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Tuesday, 1 April 2014

What I Want My Daughter to Know

Reading "The Solitude of Self" by Elizbeth Cady Stanton had a great impact on me, partially because it spoke of a principle which is central to my philosophy of life. Cady Stanton was a female rhetorician who really kick-started First Wave Feminism (which was directed towards getting the vote for women). She has been criticized for using racial language when she gave reasons for why women should have the vote before black men did, but even Frederick Douglass respected her highly and wrote, "After her--silence."

This speech was given when she was already firmly established and respected as an advocate for women, and it is a piece I would class together with the greatest masterpieces of philosophical rhetoric next to "On the Peace" by Isocrates and "The Dream of Scipio" by Cicero. Her premise is simply stated: "We all have to be responsible for our own lives." Women cannot depend on a man for her happiness or protection alone, just as no other person should be wholly dependent on anyone else for the rest of their lives. I have heard and I believe the saying that "If a person cannot be alone with nature and be satisfied, that person is not happy with themselves." It is the same in matters of love. Though I am a huge believer in the importance of relationships and families, these relationships alone cannot define your worth or who you are. As Cady Stanton writes, "The isolation of every human soul, and the necessity of self-dependence, must give each individual the right to choose his own surroundings."

What then of all the talk during her age of the "weaker sex?" The talk of sheltering woman from the fierce storms of life is the sheerest mockery, for they beat on her from every point of the compass, just as they do on man, and with more fatal results, for he has been trained to protect himself, to resist, and to conquer. Such are the facts in human experience, the responsibilities of individual sovereignty. Rich and poor; it is ever the same, each soul must depend wholly on itself."

She makes it quite clear indeed that women may pass through more travail than men do in life. "Whatever the theories may be of woman's dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens. Alone she goes to the gates of death to give life to every man that is born into the world; no one can share her fears, no one can mitigate her pangs; and if her sorrow is greater than she can bear, alone she passes beyond the gates into the vast unknown . . . ."

Everyone needs a center, a focus of their being which they can call their own and which is not defined solely in relation to other people. It is this center they must rely on in the bitter and lonely moments of their life, and it is this center which may provide a security and a joy which no other source can take away. This must be the same for men and for women. The lack of nternal value leads to a constant struggle for external value, and all external value in the end will be nothing more than shadows and dust by itself.

Do not live in constant fear of what other people can give or take away. Do not wait for someone to slay your dragons or fight your demons. You are who you are, and that by itself is enough.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

What's Not To Like About A Tyrant?

You'd think that this would be a closed case in a country founded as a reaction to tyranny, with a people whose very Constitution is based on a suspicion of government and trust in individuals and the choices of the people, where "freedom" and "liberty" are discussed and honored more often than just about any other concept. Yet, when you see not one, but two presidents applauded for promising to abuse and overstep executive authority in a State of the Union address, when you see government agencies and bureaucracies used to stifle dissent, and when you see massive surveillance of the press, opposition groups, and in fact the entire population, all of which happens without any public outrage, you start to wonder.



In the old rhetoric schools of Athens and Rome, one of the rhetorical exercises given to advanced students was to rhetorically "slay a tyrant" by using something called the "topos of a tyrant:" In a measured invective, the students would lay out the six vices of a tyrant to remind their audience what it meant to be free from tyranny as well as to move them to action against a budding tyrant or tyrannical tendencies in their society. The freedom they had to exhibit this exercise was a good indication of the actual freedom they actually enjoyed in their societies. Two rhetoricians, Secundus and Maternus, were put to death by Caligula and Domitian when they performed the topos of the tyrant as rhetorical exercises at a festival. I guess they did too good of a job, and the tyrants got a really good look at themselves. The topos of a tyrant is an exercise I think we could profitably adopt in our society, as a safeguard of liberty and a ready weapon against tyranny. In this post, I'll try to explain the exercise and give a model you can use and spread as you choose. So, here goes: Let's slay a tyrant!



First, a little bit of theoretical groundwork to define what I mean by tyranny. Paul Woodruff has the best description I have seen so far in his book First Democracy: "The idea of tyranny is among the greatest gifts we have from ancient Greece, because it nails down a vital way to think about freedom. The ancient Greeks realized that there is a kind of government that destroys people by dividing them, while it diminishes their leader by clouding his mind. The leader may be a person or a group, and tyranny may rise in what is nominally a democracy. Like a disease, tyranny is recognized by its symptoms. These symptoms are the features of political leadership that the ancient Greeks most feared. And the Greeks were right to fear them. If you observe any of these symptoms in your leaders, be wary. A plague could be on the way, and it could fatally weaken your freedoms:
1. A tyrant is afraid of losing his position, and his decisions are affected by this fear.
2. A tyrant tries to rise above the rule of law, though he may give lip service to the law.
3. A tyrant does not accept criticism.
4. A tyrant cannot be called to account for his actions.
5. A tyrant does not listen to advice from those who do not curry favor with him, even though they may be his friends.
6. A tyrant tries to prevent those who disagree with him from participating in politics" (66-7).

Any of these look familiar? Ask yourselves, when did the US last have a president who did not start campaigning for reelection from day 1 in office? When last did it have a president who followed the Constitution and refrained from fighting illegal wars? When last did a president voluntarily disclose and admit to a significant failure without being forced to do so? When was ever a president successfully impeached or held accountable for his actions? I'm not talking about losing an election or stepping down like Nixon, I mean impeached and prosecuted for crimes. Only two presidents (in over 200 years) have ever been impeached, and none have ever been convicted. And not because of lack of either crimes or evidence, I can assure you. Besides, the US president has what is called "sovereign immunity," and according to the US Attorney General's Office "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions" (i.e. "ya can't touch him"). Concerning point 5 and 6, do I even need to list examples? Didn't think so.

So why is this so bad? Why does it matter for example if the NSA is spying on Americans (and the rest of the world for that matter)? I have had university students actually say "as long as you don't do anything wrong, what do you have to fear?" If that's your attitude, why bother with any restraint at all. Why even care about having checks and balances. Have we forgotten that almost everyone who has been given absolute power has actually used it? The results have not been pretty. The rhetoric schools outlined six vices of the tyrant to help people keep this in mind. They are cruelty, savagery, suspicion, arrogance, immorality, and avarice. The student would then explain and amplify those vices by giving descriptions, examples, and stories. I will provide a brief outline, but you can easily fill in examples of your own.

Suspicion: A tyrant can have no real friends, for he knows that his power is illegitimate and is only supported by force. As a result, he is constantly suspicious, even of those who want what is best for him. He believes the slightest rumor of a threat against him and sees every talented individual as a challenge to his power. As Euripides writes,
"When the people govern a country
They rejoice in the young citizens who are rising to power
Whereas a man who is king thinks them his enemy
And kills the best of them and any he finds
To be intelligent, because he fears for his power" (Woodruff 63).

Every tyrant has needed informants, secret police, and surveillance. In our days the thought police have taken the role of the bodyguard as the vanguard of tyranny. The ancients recognized that a tyrant first asks for a bodyguard because he knows he will need protection from his people and the power of force in order to carry out his crimes. In our days, the tyrant first seeks intelligence about dissenters and the ability to spread an atmosphere of fear and distrust among his subjects. It is always defended with a need for "security," but too late do the people realize that the security he was talking about was his, and the threat was them. This is a necessity, for a tyranny of one over many can only endure by the oppressive fear created by a police state, splintering everyone into their own shell of terror, never knowing who is watching or listening.

This is a scene from  the movie The Lives of Others portraying the real surveillance practices of the DDR.

Cruelty and savagery: A tyrant relies on terror to silence opposition, and the fear of the citizenry must be kept vivid by regular demonstrations of power and cruelty. Thus, it is not a question of whether or not a specific victim deserves this treatment because of any action on their part. Rather, display of cruelty in itself is a goal, and so-called crimes against the state are often mere pretenses in order to organize these displays. This is one subject which I believe the recent UN report on the North Korean prison camps makes vivid enough. To give a more historic example, Tacitus describes the murders committed by Emperor Tiberius after he had seized complete power: "Frenzied with bloodshed, the emperor now ordered the execution of all those arrested for complicity. It was a massacre. Without discrimination of sex or age . . . there they lay, strewn about - or in heaps. Relatives and friends were forbidden to stand by or lament them, or even gaze for long. Guards surrounded them, spying on their sorrow, and escorted the rotting bodies until, dragged into the Tiber, they floated away or grounded - with none to cremate or touch them. Terror had paralyzed human sympathy. The rising surge of brutality drove compassion away" (209). This is the goal of cruelty, to paralyze human sympathy and drive away compassion by terror and brutality. This is the hollow existence of a people living under tyranny.

Arrogance: Along with being a vice, arrogance in some ways is a necessity for a tyrant. How else can he defend asserting his will contrary to the wishes of his subjects? He needs to believe that he is above them. He needs to make himself in some ways a "superhuman," almost a god as the Roman emperors did. His reign serves as a sign of devotion to his massive ego. Raised on a throne of power above everyone else, he looks down upon the puny humans below him as little more than animals with haughty disgust. They are there for his enjoyment and use, and serve no higher purpose than that. The Greeks believed this frame of mind above all the other vices show tyranny for what it is: a disease of the mind. For under this self-delusion the tyrant has to hide his knowledge of his weaknesses, frailty, and guilt. Tacitus writes, "How truly the wisest of men used to assert that the souls of despots, if revealed, would show wounds and mutilations - weals left on the spirit, like lash-marks on a body, by cruelty, lust, and malevolence" (202). The tyrant seeks confirmation of his superiority over mankind, and finds it in abuses of power. He seeks confirmation of his superiority to divine law, and finds it by breaking every sacred bond and violating everything deemed inviolable.


Immorality and Avarice: These are the vices which a tyrant can exercise without restraint, and the very ability to do so constitute the lure and reward of tyranny. To have whatever one's eye lusts for, be it property, power, or people, this is the lure for the tyrant. The desire for absolute power would have little meaning for unscrupulous people if that power did not enable one to break all bonds which social position, morality, and laws would otherwise restrain. The Roman emperors would frequently display that power by taking the wives of men they had invited to the palace. Nero made it a hobby to display the most depraved behavior imaginable. Tiberius had his soldiers throw the richest man of Spain off a cliff so he could confiscate his money. There is no private property in a tyranny, nor is anything sacred. There is nothing where anyone can say, "this is mine" or "this is private." What is there then to live or hope for?
As the Athenian Euripides writes:
"Why should one acquire wealth and livelihood
For his children, if the struggle is only to enrich the tyrant further?
Why keep his young daughters virtuously at home,
To be the sweet delight of tyrants?
I'd rather die than have my daughters wed by violence" (Woodruff 63).

Yes, freedom from tyranny is worth fighting for. Cicero, who saw the death of the Roman Republic in his time sums it up like this in his The Republic: "As soon as a king takes the first step towards a more unjust regime, he at once becomes a tyrant. And that is the foulest and most repellent creature imaginable, and the most abhorrent to god and man alike. Although he has the outward appearance of a man, he outdoes the wildest beasts in the utter savagery of his behavior" (50). Remembering the first tyrant slayer of Rome, he writes that "he became the first in this state to show that, when it comes to preserving the people's freedom, no one is just a private citizen" (49).

It is the duty of every citizen to guard against tyranny and from becoming tyrants ourselves. A whole generation is growing up now which has never experienced the world before the Patriot Act. Massive surveillance which has never before been experienced in free societies is a fact of life. Throw off this yoke and destroy tyranny and all that resembles it. Nip it in the bud before it can grow any further. We do not want to progress down this road. Remember the words of Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, 23 January 2014

"Closer at Hand, and Fiercer": Fear Appeals and Resonance in Alexander Nevsky



In Alexander Nevsky, Sergei Eisenstein uses a scene from Russian history as a historical analogy to prepare the Soviet Union for a defense of their homeland. In doing so, he sets up the drama of an agonistic ritual between good and evil where patriotic Russians are placed on a moral pedestal whereas Germans and dissenting Russians are denied all legitimacy. Eisenstein exploits the potentialities in this drama for fear appeals and resonance in order to instill an attitude and prepare the Russian people to respond to a potential call to arms against the Germans. 




Alexander Nevsky portrays a social movement where a large ethnic group, the Russians, unite in the purpose of becoming an independent nation. As Stewart, Smith, and Denton mention in Persuasion and Social Movements, "Social movements are organized from the bottom up with leaders that emerge as the movement develops and sees the need for leaders with unique abilities" (6). It is established early in the film that the dream of Russia is one shared by almost all Russians, which is perhaps made clearest by the chorus chanting, "We'll never yield our Russian land. We'll crush every invader." Then, as the rich merchants of Novgorod argue that "we can buy our safety," Olga Danilovna again invokes the dream of Russia, asking, "You would sell away Russia?" A merchant replies, "Where is Russia? When did you ever see such a thing?" indicating that Russia at this time is not an undisputed institutionalized fact. It is still an uninstitutionalized vision which only has life as a social movement. Yet the dream of Russia wins the argument and the voice of the collective calls for Alexander Nevsky to become the leader of the movement. The film ends with the institutionalization of the social movement as Alexander proclaims, "Russia lives!" effectively transforming the social movement into a social movement organization. By using a story from their own history, Eisenstein could display a war against the Germans as a consistent pattern of behavior for Russians, rather than an aberration. Thus tapping into what Daniel O'Keefe calls the "general desire for consistency" (23).

The quest for Russian independence is portrayed as a moral struggle between good and evil, where this movement alone "constitutes an ethical, virtuous, principled, and righteous force with the moral obligation to act in the name of and for the good of, the people" (15), with exaggerated "strength, unity, and intellectual and moral legitimacy" (16). Strangely enough, a quasi-Christian agonistic ritual between the good, the evil (including the Germans and "second Judas" Russians) is invoked to motivate a population in defense of a Communist state.



Eisenstein makes liberal use of what O'Keefe describes as "fear appeals" in order to move people to action (226). The threat severity is the highest imaginable ("They're beating and killing everyone they encounter . . . They're torturing women whose sons and husbands fought against them"), as is the threat vulnerability ("we poor people, we face death under the Germans"). Meanwhile, Alexander guarantees the response efficacy ("We will beat them by spring!"), and the display of clumsy but brave Russian soldiers shows that everyone can contribute ("even a sparrow has a heart"). An alternative to war is impossible in this zero-sum game: The bishop proclaims that "All who refuse to submit to Rome shall be destroyed," as children are thrown into the fire, while Alexander explains that the Germans are "closer at hand, and fiercer" than the Mongols. "And they cannot be bought off by tributes." This is a fight where there can only be one winner.

The real genius of this propaganda film is having Alexander establish Soviet foreign policy as the centuries old law of the land. By anchoring this military doctrine to the esteem of a national hero, Eisenstein effectively convinces people to change their attitudes by relating the change "to something in which the persuadee already believes" (34), creating resonance with his audience. In addition, Eisenstein fills the film with Russian proverbs, effectively connecting the current Russia with the past. The government supported this connection with visual symbols like the Order of Alexander Nevsky, a military decoration reinstituted in 1942.

By displaying the war of 1242 as an analogy to the situation in 1938, Eisenstein is able to use fear appeals and resonance to move the Russian people to war and suppress dissent. The attitude he tries to instill is perhaps clearest when Alexander proclaims even defeat an act of treason, "If we had lost, Russia would have never forgiven us. Tell that to your children. If you forget it, you will all be a second Judas. A traitor to the Russian land." This is internal persuasion, aimed at Russians to instill militant patriotism.  

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Symptoms of a Disease: Mass Suggestion and Arguments of Sign in Robert Welch's Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories are everywhere today, in entertainment, politics, economics. You can even sense their shadows in organizations which are supposedly as far from the fringe as you can get. Democrats believe Republicans are accomplices in the great conspiracy of the rich financiers against the poor and the middle class, and Republicans accuse Democrats of supporting a statist agenda towards control and tyranny over the American people. Both sides assume the others are alligned with a small cabal of powerful elites who are silently dictating the development of the world towards a hellish future. There is plenty that could be said about these theories and their effect on public discourse (for example creating the assumption that everyone but you has a sinister hidden agenda for what they do). But why do these arguments work in the first place? Why are some audiences so eager or ready to accept arguments often based on the most flimsy evidence? Here is one prevalent conspiracy theory (which has recently had quite a Renaissance of interest on the web) which I analyzed using Toulmin's The Uses of Argumentation.

In "If You Want It Straight," Robert Welch, the founder of the John Birch Society, sets forth his theory about how the United States of America is threatened to its core by an almost ubiquitous Communist conspiracy. Welch relates a fantastical foundation myth for this conspiracy and interweaves its history with almost every significant political event of the last two hundred years. Then he gives what I think is a central clue to the construct of his argument and its potential appeal to an audience: "As we move down the years . . . and you find these items from the past meshing so neatly into a total design with the present pattern which you already recognize, most of your doubts about the earlier history will probably disappear." 1968, the time when he is broadcasting this message for the first time, is a very disorienting time in America. There are riots, protests, assassinations, and a great amount of civil unrest. In the middle of such disorientation, people often seek explanations. Welch offers one in this broadcast. In doing so, he uses mainly what Toulmin calls substantive arguments of sign to prove the "fact" of the Communist conspiracy, and relies on an implicit motivational argument to encourage Americans to resist the Communist campaigns.

"In arguments from sign, the data consist of clues or symptoms" (49). It is an inductive process where certain clues are interpreted as symptoms of an attribute possessed by a "person, object, event, or condition." By themselves, the data do not give a clear meaning, but the warrant "interprets the meaning or significance of these symbols" (49). As such, it works well with methods of mass suggestion such as those used by Welch. Welch claims he is displaying a complex mosaic, and does so by suggesting that just about every progressive initiative in the entire USA is a part of a Communist conspiracy. My model shows how his techniques may play out with his contemporary audience, focusing on the backing they fill in for him. (Key: D=Data or information which is already accepted, C=Claim or what the arguer wants to get accepted as truth, W=Warrant or the qualifying element which interprets the data and connects it with the claim, B=Backing or the support the argument find in existing attitudes, documents, laws, established values, etc.)

The first argument builds upon an assumption about the international Communist movement. Earlier in the broadcast, Welch provides a history of Communism and how it has spread through social protest, agitation, and armed revolution. He claims that this past is symptomatic of the Communist modus operandi and predicts that they will attempt the same in the US. With this claim, he is not doing much more than repeating the warnings of the US government and educational institutions from propaganda like Red Nightmare. Linking his arguments to this background provides him with all the backing he needs to proceed. 

In a second argument from sign, Welch mentions all the social upheaval and unrest in the 60s, including race riots, protests, the hippie movement, the sexual revolution, as well as black rights, Hispanic rights, and women's rights, and reads it as clear evidence of a Communist conspiracy to take over the US. The data is probably on most people's minds in this turbulent period, so it makes sense that he would have resonance with some people. The logical "leap of faith" it takes to see all these movements as symptoms of a Communist master plan makes this argument one that is less likely to be accepted. However, it does fit with the narrative established by the government about the Communist conspiracy, and it resonates with the impression perpetuated about Communists as devious and stealthy. This may be a field-dependent argument, which can only work with people who believe in the Communist plot and have reactionary sentiments towards the rapid change which is occurring in the US.

The third argument is an implicit motivational argument about how undesirable such Communist rule would be for Americans. Welch states from early on that this conspiracy threatens "your liberty and the very lives of you and your family in the near and quite foreseeable future," and keeps referring to the results of the Communist plot which will "destroy American civilization so they can rule over the ruins that will be left." The data says here that "US citizens need to resist progressive efforts to remain safe from Communism," and it builds upon the "fact" established previously about the nature of international Communism and the Communist origin of the social upheaval currently taking place in the US. This motivational argument is an evaluation of those facts based on the emotions of fear and anger, and the value of self-preservation. As shown in my model, all of these arguments can only work if the audience can supply the backing of an established attitude and belief about Communism and Communists. Without this backing, the model falls apart and the argument deteriorates to incomprehensible mass suggestion and threats.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

A Warning From Ancient Greece About the Curse of Empire

"All those who come before you on this platform are accustomed to assert that the subjects upon which they are themselves about to advise you are most important and most worthy of serious consideration by the state. Nevertheless, if it was ever appropriate to preface the discussion of any other subject with such words, it seems to me fitting also to begin with them in speaking upon the subject now before us.


For we are assembled here to deliberate about War and Peace, which exercise the greatest power over the life of man, and regarding which those who are correctly advised must of necessity fare better than the rest of the world. Such, then, is the magnitude of the question which we have come together to decide." 

This is how Isocrates introduces his speech titled "On the Peace." It is a sober piece of writing, with a more subdued tone than most of his other speeches. Isocrates is speaking from his own experience. His family and property was devastated during the Peloponnesian War against Sparta, and he has seen Athens rise from that devastation only to again entangle themselves in wars and intrigues. Now, after another serious defeat, Athens is seeking for peace. Isocrates sees this as the moment where he can lead Athenian foreign policy down a different track than they have been on for the last 50 years: He wants them to give up the disastrous dream of an empire.

In doing so, he realizes that he is speaking from a disadvantaged position. The speakers beating the drums of war have an easier case to make than the ones who urge for peace. One can appeal to pride and ambition, whereas the other can only appeal to humility and harmony: for the former put into our minds the expectation both of regaining our possessions . . . and of recovering the power which we formerly enjoyed, while the latter hold forth no such hope, insisting rather that we must have peace and not crave great possessions contrary to justice, but be content with those we have—and that for the great majority of mankind is of all things the most difficult.

The psychosis of empire carries with it a recognizable symptom of invincibility: For some of us appear to me to be over zealously bent on war, as though having heard, not from haphazard counsellors, but from the gods, that we are destined to succeed in all our campaigns and to prevail easily over our foes. Similar sentiments were expressed recently about the inevitability of success in Iraq and Afghanistan for example, showing us that although we are far removed from the Athenians in time, human nature has not changed that much.

Isocrates claims that (1) security, (2) material well-being, (3) harmony and unity within the nation, and (4) esteem and respect abroad would be conditions in which Athens would be most happy. Now it is the war which has robbed us of all the good things which I have mentioned; for it has made us poorer; it has compelled many of us to endure perils; it has given us a bad name among the Hellenes; and it has in every way overwhelmed us with misfortune. On the other hand, if Athens were to keep their peace treaties and covenants, Isocrates claims that they would be secure, trade would increase, Athenians would be united in a common project of improvement, and we shall have all mankind as our allies—allies who will not have been forced, but rather persuaded, to join with us, who will not welcome our friendship because of our power when we are secure only to abandon us when we are in peril, but who will be disposed towards us as those should be who are in very truth allies and friends.

In order to secure this lasting peace, one thing has to happen: Athens has to stop trying to dominate everybody: For I, for my part, consider that we shall manage our city to better advantage and be ourselves better men and go forward in all our undertakings if we stop setting our hearts on the empire of the sea. For it is this which plunged us into our present state of disorder, which overthrew that democratic government1 under which our ancestors lived and were the happiest of the Hellenes, and which is the cause, one might almost say, of all the ills which we both suffer ourselves and inflict upon the rest of the Hellenes.

What is this empire? Why have all nations sought after it? And why is it so destructive to whoever holds it? Isocrates says that "all the world lusts after this power" and they have "waged wars to obtain" it.

The empire is based on force, and therefore goes contrary to the principles of the Hellenes, since we recognized the principle that it is not just for the stronger to rule over the weaker. Athenians were raised with a hate of despots and a love of democracy and equality. Yet, as we often do, they failed to translate the principles of their domestic policy into their foreign policy. Isocrates sees this inconsistency of principle, and he seizes on it. He begins by denouncing the conditions of the tyrant: Is it not true that when men obtain unlimited power they find themselves at once in the coil of so many troubles that they are compelled to make war upon all their citizens, to hate those from whom they have suffered no wrong whatsoever, to suspect their own friends and daily companions, to entrust the safety of their persons to hirelings whom they have never even seen, to fear no less those who guard their lives than those who plot against them, and to be so suspicious towards all men as not to feel secure even in the company of their nearest kin? Isocrates is here stating a common sentiment among the Athenians. It was the terrors of tyranny which made them turn to democracy in the first place, and the bloodbath caused by the brief reign of The Thirthy reiterated those lessons to his own generation. Then he makes the connection: while you consider the power of a despot to be harsh and harmful not only to others but to those who hold it, you look upon the empire of the sea as the greatest good in the world, when in fact it differs neither in what it does nor in what it suffers from one-man-rule. 



So what is the lure of empire? Why have Athenians and others been willing to ignore their own principles in order to obtain it? The answer is, because it can satisfy the most basic desires for quick wealth and power: it turns the heads of those who are enamored by it, and that it is in its nature like courtesans, who lure their victims to love but destroy those who indulge this passion. But when did Athens cease to lead and begin to dominate? They were given the hegemony or leadership over the Hellenes because of their valor and wisdom in the war against the Persians. It is not leadership which causes evil, Isocrates points out, but rather unbridled dominion. The Athenians of that generation were chosen to rule, but those who came after them desired, not to rule but to dominate—words which are thought to have the same meaning, although between them there is the utmost difference. For it is the duty of those who rule to make their welfare, whereas it is a habit of those who dominate to provide pleasures for themselves through the labors and hardships of others. 

This is a state which is contrary to virtue and nature, which is why Isocrates prefaces the next part of his argument with a grave warning: But it is in the nature of things that those who attempt a despot's course must encounter the disasters which befall despotic power and be afflicted by the very things which they inflict upon others. And it is just this which has happened in the case of Athens

An empire is a deception. It is not what it seems: what we call empire, though in reality it is misfortune, is of a nature to deprave all who have to do with it. The empire is a licence and arrogance based on physical strength which tempt all men to abuse the power they have been given: anyone can see that those who have been in the strongest position to do whatever they pleased have been involved in the greatest disasters. Athens itself reached a point where before they knew it, they had filled the public burial-grounds with the bodies of their fellow citizens.


Isocrates uses the history of Sparta to illustrate this principle:

"And we ought not to emulate those who hold despotic power nor those who have gained a dominion which is greater than is just but rather those who, while worthy of the highest honors, are yet content with the honors which are tendered them by a free people.

We have a most convincing proof of this. For imperialism worked the ruin not only of Athens but of the city of the Lacedaemonians (Sparta) also.

For in place of the ways of life established among them it filled the citizens with injustice, indolence, lawlessness and avarice and the commonwealth with contempt for its allies, covetousness of the possessions of other states, and indifference to its oaths and covenants. In fact they went so far beyond our ancestors in their crimes against the Hellenes that in addition to the evils which already afflicted the several states they stirred up in them slaughter and strife, in consequence of which their citizens will cherish for each other a hatred unquenchable.




They first became subject to the dominion of their present ills at the moment when they attempted to seize the dominion of the sea, since they were seeking to acquire a power which was in no wise like that which they had before possessed.

Because of the arrogance which was bred in them by that power they speedily lost the supremacy both on land and sea. For they no longer kept the laws which they had inherited from their ancestors nor remained faithful to the ways which they had followed in times past.

For they did not know that this licence which all the world aspires to attain is a difficult thing to manage, that it turns the heads of those who are enamored by it, and that it is in its nature like courtesans, who lure their victims to love but destroy those who indulge this passion.

anyone can see that those who have been in the strongest position to do whatever they pleased have been involved in the greatest disasters, ourselves and the Lacedaemonians first of all. For when these states, which in time past had governed themselves with the utmost sobriety and enjoyed the highest esteem, attained to this license and seized the empire, they differed in no respect from each other, but, as is natural in the case of those who have been depraved by the same passions and the same malady, they attempted the same deeds and indulged in similar crimes and, finally, fell into like disasters.

Isocrates summarizes the moral of the story with this brief sentiment: If you will go over these and similar questions in your minds, you will discover that arrogance and insolence have been the cause of our misfortunes while sobriety and self control have been the source of our blessings. It is urgent that Athenians realize this truth for a man who is godless and depraved may die before paying the penalty for his sins, but states, since they are deathless, soon or late must submit to punishment at the hands both of men and of the gods. And time is running out for Athens. A mighty enemy, Philip of Macedon, is amassing a great army in the north. His greedy eyes are looking south towards the scattered, divided, and leaderless Greek city states that he is planning to subdue into his empire. When his armies came, Athens led the fight against them. But because of their arrogance and intrigues, they had as many Greeks fighting against them as were fighting with them. Thus ended the independence of the Greek city states, and with it, the brief light of democracy.

What can we learn from the mistakes of Athens? The evils of empire have shaped our world increasingly since the 1700s. The atrocities of the colonial powers still haunt us and manifest themselves in a world divided between victims and conquerors. The colonial war was a major contributor to World War I and the revived imperial ambitions of Germany, Italy, and Japan helped trigger another one. Following that, the US and USSR each formed empires of influence and force, leading even the US to commit crimes and outrages which they had formerly decried and stayed away from in international politics. The US currently has a crumbling empire. More despised and feared than loved in large parts of the world, and not always undeservedly so either. Deep trails of blood in South America and the Middle East have followed American foreign policy. In deed the US have often acted outwardly as a dictator, while struggling to maintain a democracy internally.

Is it possible for the US to lead rather than dominate? These concluding words of Isocrates may still be applied in our days. The first advice he gives is to choose good leaders and representatives who do not hunger for war and easy money.

The second way is to be willing to treat our allies just as we would our friends and not to grant them independence in words (only) . . . and not to exercise our leadership as masters but as helpers, since we have learned the lesson that while we are stronger than any single state we are weaker than all.

And the third way is to consider that nothing is more important . . . than to have a good name among the Hellenes. For upon those who are so regarded they willingly confer both sovereign power and leadership.


For no other of the states will dare to oppress them; on the contrary, they will hold back and studiously avoid aggression when they see the power of Athens on the alert and ready to go to the aid of the oppressed.


If the foremost states resolve to abstain from acts of oppression, we shall have the credit for this blessing; but if, on the other hand, they attempt to oppress others, then all who fear them and suffer evil at their hands will come to us for refuge, with many prayers and supplications, offering us not only the hegemony but their own support.


it is a noble enterprise for us, in the midst of the injustice and madness of the rest of the world, to be the first to adopt a sane policy and stand forth as the champions of the freedom of the Hellenes, to be acclaimed as their saviors, not their destroyers, and to become illustrious for our virtues and regain the good repute which our ancestors possessed.





For if we really wish to clear away the prejudice in which we are held at the present time, we must cease from the wars which are waged to no purpose and so gain for our city the hegemony for all time; we must abhor all despotic rule and imperial power, reflecting upon the disasters which have sprung from them; 


This, then, is the kind of leadership which is worth striving for.

Friday, 13 September 2013

How Orson Welles Faked Public Knowledge in "War of the Worlds"

On Halloween 1938, Orson Welles' Mercury Theater on the Air performed a dramatized version of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds. Within 16 minutes of the broadcast, over one million Americans believed Martians had landed in New Jersey. Throngs were calling their local police and fire departments, volunteering for service in the war against the Martians, a man returned to his house to find his wife holding a glass of poison, claiming it was better to die this way than being eaten by the Martians, people in Boston reported being able to see the flames from the Martian heat ray on the horizon. The effect surprised Orson Welles and his fellow actors more than anyone. Below you can see his attempt at making sense of the situation and his apology for the consequences of his broadcast.


How was this possible? How could an otherwise educated and intelligent public become so utterly convinced by such a fantastic story that they let that conviction guide their actions and override their senses?

In “Rhetoric and Public Knowledge,” Lloyd Bitzer defines public knowledge as “a fund of truths, principles, and values which could only characterize a public” and that a public which has such knowledge “is made competent to accredit new truth and value and to authorize decision and action” (68). Essentially, public knowledge becomes a framework out of which we can judge new truths and values. A public also has a set process by which new knowledge is accepted, or “a power of authorization through which some truths and values are accredited” (68). This process, or method, is a kind of rhetoric. “Rhetoric generates truths and values previously unknown to the public” and it “serves as an instrument with which to test public truths and values and justify public means and ends” (68). It both generates and tests truths in a generally acceptable way.

The reason Orson Welles’ broadcast War of the Worlds was so effective in altering the “public knowledge” of its listeners was because it successfully made use of the rhetorical process by which normal truths were introduced and established in the public of that time to introduce and establish a fiction. Perhaps the most pervasive method in this process was the use of phony representatives or spokesmen.

In the rhetorical process to introduce and test public knowledge, Bitzer writes that spokesmen are like prophets (74). We could therefore say that Welles effectively manipulated public knowledge by using false prophets to proclaim a false truth. On one level, there was the medium of the radio itself. As a widely disseminated and highly regulated medium, the radio in 1938 possessed an authority as a receptacle and fountain of truth which few of this age can imagine (Cantril xii). This authority is transferred to the radio announcer, who, without possessing any other credentials, is instantly believable as the transmitter of facts. The credibility of the radio as a source of information is even mentioned in the play, where the radio relinquishes control to serve the army since "radio has a responsibility to serve the public interest in all situations" (Welles).

Next, there is a long list of representatives who speak for the most prominent institutions granted authority to validate truths. As Bitzer writes, "public speakers and audiences . . . stand in for publics" as when "an eminent scientist . . . speaks for science" (73). Professor Pierson becomes the representative of the voice of science in the play, confronting fantastic claims with skepticism (8, 10) and triangulating his observations with those of other scientists and empirical evidence (6, 10), until he is convinced and validates a new truth. In stating this new truth, he acts in his capacity "as a scientist" (Welles) proclaiming with the authorization derived from what we know as "the agreements of experts or of elite persons" (Bitzer 76).

When this truth is summarized by the announcer, he focuses on the process of its discovery and validation: "Incredible as it may seem, both observations of science and the evidence of our eyes lead to the inescapable assumption that those strange beings are the vanguard of an invading army from the planet Mars" (Welles). Other public acknowledgments follow from other institutions authorized to validate new truths for the public: the National Guard, military, and finally Secretary of Interior all support this new and terrible truth. This perception of reality is also validated by the masses of people reportedly fleeing from the aliens: "Highways to the north, south, and west are clogged with frantic human traffic" (Welles).

Now, what of all this "knowledge" is public knowledge as defined by Bitzer? If it were real, the Martian invasion would not have been public knowledge in this sense, but rather "private knowledge made general" since it would have existence independent of a public (84). Public knowledge has no existence or at least looks different outside of a public. The public shapes knowledge when, "Purely factual conditions experienced by the public come into relation with shared sentiments, principles, and values that characterize persons not as individuals but as members of the public: and the power of participation transforms those factual conditions into the public's personal facts" (85). Personal facts here means facts which have been colored by emotions and perceptions. In 1938, the factual condition of voices speaking over the radio was transformed into something meaningful when it mixed with the public perception of the radio as transmitter of truth and recognition of titles (which do not exist in the absence of a public) giving the voices authority to establish new truths. This mixture transformed the factual conditions (voices heard on the radio) into the personal fact of a public that said Martians were invading USA.

Bitzer writes, "the public is the ground and the authority of all of its personal facts, which count therefore as part of public knowledge" (85). The Martian Invasion in 1938 was an evanescent personal fact of the public. One could say that it was truly public knowledge, since it had absolutely no existence independent of a public. Though systems of public knowledge are faulty and can be tricked, as shown in this instance, we need such systems in order to know things together, which is the necessary foundation for any kind of communal action. Hopefully, such glitches in the system make it clear to us that even these systems have faults, helping us to be humble and vigilant in testing what we know as a society and how we come to know it. Just because the voice you hear on the radio self-identifies as an expert, it doesn't necessarily mean the he or she is anything more than one voice and one opinion among many.

Here is the full broadcast. Masterfully executed, even by today's standards



Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Five Dysfunctions of a Democracy

I have just been reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. While I was reading it I realized that the principles discussed in the book are not really limited to management or executive teams at all. They are principles of democratic deliberation, and help explain why this process sometimes fails or becomes corrupted or unproductive. Of course, I realize that this is a complex topic that I will have to simplify in order to fit it in a blog post. This post contains my thoughts about how these concepts can be applied to address failures of modern democracies to engage in productive decision-making deliberations.

First, what are the five dysfunctions of a team? Well, they are not five separate dysfunctions as much as five effects which stem out of a lack of trust and escalate to different levels. This figure explains it best.
Lencioni writes, "In the context of building a team, trust is the confidence among team members that their peers' intentions are good, and that there is no reason to be protective or careful around the group" (195). Of course, this does not translate well to democratic politics. What I would say is that trust in a democracy is built on confidence in the deliberative and reasonable ability of a democratic population. A belief that most people do want the best for themselves, their families, and their communities, and that it is possible to address touchy subjects or controversial topics without starting a civil war.

A good example of a controversial topic in Europe is immigration. It is a favourite topic of populistic politicians from the right or conservative side of the aisle. Intellectuals and parties closer to the center or left like to discard these people and their supporters as "racists, fascists, and Nazis," thereby effectively signaling that they are a no-count crowd who cannot be taken seriously in public debate, and they should be silenced using all "democratic" bullying means and tactics available. We can look at Sweden as an example. As one journalist wrote, the statements in Sweden about inherent unity and coherence have become more shrill as the actual presence of difference and discord has become more obvious. It has come so far that almost one fourth of the electorate have voted for a party that the media have branded as insincere and unfit as participants in the public debate http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/Frykten-for-Sverigedemokratene-7109741.html#.UgjSAJLXqSo Meaning that a significant part of the population is ostracized from the process. This fear seems to me to be the manifestation of an absence of trust in the electorate and their ability to reason.

This absence of trust logically leads to a fear of real debate or fear of conflict. Ideological debate should be vigorous and passionate, and it should be inclusive. The issue should be addressed, rather than trying to make a value judgment about the person defending or propagating a certain stance with ad hominem arguments (attacking the person who discusses an issue to discredit his/her point of view). In Sweden, words like "communist," "racist," "fascist," are used publicly in some of the most read newspapers, and seem to dominate the public discourse. Despite this, there is a seeming harmony among the political establishment and the established media that immigration is not a problem in any way, and it does not need to be debated. A large portion of the population seem to disagree. Any person highlighting difference and disunity is easily made out to be the proponent of difference and disunity. Real debate and conflict leads to a solution which is not compromise (it does not try to please everyone), but it is a solution which the group can agree to because everyone felt that they were listened to and that their argument was seriously considered. Without an inclusive debate, the result becomes artificial harmony. We pretend like we agree, but inside we are boiling.

The real problems from this become more visible at the next level. Because there was no real debating of the conflicting opinions, and all sides were not heard equally, there is no commitment to the solution that won. Thus, policies are not enforced, social programs are undermined, and any initiative decided on in this way, while trying to mend the social fabric, actually ends up tearing it further apart. Many participants start feeling like they are not a part of a team, a community, or a nation, but that they are stuck together with people they fundamentally disagree with and cannot communicate with. More battle lines, groups, and subgroups form. The people become more disgruntled and grasp for anyone who can articulate their frustrations and anger.

This again leads to Avoidance of Accountability and low standards. Especially, it leads to low standards of public discourse. Arguments deteriorate to shouting matches. Degrading remarks and labels become the norm. Groups and subgroups talk within their groups and reinforce each other's stereotypes and prejudices without engaging opposing or even slightly differing groups. There seems to be less and less of a common foundation that anyone can agree upon. Why respect the democratic process for gaining power if that system favors your enemy? Why obey the rule of law which is enforced by your enemy? Why do anything unselfishly or give up anything when it only gives your enemy more resources and power? And gradually institutions, systems, and conventions, built up by debate and agreement over centuries until they are taken for granted, slowly grind down and deteriorate.

The consequence in a business is Inattention to Results with Status and Ego as the only driving motivations for any action. In a society, the consequences can be much more severe. There is now no more national agenda, since nobody can agree on anything. Instead, we have the Hobbesian war of "everyone against everybody" with small groups all clamouring for power, success, and domination against all others. At this point one can hardly even speak of a nation. Rather there are tribes, clans, and parties trapped within artificial boundaries, forced to live close to people they hate and despise. As Paul Woodruff writes in First Democracy: "Without harmony, there is no democracy . . . Without harmony, the people have no common interests. What could 'government FOR the people' mean, if people are so badly divided that there is nothing that they want, together? Without harmony, government rules in the interest of one group at the expense of another. If harmony fails, many people have no reason to take part in government; others conclude that they must achieve their goals outside of democratic politics altogether, using money, violence, or even the threat of terror" (81). 

OK, so now I have painted the scary picture which can be the result of deficient democratic deliberation or rather, a lack of trust and debate. So how can these deficits be remedied? We have these deficits to some degree in all democracies and national as well as local deliberative bodies. Well, Lencioni has a whole list og exercises and ideas for how these can be overcome, and those who want them all can read the book ;) Here is a quick list of some:
To overcome absence of trust: share personal histories, invite members to be critical of their participation in the deliberation process and mention one way in which they contribute and one way in which they most hinder good deliberation, create situations where cooperation is essential for success.
To overcome fear of conflict: mine for buried disagreements and shed the light of day on them (call out sensitive issues and encourage people to work through them rather than avoiding them), create a setting where the road out goes through and not away from the conflict.
To overcome lack of commitment: dare to give up the ideals of consensus and certainty. Create smaller and safer environments where groups can make decisions together, agree on what has been agreed upon and should be communicated, and then increase the level of complexity.

A good start though would be to open up the debate. Let people share what they believe and feel without attaching a lable to it. People with valid concerns must be listened to if they are supposed to feel that the deliberation process has any kind of legitimacy. You don't have to agree with them, but try to understand them at least! How did they get to where they are today? What are some things you can agree on? Try to listen to their stories. Trust that they are just as intelligent as you are, and they probably have reasons for what they do and what they believe. If that could happen locally and nationally, that would be a great first step. Immigration, as many other touchy subjects, is filled with uncertainty.

Though some experts and politicians may claim to have all the answers, nobody knows what limiting or expanding immigration will lead to in a country. Nobody knows for certain whether a country will become richer, happier, and more accepting or whether it will disintegrate into different societies living after different laws with different languages hardly agreeing on anything. There are definitely precedents for both in history. Except for USA few Western nations have had the kind of demographic shifts and movement of peoples they experience today. Nobody knows if the integration process could be improved, or how. Nobody knows the best road to go forward for certain. In First Democracy, Paul Woodruff writes, "Athens had developed a system of decision making that presumed the fallibility of everyone concerned and compensated for it through open debate on an adversarial model--a model that works only if both sides are free to speak. Besides debate, what could the Athenians have done without knowledge?" (175). We can rely on so-called "experts" or oracles. But they cannot be trusted with things they cannot know. "Far better to submit such issues to debate and resolve them with a vote . . . adversary debate, followed by a vote, is a rational way of handling murky issues--better than tossing coins . . . and far better than letting the leaders pretend to have so much knowledge that we can let them make decisions on their own" (175). 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

What Is the Difference Between Rhetoric and Manipulation?

I think there is a clear practical case to be made for rhetoric: since it is becoming more interconnected the world depends increasingly on good communication, therefore anything that makes an individual communicate more clearly and persuasive is obviously a benefit to that person. But what is the ethical argument for rhetoric? Why would a person with high ideals and democratic sentiments (as I would like to think of myself) study such an art? This is one of the oldest questions in Western thought actually, so I do not expect to solve it in one blog post. But these are some thoughts I have on the subject:

The first problem in making that argument is definition. Rhetoric is often, though mistakenly, used to describe the deceptive practices of some politicians and salesmen, and Plato once accused it of being "flattery" with no intrinsic ethical value (though he is more positive about it in later dialogues). In other words, if rhetoric was a person, it would be seen as a scoundrel, a deceiver. So how do you defend a scoundrel? Well, you can't, because a scoundrel per definition is indefensible. What you do is show how that label or definition is misplaced, and that another definition is better. Rhetoric is concerned with persuasion, but what is mislabeled as rhetoric is really manipulation: "Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the perception or behavior of others through underhanded, deceptive, or even abusive tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another's expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious and deceptive." Though a person who persuades and one who manipulates may have the same end in mind, the process is different (as I will show later in this post). The end does not justify any means in rhetoric, because, as most honored rhetoricians have observed, the means of influence can have implications which are more severe than the influencer ever dreamed of.

Of course, every definition depends upon some other definition. What does it mean that something is ethical? Rather than subscribing to a specific theory of ethics, Kantian or otherwise, I will work from a definition of ethical as something which promotes ends which are commonly held as good or favorable to individuals and society, and while doing so adheres to a common code of acceptable behavior.    

Plato argued in Gorgias that rhetoric is unethical because its end is power, which is not necessarily good for everyone, and it achieves this end through flattery, which is dishonest and prevents good judgment.


The immediate ends of rhetoric, according to Isocrates, are persuasion and judgment. How can persuasion, which is a method of power or influence, be ethical? Well, one may as well ask how any kind of power or influence can be ethical. We have to use methods of power and influence on each other, since that is the only way we can function as a society. People don't think the same way, and without a method of aligning thought, attitudes, and actions, even temporarily, any kind of communal living would be impossible. To have a society, people actually have to agree first that they are a part of a society. Therefore, though methods of power always have a sinister potential, persuasion should be evaluated in comparison to the alternatives for aligning thought.

I think a good starting place is this description from Bryan Garsten's Saving Persuasion: A Defense of Rhetoric and Judgment: "Persuasion in the strict sense identifies a way of influencing that is neither manipulation nor pandering. The speaker who manipulates his audience so as to bring them to a belief or action without their consent, as Kant thought orators moved men 'like machines,' has not persuaded but coerced. In contrast, the speaker who merely finds out where his audience itches and then scratches there, as Plato thought pandering Athenian orators did, has not managed to change his listener's minds at all. To truly persuade people is to induce them to change their own beliefs and desires in light of what has been said. Though we speak of 'being persuaded' in the passive voice, we recognize the difference between being persuaded and being indoctrinated or brainwashed; the difference lies in the active independence that is preserved when we are persuaded" (7). Persuasion is never complete when an orator has finished speaking. It includes a process of internal deliberation and evaluation which enlists all of our rational, emotional, and deliberative faculties. As Garsten goes on to write, "An orator does not coerce; he merely puts words into the air . . . mental digestion is a process over which we can exercise some control. We reject arguments that seem far-fetched or suspicious. Being persuaded is not the same as learning, but it is related. When someone sits back and decides, 'All right, you have persuaded me,' he is not merely describing something that has happened to him. In spite of the grammar, he is describing something he has done" (7).

Rhetoric is the art of "finding the available means of persuasion in any given situation" and since persuasive speech is not powerful enough to coerce and persuasion is not achieved through mere flattery, rhetoric cannot be reduced to pandering or manipulation. Rhetoric depends on individual judgment, and thus it respects agency. Manipulation, on the other hand, tries to make use of automatic responses, neurological pathways, and mental reflexes to change ones mind without detection. A perfect "victim" for a manipulator will never know what hit him. The mechanism of persuasion is much more overt, and it involves choice.

This appeal to judgment or agency may be one of the most democratic aspects of rhetoric, which may make it ethical in a society which values argument rather than force as a method of influence. As Kenneth Burke writes, "Persuasion involves choice, will; it is directed to a man only insofar as he is free" (50). Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca elaborate this point: "The use of argumentation implies that one has renounced resorting to force alone, that value is attached to gaining the adherence of one's interlocutor by means of reasoned persuasion, and that one is not regarding him as an object, but appealing to his free judgment. Recourse to argumentation assumes the establishment of a community of minds, which, while it lasts, excludes the use of violence. To agree to discussion means readiness to see things from the viewpoint of the interlocutor, to restrict oneself to what he admits, and to give effect to one's own beliefs only to the extent that the person one is trying to persuade is willing to give his assent to them" (55). As Dupreel writes, "Every justification is essentially a moderating act, a step toward greater communion of heart and mind." From these statements, argumentation (which inevitably uses rhetoric) is ethical because it is a method of influence which is more equal and less destructive than the alternative (violence, as shown below).


So persuasion is better than coercion through violence, but I would go even further. This is messy territory where not all rhetoricians would agree with me, but it is my personal opinion: Rhetoric can teach us how to use more ethical ways of communicating and how to improve our judgment.

It is usually acknowledged that there are two parts of rhetoric: rhetorica utens (the use of persuasive resources) and rhetorica docens (the study of persuasive resources). From Aristotle onwards, there has always been a normative element to rhetorica docens. There is, to be reductive, "good" persuasion and "bad" persuasion, good rhetoric and bad rhetoric. The best grounding I can think of for this distinction is found in the ancient often unspoken connection between rhetoric and democracy. As Tacitus writes, rhetoric needs the liberty of democracy to flourish. It was a system of learning bred and developed as a tool for and product of democratic deliberation, and that spirit remained in its traditions, topics and exercises. Good rhetoric therefore respects the constraints of democratic deliberation and considers what impact both its form and content will have on future public deliberations and indeed the demos itself. This is where there is a real difference between Hitler and Martin Luther King, even though both of them were very effective orators. In my coursework I will study Hitler in order to know what to guard against and how to debunk similar rhetoric in our society today, but I will not teach my students to talk, write, or think like him. Bad rhetoric poisons the well of public deliberation and undermines the virtues which are essential for a democracy. It prepares the way for totalitarianism. Good rhetoric supports and adheres to the basic virtues of democratic deliberation, one of the main being that you actually listen to both sides in a dispute. This normative function of rhetoric is perhaps best examplified by Isocrates and Cicero. Isocrates uses much of his Antidosis to teach and remind his audience about the dynamics and norms for good deliberation. For example, he warns his jury, "Those states in which an occasional citizen is put to death without a trial we condemn as unfit to live in, yet are blind to the fact that we are in the same case when we do not hear with equal good will both sides of the contest." He is warning here that if we do not hear both sides willingly and as much as possible without prejudice, our democratic deliberations may be no better than the arbitrary decisions of tyrants. Paul Woodruff writes that the intellectuals behind Athenian democracy "cultivated rhetoric and good judgment for their power in sorting out the better uncertainties from weaker ones" (176). 

This brings us to how rhetoric leads to better judgment. Eugene Carver mentions three ways, from an Aristotelian perspective, in which rhetoric can teach, train, and improve our judgment.
1. By judging persuasive speeches we experience an argument as an argument. Often we consider what we are being told as simple fact and do not realize that we are being given arguments which need to be evaluated for validity and acceptability before they should be accepted or rejected.
2. We learn not to rely solely on antecedent opinions, or what is usually called "reputation." It becomes clearer to us that those former judgments were also the results of a form of deliberation, and it may be faulty. Things that today seem cut in stone were at one time fluid; they were deliberated and argued and there were dissenting arguments at the time which may have been valid and which may contain lessons and warnings for current problems. 
3. We learn that concerning persuasion on deliberative matters there are no experts. Nobody can know what the future will be like, and nobody can know for sure what a certain course of action will lead to in the future. As such, we have to make decisions based on educated guesses and conjecture, and sometimes a normal citizen can have valuable insights into uncertain choices gained from personal experience which the experts are blind to because of the nature of their expertise.
Isocrates adds that the process of finding a good argument is similar to the process of deliberation that leads to good judgment, and therefore is good training: "for the same arguments which we use in persuading others when we speak in public, we employ also when we deliberate in our own thoughts; and, while we call eloquent those who are able to speak before a crowd, we regard as sage those who most skillfully debate their problems in their own minds." Most of the decisions in our everyday life we have to make by applying our skill of judgment to contingent and uncertain situations. The best of course would be complete certainty, but, as Isocrates writes, "in the next resort I hold that man to be wise who is able by his powers of conjecture to arrive generally at the best course, and I hold that man to be a philosopher who occupies himself with the studies from which he will most quickly gain that kind of insight." In other words, as Woodruff claims, "Rhetoric has more to do with setting up the conditions for good judgment than with persuasion . . . By bringing out the best points on both sides, rhetoric serves the cause of good judgment" (185). 

Finally, I guess my ethical case for rhetoric is based on my personal experience of teaching, studying, practicing, and experiencing it. Rhetoric does not overwhelm judgment. Judgment is all it can appeal to if it seeks to have any kind of power. A rhetorician meets an audience where they stand, with their experiences, beliefs, prejudices, hopes, fears, and desires, and works within their language and values to invite them to consider or reconsider opinions, attitudes, or actions. Any leader concerned about the deficits of public judgment should encourage the teaching of rhetoric and make the experience of citizen life a course in deliberative democracy. That decentralizes persuasive power, making people more immune to demogoguery which will forever be a potential evil in human societies. In the end, democratic deliberation teaches us humility. Any rhetor, no matter how skilled or thorough, in the end has to defer to the audience and say, as Isocrates at the end of his Antidosis, "Being assured, therefore, that I am of this mind, and that I believe that whatever you decide will be for my good and to my advantage, let each one cast his vote as he pleases and is inclined."

You have read my arguments and you have compared them with your own experiences, knowledge, and feelings. What do you think?