Re[2]: Rhetorical Theory

Michael Hamende (HamendeM@CTS.DB.ERAU.EDU)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 10:25:25 EST

Steve Finley says the quoted material below in response to Mike
Hamende's response...

"Lighten up, for God's sake!"

Ok. I'll try. It may take me a few minutes.

"It's pretty clear that I didn't come across with any "explicit
insistences" whatsoever that you "didn't know your ass from a hole in
the ground,"... [text deleted] If you have some honor amid all this

Seems pretty clear to me.

"... "if it came up and bit him on the [hind parts]," which was simply
a rather joking way of making a point..."

I didn't see any smileys along with that comment.

"...I felt strongly about and was not directed personally at you. So
let's take our "offended caps" off, please."


"As for ad hominem attacks, neither of these versions would qualify
anyway. Now, if I'd said something like, "Oh, that Hamende, I happen
to know he was convicted of beating his wife and three children, and
therefore his point about rhetoric isn't valid,"..."

You seem to be prone to using pretty extreme examples.

"... geez, for Chrissake, can you understand tongue-in-cheek when you
hear it?"

No I didn't. This is a very good example of the inability of language
to communicate clearly.

"Now, on to your more specific points:"


"J. Helms (I'm already sick of talking about him, as you are, I
imagine) IS, to some people, a good man speaking well. Even if it's
just to a very, very few people, it's enough that he still has power
in his neck of the woods, which is his purpose."

I disagree. Good complete rhetoric (as I'm trying to define it to
you.) is not about abuses of power or being only effective at
persuasion. Jesse Helms is not a good man speaking well because of
the conflict between his rhetoric and his actions. Your fact that he
is only persuasive to a "very, very, few people" makes my point. A
good woman speaking well has universal appeal. By my definition (as I
understand original rhetorical thinkers), Jesse don't fit the

"I know what you mean, but they are "officials" (in the sense of those
who are to be obeyed even if they are not good people, don't make
sense, etc.) only to us; to their own audiences, they DO make sense."

Is that because they inherently make sense or because the people
listening to him don't know any better? (I mean they don't understand

"Just because influence is limited to a small audience doesn't make it
any less powerful within the confines of that audience."

As I keep saying, good rhetoric does not depend on narrowly define
contexts. A good woman speaking well in an ethical way will have
universal appeal.

"I'm not sure exactly what you're saying here. We'd both agree that
false authority should be questioned and challenged, but surely you
don't mean that all authority is false, or that all experts are false

Yes, in a way I am, except I am not prone to using extremes the way
you seem to like to. I believe much/most (but not all) of what passes
for authority today is false. Classical rhetoricians had absolutely
no use for "authorities." I make a significant distinction between
original thinkers and "paid liars." The advertising industry, many
politicians, Jesse Helms, many corporate leaders, (Hmmm, who am I
leaving out?), some within some organized religions, et al are the
latter. Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Jesus, Mohammed, DeVinci, Marx, Lao
Tsu, Derrida, Foucalt, et al are examples of the former.

"I'm not talking about false status; ..."

I am.

"I'm saying that, with any audience, some speakers and/or sources will
be more immediately believable than others. This does not mean that I
think every argument from character and personality makes sense ("Be
like Mike-- drink Gatorade")."

Because a few people believe something, does that make it true? Or
"right?" Or ethically sound? Or even desirable? I think not.

"In my training, however inferior that might have been, we used the
term "ethos" to denote, among other related things, the character of
the speaker and how that affects the persuasiveness of a message."

I'd add that its the character of a people or society, but OK so far.

"It's true that this character can be falsely won and/or unexamined
and unchallenged by the audience,..."

Yes, and it most often is in today's world.

"...but it's equally true that such character can be--pardon the
romantic notion, you jaded lurkers--a good and true thing that really
does make this message more likely to be true than that one. (I know
you know all this--I'm just laying it out because I'm trying to figure
out where the disagreement is.)

The disagreement is right there. I do not believe, at all, that
"falsely won and/or unexamined and unchallenged character" is EVER a
"good and true thing." And it will never (for me) make something
"more likely to be true than that." In fact the opposite is true, for

Mike's quote: "Direct experience or closely related ways of knowing,
not proofs based in some arbitrary official authority, are clearly
more artistic and preferable proofs."

back to Steve: "I agree totally with your preference here, but again,
is all authority arbitrary and official? That's not the kind of
ethos, or whatever, I'm talking about."

As above, pretty close. We may disagree on this point.

"Agreement again! If the question is one of comparison between a GMSW
and the good Senator, then there's no question I'd give the
heavyweight title to the one with the broadest, most sensible appeal."

Whew. This is my point. And I'd add that that appeal should be
closely examined and challenged, to have withstood some test of
"goodness" or maybe ethics is a better word.

"After all, Anton LaVey appeals very well to Satanists, and
what's-his-name appeals to the Skinheads, neither of which are groups
I'd have anything to do with. But I'd make the same point about their
rhetoric as I do with Helms'--that it's quite effective in its own
limited way."

The limitations of its effectiveness is my concern. The lack of
universal appeal makes it suspect to me. If it only appeals to a few
people and the suggestion that those people are not prone to critical
thinking tells me that it isn't good rhetorical practice.

I absolutely disagree that the only criteria for judging rhetoric is
its ability to persuade. That is a very narrow definition. Yes,
persuasion is a part of rhetoric. But an equal part is ethics. Along
with the real character of the speaker. All of this and more is the
"complete rhetoric" I have been trying to describe.

"I'm evaluating acc. to effectiveness, not goodness or truth or
rightness or any of that stuff which, in my own antiquated way, I
still believe ought to be the aim."

You are discussing effectiveness and I am discussing goodness, truth,
justice, and rightness. And I mean those very real concepts, not the
empty words modern rhetoric, based only on persuasion, have created.

"I'm just saying that to claim Helms isn't an effective rhetorician
seems to me as nonsensical as claiming that this .22 rifle isn't
effective because that howitzer over there is. When comparisons of
scale (and rightness of use) are made, the whole question changes."

Exactly. And someone's comments about our unwillingness to make
judgments about right and wrong comes in here. I am trying to make a
"comparison of scale." Jesse's very limited appeal at one end and a
good woman speaking well's universal appeal at the other. It is quite
clear what we both think is superior rhetoric. The latter.

"IMHO, the idea that faith is everything that intelligence and the
intellect are not is an assumption, not an established fact, so this
statement strikes me as an unprovable, un-disprovable aphorism--not
that many people, maybe even most, wouldn't agree with you."

So if "not that many people, maybe even most wouldn't agree with" me,
doesn't that universality make my position better rhetorically?

"But you said this in response to my example of a Latter-Day Saint who
believed whatever the Book of Mormon said (and therefore, when
the minister said to do something "because the Book said to do it," he
was making an appeal from authority). How does this example make
faith "subject to" rhetoric? Why the distinction between the two,
except for the obvious point that not every matter of faith can be
arrived at or resolved by academic logic?"

Exactly because of the distinction. For me no matter of faith is
subject to or can be resolved "by academic logic." Ultimately issues
of faith are decided by the individual. When it comes to issues of
faith, the faithful, believe what they believe because they believe
it. Nothing else is required. The good of society or the good of the
people of North Carolina (or wherever Jesse comes from) is not an
issue of faith, it is an issue that should be decided by what you call
"academic logic" and what I call complete rhetoric. And I'm afraid
this latter is not what gets and keeps Jesse Helms elected. I am
concerned. There isn't much I can do about, but that doesn't stop me
from citing Jesse as an example (for me) of democracy and rhetoric
gone wrong.

"I'm just not sure I buy the idea that faith is the opposite of
intelligent knowing."

For me it is, because it is not subject to logic or rhetoric, or to
use your term "intellectual knowing." When dealing with issues of
faith, as I have defined them and which is different from your
definition, you have no choice but to believe what you believe because
you believe it. Issues of faith are unprovable. Issues of faith have
no facts (or phenomena or experiences) associated with them. Only
ideas. You make a choice related to faith based on very intangible
stuff. And I say "stuff" because its undefined and undefinable.

Politics and ethics are definable. Are based in experience. There
may be disagreements, but the facts are there. There are no facts
related to who or what God is or if "she" exists. You make the choice
to believe based on what you choose to believe with almost nothing to
back it up. And that's OK. Its understood.

"I don't know whether this specific point is true, but I see your
point about hypocrisy."

Thanks, Steve. That is almost my whole point.

"But again, we're talking about the difference between what is
effective and what is good."

Yes, depending on how you define "good." "Effective" don't get it for

"Unfortunately, hypocrites can make terrifically effective rhetors."

I disagree.

"Or are you drawing a distinction between "rhetor" and persuader"
--that is, are you saying that a rhetor who doesn't move toward the
universally good and true is NOT effective just because he is
persuasive? I think you could make a good case for this idea."

EXACTLY! You're with me now. And thanks.

"Huh? The fact that language is inexact does not mean that speakers
are under no obligation to make their intentions clear, unless by
"intentions" you're talking about deep, dark motivations that are
unrepresentable by language at all. To say that language "does
nothing to communicate intention" in anything but the most obviously
explicit cases ("I'm going to shoot you") is absurd, as far as I'm
concerned. I know I must be misreading you here, because I can't see
how anyone would make this assertion. Within the confines of a
discussion, I can figure out a pretty close approximation of your
intent from what you say, assuming that you're pretty intelligent and
can say what you mean, no? What am I missing?"

You are missing the entire philosophy of Derrida, Foucalt, and all the
other Deconstructionists, and Post-Moderns and a whole bunch of
linguists in the last 50 years who say that language is incapable of
clearly communicating anything, especially intention.

"Oh, hell, once again I and a whole bunch of others don't understand
rhetoric. Dang!"

I don't know about the "others", but you and I seem to have some
trouble communicating.

"The differences really aren't so obvious unless you hold to the
aforementioned distinctions between persuaders and rhetors, which I
think is a fair position."

I do. Thanks.

"But you must know that many people, probably most of the people I
know in the field, wouldn't make this distinction so clearly. (I have
to say, though--again, my antiquated mindset is showing--that I think
it's a useful distinction.) Point is, to denigrate someone who
doesn't see these things as being so different is to be rather
egocentric in one's position, I think."

Again I am presenting my thoughts on this topic and they are based on
my interpretations of the original thinkers. I'm not beginning to
suggest I "KNOW" it. This is simply what I think. I know a couple of
current scholars who would agree with much of what I'm saying. I'm
not willing to take the position you have. I think you should let
those "many people" speak for themselves.

"Because I didn't make myself clear enough here, you reached the
reasonable conclusion that I don't care what happens over there as
long as I'm over here. That's not what I was saying."

But that is what you "said", or the way I interpreted it. See how
messy language is?

"Let me try again: Helms holds a lot of power in his little corner of
the world, and the fact that he holds that power probably, or even
almost certainly, means that he's a good persuader with that
particular audience under a particular set of circumstances.
To the degree that one thinks persuader = rhetor, he's a good

And I do not agree with your equation. For me they are not the same
thing. And therefore Jesse is not a good rhetor.

"...if that's the way one wants to look at it."

Obviously I choose not to.

"Anyway, I'm saying only that the fact that Helms holds this power is
not a particular threat to anyone else; that is, if he's not
persuasive across a wide population, his influence is necessarily
pretty limited."

But given his position in a national office and that position's
ability to influence national and international affairs and events
Jesse's influence is not limited. And I think it is indeed a threat.
The Helms/Burton Law that is in the news comes to mind.

"It's not that I think the hell with his constituents as long as I'm
comfortable, and I promise you I have as many global concerns as you
or anyone else..."

But that is one way to look at what you said. And I think a number of
reasonable people would have made that same interpretation. I'm very
glad to hear you are concerned about the larger issues even if they do
not impact you directly, in your neighborhood.

"Again, I'm not saying that the fact that he holds power over even a
relatively few people is a GOOD thing; I'm making only the rather
obvious point that he has to be a pretty good persuader, or rhetor, or
whatever, to do that."

Again, I disagree. He's an idiot. (Opps excuse me. My opinions are
showing. :-)) His ability to only persuade a few people in an isolated
area makes it clear to me that he is a poor persuader and an even
worse rhetor. And its a terrible thing he has any power at all.
Other than power over his own life and personal affairs.

"Whew! (pause for wiping sweat)"

Yeah. This is work. But my being offended aside, I have enjoyed this
discussion. I'm sure it has gotten tiresome for a number of folks.
But it has helped me clarify my thoughts. I think its called
learning. Maybe you are not such a bad guy after all. Or maybe
that's an issue of faith? :-) <---Means, what precedes it is a joke.

Mike Hamende