Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Rhetoric of Peace, Prosperity, and War

[Copyright Duncan Hull]
Recently, some of my classmates have been posting responses to our studies of rhetoric, and I wanted to take the chance to explore the topic from a socio-historical point of view. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of human interaction, rhetoric is simply the techné of influencing other people. Thus, as Aristotle suggests, it represents neither a positive nor a negative force and can be wielded by good and evil men alike. In Gideon Burton's article, "What is Rhetoric?" the author suggests that language and, by extension, rhetoric, have served as primary facilitators in the growth of nations and the development of human civilization as a whole:
Because there has been implanted in us the power to persuade each other and to make clear to each other whatever we desire, not only have we escaped the life of wild beasts, but we have come together and founded cities and made laws and invented arts. (2)
[Copyright Traci Gardner]

I hadn't really thought about it before, but the thing that allows different groups to live in relative peace one with another is the ability to understand and convey ideas and desires. Similarly, the exchange of ideas necessary for the development of government, art, religion, and technological progression is dependent upon this ability to communicate with and influence other individuals. I would submit, on the other hand, that a vast majority of international conflicts are based around the inability of nations and people to adequately communicate and influence one another. A great many of the wars in which America has engaged over the past 50 years have been with nations whose languages differ significantly from English (and for that matter, from the proto-Indo-European family as a whole). Is it possible that these conflicts arise (or, from a more cynical perspective, are made feasible) simply based on a lack of mutual understanding? How is digital media creating spaces where people can bridge gaps and create ties where they might have been otherwise precluded?


  1. It definitely has to do with a cultural disconnect. The other thing is, of course, the importance of protecting the petro-dollar in order to secure the American Dollar and American Economy. It's more about greed than lack of understanding, really.

    Digital media just allows for more people to learn about outrages more quickly. Hence Egypt launched a revolution with Facebook.

    1. I think the language barrier is what has made it possible for those in power to make oil nations (or Russia, or China) into enemies, though. We wouldn't put up with it if we were able to see for ourselves that these people are the same as us--it's just that there are so few that speak the languages and understand the cultures that we have to rely on what the media outlets feed us (they, of course, being fed by the govt).

  2. In the essay, Dr. Burton talked about Plato's concerns with Rhetoric and that it favors presentation over truth. I think digital media has a strong capacity to help expel a lot of rumors that were previously sustained by cultural rhetoric. (Which, I agree Chelsea, is often fueled by greed and/or survival.)
    One really controversial example that comes to mind is a video that a friend shared with me on Facebook about Dr. Steven Jones, an (ex) BYU physics professor who wrote a paper proving that hijacked aircraft didn't bring down the World Trade Center Towers, but planted explosives. Whether or not you agree with his claims, they were given strength by social media when national political rhetoric silenced them.