Re[4]: Rhetorical Theory

Michael Hamende (HamendeM@CTS.DB.ERAU.EDU)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 17:03:13 EST


"This is getting to be a really interesting discussion, and I'm seeing
the point I should've seen before--that your definition of a
good rhetor is quite different from the one I've seen so many people
in the field using, and frankly, I think I like yours better."

Whoa, thanks, I think. But really I'm putting my own twist on what I
got taught by Sharon Crowley, Victor Villeunva, Bryan Short, and all
the people they had me read, plus a bunch of interactions with the
other students in our classes. I'd agree there are a number of
"almost dead old white guys" :-) who hold on to the "old" traditions
of rhetoric. The rhetoric I suggest is incomplete or based just in
persuasion. That rhetoric to me seems dark and evil and limited, so
limited. This side seems much more useful and explains much for me
about why things are the way they are. And how the world works.

"But as for some more specific banter:"

Couldn't just let it go at that could you? :-)

"See, this seems to imply that the audience for an effective
rhetor has to understand something about rhetoric, which seems wrong
to me."

Do you want to only be followed by people who don't understand you are
pulling the wool over their eyes? That seems very short term to me
and fine for tabacco companies and the advertisers who make their
bucks from the person selling the product and not the customers

"On the other hand, maybe this gets back to my tendency to think of a
"good rhetor" as one who is convincing to a certain audience, an
amoral position that, when examined, I'm not all that crazy about but
that seems very prevalent within the field. I'm beginning to wish
everyone were making this distinction that you make, if I understand
it right--sort of a remarriage of ethics (and even the "m"
word--morality) to academics, rather than the hypersterile, distanced
way, removed from all human concerns, of determining values and
methods in academic study."

BINGO. That amoral crap doesn't get it any more. Nothing is removed
from human concerns. Except God, but I'm not sure about that. All we
got is human concerns. Along with the concerns of the planet.
Complete rhetoric takes all this stuff into consideration. Like a
systems approach. Its all a fabric that interacts. You can't bracket
this, because its related to that over there. You can't say Jesse's
ok as long he don't bother me, because in our ever shrinking world
he'll get to you soon enough.

"I agree in principle, though perhaps not in degree, with your idea
that much or most "authority" not only now but always has been
suspect, but again, I'm not talking about officially recognized
authority as much as I am the speaker's character as the audience
perceives it."

Lately the latter you describe has become a much larger concern.

"But again, I was talking about what was effective, not what was true
or right, which is of course the more important question (the latter,
that is). But by the way, the "be like Mike" style of advertising
doesn't reach just a few people; the point is, it's not necessarily a
wide consensus that determines what is true, right, and all that
stuff, unless you're saying (and I don't think you are) that whatever
is widely accepted IS right and good."

No the true and right is what's important. And for me the MORE widely
it is accepted, the more suspect it is.

"But maybe I'm wrong about what you think here, because later you
seem to assert that the fact that your opinion is probably more
universal than mine makes your idea "better rhetorically.""

That was using your strategy on you. I think you've got my number now.

"I'd say it makes it more persuasive, maybe, to a larger number of
people, but according to your own definition, the idea of "better
rhetorically" entails more than that. Anyway, it seems to me that
ideas of truth and goodness and all that need more than the power of


"Oh, brother--now we're into whether "good" is socially determined or
whether there's something else behind it. Never mind. I know what I
think about that, but let's just back up out of that alley and stick
to the subject."

But that is part of a complete rhetoric. :-)

"On the other hand, once that credibility has been assumed over and
over again,..."

And hence we get much of our misplaced trust in authorities.

"... it's only natural for the audience to begin to wonder whether
that sense of credibility is being misapplied or has any remaining
validity, especially after going more or less unchallenged for some
period of time. Thus, there seems to be some kind of cycle that
repeats itself with speakers and writers who do their thing over long
stretches of time to more or less the same audience."

But see most audiences do not do that. My point is that they do not
ask questions. They blindly have faith in folks like Jesse based on
your misplaced authority and their unwillingness to think critically.

"The mechanic thing."

Yes experience is the best way to know. Baring that we trust
testimony from people we trust. How many people can you really trust
any more? If its your car repair that's not too big a deal. If its
the future of the planet, you gonna trust Jesse?

"By the way, this whole discussion thus far has ignored the fact that
some things MUST be decided either only or mostly by testimony."

Well no. Again those damn classic rhetoricians had no use for
testimony. As I've said right there with paid liars. Direct
experience and good rhetoric were/are the only ways to know. Really

"Car thing again... In this scenario, your point about the
desirability of something other than mere ethos being the deciding
factor in an argument or decision becomes very clear."

Now apply that to some much bigger issue than just tuning up your car.
You get my point how important this is.

"Anyway, I obviously wasn't saying that character falsely won is a
good and true thing. Of course not."

Good. I'd hoped not.

"Just briefly, because this is a 55-gallon barrel full of worms, one
of the reasons I don't see this as a very clear distinction is that
even academic ways of knowing things, arriving at conclusions through
logic, etc., etc., all have their basis in some kinds of assumptions
that many or even most people seem to share."

But I'd suggest there is much about current academic practice that
needs to be questioned too. And is not good complete rhetoric.
Current academic ways of knowing have some serious problems given
changes in technology and the shrinking of the planet.

"Maybe I should have said "an undiscovered hypocrite"? Or maybe it's
the use of "rhetor" instead of "persuader" again. . ."

Yes, I think so. Hypocrites can only be undiscovered if the audience
is unschooled in rhetoric. If the audience understands rhetoric, the
empress will never be naked, and be able to convince them she's got
clothes on.

"Nope, I ain't missing it. I just don't buy all of it, or even much
of it. "

As long as you know and made a conscious choice that's fine. I happen
to buy a bunch of it.

"Yeah, you're right about this. Maybe that's the "flaw in the
democratic system" you were talking about--maybe there oughta be
something that says the damage any legislator can cause ought to be
limited only to that legislator's constituency. But then, somebody
has to figure out what's "damage" and what are "difficult decisions
for the better of society," etc."

It is exactly the flaw about which I spoke.

"Yeah, I understand the emoticon ":-)" and whatever. Didn't have to
explain that one, but maybe I should use it more often. Anyway, the
fact is, I AM a bad guy, so your faith that I'm not, having no basis
in phenomena or experience whatsoever, is useless. (Just ask both my

Hmmm, sorry to hear that.

Mike Hamende