Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rhetoric as Magic

This is an incredibly good post that ties together magic and rhetoric entitled 'Is magic ever magic to the magician?' (via Cosma Shalizi on Quote:

"But the problem with teaching magic/rhetoric as craft is that it only truly “works,” in the sense of magic, on those who are ignorant. The preacher’s words only tremble the Christian who believes the Holy Spirit is moving, not the one who nods knowingly at the sermon’s tropes and dynamics. Not everyone learns to be the shaman, and the history of his training is kept a secret. The heart-stopping thrill of the magician’s audience is lost in a room full of fellow magicians."
There have been a few posts on rhetoric and the ability to spot rhetoric around the blogosphere lately. Zenpundit had a post a while back about a site that does video analysis of politicians and others speeches. I dunno how accurate the technology is because the owners don't really give a full account of how it works (straight off the bat ... what if a liar had remarkable emotional control and hence voice frequency pattern control? How would that effect the pattern detection?). I was more interested in the aforementioned site as a depository for rhetoric in action. Rather than watching it for some machine that may or may not work one should watch it for what you could learn from politicos.

This also ties in with a recent MESH blog post on Al Qaeda rhetoric aimed at domestic U.S. audiences and rhetoric aimed at fellow jihadis. A great quote from the post:
"Declarations and communiqués directed by Al Qaeda at fellow jihadists are much more valuable—in that they are much more revealing—than the communiqués directed at the United States. The former are directed at fellow Muslims and thus couched in familiar Islamic terms and concepts; the latter, intentionally articulated through a Western epistemology—an epistemology that is utterly at odds with radical Islam."
There was also a good article in the New York Review of Books on domestic U.S. rhetoric aimed at internal U.S. audiences entitled "Euphemism and American Violence". It is a good article but the author also seems to use rhetoric in some places to get his point across.

Finally, this is a great philosophical post which I've been meaning to write about for some time. The post opens with this paragraph:
"A noble knight is about to leave on a mission to an inhospitable, barbarian place. Some are skeptical that his mission will be successful. After all, he must deal with petty, uncouth individuals. The knight, however, is not troubled; he has a nifty trick. When he is among petty people or barbarians, their behavior instantly changes. They are literally transformed in his presence, bending to him as sure as grass bends to wind."
Eric does an analysis of the passage and concludes with this
"But the transformation of the foreign barbarians? That's really hard to buy. How is it that they magically behave themselves in the presence of a Confucian knight, but are otherwise 'uncouth'? I don't see how this works."
First of all, I thought perhaps through Emotional Contagion. If the Knight is an extremely calm individual it might spread to the barbarians. The opposite is also true, if the knight went in carving the place up he'd get a matched reaction from the barbarians. It is an interesting question within the framework of rhetoric. The word Barbarian comes from the Greek word Barbaroi, which meant something similar to the babbling sound of a foreign language to the Greeks. So the question reframed in a rhetorical sense is - how does the knight transform barbarians without the Knight's language? Within the framework it is a bit of a conundrum. However, if I were a particularly sneaky confucian knight I'd pay off the barbarian rhetoricians to do the work that I could never possibly understand fully (similar to the MESH post above). Internal rhetoric amongst the group to control the group, rather than a half-assed effort to throw my rhetoric at the group itself (however within the philosophical framework itself, I'd still be left with how I influence the internal group opinion leaders).