News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Should debates carry the death penalty?

The debaters should not be subject to the death penalty.  But any of their advocates who says their favored contestant "hit a home run" or "knocked one out of the park" should be subjected to lethal treatment.

Because if I hear that stupid sports metaphor cliche one more time, it will be lethal to me.  

Perhaps the real culprits are the talk radio and cable television producers who invite the so-called strategists and analysts on the air to say stupid things about who they think won the debate.

I also wonder if these over-hyped show-and-tell sessions should be called "debates."  They are performances wherein the participants learn their lines and get coached on how to act presidential.  The audience will not be listening for who has the best command of the facts and demonstrates sound and valid reasoning.  It will be looking for zingers and put downs.  The highlights of presidential debates for many in the national audience are when one person casts a truly nasty personal insult on the other, whether it is relevant to any discussion or  not.  Many Americans could care less about the integrity of the rhetoric and are looking for a Jerry Springer moment which will give them the thrill of seeing  a well-known person humiliated in public.  Wheeee.  

 A real debate is applied rhetoric.  Rhetoric is not propaganda.  Although some propaganda is rhetoric.  Most people don't know what rhetoric is, and broadcast performers constantly misuse the term.  A text book I used in my last theory and practice of rhetoric class said rhetoric is the making of knowledge.  Most people think rhetoric is the expression of any opinion that pops into their ignorant minds.  Rhetoric is argument based upon real facts examined with highly developed reasoning.  

Some years ago, high schools and colleges stopped teaching rhetoric.  That happened during the 1960s when educators in high schools became alarmed at the drop out rate and college professors became afraid to seem boring and irrelevant to students who blew joints between classes and spent class time grooving on anything that appeared psychedelic to them.  Up until the 1960s
freshman composition was devoted to the study and writing of rhetoric.  For those of attending college at that time were acquainted with the bible on the subject,  a textbook titled "Modern Rhetoric" by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren.  Many of us had been exposed to the rigors of rhetoric in the advanced composition classes we had in high school to prepare us for college.

Students of that age were very critical of public arguments.  Most of the political ads we are now exposed to would have been soundly derided by students who would recognize their errors of fact and logic and bald appeals to ignorance and prejudice.  They would feel insulted that someone tried to foist that kind of misinformation off on them. 

However, higher education became a consumer commodity that has been shaped by many institutions to be customer friendly, meaning that its perpetrators are very careful not to cause any discomfort for brain cells.  That is not universally true, but it is hard to find many institutions that demand proficiency in the reading and writing of rhetoric, as opposed to exercises in self-expression which expand the ego and shrink the knowledge and critical thought regions of the brain.  One must marvel at the throngs that gathered for the Lincoln-Douglas debates and followed the argument.  At this point, we need to pay tribute to our high school and college debate coaches for keeping alive a lost art that most of the populace doesn't even know exists.  

Wednesday will offer some chances to examine the information and intelligence of the presidential candidates, but most everyone will say that their guy won. And America will lose.   

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States