The Blogora: The Rhetoric Society of America


Calling Dr. Mengele. . . .

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2006 - 9:51pm

Maybe I'm nuts (wait. . I'm going to stop using that word on the Blogora), but this story is freaking me out. The parents of a 6-year old developmentally-disabled child have been allowed to administer a growth-stunting hormone in order to keep her small and manageable at home. We can't use stem cells, but this is OK? Lack of public provision for retarded (I don't mind the word "retarded") adults in this country is a scandal of epic proportions, so I can understand the parents' motivations, but . . . The article does not even mention the social aspects.


Causal Arguments

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2006 - 7:51pm

When I talk with "hawks" (either of the Republican or Henry Jackson Democrat variety) about foreign policy, they often bring up two specific causal arguments to frame foreign policy controversy. (Each argument in turn develops into an analogical argument about the current "war on terror," but I'm just focused on the causal claims here).

1. Ronald Reagan cleverly scared the Soviets into a self-destructive arms race, and thus deserves primary credit for ending the Cold War.
2. The Tet Offensive was a military failure for the Viet Cong, but a psychological victory because--aided and abetted by a naive news media (see Peter Braestrup, Big Story, for the evidence)--Americans then gave up on the war. [Bloody October in Iraq has evoked the Tet analogy of late.]

Questions: What would count as evidence for "scaring the Soviets"? Both examples could be described as committing the fallacy of the single cause, but, if so, what are the other causes? Are these arguments examples of displacing value claims by empirical claims (a kind of reframing: why were we in Vietnam in the first place)? Some Europeans on the Left claim that the Cruise missile and other anti-war protests by the European Left gave Gorbachev necessary cover to push through Perestroika; could both this claim and the Reagan claim be true?

Any thoughts, rhetoricians?


Good Answer

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2006 - 2:54pm

From today's NYT (I'm impressed, though not an Obama enthusiast, of yet):

Asked how important experience should be for a president, he replied, "What I think is more important is judgment." "Judgment can be borne out of experience," he said. "It would be nice to think the more experience we get, the better our judgment is. But I don't think that's the case. I mean, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have an awful lot of experience, and yet have engineered what I think is one of the biggest foreign policy failures in our recent history. So I would say the two most important things are judgment and vision."


Balkin and Levinson on Law, Rhetoric, and the Humanities

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2006 - 12:36pm

Two of the heaviest hitters in Con Law:

Law and the Humanities: An Uneasy Relationship

Yale University - Law School
University of Texas Law School
Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities, Vol. 18, p. 155, 2006

In 1930 legal professionals like Judge Learned Hand assumed that law was either part of the humanities or deeply connected to them. By the early twenty-first century, this view no longer seems accurate, despite the fact that legal scholarship has become increasingly interdisciplinary. Instead law has moved closer to the social sciences. This essay discusses why this is so, and why the humanities exist in an uneasy relationship with law and contemporary legal scholarship.

No matter how often the legal academy embraces skills and knowledges external to law, law's professional orientation - and the fact that law is taught in professional schools where most students will not become academics - continually pulls legal scholarship back toward an internal attitude toward law and recourse to traditional legal materials. As a result, law remains far more like a divinity school - devoted to the preservation of the faith - than a department of religion - which studies various religions from multiple perspectives. To the extent that the contemporary disciplines of the humanities view law externally or in ways inconsistent with its professional orientation, they are merely tolerated in law schools rather than central to legal study. More generally, because law is a professional field, it resists colonization by other disciplines that view law externally. Instead, law co-opts the insights of other disciplines and turns them to its own uses.

Ironically, law's thoroughly rhetorical nature, which strongly connects it to the traditions of the humanities, places the contemporary disciplines of the humanities at a relative disadvantage. Law uses rhetoric to establish its authority and to legitimate particular acts of political and legal power. Law's professional orientation pushes legal scholars toward prescriptivism - the demand that scholars cash out their arguments in terms of specific legal interpretations and policy proposals. These tasks push legal scholars toward technocratic forms of discourse that use the social and natural sciences more than the humanities. Whether justly or unjustly, the humanities tend to rise or fall in comparison to other disciplines to the extent that the humanities are able to help lawyers and legal scholars perform these familiar rhetorical tasks of legitimation and prescription.

Download the paper here.


Pathetic Irrelevance

Submitted by Jim Aune on November 1, 2006 - 9:09am

If you need a textbook example of the Far Left's incapacity to make even the grossest sorts of moral distinction, check out this discussion.


Kairos Gets Mr. Klebanoff

Submitted by Anonymous on October 31, 2006 - 7:36pm

One of the students in ENGL 474 was so seized by the holy rhetorical spirit over the George Allen-James Webb literary public sphere -- sorry, Habermas -- that he exceeded himself today, in and for class. Instead of bringing a very early draft of his topic proposal for the op-ed, the class's nexts assignment, he had drafted the whole damn thing. And it wasn't bad. As I digitally communicate, he has revised and is sending it off to print products in Virginia and the DC metro area. Most print products have stopped accepting "election" letters and op-eds. We'll see how he does ... but perhaps one benefit of "the public sphere in the world of letters" is that it extends some deadlines. We'll see.

Matt, keep us posted ... if you would be so kind.


Umberto Eco on Freedom of Expression

Submitted by Jim Aune on October 31, 2006 - 6:53pm



Clifford Geertz, Dead at 80

Submitted by Jim Aune on October 31, 2006 - 5:46pm

He will be greatly missed.


Oh, Jesus. . . .

Submitted by Jim Aune on October 30, 2006 - 7:41pm

Here come the GodMen. Some catchy lyrics:

When the GodMen band seized the stage again, they tore into an anthem called “Grow A Pair!”: “We’ve been beaten down/ Feminized by the culture crowd,” they sang. “No more nice guy, timid and ashamed/ We’ve had enough, cowboy up/ In the power of Jesus name/ Welcome to the battle/ A million men have got your back/ Jump up in the saddle/ Grab a sword, don’t be scared/ Be a man, grow a pair!”


Persuasion and Incitement

Submitted by Jim Aune on October 30, 2006 - 10:07am

I had an interesting conversation on Friday with my doctoral advisee Yogita Sharma. I've been puzzling for a long time about the relationship between "persuasion" and "incitement"--I'm skeptical, like all free speech absolutists, about whether such a thing as "incitement" even exists. So I asked her how the terms play out in Hindi. Here's her answer, based on her own understanding of her native tongue, and from the standard dictionary:

1) Persuade: to influence by argument (phusalaana-this is used negatively); to
prevail on (manaana); to induce (uksaana); to explain (samjhaana-used

2) Persuasion: act of persuading (prateetikaran-rarely used word); inducement (protsahana-it doesn't mean inducement from what I know rather it means encouragement)

3) I also looked up Prateeti (Prateeti-karan=act of doing Prateeti):
knowledge, clear or distinct perception or apprehension, conviction,assurance, confidence, appearance. A more commonly used word in Hindi is Prateet which means known, evident, apparent etc.

4) Incite: to instigate (utteyjit karana-Hindi meaning similar to English)

--This is the larger, metarhetorical question that interests me: without descending into happy multiculturalism, how do we think about "persuasion" in "folk" terms, before and while we think about it academically. I was reading Salon's wonderful series on place and literature this morning while my autistic son was up at 3 and demanding to listen to Steve Earle (Daniel can't talk, but he knows his music). Naturally, I read with special interest the article on Norway. The author discusses the Eddas and Sigrid Undset (neither of which I've read, although I have my mother's copy of Kristin Lavransdatter on the shelf), and writes: "In "Voluspá," the first poem in the Elder Edda, the seeress tells Odin the ghastly sequence of events through which the world will end. Odin will be devoured by the wolf called Fenris. His doom is inescapable. But the fatalism of the Eddas requires him to accept it and fight a hopeless battle against it all the same. I sense this quality in Norwegians even now. There is an admirably unsentimental toughness to these people. We all know how life ends; we will lose everything. In the meantime, we can, if we choose, proudly and uncomplainingly resist the inevitable." All seems entirely true to me (and sounds just like my father); how would such a cultural expectation shape persuasive norms?