I was recently asked about some of the 2016 US presidential campaign political rhetoric, and whether it will spur any new thinking regarding Consent. Clearly much has been said with respect to the views of women, inappropriate or nonconsensual behavior, etc. It was a worthwhile question, and an engaging conversation which I thought worth sharing. That said, please be advised that this is merely an Editorial Opinion and neither a tutorial nor in any way definitive.
Rhetoric & Debate
Rhetoric is a loaded word, filled with the potential for an emotional response. For many, the closest definition that often springs to mind is about language intended to have a persuasive effect, but often considered as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content. Example: “all we have from the opposition is empty rhetoric”. However, the basis of this is how rhetoric often falls from its original intent, being the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing used in conjunction with dialogs in logic (dialectics) or debate.
Rhetoric, in this latter sense of the word, is the skill which helps provide the structure for discovering, understanding, and developing arguments for particular situations.
The linkage between debate, dialectic/logic, and rhetoric might be looked at as:
- Rhetoric is the skill by which one can recall, structure, and engage in the opponent or partner(s) in the above through mastery of language, reason, and persuasion.
- Debate is a competition of dialog wherein committed and opposing points of view present respective cases with the goal of either persuading the opponent to abandon their view or by proving the opponent’s argument incorrect (usually to a judge, jury, or 3rd party evaluator). In other words, debate uses the assumption of a zero-sum game.
- Dialectic is a collaboration to uncover truths through dialogue between two or more people holding different viewpoints on given subject through use of reasoned arguments and challenges in order to find mistakes in assumptions, reasoning, causality, etc. The essence is a cooperative discovery of truth through the rigor of challenge.
Understanding & Truth
When the value is on maintaining existing beliefs or views (i.e. debate), we are NOT engaged in a search for truth, but rather we are agreeing to the terms that one view must be right and the other must be wrong. Dialectics can only be engaged when there is greater value placed on discovery of truths (whatever those may be) versus pre-existing notions or ego.
The forum of debate, especially in political debate, is therefore set with the assumption which is not about enlightening participants or audience, but rather which viewpoint has stronger defensibility. It’s not about changing minds (although that may happen purely by accident) as much as it is validating one’s stance by invalidating another’s because there must be a victor and a loser (at least, more vs less right or wrong). Ergo, it’s far more often that the rhetoric we hear is about defending or promoting an existing view, not about engaging in a dialog to reach a new mutual understanding. It’s not about changing minds, unless everyone else is willing to change their view.
Why This Matters
Similarly, when candidates make proclamations about their values, or behavior reveals the views and values behind their actions, it’s not about truth as much as it’s a justification for emotionally driven choices. Or, as Robert A. Heinlein expressed it so succinctly: “Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” As such, the typical response is usually those already in opposition use such circumstances as further proof of their right of opposition, whereas those in support use rationalization to continue to maintain their support. Or put it another way, whatever folks believe will likely be what they continue to believe – with rhetoric only offering further bifurcation.
What we see in the media circus CAN inspire those few who are more prone to independent thinking to do so. However, what I see more often is that once a person’s viewpoint is established it’s less likely to give way than the facts. I have my own quote, which is that “delusion is one’s own ultimate personal reality”. Meaning yes, people will often change their reality of the world (i.e. facts) rather than change their views – and sometimes to rather disturbing degrees.
The folks are not likely to change when they already believe it’s okay to harass others, devalue women or minorities, act without regard to consent or consideration, or repeatedly justify bad behavior after bad behavior. Perhaps over several generations, as part of a cultural shift – but rarely in individual instances. I expect we are likely to see a slew of new consent workshops at events, new policies on personal space and participation at play parties, new rules at dungeons and on violation reporting. However, once things die down a little and people’s “one month memory” fades away (usually helped out by the latest bright and shiny distraction, drama, or offense highlighted), it will go right back to square one. Why? Usually because being responsible isn’t Fun: it’s too much work, it’s inconvenient, it suppress my kind of fun, or insert bitch-and-moan-complaint of choice here.
History repeats itself all the time, every day, because we would rather try to change the facts than our views. This certainly isn’t always the case, but rather seems to be more often than not. All we can do is look out for such things as individuals, and commit to making the changes within ourselves that we wish to see in others. That, and keeping the fools at a distance, which will help protect yourself in the process.
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