Truth is the beginning of every good thing, both in heaven and on earth and he who would be blessed and happy should be from the first a partaker of truth, for then he can be trusted. -Plato
True outcomes cannot be achieved if speech is policed. Understanding cannot be reached if people are not allowed to reach their own conclusions or allowed to misstep in the effort to finding civility and knowledge of one another. People cannot learn to deal with opposing viewpoints if those viewpoints, no matter how absurd, are not allowed to be freely expressed and reasoned. After all, it is in the expression and exchange where the rhetorical process thrives. Individuals may approach topics of discussion from varying, “realities” or perspectives, but this is the entire point of persuasion, understanding, knowledge, and negotiation. Being able to persuade an audience of the same mindset and ideological tilt as oneself is no great feat. On the contrary, it belies a fecklessness in the rhetorician who seeks such a route. The skillful rhetorician persuades through understanding those to whom they speak, understands by being open to their own mind being changed, and becomes open by desiring to seek such outcomes, in truth. Rhetoric, in and of itself cannot be adequate in negotiating true and worthwhile outcomes, because as Plato stated, rhetoric for its own sake— as is the human inclination— seeks self-advancement, rather than knowledge. Therefore, seeing or hearing information, and being allowed to critically sift through it, allows the individual to decide for themselves what are acceptable ends. From this standing, the individual can then, in concert with other individuals of both like and different minds, decide as a freely reasoning community, what are acceptable outcomes for the society as a whole.
This is precisely why the imperative of news organizations, for instance, should never be on who can be first to gain information or on interjecting pure opinion and speculation into news. In my estimation, the focus should always be on putting forth what is empirically demonstrated and tested from multiple sources, rather than allowing the common practice of speculation, of probabilities, to guide conversation away from truth. This again is also why the imperative of social media organizations should be on allowing all discourse, within the public forum, to continue unimpeded. This is how truth is sought. The power in seeking truth in this way, comes from each individual person giving themselves the agency to plot their own course, rather than being told what is acceptable to be thought, and what is not. The fallacy that comes with attempting to control, police, or influence certain types of speech or “social behaviors” comes from the idea that forced morality, or the imposition of means that seem to lead toward just ends for some, is an inherent good. This view still discounts the fact that there will still be some who are displeased, and displaced, by the outcome. The dynamic has merely arbitrarily been shifted. The thinking behind this viewpoint seems dubious, as goodness that leads to truth cannot be imposed. It must be reasoned, realized, and experienced as one determines to traverse the world wisely and honorably.
Because this entire topic hinges around a level of rhetorical theory, it is important to consider that, in relation to this topic, Plato had important insight. Many of the rhetoricians of his day, not unlike our own, did not believe goodness to be attainable within oneself, yet his entire rhetorical philosophy centered around goodness and truth and how one navigated this carnal natural world, in search of it. Goodness that leads to true outcomes, to Plato was found in the virtue that served others and that guided others toward the transcendent. He believed that every human possessed transcendent truth, within themselves from birth, and that finding truth is only difficult because it requires us to first remember what has been shrouded by our carnality. To Plato, the critically-thinking individual’s entire purpose, was to assist others in remembering that seed of the transcendent that was placed in them at birth, by helping them to clear away the worldly debris of their lives; a feat accomplished through verbal exchange and the quest for truth. This action, of helping others, is altogether different from one using their rhetorical ability to impose upon people that which one selfishly deems as more important for the well being of society; discounting and undermining the republic itself, in the process. In this era of rapid informational advancement, it is now, more than ever, imperative that truth be sought. Humans, as has been seen throughout history, lend themselves toward self-preservation, which does not allow room for truth to prevail in the public spheres, if not freely challenged with self-imposed goodness and with differing points of view. Media has a role in purveying knowledge and rather than seeking to police it, should seek to allow discourse to be had, in every form it may take. In addition, media of course ,rather than seeking to sway minds to particular points of view, should seek to allow only what is known to be true—through empiricism— to be spread; not what is probable. This age, more than any other, is a rhetorical one. And rhetoric for rhetoric’s sake will not alone allow us to reach acceptable outcomes. Rather truth, empowered by good and self-imposed moral rhetorical strategies, will better equip Western society to reach good and true outcomes that allow all citizens to gain knowledge.
I think a man’s duty is to find out where the truth is, or if he cannot, at least
to take the best possible human doctrine and the hardest to disprove,
and to ride on this like a raft over the waters of life.