Re: ideology bashing

Michael Hamende (HamendeM@CTS.DB.ERAU.EDU)
Mon, 12 Aug 1996 11:10:59 EST

Dene' Scoggins and List,

"I, too, teach from Crowley's Ancient Rhetorics."

So it was from your class that I found the text at the UT bookstore!
Thanks for having it there.

"However, I'm surprised by Mike's recent bashing of Mr. Helms for
believing "what he believes because the Bible tells him so" because
Mike seems to have missed the point of ideology and assumptions in
rhetorical contexts."

First with respect to me "bashing" Jesse Helms, Phyllis or someone
early on asked whether I thought a good rhetor could change Jesse"s
mind using rhetorical skills. It was that person's original implied
position that Jesse Helms was rigid, conservative, and silly. So I
didn't start on Jesse; I just continued to use him as an example. I do
not believe Jesse Helms thinks critically about his positions. He
indeed buys into the assumptions and ideology without carefully
considering them and their consequences. Personally, (and I know I'm
climbing out on a limb here and making a judgment and taking a
position) I think Jesse Helms has gone way beyond being effective as a
leader if he ever was one, partially because of his age and partially
because of his faulty thinking. I also personally believe, HE IS AN
IDIOT. It embarrasses me that the rest of the world see Mr. Helms as a
representative of the United States of America. He should retire and
give a 65 year old "youngster" a chance. There is an age at which we
should take a break and realize our minds are not as quick as they used
to be.

"Whether you talk about the values/assumptions of an ideology with
terminology like warrants (Toulmin), the major premise in an
enthymeme, or commonplaces, rhetoric all comes down to basic
assumptions that we can't prove or arrive at by logic."

I do not believe that "rhetoric all comes down to basic assumptions
that we can't prove." I think most things can be proven. Then the
listener makes a choice to agree or not. Things not subject to
experience, like the metaphysical, move the realm of "faith."

"A liberal (as Crowley discusses liberalism in American politics)
assumes that we as a society should take care of the poor and strive
towards equality among racial/ethnic boundaries, gender, and
socio-economic levels. This is a liberal assumption, a commonplace in
liberal ideology about the way humans should treat other humans in a
society. We can't arrive at this commonplace with "logic" or
"reasoning"; it's just there as a basic assumption in liberal

I disagree. If you just "buy" liberal ideology just by accepting the
commonplace or the "basic assumption" you are not a good rhetor. You
are subject to the rhetoric, like Jesse's, that the advertising
industry and many politicians depend on. These are hardly good folks
speaking well. The rhetoric I have been discussing requires
consistency between the speech and action (read experience). So its
not "just" a commonplace. It becomes reality. Reality in the sense
there is a measurable consistency between the actions of the parties
in question and the "rhetoric."

"An argument from liberal ideology will succeed--will persuade an
audience--when that audience shares the assumption that equality is a
good thing."

It will only persuade an audiance which doesn't understand the
commonplace device or chooses to believe it without question. I have
a tough time with your use of the word "assumption." I see this as
the kind of "sound bite" mentality that has given rhetoric a bad name.
A commonplace is a rhetorical device. The fact that it is shared by
a large portion of a given population does not mean it should always
be accepted or valued or certainly that it is true. When Bob Dole
constantly cites the Olympics and associates it with his campaign, he
is using a commonplace. Olympics = good. Hence because Bob Doles
uses the Olympics in the same sentence with his campaign (and thereby
associates the two [in a way]), Dole Campaign/Bob Dole = good.
Rhetoricians and rhetors know he is using a device and recognize it as
such. And I propose go beyond that "assumption" and look for
consistency between Dole's actions and this "rhetoric." Poor rhetors,
like Jesse, Dole, advertising, etc., hope furiously that you will fall
for the commonplace/device. And many people do. Those aware of
rhetoric will not. It ain't good enough. I want them to prove to me
they are good by experiencing a consistency between their actions and

"Back to Helms. An argument from Christian ideology--just like an
argument from Marxism, or conservatism, or humanism, or feminism, or
Deconstruction, or the Islamic faith, or a Jewish faith, or
socialism--is always based on assumptions about the world, about the
responsibility of individuals (or "subject position"), about right and
wrong (or relativity and deconstruction of that dichotomy), about the
existence (or nonexistence) of a Divine."

I guess the problem I have is with this kind of rhetoric. One that
operates from assumptions. I guess I see this as the Dark Side. Again
this kind of thinking has given rhetoric a bad name. Now I know these
things are factors in rhetoric. But are they its basis? Are they all
it boils down to? I don't want a rhetoric (world view) that is based
on blind faith or acceptance of a set of assumptions that may or may
not be what I believe at all. I want to know from experience or as
close as I can get that someone's rhetoric is consistent with their
actions, that its not just based on assumptions, but experience.

"What we have to teach our students is not to bash other ideologies and
call others "idiots" when we disagree with their assumptions about the

Dilbert recently said in a cartoon: "Dogbert, people are not idiots just
because you disagree with them." I didn't bash Jesse by referring to
him as an idiot just because I disagree with him. He IS an idiot. If
you go back to my discussions with Steve I articulate the reasons I feel
the way I do about Jesse Helms. And no to glibly bash another's
ideology is not good practice. But to carefully consider the ideology
and all that implies and to come to understand it and then decide its
not in the best interest of the people it should serve, the to take a
position on that issue is not a bad thing.

"Because the point is, we all base our reasoning on assumptions that
can never be "proved." Whether they come from a "sacred text" or a
purposefully profane text, from our experiences, from what our mother
told us or what a teacher told us or what a leader in the Democratic
party told us, our assumptions about what is important or moral can
always be challenged by another who dismisses our view of the world."

Again, I disagree. The bases for lots of reasoning and positions can
be proven. The bases for "your" assumptions, IMHO, are faulty. That
does not stop people from using them, nor does it keep them from
being harmed by them. I believe it is their lack of understanding of
rhetoric that "forces" people to accept these things as a basis (your
term) or proof (my term) of anything. I think our positions should
always be challenged and we should be open to that. I don't think
that activity should be taken on by anyone who would "dismiss our
view of the world", but by someone who is willing or trying to
understand it.

I did not cite Jesse Helms as an example of a poor rhetor because I
simply dismiss Christian conservative ideology. I did it based on a
huge supply of experiences and understanding. It is easy to try to
place me in with the paid liars, but I don't fit. It just might look
like it on the surface. :-)

"My students learn from Crowley's Ancient Rhetorics, and from me, that
they need to recognize their own ideologies and assumptions as they
become successful rhetors. The next logical step is to teach them to
identify the ideologies and assumptions of the audience they want to

Agreed. I would add that I would want them to appeal to what's right,
just, and good for that audience - not just to use every device at hand
to persuade them. The Dark Side again.

"I'm surprised by Mike's dismissal of all ideologies that base their
assumptions on a sacred text because he has dismissed and
alienated--not a bunch of "idiots" who follow Helms--but every Muslim,
every follower of the Jewish faith, every Christian who find "truth"
in "sacred texts"."

My "dismissal" was not of all ideologies. If I dismissed anything it
was pretty narrowly defined. I would hardly put the vast majority of
people on the planet in the same realm with Jesse Helms and others who
refuse to think critically and believe what they believe because they
believe it. I dismissed Jesse Helms because he is a poor rhetor.

I guess I would dismiss an ideology that has as its basis a text and
only a text. I think some issues of faith are not subject to logic or
reason or rhetoric. If you choose to believe in a God of any type, I
am not in a position to dismiss or disagree with you. But, if you say
you believe there is a God, and HE is the one true God for all people,
and that if I choose to not believe like you do I'm going to Hell, and
you believe that because the Bible tells you so and you have never
even read the book; then I've got some questions. And I would tend to
dismiss that as poor rhetoric and faulty thinking. Or if you say that
because the Bible says it is wrong to kill we cannot allow abortion,
but you will turn around and approve of sending American citizens to
die in a war (be like Jesse!) I will dismiss you. Or you say you are
a Republican and Republicans believe in as little government as
possible, but then you turn around and want to pry into women's live's
and peoples' bedrooms with laws that affect those areas. There's the
lack of consistency again.

As Mike said,

> Through the understanding and use of rhetoric one can learn
anything > and apply that knowledge. Without rhetoric it is tough
to learn much > of anything but a bunch of "facts." Maybe this is
part of what's
> wrong with education in America?

"Teaching rhetoric means teaching students that "facts" are always
interpreted through an ideology."

I'll agree that ideology is a filter or the "beer goggles" through
which we view facts and that that ideology colors those facts for
the viewer and that that must be taught to students. However, in
all but a few cases, that filter has no impact on those facts. And
many, like Jesse, refuse to believe the facts or take off their beer
goggles and see reality or fact. Ideology only colors the truth, it
does not change it. A good person speaking well is after the truth
and what is good. What is good for the vast majority, not just a
chosen few. An ideology/rhetoric that is based in exploitation,
what's good for a few, competition, etc, etc, is not a good thing.
And that has been/is the bases of many of our ideologies.
Particularly those like Jesse, and I think that is harmful to far
too many people.

"Students need to understand what assumptions they make and, to be
effective rhetors, they need to understand their audience's
assumptions and at least pretend to respect an opposing point of

Agreed. Sort of. I can respect the opposing point of view when its
basis is something that is good for the people who believe it. I
can respect your right to have an opposing point of view, sometimes
though I cannot and should not respect that point of view.
Sometimes I have a moral and ehtical obligation to disagree and let
you know I do. Particularly when that point of view is harmful to
you and many of those who share it. And yes I am in a position to
decide that something is harmful to you. I may not be in a position
to do anything about that, but I don't have to respect it or agree
with it. BUT I cannot ethically take that position if I have no
knowledge of or experience with your situation. I think it would be
playing into the power of the Dark Side if you "pretend" to respect
it. I think it would be far more honest to make it clear you do not
respect their position, but in addition you have an obligation to
explain your lack of respect. If your position is based in a
complete rhetoric as I have defined it you will be able to
articulate well your position. If I demonstrate a lack of respect
for your position and explain it with: "that's my opinion." or "the
Bible tells me so." I've got a problem. I would indeed be bashing
your ideology. That was not my intent.

Mike Hamende