Karen & Kurt 
Edgewood in St. Denis

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Smart Woman

A crazy man's rhetoric

Posted by karenandkurt on January 11, 2011 at 2:08 PM
“Rhetoric is the art of using language to communicate effectively and persuasively. It involves three audience appeals: logos, pathos, and ethos, as well as the five canons of rhetoric: invention or discovery, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. Along with grammar and logic or dialectic, rhetoric is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. From ancient Greece to the late 19th Century, it was a central part of Western education, filling the need to train public speakers and writers to move audiences to action with arguments.”  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia

This blog is not written to excuse or explain what Jared Lee Loughner has done. The man, in my untrained opinion, is unhinged and quite possible allowed something truly evil to enter his life and being. Only in there seem to have been missed opportunities to help him before he got to the point of murdering six people, including a child, in the assassination attempt of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords do I extend him sympathy.

 

What is bothering me is how his ramblings are being portrayed in popular media as evidence of mental illness and insanity, as though they are randomly strung together words that make sense only to him. What is striking me is they are not random or nonsensical. They are points of rhetorical theory I studied in my graduate work, most specifically reminiscent of Michel Foucault. This kid may be far out there, but he’s grasped some basic premises and put them forward. He has created, using rhetoric, his own understanding of the world because he has rejected the shared reality we all have and, like Foucault, made a logical argument for a different reality.

 

I grabbed the Wikipedia definition above to point out I do not mean “rhetoric” as is commonly defined in usage by pundits. Rhetoric does not mean “the things I say loudly.” It means the persuasive argument that appeals to the logic, emotion and ethics of the listener. It is not name-calling, but the explanation of ideas, no matter how distasteful or welcomed. The best example of modern rhetoric most people are used to experiencing  is a well-crafted commercial (and if you’ve ever had to sit through a commercial break with me, I’m really sorry for the mini-lecture that usually comes out).

 

 Foucault, who died of AIDs-related illness in 1984, felt the world had rejected him due to depression and sexual orientation. He felt a sense of alienation from general society, even though he was a noted rhetorician, philosopher and historian. From this point of view he looked at rhetoric and the reality of the world. Like Greek philosophers, he argued that words create reality and it is the agreed-upon meaning of those words that shape the content of that reality. If we change the meaning of the word, we change, physically, the reality. In this sense, because reality is an agreed-upon construct, it doesn’t exist except in the minds of those who have agreed and created it.

 

Words have power to create reality, but if words lose their meaning then reality ceases to be. I thought it was clever that since he felt rejected by the world he developed a rhetorical philosophy that proved the world didn’t exist.

 

Other rhetoricians have also put forward the idea, picked up by some of the metaphysical communities, that words do create our physical reality. Change the word, change the reality. But if all existence hangs on the utterance of a word, in what ether do we swim?

 

Loughner asked Congresswoman Giffords, “What's government if words don't have meaning?” She appears to have been unable to answer him on the spot, something that contributed to his anger and hatred for her.

 

Another statement he has made is the claim that the government is practicing “mind control and brainwash on the people by controlling grammar."

 

In the first question, reflecting on Foucault, he seems to be asking that if words don’t have meaning unless agreed upon, then how can the government as a construct exist in this form? If we change the meaning of these words then we change what government is, how it looks and how it functions. We change the meaning of the words used to described government and in that process change the nature of government. It’s fluid. It’s unreal. So how can something that is unreal have any power within reality? So, what is “government” is there is no agreed upon description? Is it anarchy? And yet that word is an agreed-upon description. So that’s not real, either. (Yes, this should hurt your head.)

 

His videos use a flawed numbering system, attempting to prove the previous era never ended and the common era never began, therefore the current era and the reality we know doesn’t exist.  Again, he tries to disprove reality.

 

The second statement has been laughed at by some but it’s not funny. I’m going to write with some irony that Laughner choose the wrong word with “grammer.” He seems to mean “language.” Replace the words and it makes more sense: “mind control and brainwashing on the People by controlling language.”

 

(Among the “far-far right” of those who are pretty close to the militia movement “the People” almost always refers to the citizenry of the  United States -- “We, the People…” --  in opposition to the formal, federal government and its agencies, along with those in the service or employ of the federal government. )

 

Words create reality and language shapes our perception of reality. Laughner is arguing that the federal government is deliberately controlling the use of language in order to convince or sway the average person to its own ends, and by doing so it is creating a new reality.

 

It’s so much easier to explain this by telling you to go read 1984. Just as in Orwell’s book, Laughner is claiming the federal government has taken over the language and is using that takeover to control the People, to shape our thoughts to its own purpose and to remove an individual sense of self-determination. This goes along with his statements about being one of the few who are “awake” to what is truly occurring, while the “sheeple” just baa-along with whatever the Government tells them to believe.  He is referring to this state of wakefulness as “conscience dreaming” since all others are seemingly asleep to the reality being created.

 

Laughner’s other statements, which I will spare you, also show indication of rhetorical logic. He claims calling that calling him a “terrorist” is an argumentum ad hominem, or a logical fallacy based on perceived character. He’s right: He is not a terrorist, he is a murderer and possibly a political assassin. Laughner is arguing that his intention or beliefs will be dismissed or trivialized by claiming “he’s a terrorist.” Or, in more colloquial terms, the old Saturday Night Live skit that concludes, “Jane, you ignorant slut!” Laugher believes that everything he has said and argued, what his reality and beliefs are, will be summarily dismissed by slapping the word “terrorist” on him, thereby allowing us to think no further about his statements. By dismissing him, in Laughner’s mind and logic, we prove him right: he is the only one awake.

 

 I began with Foucault, I’ll end with Plato. In the Allegory of the Cave, Plato describes a group of people who know the outside world – reality – only by the shadows on the wall. They come to believe these shadows are real things and people. One man escapes and makes his way outside and sees what is Real. He returns to the cave to share this Truth with the men still there. But they reject him and that truth for their perceived reality.

 

I don’t think Laugher is the man the man who has escaped. He is the man still caught in the cave, watching dancing shadows and believing the unreal is reality. Until he manages to leave the cave, he is forever stuck, not awake, defining and redefining what cannot be grasped.

 

 

 

 

 


Categories: Deep Thoughts

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