Monday, September 27, 2010

Response to Reading Six

Chapter six in Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students focused on ethical proofs, or the rhetorical element "ethos." As taught in nearly all beginning-level college English classes, there are three rhetorical devices: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is, in my opinion, one of the most important devices. Ethos refers to proofs that rely on the rhetor's expertise or reputation about the topic in which their argument is based. While it was established in early Classical Rhetoric, I believe this element to be most important for contemporary audiences.

"As early as the fourth century B.C.E., Greek teachers of rhetoric gave suggestions about how a person's character (Greek ethos) could be put to persuasive uses, and rhetorical theorists continued to discuss the sues of ethical proofs throughout the history of ancient rhetoric" (Crowley and Hawhee 195).

While the contemporary analysis of ethos is quite reflective of the earliest methods of analysis, I think that it carries more weight nowadays in addition to some changes in meaning. Early rhetoricians had to have credence to their arguments or no one would attend their lectures. Additionally, ancient criteria were far more character-based as opposed to knowledge-based. An individual's "goodness" meant a great deal centuries ago. Essentially, personality could go a long way. And quite interestingly, early rhetors were far more prideful in descriptions of themselves, often giving ethical credibility to themselves. This is an interesting concept for modern audiences, who condone comments that a too boastful. In general, present-day definitions of ethos can be quite varied from ancient versions.

"The modern term 'personality' does not quite capture all the senses of the ancient Greek term ethos, since it carried moral overtones and since, for the Greek a character was created by a person's habits and reputation rather than be her experiences" (Crowley and Hawhee 195).

In a period with such accessibility to technology, rhetoric has become the communication of everyday individuals. Anyone with slight computer understanding, literacy, and an ability to type can be a rhetor. And, anyone with similar knowledge can be the audience. In the world of internet, ethos as become remarkably important. Individuals cannot trust that this everyday rhetor is actually knowledgeable of the topic; in some cases, they might completely lead you astray. Ethos demands that the author have experience or their rhetoric is relatively meaningless. Whereas Classical Rhetoric focused on character, Modern Rhetoric focuses on experience. In order to select the most truthful argument in a "tower of babble," so to speak, audiences must rely on ethos.


Imitatio Assignment Reflection

As a Professional Writing and Rhetoric major, I am not limited in my exposure to ancient Greek rhetoric. From Sophistic essays to Platonic dialogues, professors have continually emphasized the significance that these lectures have in our modern communications. To persuade an audience, the writer must have appeals of logos, pathos, or ethos. And almost all assigned essays involve the rhetorical analysis of such themes. I now know this to be a rather narrow examination of rhetoric, however. Despite working with ancient Greek works previously, I have never been challenged with such an assignment. I had to not only fully understand the text, but also be able to imitate the dialogue and modernize the content. There was more than just an analysis of appeals as I am used to; I had to have a complete knowledge of how the rhetorical appeals were presented and why, the style and voice used, as well as know all the complexities and nuances within the text. In creating and presenting an imitatio of Plato’s “The Apology,” I not only faced a great challenge in regard to the material itself, but also learned a great deal about the relationship between ancient and modern rhetoric during the process.

When given the task of selecting an ancient Greek text to imitate, I was absolutely overwhelmed. The choices, it seemed, were endless. Plato, Aristotle, Gorgias, and Socrates immediately came to mind, which helped to narrow down the choices a bit. Unfortunately for me, these superstar rhetoricians are not low on materials to examine. After reading text upon text, I was finally enthralled with Plato’s interpretation of the trial of Socrates, called “The Apology.” Along with my interest in the content of the piece, I was equally frustrated with the length. We were assigned a four-minute, two-page speech. Condensing the thirty-page “Apology” to this limit was absolutely impossible. My greatest challenge during this experience was selecting a portion of the text that I most wanted to recreate because I found much of “The Apology” to be quite captivating with the potential for great imitation. But because each section was so unique from the others, I could only afford to focus on one.

Eventually I decided to modernize the material with a reference to popular culture: the recent trial of Lindsey Lohan. This allowed me to better focus on the goal I wanted to accomplish with my imitatio. I quickly realized that the best part of “The Apology” to accommodate my newly decided content was the fifteen-page introduction, “Defense of Socrates.” So from there, I begrudgingly had to eliminate even more text. The process of deciding which material to keep or cut was incredibly difficult; I could see opportunity for strong imitation and argument in all of “Defense of Socrates.” Eventually, I overcame this challenge by keeping sections of text from the introduction, body, and conclusion as opposed to one large part from just one of these parts. In this way, my own piece had a fluid and complete argument; I wanted it to be able to standalone and believe that I successfully accomplished this goal.

In addition to learning better editing techniques, in terms of text choices, the imitatio assignment also allowed me to explore the ways in which ancient rhetoric influences modern rhetoric. Closely working with Plato’s “The Apology” helped to define for me the extent to which ancient rhetors’ ways translate to today. It seems that most contemporary publications rely on pathos as a means of persuading their audience. This is especially true with entertainment news that defends or accuses celebrities of indecent behavior. In examining any recent celebrity scandal, for example Lindsey Lohan’s pleas for understanding for her drug and alcohol addiction, one can always find a slew of pathetic appeals to the public. In analyzing “The Apology,” I learned this also to be the case with ancient texts. Socrates continually defends his character through emotional appeals to the jurors. He wants them to believe in the “injustice” of his trial because he is truly a “good” man. Today, just as in 350 B.C., the rhetor wants to earn the audience’s sympathy for the sole intention of gaining their support.

Another common thread shared by ancient and modern rhetoric is the appeal of logos. To be more specific, they share a kind of attack on ethical appeals through logical argumentation. While I had frequently seen this technique in contemporary rhetoric, I had never observed it to be the case in Greek works. In fact, it was one of the most interesting and unexpected commonalities I found during my deconstruction of “The Apology.” In order to defend themselves, ancient rhetors such as Plato would attack the credibility of their accusers. “The Apology,” for example, begins with Socrates’s claims that those who slander his name have ulterior motives and cannot actually support any of their accusations with provable evidence. He uses logical proofs to substantiate his personal claims and refute others. Today, this method remains constant. Rather than just prove their argument with logic, people also discredit their opposition. Such is the case with Lohan, who blames a substantial amount of her troubles on exaggeration from the media. In effect, this technique works to shift blame from the accused to the accusers. She cites numerous publications that mislead the public with unsupported evidence, thereby proving her accusations against them. Previously, I believed that unwarranted criticism toward others was a cultural and contemporary behavior, though now I realize that it is a centuries-old rhetorical tradition. No single proof is enough until the accusers are proven wrong as well.

Without question, my greatest struggle throughout the imitatio assignment involved decisions about material. Many times, it felt as though I had too many great texts to choose from. It was a challenge to eliminate entire essays at first and, later, individual parts of “The Apology” because I saw incredible potential in all of them as sources of imitation. But through the process of hyper-analyzing all of the materials for an editing requirement, I was able to establish a deeper understanding of the content. In selecting such a rich and lengthy piece, I forced myself to look beyond surface approaches of purely logos, ethos, and pathos. Never before had I been so able to make educated comparisons between ancient and modern rhetoric. In truth, I learned that there are far more similarities than differences; perhaps, we are not as rhetorically evolved as we might like to think. I thoroughly enjoyed this element of the imitatio assignment as it challenged me to deeply engage with a subject that, at times, can become somewhat monotonous.

Imitatio of Plato’s The Apology

(Inspired by the recent trial of Lindsey Lohan.)

Citizens of America, what are your thoughts after hearing the outlandish accusations of the media? Day after day, I am forced to confront tabloid rumors. It is difficult, even for me, not to be persuaded by their elaborate web of lies. At times, I nearly forget who I really am. But ladies and gentlemen, I must inform you that almost none of what they speak is truthful. I plead with you to listen to what I have to say. I will argue honestly and justly against the falsehoods that have cast a shadow over my name. Before you judge me and end my career, I know it only to be fair that you acknowledge my request.

I have had more accusers than I can name over the years. From bloggers and magazine writers to my own father, I have been labeled an evildoer. But I have come to fear most those that perpetuate rumors via circulation of their dishonest publications. For years, writers have neglected the truth for the purpose of a better story. Many of these slanderers I have never even spoken to, yet they continually disgrace and defame my character. And for an impressionable public, these lies are easily accepted. Everyone always expects the worst of me due to the lies they’ve been taught to believe. So as I defend myself, I beg of you to challenge the assumption that everything you read is truth because I promise, with complete honesty, that this is not the case.

According to entertainment news writers, I am a drug addicted, has-been actress who corrupts our nation’s youth. I have never pretended not to have my share of struggles. I mean, one has to look no further than my several drug convictions and stints in rehab. But let us for one minute examine the rest of the nation; I bet that each of us knows an addict in our own lives. I am not alone in my disease. Perhaps, I should be commended for my continual and persistent efforts to get clean. Instead, the media makes a public mockery of my very private battles. Not once have I pretended to know all the answers or reveled in my “role model status.” Accusers have claimed that I behave irresponsibly for the rewards of publicity, but there is no evidence to support this. I am just as foolish as the next man and am conscious of my limitations. But for some reason, I have the unique disadvantage that my faults will be broadcast to the world.

In defense of the accusations that I corrupt the lives of the youth, I challenge you to find someone who believes that I have, single-handedly, ruined their lives. Or even a mother, father, or sibling who believes that my actions have definitively caused their relative pain. If these persons can be found, I justly deserve your punishment. But I know this not to be the case. No matter how impressionable the public, no single person has the power to define another person’s life. My accusers were sorely mistaken in these claims and I am appalled by their ignorance.

So why, you ask, should my testimony be accepted as truth? For the purpose of justice, I remind you. My accusers have ulterior motives: the nastier the story, the higher the profit. Their statements are not guided by truth. Their bottom-line is the cause of my suffering. Do not let their exaggerated tales cloud your judgment. Please do not let my promising career just fall to the wayside. Friends, I am only human. I am not immune to errors. But I must be given the opportunity to learn and grow from my mistakes, not be defined by them.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Response to Reading Five

While I am a Professional Writing and Rhetoric major, I was still startled by the finite details that go into a logical proof as described in Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students chapter five. Though professors have regurgitated ethos, pathos, and logos more than I can count, we only seem to cover the basic principles of these. It is easy to understand rhetoric in terms of ethical (author credibility), pathetic (emotion), and logical (reasonable) approaches. They are simple! I have been taught that convincing arguments are always based on these, no question. Therefore, it was interesting to extensively explore the rhetorical proof of logos with the purpose of better understanding its complexities and development. This was fascinating and new to me.

As a writer, I think that I take advantage of my ability to compose sound and persuasive arguments. In many ways, the technique of using rhetorical proofs is just second nature. I know what sounds appealing, reasonable, and persuasive without blinking. Never do I consciously think about the premise of my argument, syllogismos, epagoges, or particulars. Why would I?! In fact, writing might be more of a chore if this was the case. Nevertheless, it was an engaging study for me. Improvement always comes with greater knowledge; perhaps more awareness in the technicalities of writing a logical proof will be reflected in my composition process. Self-awareness is key to progress, I believe. One can only get better by having a thorough knowledge of their task.

Of particular interest to me while reading Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students was this idea of a "premise." Yes, I understand that every declarative statement must have some kind of assumption first. However, I found major premises to be something more like scientific hypotheses. In order to make a conclusion, one must have a major premise, followed by a minor premise. From there, a synthesis of facts is conducted and only then can the author declare a "truth." It reminded me of the scientific formula: problem, hypothesis, experiment, results. Just as with science, an original proposition has to be made before the final conclusion. The step-by-step method of one seems comparable to the other.

(I don't know if my analysis is translating very well, but I am not entirely sure how to better convey this analogy. My mind just found a similarity between the two. Maybe blame it on the biology class I am currently enrolled in...?)

In my own writing experience, I have never had such a linear progression of ideas as exists with premises. Not that this does not happen with frequency by pure subconscious, but it is such a detailed and deconstructive thought process that I was taken aback. If I were to try to consciously breakdown my ideas and arguments in such a manner, I might go crazy. Nobody actually thinks this way. The human mind has the ability to overlap, synthesize, and conclude without the thinker even doing the thinking. For the most part, we connect the dots of our arguments effortlessly.

This was a terribly frustrating concept for me. Even though I am a sometimes obnoxiously analytical and methodical person, I still found this deconstruction of ideas to be insanely finite and detailed. On some occasions, like with very complex research papers, premises might make more sense. But for everyday writing purposes, it might be somewhat excessive.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Response to Reading Four

During the reading of chapter four in Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students, I was most captivated by the section "Commonplaces in American Political Rhetoric." This section discussed eight contemporary and highly prevalent debates in American culture; they were phrased as a series of questions that many citizens might ask themselves. It was interesting to address these particular topics in relation to either liberalism and conservatism. There is certainly no question that these two ideologies dominate American politics, but the textbook material defined these groups in a unique and frustrating way for me.

I was especially taken aback by the notion that "liberalism" is a dying ideology. "[A] more accurate depiction of the contemporary political spectrum might name two poles in commonplace American political thought as 'conservative' and 'not conservative'" (Crowley and Hawhee 136). In fact, I couldn't disagree with this sentiment more. I might suggest that the nation is even more polarized than ever. Yes, there is an increasing group of Americans who find themselves in the middle of liberalism and conservatism. However, a significant number of citizens still associate with one of the majority parties; neither of which is "not conservative." For example, I am proud to call myself a liberal and have many friends and family members who feel the same. To me, this belief that individuals identify as "conservative" or "not" is just ridiculous. What, I question, does it even mean to be "not conservative?" Wouldn't the opposite of conservative be liberal anyway? To put it bluntly, this sentiment is outrageously confusing and somewhat contradictory. Perhaps it is my personal bias speaking, but I feel as though the only people who consider liberals to be "not conservative" are conservatives. The same could be said if I started calling conservatives "not liberals" because they did not follow my same political agenda. The label is all in the eye of the beholder, so to speak.

For the most part, I agreed with the definitions of liberalism and conservatism as explained via answers to each of the eight questions. There were just a few that left me with questions or frustrations.

1. What is the appropriate foreign policy (nationalism, internationalism, interventionism, pacifism)?
I agreed with their assessment of liberals as peace-loving, diplomatic policymakers and conservatives as anxious, military-minded politicians. One has to look no further than the drastically different international policies of President Clinton (still too early for an analysis of Obama, for me) and President George W. Bush. My only critique was when the textbook suggested that liberals escalated the Vietnam War because those were the decisions of individual Presidents, not liberals as a whole. There was incredible protest from the liberal side in regards to that war.

2. What is the role of the federal government in legislation, as opposed to the roles of state and local governments?
The evaluation of "bleeding heart liberals" who are interested in legislation that corrects social injustices seems absolutely right, as does the description of conservative rhetoric against these liberal policies. No argument on my part!

3. What level of fiscal responsibility do citizens bear toward federal, state, and local government?
Again, a flawless analysis of liberals and conservatives. Liberals acknowledge the importance of taxes for the betterment of our communities and social welfare while conservatives argue against raising taxes to lessen the burden for individuals. A common thread: liberals are interested in community strength while conservatives are more-or-less invested in rewards for individual people.

4. What social and economic relations are appropriate among citizens (more or less personal freedom: more or less economic equality among classes, races, and genders)?
I take extreme issue with the notion that "contemporary conservatism does defend the fundamental American principle that all citizens are equal before the law" (Crowley and Hawhee 138). In examining the recent debate over gay rights, for example, I struggle to see conservatives as "defending" the equal rights of these citizens. I believe that many conservatives feel that they respect all people as demanded by the Constitution, but I know that there is a great deal more progress that needs to be made before this is true.

5. What levels of political and legal equality should exist among genders, races, classes, sexualities (none, some, full equality)?
It is sad for me to admit that the discussion of liberalism and conservatism, within the confines of legal equality, was an appropriate analysis. Does anyone see the shame in a majority party that is still "iffy" on the matters of women's and homosexual's rights?

6. What is the appropriate relation to authority (acceptance, questioning, skepticism, rejection)?
The quote, "It makes ideological sense that people who subscribe to liberalism would be more skeptical of received religious wisdom or traditional notions about family structure than are those who subscribe to conservative positions," was very poignant to me. It was quite a unique and honest sentiment about liberal vs. conservative approaches to enforcement of the law. I think that morals and religiosity are dramatic influences on the authority of the government and this quote matter-of-factly summarized this. I think that politics can be sugarcoated sometimes, so this analysis was refreshingly blunt.

7. What is the appropriate role for government to play in legislating moral issues (none, some, a lot)?
Ain't politics one big contradiction?! All statements were strikingly accurate.

8. What is or should be the relation of human beings and governments to the environment?
While I was largely in agreement with the answer to this question, I struggled with the last thought. The textbook says that liberals, who are often supporters of environmental regulation and conservation, put themselves in challenging rhetorical positions due to their "green" approaches. The argument is that environmentalists want to restrict the use of automobiles and place limits on human reproduction, thereby limiting the individual right to freedom of movement and freedom to have as many children as you wish. These make sense in theory, but not reality. Not once have I heard a liberal criticized for being eco-friendly because it "restricts individual rights." That last thought sounded more like textbook theory than a plausible human reaction.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Response to Reading Three

In reading Ancient Rhetoric for Contemporary Students chapter three, I was most interested in the section titled "The Four Questions." This particular section described the four key questions devised by ancient rhetoricians that would help them to better define their arguments. These four questions can be grouped together as "staseis."
  1. Conjecture asks: Is there an act to be considered?
  2. Definition asks: How can the act be defined?
  3. Quality asks: How serious is the act?
  4. Policy asks: Should this act be submitted to some formal procedure?
In order for the point to be grasped, each of the questions must be answered in order. If the answer to conjecture -- does a problem exist -- is "yes," then the stasis moves to a question of definition. Likewise, if all parties agree that a definition -- what kind of event is it -- can be established, then quality becomes the issue at hand. When quality -- whether the event is right or wrong -- is justified, then policy is tackled. Policy describes what should be done about a particular issue at-hand. This is the final question to answer.

Upon agreement of all questions, rhetoric can take place. Without an understanding of each of the above terms, there is no basis for argument; without an actual problem, understanding of the problem, or agreement on the seriousness of the problem, then there is no justification to try to solve it through policy. Rhetoric, to generalize, is the attempt to persuade an audience of what should be done about an issue.

The interesting thing about these ancient rhetorical questions is that they are absolutely true for modern rhetoric as well. No matter the topic, there must be an understanding of the basic principles of the problem. In a sense, devising answers to these questions is the most fundamental step to creating a rhetorical argument; it is a brainstorming process, of sorts.

In addition to understanding conjecture, definition, quality, and policy, one can also delve deeper into these issues. There are important questions to be considered within the initial questions.
  1. Conjecture: Where did it come from? What is its cause? Can it be changed?
  2. Definition: To what larger class does it belong? What are its parts and how are they related?
  3. Quality: Is it good or bad? Is it better or worse than something else?
  4. Policy: What actions are possible or desirable? How will proposed actions change the current state of affairs? How will the proposed changes make things better or worse? How and in what ways?