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Sunday, June 18, 2017

How "rhetoric" can get you shot

The shooting of Republicans at the ball diamond this past week had its predictable result.  Some folks engaged in and advocated a bipartisan bon homie.  For others it intensified the blame-placing and angry invective against the party they detest.

But  a small group, those who study and try to explain what we loosely call rhetoric, simply shrugged their shoulders and said malice thrives.  What is taught in colleges and some high schools as rhetoric is quite different than what is referred to as rhetoric in the media.  [See Please Don't Call It Rhetoric, Shirley.]  People who study and respect language know that words have consequences.  Words form the mental environments in which we all live and operate. They form our perceptions. They precede actions and motivate people to act.

Those who study the great atrocities of the world, such as the Holocaust, point out that the use of language is both the producer and the defining characteristic of those episodes.   They have predicted that the shooting at the Del Ray ball park in Alexandria, Va., was inevitable and more is to come.

Conservatives have taken delight in the fact that the now-dead shooter, James T. Hodgkinson,
espoused  "liberal" ideas.  He lends example to the conservative contention that all the ills of the world are spawned by liberalism.  As a group which until recently owned the threat of political violence,  conservatives now try to shift that onto liberals.  For years the NRA and its conservative supporters have blared the message that  "you can’t fist fight tyranny,” and that liberal forces were conspiring to take away their guns.  As a gun-owning Washington  Post columnist says, "It should be no surprise that someone would shoot democratically elected representatives when we’ve been told for decades that that’s the patriotic redress to political grievances."  Now the conservatives are trying to contend that liberals are the advocates of political violence.  That contention is not supportable with facts, but the conservative advocacy of firearm violence as a political force has abundant evidence.

Nevertheless, experts in the study of the verbal environment have warned that the both sides of the political divide are arming themselves for prospective battle with their political opponents.  This was evident a few years ago when the Colorado legislature passed laws restricting the sales of assault-type weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.  The laws sparked a political backlash, but also a spectacular rise in gun sales.  Dealers were running out of inventories. When asked about who was buying all the guns,  one dealer  said it was half-and-half between those who were arming against government tyranny and those who were arming against them.  Liberals, too, were preparing for eventual combat.

The propaganda that Obama, who called for background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, was out to confiscate all guns was simply a dishonest statement meant to enrage those who are beyond the reach of facts.  Scholars of rhetoric explain that rhetoric is the process of persuading through the logical analysis of facts through critical thought and accurate language.  When people are mentally bound by their prejudices and hatred, they are invulnerable  to facts, reason, and accurate language.  Differences can be settled only by force.  The Nazi takeover of Europe proves that malicious force can win and that tyrannical brainwashing can banish and vanquish knowledge and reason in the minds of people.  Often a majority wants only to have their dark hatreds and intellectual and moral failures endorsed as the normal state of human affairs. 

The hatred of liberalism and the debased mentalities that accept it as a creed have decades of evangelistic preaching behind its development.  Rush Limbaugh is a loud, typical evangelist of liberal hatred.  He maligns, defames, and espouses preposterous lies under the guise of entertainment.   It is entertainment in the same vein as Romans executing Christians in arenas filled with hate-enraged throngs cheering for their agonizing death.  No words of fact or reason can have any effect on such throngs.  And so it is with conservatives and liberals in our current political climate.  Valid rhetoric and productive discourse is not a consideration because it is not a possibility.

Enmity has a long and carefully tended incubation as a political weapon in the  U.S.  Significant portions of the population do not regard the opposite party as merely holding different views, but that it has malicious intentions.  The nature of the propaganda that blankets the social atmosphere bears that perception out.  The sources of the words we see and hear disgorge angry defamations as a matter of course.  Attack inspires counter-attack.   In a battle where the dominant intention is to inflict harm,  facts and reason have no effect.

The propaganda has urged the populace to arm itself against a takeover.  And both conservatives and liberals have done just that.
James Hodgkinson may have fired the first shot in a civil war that the "rhetoric" of our time has prepared us for and incited.

You should not be surprised if you get shot for your political or social affiliation.  The nature of our political discourse has made it inevitable.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Pathological lying destroys human possibilities

During Donald Trump's first 100 days in office, he was credited by the Washington Post with making 492 statements to the public that were false or misleading.  Since he entered the political scene,  mental health professionals have warned that he has all the symptoms of severe mental dysfunction.  The latest warning was issued in an open letter by 35 mental health experts.  

The resistance to Trump is not a political matter.  It's a matter of him exhibiting behavior that violates all standards of intelligence, decency,  and honesty.  If Trump were not extremely wealthy with the ability to exercise the power that comes from money,  he would be regarded as just another village idiot whose obsessive rants and prattle would be ignored.  The culture of wealth worship that has burgeoned in Americans is the only thing that enables and sustains Trump.  

Trump is remarkably incoherent.  His words violate the basic rule of language.  They do not refer to anything factual that can be perceived by others.  They are noises that have no substance in the natural world or in recorded human experience.  He speaks in hyperbole that names only his mental reactions, not anything that exists outside of himself.  When he is displeased with people around him,  he labels them "horrible."  When they conform to his purpose of the moment, they are "fantastic" people.  In using these expressions of approval and disapproval, Trump shapes the attitudes of the sucks who curry his favor because he is rich and powerful.  His words do not supply an accurate description or appraisal of the world around him.  They signal his sycophants whom to like and dislike,  like the alpha mean girls shape the attitudes of their dupes.  Trump's words are not in themselves significant as they have no validity in reality.  Their only reality  is the people who accept them and what those people mean for the future of democracy.

The National Review compiled some typical Trump expressions that appeal to his followers.  They reflect a contempt for anything factual and the purpose of manipulating those of deficient cognitive skills who form his base.  

1. “I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”
2. “I’m really rich! I’ll show you that in a second. And by the way: I’m not even saying that in a brag.”
3. “I’m the most militaristic person ever.”
4. “I will build a great wall . . . and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.”
5. “Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States. Hillary was the worst. In the history of the United States there’s never been a secretary of state so bad as Hillary.”
6. “I would use the greatest minds. I know the best negotiators. I’m in New York – I know the good ones, the bad ones. I always say: ‘I know the ones people think are good.’ I know people you’ve never heard of that are better than all of them.” 
7. “If you really love this country you have a very, very hard time convincing people that what you’re doing is right and that you’re really smart. And, like, a lot of us are really smart. I’m really smart – I went to the Wharton School of Finance.” 
8. “I would hit [ISIS] so hard your head would spin.”
The constant use of hyperbole detached from reality is symptomatic of a more serious aspect of Trump:  his pathological lying.  A pathological liar is a sociopath who lies to get his way, no matter what the effect on others.  He is a compulsive liar, which means he lies about everything, even trivial matters for which lying has no point or objective.  If the compulsive liar has a motive, it is to make all matters of the universe subject to his will.  

Trump also lies as a way of inflicting vengeance.  He makes defamatory false representations of people and he makes false accusations, such as accusing President  Obama of wire-tapping Trump Towers.  He began his political run by accusing Obama of not being born in America.  Trump,  partly because he is a part of it, understood the racist hatred that runs through Americans who look for any pretext to defame Obama without using the n-word.  So, he launched his political career by appealing to the Jim Crow sector, which forms a large part of his base.  He uses this technique of defaming perceived opponents to damage their reputations.  This is a device common in corporate business life, a major tool in the CEO kit of gaining power.  It damages people by branding them with false accusations,  and it is  effective in marshaling the loyalty of their knowing accomplices and their subservient dupes. 

The most serious damage lying inflicts is on the language.  When words are used to deceive, they become untrustworthy.  An environment of lies makes the language useless in conducting any kind of human transactions.  And when people cannot trust words, they cannot trust anything or anybody.  The misuse and consequent mistrust of language spreads into documents and the laws that govern us.  People realize that laws are construed to oppress some people and exempt others from any kind of responsibility.  

I am among those scholars who believe that the depressed state of American Indians is caused in large part by fraudulent language.  Native Americans signed treaty after treaty which was never adhered to by the U.S., and furthermore were openly devised to swindle the tribes out of their lands with no intention of honoring the "deals."  One of the reasons that Native Americans are protective of their oral traditions is to keep a reservoir of language that they know honestly refers to something they can believe in.  The language of America is counterfeit,  used only to deceive and defraud.  

The American population at large is now experiencing the demoralization and destruction that false language inflicts.  When you can't believe anything said to you by a leader and his supporters,  you can't believe in anything.  Cynicism is the only sane reaction.  When words themselves become inherent lies,  the possibility for human good is destroyed.  Literate people can retreat into books and other forms in which language is used with integrity, skill, and a regard for truth.  An acknowledgment of the essential function of language may be preserved,  but it is not operative in the way of life.

Trump is a cancer on language.  Like cancer, his lies diminish the opportunities of life, leaving death as the inevitable prospect for our nation.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Anne Frank's betrayers, your friends and neighbors

At some point the media and the people of America will have to face a fact--which is not a popular thing to do in today's political climate.  The fact is that there is a big segment of the American people who are anti-democratic.  Specifically, they are against American democracy with all its words about freedom, equality, and justice.  Oh, they want those things for themselves, but find it intolerable to extend them to other people.  

And that is the defining point of separation in what we call the political divide.  It is not a divide between Democrats and Republicans.  liberals and conservatives.  It is a divide between people who want to live in  a democracy and those who want some form of authoritarian rule in which they are aligned with the authority.  

As many observers have pointed out,  the United States is replaying the politics of Germany in the 1930s.  The same race-and-creed-based hatreds that drove the Nazi movement run like tidal currents through America.  Muslims are the major target in the American neo-Nazi movement, whereas Jews were the predominant hate-objects in Nazi Germany,  but they aren't being forgotten in America''s rage to hate.  The impulse to denigrate, oppress, and harm is the same process of creating a subjugated class no matter what ethnic, cultural, or political group is in disfavor.    The significance for humanity is not who is being hated but who is doing the hating.  In Germany after World War I, when the people needed to place blame for the humiliation they had suffered, they found a someone who would voice and affirm their attitudes and lead them in the exercise of malice.  Hitler provided that voice and that rule.  Trump has provided that voice and affirmation for disaffected Americans,  who have been in a peevish snit over the fact that their country actually elected an African America president.  The racism which had lain dormant since the civil rights era boiled to the surface when a black man presided over the country.  Trump vowed to insult and defame Obama and undo everything Obama did.  And that is his agenda.  He has a loyal following of people.

World culture has an anti-democratic tradition of restricting freedom, equality, and justice as a privilege for those allied with authority figures.  As the idea of democracy in which people govern themselves circulated throughout the feudal system,  it met with resistance.   The overlords of the time, of course, opposed any idea that would make the serfs over whom they ruled equal to them.  But, while many serfs were heartened by the prospect of leading their own lives,  many others were fearful at not having an overlord on whom to depend and be ordered about.   Dependency to them seemed to fit the chain of being which ranked people on a social order that designated them from slaves to royal rulers.  To preserve their ranking over the lower orders,  people were gladly subservient to those above them.  They accepted inequality, restrictions on freedom, and arbitrary justice as a condition of their lives.  They saw opportunity as the chance to grovel before their superiors.  The idea of being able to standup and act as one's own person was frightening and repugnant to them.  They detested those who thought in such terms and advocated democracy.  America, however, was invented and built by by such advocates.

But even in America,  there are people who eschew equality,  and think and speak in terms of superiors and inferiors,  winners and losers,  privileged white folks and disenfranchised minorities.  They found a voice and an authority figure in Donald Trump.  He is the anti-dote to the American ideal of freedom, equality, and justice.  He has an unprecedented record of provable lies,  not just for a president,  but for any human being living on this earth.  He sees power as the exercise of abuse, insult, and defamation,  not respect.  He is a person without a positive trait of character,  a quintessential CEO whose profits come from how many people he can screw over and how much of the planet he can plunder.  He expresses the ideals and values of many Americans.  They do not want a president;  they want a fuehrer.  They got what they wanted.

A  high school student from a minority wrote an essay to qualify for advanced placement in college that impressed its evaluators.  As an occasional such evaluator,  my colleagues shared it with me as an example of the high level of thought and expression being engaged in by our young people.

The essay was on the subject of a book read by many high school students,  The Diary of Ann Frank.  The writer examined one of the mysteries with which the book left us as to who betrayed Ann Frank and her family to the Nazis.  He made the point that it did not matter so much as to what person tipped off the Gestapo to her family's hiding place as to  recognizing all the people who supported the regime that engaged in the Holocaust,  and there are many such regimes.  Detestable as the Hitlers and Nazi leadership may be, the people who enable them and in whose behalf they act are the real culprits responsible for such atrocities.  

After outlining all the words and actions that Trump put on the record during his campaign, the young writer said that the people who voted for Donald Trump are in the same classification as the betrayers of Ann Frank.  And the people who are adversely affected by Trump's words and actions need to recognize  that their enemy is not in the White House but in the houses of the people who put Trump there.  The political divide between Trump supporters and anti-Trump people is a good thing because it identifies the enemies of democracy and gives people the chance to consider if they really want democracy.

Sometimes the young are exceptionally wise.  

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States