both the RNC and the DNC, the poor were summarily ignored.

To be fair, though, the demonization of the poor by GOP'ers, Tea Baggers, Birthers, and other fomenting fringe fascists -- who will not remain on the fringe for long unless we do something about it -- is inherent in their speech, whether they mention the poor directly or not.

And why are the poor summarily ignored -- unless they are summarily exploited by one major party or the other?

Because no one thinks they vote. And because they can't contribute cold hard cash to reelection campaigns. And because it's easy to blame people who don't have a political voice.

Thank Jeebus, then for the Facebook meme TROLL. You know them. You love them. Or not. Because they DO have a political voice. Insipid, rude, lacking insight, yes. But a voice. Here's the modus operandi. They wait for you to post something on your Facebook page and then proceed to hijack the discussion and bend it towards whatever their end result is... lately, in my case, someone keeps trying to use my page to bash Obama. Not for his signing of the NDAA, his strengthening of the Patriot Act, or his continuation of Bush Era intelligence gathering methods (torture). No, this troll spouts Tea Party/Birther bullshit mixed with some of that Cold War McCarthyism that comes around every few years whenever there's a Democrat in the big chair.

If that's what political speech is reduced to, then political speech is dead. It's all spin, baby. Spin.

27 August, 2012

Southern Jaunt:Second Pot/ Attentats

The way to do is to be. -Lao Tzu 

I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions. - Dorothy Day

Lately in the morning, I've taken to watching the political press on television. The is due primarily to the fact that Dave and Julie, who have kindly put me up thus far during my stay in Mount Carroll, watch either MSNBC or Current TV. Dave has drifted from the network's morning programming, though, because "It's too much like the Today Show."

"What?" I asked, over settling in on the corner of the couch with my first cup of coffee. Apparently, my timing is such that I usually wake up around the time that Dave (who, in spite of being retired will wake up before Gawd, the sun, and most non-nocturnal animals) and Julie (who is wakes up about the same time) finish the first pot of coffee / start the second pot. Unless I'm up late later than usual or hungover, I've been getting out of bed around 7 in the morning

 -- which, in farm country, is mid-day.

"What's the matter? I went on. "Don't you care about this Fall's important fashion?"

He made a face, and took a sip of his coffee. My soon-to-be-ex used to tell me that was my way of punctuating a sentence. Usually with an exclamation mark.

The ritual, as I noticed when they were kind enough to let me stay with them for a bit in March when I came back to remove my books and clothes miscellaneous shit from the house on Pumpkin Hill, is to watch the morning political programs and yell at the television. I love that not only do have friends who are political junkies, but they are junkies who, except for one or two issues, I agree with. And even when I don't agree -- and sometimes, I'll act like maybe I don't just to push the discussion on a bit... it's a hold over from my days as a teacher, my take on the Socratic Method -- while Dave in particular has no problem telling me why I'm wrong, in the end it's a lively discussion. And like I said, it's nice to talk to people who care about the process and don't simply keep their noses to the proverbial grindstone.

That being said, I find that watching the political press first thing in the morning only serves to remind me 
just how fucked the entire process is. While I find that I tend to agree with folks like Bill Press and Stephanie Miller in their critiques of the GOP, Mitt Romney, and this election's Dan Quayle/Sarah Palin incarnation, Paul Ryan, I do wish they would offer up the same gaze of the current administration. But all lines being arbitrary... especially in an election year... I suppose that the political press has to keep the self-masticating jaws of American Politics chewing.

I could, I know, probably watch Fox News for simple-minded jabs at Obama.

But I suspect that watching Fox News has the same effect on the brain as a stroke. Some memories and basic motor skills would be lost.


One day last week or the week before I was watching CSPAN and they were showing a speech at the Center for American Progress by Matt James of The Center for The Next Generation. There's nothing quite like when one think tank invites another think tank to come and talk about all the thinking that's going on behind closed doors. Now, anyone who knows me knows that not only am I often lost in thought, I often forget that I am thinking when I start talking and that this OFTEN GETS ME INTO TROUBLE. I've found, you see, that while people do like some witty repartee, they are not, overall, interested in thoughtful conversation. As such, I am trying to learn how to talk in way that masks the amount I think so's not to make people too too uncomfortable.

After all, can't go blue without giving people warning.... right?

What stuck out in my mind, though was when James, from The Center for the Next Generation --

Does anyone else notice that whenever someone official talks for the next generation, it's usually some suit from 3 generations ago? Seeking out the Elders is one thing. Relying on bean counters to save the world is something else entirely.

--referred to children as "our most valuable assets."

The phrase gave me reason to pause.

Being something of a word hound and rhetorik* junkie, I was struck immediately by the implication.What kinds of things are considered assets?

Swimming Pools
Money Market Accounts

Get it? With a word like "asset" being applied to people in general and children -- current and future -- the implication is one of ownership. And when you think about the connotation of a phrase like "Human Resources" -- and when you pause and think about other things our culture thinks of as resources:

Natural Gas

a pattern does begin to emerge... does it not?

I've talked before about the reductive nature of language; that's inevitable on some level. But by reducing ourselves and others, and by allowing ourselves to be reduced to something owned -- and because in English the utterance is usually built around the speaker, always owned by someone else -- we are engaging directly in our own subjugation. Words matter. We ought to use them, and the ideas they represent, more wisely.

And we ought to be careful about letting thinkless tanks do all our thunking for us.


*rhetorik: Not to be confused with Rhetoric, the study of language and the way it works. Rhetorik, rather, is a localized study of lingual DIS-function, and of the idjits whose abuse of the language is so profound as to be closer to the sound a baboon makes when it's scratching it's genitals.