Re: ideology bashing

Dené Dee Scoggins (dscoggins@MAIL.UTEXAS.EDU)
Tue, 13 Aug 1996 12:02:07 -0500

Mike and the list,

Mike, it seems that you don't agree with much of what Sharon Crowley
discusses in her book Ancient Rhetorics. According to Crowley, a
commonplace is not simply an "evil, from the Dark Side" rhetorical device
that fools your audience into believing what's bad.

> 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.

Crowley uses "commonplace" simply to describe those assumptions/belief
statements/values identified with an ideology. Her point (and mine) is
that we all have an ideology; we don't interpret experiences or raw data
the same way, many times because we base our interpretation on different

You also seem to identify the use of "assumptions" with bad rhetors who
aren't advocating what's best for society and who are not "practicing what
they preach" ("consistency between their actions and language"):

> Rhetoricians and rhetors know he [Bob Dole] 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
> language.

An ethical rhetor will really believe in the
ideology/assumptions/commonplaces she bases her argument on. Unethical
rhetors who try to fool people into giving them power will use the
commonplaces/the beliefs of the audience, but that doesn't change the fact
that everyone--even ethical rhetors--begins with these assumptions when
making an argument.

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.

This would be nice, an ideology that could be proven as "truth," a rhetoric
not based on "assumptions" but on "experience," identifiable "data." The
problem is, no such animal exists, even in the "objective" world of the
mathematicians, physicists, chemists--because they disagree over
interpretation of data. Their arguments fill up the volumes of scientific
journals, and they always interpret their data through theoretical models,
assumptions from past research.

> 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."
You seem to identify "experience" as a source for undeniable "truth."
Experience will always be understood and interpreted through our

> 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.

Again you seem to be saying that "truth" and "facts" exist out there if we
only remove our "beer goggles"--our ideology. But here you reveal your own
ideology--"an ideology/rhetoric that is based in exploitation, what's good
for a few, competition . . . is not a good thing." This statement
identifies an assumption you make about what's right and wrong. Most
people in our society would agree with this "commonplace," but it is still
an assumption that can't be proven. It's what you begin with as you make
arguments and interpret experiences. Ideology can't be removed like
"goggles" so that we can see "truth" clearly; it's only through our
ideologies that we identify what is "truth," "good," "right or wrong."

Mike, you are definitely an "ethical" rhetor in that you have the best
interests of society in mind, but what counts for what's "best" is all
about ideology. I don't know anything about Jesse Helms except that he's a
democrat and he's old. That wasn't my point in the last message.

> "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."

I took issue, not with your choice to attack Helms, but with what I
identified as your mistaken views about ideology.

I don't know how to respond to your rampage about Hell and abortion and war
because my previous message had nothing to do with your political positions
(or mine).

> 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.

Are you assuming that I'm pro-life, or that I support war, or that I'm a
Republican or a Christian who has "never even read the book"? For all you
know I'm a Marxist, feminist Christian who has read the "book" from cover
to cover.
Your statements above only illustrate my point that ideology isn't
something we take off like dirty shoes so that we don't stain the white
carpet of truth. Ideology is inextricably tied up with who we are and how
we interpret experience.

A side note,

I recommend Crowley's book, Ancient Rhetorics. I'm teaching a section of
"Rhetoric and Composition" to freshmen this second summer term, and they've
done very well with the book. In her treatment of invention, Crowley puts
a lot of emphasis on the stasis theory questions and Aristotle's common
topics of past/future fact, greater/lesser, and possible/impossible. My
students identify an argument from greater/lesser or the stasis of
conjecture with ease now and use these topics to generate their arguments.
This book is more demanding, but I like it because it gives the students
more tools than simply "brainstorming" and "freewriting." They have these
topics in mind as they freewrite and generate proofs.


Dene' Scoggins
Assistant Instructor
Division of Rhetoric and Composition
The University of Texas at Austin