Our American society today has been criticized for being too: sensitive, politically correct, insensitive, politically incorrect, too conservative and too liberal. There is a deep schism that has been created because both sides (because there has to be two sides on every issue in America) entrench themselves in their viewpoint. Both sides are at fault, even though the strongest proponents on both sides would argue that it is only their opponents who are stubborn. This is why pro environmentalists are always “hippies”, omnivores are “murderers” , and anyone who is pro life is automatically labeled as anti women. This ingrained issue where anyone against you is automatically an enemy that must be beaten at all costs stems from the rhetorical idea that one’s views and opinions are indisputable facts.
We discussed this idea at length in class and came to a general consensus that these last years have seen a rise in American people claiming their personal statements are always true. This goes directly against all ideals of classical rhetoric, where arguments by a person had to be constructed to convince the audience that their ideas are right. This meant that an argument had to bring in facts and appeals to emotion in order to sway opinion. In this method, opinions aren’t facts or inherently correct until proven to be so by some sort of audience (this could be by the general populous, philosophers, scientists, etc.) Today, this type of rhetoric has been completely abandoned. An individual’s views are always the correct views. This doesn’t have to be validated using any type of evidence because, today, personal opinions are placed above evidence based statements. Any person can quickly become an expert if they are willing to speak loudly and viciously berate anyone that opposes them. Now, we are entering a 2017 where American is split in two with neither side letting up that their views are the only way. If we could begin to shift our rhetoric, where we actually hold people accountable for what they say and force them to back up their opinions maybe we could begin to be a less divided country where both sides begin to see the merits of the others arguments. Until then, we will remain in this political and societal hell hole where both sides spew shit from their mouths until they are blue in the face.
Today after the punctual and timely bus ride back from Florence, I found myself with some free time to explore. Since I missed the tour of the Coliseum, I felt I should take some time to do a solo tour of the famous monument. While I was amazed by the architectural masterpiece that is the Coliseum, I found myself more impressed by what the Coliseum accomplished during its lifespan.
The Coliseum essentially served as a great a grand piece of physical political propaganda. It was used to host grand spectacles that were intended to distract the general populous from the problems of the empire. The Emperor of Rome at any given time could distance himself from any problem that would arise by putting on a show at the Coliseum. Problems of the day could be phased out of the Roman citizen’s mind by giving them enough bloodshed, bread, and a convincing performance by the Emperor, who would get the city on his side by reminding them that he was the one providing him with the grand show they all enjoyed. The entire performance of the Coliseum is a great example of how political rhetoric is often used to manipulate rather than reassure it’s citizens.
Personally, I think this election cycle showed the manipulative power of rhetoric. Both candidates were caught up in massive scandals. But, rather than ever trying to fix relationships with the voters by either apologizing for their actions or explaining their actions, they simply turned the conversation to another topic. This most often took the form of each candidate reminding their supporters that their opponent had done X that was immensely worse than what they had “allegedly” did. All this accomplished was create a ravenous base of supporters for both candidates while those on the fence were left with two unreliable candidates. Much like the Emperors of ancient Rome, the two candidates were able to reassure their supporters that nothing was truly wrong by distracting them with allegations of how their opponent did things that were worse than anything they had ever done. While the method of delivery has changed, the purpose of manipulative rhetoric in the political realm has not changed much since the ancient Roman times.
In class Friday we spent a portion of time discussing how one could identify a well educated person. The heart of this exercise was to show that, in modern times, many people only associate the well educated or wealthy as those who have any real rhetorical skills. These people are the ones in society who can formulate a well thought argument or easily persuade the minds of others with their words while a large portion of people simply lack the tools to do this. However, after seeing an interaction between my pseudo aunt and her thirteen year old daughter, I am a firm believer that all have the inherent skill to use rhetoric to their personal advantage.
It started as, what I thought, was an innocent question. The girl, Frankie, asked her mom if she could get an app called Houseparty. The app allows a user to enter in huge video conference calls with friends who also have the app. From the onset, the mother was adamantly against Frankie downloading the app. She felt uncomfortable allowing her thirteen year old daughter to have that much accessibility to her friends at a moments notice (at least that’s how she framed her opposition, there could’ve been a variety of other reasons). However, the initial disapproval did little to deter Frankie. She pointed out that she would have no more access than she already had on her phone. Next, she pointed out that her friends had all received approval from their parents. So, this was not some random app she was trying to get, it had been researched and approved by other parents. This did little to sway Frankie’s mother, at first. Over the course of eight hours, I saw Frankie continuously change and update her rhetoric. Sometimes, she would make her argument in Italian, a language that she feels more comfortable in. She also began to appeal to her mother’s emotional side more as the day wore on, stressing how she was mature enough because she was raised correctly. By the time I left their house, Frankie’s mother had switched her opinion (at least, in Frankie’s eyes) saying that she could probably get the app the following day. Through this average teenager, I saw that everyone, not just those who are highly educated, contains the rhetorical skills to persuade another.
One historical concept that I found most interesting in Wednesday’s class was the the Athenian courtroom. In the Athenian Courtroom, the decision of the case (which was in reality a large jury’s decision) was a vote taken after hearing a speech given by the prosecutor and the defendant. Both citizens had a short amount of time to plead their case. This meant both sides would often appeal to the jury’s emotional side rather than using facts or logic to win their case. They would forgo the truth if it meant they could get more sympathy from the jury and, possibly, win the case.
To me, this idea of appealing to an audience’s emotions instead of providing them with facts and figures is a staple in modern politics. The audience doesn’t want to hear about the reality of a candidate’s plan or what sources they are using for their verbal attacks against their opponents. In debates, speeches, and press statements, political candidates say what is most appealing to their followers even if their isn’t a shred of truth contained in their words. The supporters of each candidate doesn’t expect their candidate to tell the truth because they already believe everything they say without question. Truth has become an afterthought in the modern political game. Now, the questioning of the truthfulness of a candidate’s statement (by either the news or the opposition) is viewed by the candidate and the supporters as a personal attack that has to be met with denial and slander against the accusers. While decades ago any time a candidates truthfulness was questioned the candidate would have to defend themselves, today any accusations of falsehood can be shrugged off with enough denial and accusations of unfairness that get their supporters further behind their campaign. The political system, much like the Athenian courtroom, now relies on appealing to an audiences basic emotions instead of convincing them with truth.