Sunday, June 03, 2012

Why rhetoric doesn't necessarily work in the Internet generation and we need a new model

The UK government, an alliance between the diminishing third man of politics ( the lib-dems) and the Tories, has in the last week performed 33 u-turns on policies it brought in during its last budget. 

This includes lifting a tax on warm pies. Yes, you could not make this up.

Its culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt (pictured top far left) , whose surname ellicits perennial strokes of dark humour, causing on air broadcasters to bark profanities of the female anatomy kind, is also in trouble.

One minute he was being all propitious to James Murdoch about the imminent victory of their multi billion pound bid to take over BSkyB, then minutes later when handed the portfolio by his Prime Minister had discovered probity.

Whatever his feelings that day, his love would not get in the way of him acting proper. Er!

In Syria, as in other oligarchic regimes, unimaginable inhumane acts take place with governments blithely denying any knowledge or wrong doing.

It's unfortunate that this example should occupy the same space as the aforementioned, for they are considerably different things, but they share a common trait.

That trait is the power of rhetoric.

Anyone who has taken part in a school debating contest will understand. The issue is not whether you're right or wrong, but that whether you can be persuasive enough through a choice of logic-deductive themes, whilst ignoring others that hurt you.

On the other side of the fence your opponent's goal is to lance your position by supplying equally powerful themes, in destroying your argument and building their own case.

To do this, they need evidence, which helps if its free of partisanship and there's an audience that has power to take measurable action. It often matters little whether you're liked or not, so long as the power levers to officially usurp your authority is in check, whilst you still crave power.

Anyone who has been to a public school, will probably acknowledge the putative rights society confers on them. " You are born leaders", they will likely be told, and you can alway call someone a blithering idiot if you don't like them.

Then again you don't need to have been to public school, but it's not uncommon to be imperious.  I went to a boarding secondary school in Ghana, set up by Eton scholars, which has churned out some of the country's elites. Its motto was at least "Sound knowledge and mind" Suban ni Nimdee.

Rhetoric sits at the heart of media missives. Facebook's IPO had many believe it was fair and just. Someone somewhere was able to pierce through the media message with a different message - one many wanted to believe.

And that's the point with rhetoric, it takes the form of enthymeme such as a= good and nice, b= looks like a, therefore b could be good and nice, otherwise rhetoric is wrapped up in what literary essayist call topoi - a figurative speech that captures the mood, speaks to your audience e.g. "We're all in this together".

Similarly rhetoricians will find an example and magnify its import. It is the reason why anytime a film is reviewed a critic is likely to focus on one area- the narrative, technical themes or the style.

Rhetoric is one of the key areas as a critique of films and websites that we teach. In my experience it isn't by any means easy, because the power of good rhetoric lies in understanding the exemplars in your field and then constructing an argument through them, without always mentioning their name.

Yet at a time when greater transparency has become a prerequesite for an internet generation, dialectisms perhaps might be a better discourse promoted. Here the logic is a reasoning within an argument to produce a credible narrative of truth.

That's effectively what the Net and Twitter in particular promotes. Anyone acting pompous, gets hammered (figure of speech) and rightly so.

It means we must sometimes hold up hands and claim we're wrong, and whilst that goes against political ideology of now, perhaps its something we should anchor down into our classrooms and try and prevent new generations from believing they're owed something.