THE ADVENT AND APPLICATION OF RHETORIC:
WHERE AND HOW - A HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
The Platonic dialogs are filled with
conflict. Philosophical arguments are brought to bear against the opponents of
Philosophy - the sophistic, poetic conception of language that was initially
known as muthos ( myth)......... TTC.. D. Roochnik
The world that we live in is governed by people like Pharsimachus. What should we do about that? That is the fundamental question of The republic - how shall we live in a world governed by people who are not on the way to being intelligible creatures? That is a terrifying question. In a way there are two questions here - first : how far can the wholly irrational, what Plato calls the a-logon, the completely a-rational, be brought into the realm of logos, the realm of reason, of discourse, of conversation ( dialog) - into the realm of human intelligibility and secondly if we cannot finally bring the a-logon, the irrational figure of Pharsimachus, into the realm of intelligibility, then how can we improve the social order, our political world, our world in general so that there are fewer Phersimachuses in the future. Evil is here not so easily captured in descriptions of accident and ignorance. Here evil seems more tenaciously part of our world, more difficult to correct and requiring far more fundamental changes for us to be unsusceptible to its attractions than the mere delivery of more information in its clutches....TTC C. Mathews
1. RHETORIC AS MONOLOGUE
First of all, rhetoric as monologue is being taken up here, because that is the origin of rhetoric : a writing or speech about the person's expressions and opinions on a particular issue. In this are included all religious scriptures, although a substantial portion of all scriptures are poetry, rather than rhetoric. But a lot of it is rhetorical monologues at times posing as dialog between a person and a god or deity. Mostly it is presented as a monologue from a deity or god - the person says that he/she is merely a conduit or a channel for the god or deity. All religious scriptures are full of this kind of rhetoric " thou shall have no other gods before me, all other gods are false". Religious rhetoric is mostly what a shepherd is telling his sheep - a monologue of unquestionable commands, without conflict, without opposition of any kind. There is no appeal to the subject to think or enquire on their own. An example I can provide through personal experience : a few years back I was in conversation with a person who was basically a good man but was deeply into the religion in which he was born into ( a monotheistic religion ), and he thought that I was some kind of lost soul just because I was asking him some questions about his beliefs that seemed to provoke him. Finally, in exasperation he said, "you may query ( for some clarification), but you cannot question ( challenge or doubt)". There it was : all religions could only perpetuate and grow by killing any attempts to question the assumptions and beliefs of that religion ; people must be made to accept all that is said as a matter of faith, and any one that questions them is potentially dangerous to the very existence of that religion.
A rhetorical monologue of any kind appeals for the sympathy of the reader towards the point of view of the speaker or composer. Not only does it tend to shun the analytic, it usually doesn't even seek or elicit a creative response in the reader - it's purpose is to win over the sympathy and emotions of the reader or listener so that the listener is convinced of the validity of the speaker's point of view. Rhetoric and poetry are mostly a one way communication. A return response from the target audience is not expected. Thus at its best, rhetoric must be very comprehensive and inclusive of a tremendous repertory of the finest human experience expressed diversely in various cultures. Rhetoric at its worst is one person going blah blah over how great and profound are his ideas and the world better listen - and no questions or doubts are allowed - no dialog, no dialectics, no opposing point of view must be tolerated.
Clearly the dialectic cannot be a monologue, since it is an interactive exchange between two or more people where some issue is at stake and one can question the other's utterances, whereas rhetoric can be a monologue, for example : George says "either you are with me or you are with terrorists" in a situation where no one else is in a position to respond to or question George about what and who a terrorist is, or what George's logic is, or the assumptions behind his logic, and absolutely no questions about his motives or his ends. Another example : Adolf says "Our people don't have the 'living space', and we are determined to have this 'living space' even by violence", again in a situation where even 'our people' cannot even dare to question Adolf if he has the actual right to threaten 'other people' in their name and behalf. Another example : Monroe announces that in the dead of night God Himself ( or an angel from heaven ) came before him and told him " tell everyone that : abc123 and xyz789 is the one and only absolute truth," and now the whole world better listen and accept "abc123 and xyz789" as God's words verbatim, and he who does not believe this is to be condemned to hell for eternity, once again in a situation where no one is allowed to ask : why not "def456 and mno000" ? These examples illustrate that rhetoric as monologue is the technique used mainly in religion and politics where a large body of subjects are to be indoctrinated, controlled or simply misled.
It should be noted that the Kings, the Feudal Lords, the Autocrats did not need fine speech or rhetoric, for they did not seek to convince anyone or persuade anyone by speech or words - the swords of their henchmen did the talking. The religious leader, the King, the Lord, the priest, all had absolute authority over subjects who would never even think of questioning their masters because they were forced to accept and never question or ( God forbid ! ) resist this authority from birth itself. The thought of opposing any of these authorities hardly even crossed the minds of their subjects. The Masters, the Tyrants needed no rhetoric to convince anyone about their authority : it was ensured from birth till death, their monologue consisted simply of commands to their subjects. Tyrants and Kings however did need poets to please them and especially so when they committed atrocities that needed to be justified or made to look good in the eyes of their beloved subjects. The same can also be said of religious authority. Besides, there was a strong nexus between political and religious authorities. Most tyrants even went as far as to proclaim themselves divine by the very fact that they were in power, and their subjects were taught to believe this as part of their education. Kings were divinely ordained or they would not be king was the simple, uncontested logic and all kinds of rhetoric flourished around it. This belief has been predominant in all feudal societies and even today the Queen of England is looked upon with awe by most of her subjects, even though she is just a symbol of the historical feudal authority, and has no political power. In small countries like Nepal, people still believe in the divinity of the king who is almost worshiped like a deity.
Rhetoric in dialog is next taken up.