Truth in News Media (p. 3)

 

Honesty is, for the most part, less profitable than dishonesty.
-Plato

 

This idea of manipulative information wielded against the better interest of the masses speaks directly to the problems that have arisen within Western media landscapes. Both in news media, and in social media. This has led to an overwhelming distrust of media, particularly news media. It is important to note that distrust of media is not a 21st century phenomenon. On the contrary, it has been around as long as we have had media. To this point, the famous statement—usually attributed to Mark Twain, who lived from the mid to late 1800s—says, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re misinformed” and is a sentiment that speaks directly to the heart of this new movement. In a world where man seeks knowledge, and relies on the entities that are presented as having knowledge only to find those entities deal in misinformation and manipulation. This fuels distrust and this renewed distrust has created a new sort of social movement: one against false information; if all that is needed for a social movement to exist is a collective of people coming together for a shared cause, with long-term goals of some change in society occurring. The fans of this new movement have been flamed with phases such as “fake news” or “alternative facts” and has led individuals and governmental entities alike, to bring suits and lead social media campaigns against both mainstream media outlets and Social media conglomerates. Though these sorts of terms can be reductive, and can alienate some from engaging in civil discourse that might otherwise lead both sides to truth or knowledge, they are not altogether incorrectly laid at society’s feet. Especially, when we see cases like that of the Covington Catholic School kids.

In the past, news media had predominately been plagued by a must-be-first-to-report mentality, but that inclination has evolved somewhat.

 

Not only is there still a need to be first to report—which can lead to the proliferation of inaccurate information and the need for corrections—there is also a profit-driven motive behind journalistic reporting, with the steady decline in news ratings over the last few years, due to alternate forms of media and increased competition.

As a result of this market-driven style of journalism, news has become somewhat sensationalized and fear-focused, in order to increase viewership (Thussu 2010). People seem to be rejecting this sort of news delivery method, however, as public distrust in media is at all-time highs. According to a recent Gallup poll, trust in news media rests at about 46% overall: 42% among those who identify politically as Independent; 76% among Democrats; and 21% among Republicans. Interestingly, the level of trust is lowest in those aged under 30, which sits at 33%. To be fair, these numbers are slowly rising, though they still sit at historic lows.

The video below, from an award-winning former journalist for CBS News, touches a bit on this:

 

The problem with the rhetorical nature of news organizations having a focus on sensationalism, means that truth cannot fully be sought. Predominantly because, “fear-based news relies on dramatic anecdotes in place of scientific evidence, promoting isolated events as trends, depicting categories of people as dangerous, and replacing optimism with fatalistic thinking” (Glassner 1999).

In a recent panel of journalists, well-known journalist Ted Koppel speaks on the state of journalism, in relation to politics and ratings, which bears somewhat on the topic at hand.

 

 

 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Truth in Knowledge (p. 2)

 

Seven years of silent inquiry are needful for a man to learn the truth, but fourteen in order to learn how to make it known to his fellow-men.
-Plato

 

To know something, of course, is not so easily defined within the realms of carnality and baseness that plague the human experience. If it were, it would not have been a topic so often discussed over generations of documented discourse, and to such varying degrees among rhetorical theorists. How can one know something without truth being the implicit purveyor of such knowledge? Plato speaks to this, in his work Republic, when he says,

In the world of knowledge, the essential Form of Good is the limit of our inquiries, and can barely be perceived but, when perceived, we cannot help concluding that it is in every case the source of all that is bright and beautiful –in the visible world giving birth to light and its master, and in the intellectual world dispensing, immediately and with full authority, truth and reason –and that whosoever would act wisely, either in private or in public, must set this Form of Good before his eyes (Plato & Watt 1997 228).

Plato is not only placing knowledge as highly essential to experiencing goodness in life, but he also alludes to the attaining of it, through truth and reason, only being done by those who would act wisely. Interestingly enough, he also leaves room for man’s inability to ever truly know anything. Of course, the word know can encompass both one’s own perception of what is true— through the vehicles of information purveyance that are readily available to them— as well as what would be universally true and supported by empirical data. Truth is what is, but is also that which leads the searcher to what can be known and not simply what is probable. Probabilities, as Plato would say, are not knowledge but are mere appearances of such knowability. He goes a bit further in his work Phaedo where he says, “arguments derived from probabilities are idle, and unless one is on one’s guard against them, they are very deceptive” (Plato & Lindsay 170). I would even go so far as to say that such arguments are not arguments at all but, as Chaucer would have said, are nothing more than wind from the port side; mere acts of deception.

 

 

Probabilities seem to be the result of rhetoric, in its modern sense, and were one of Plato’s dissensions of rhetorical practice. More important to Plato, was the search for truth in all situations. He identified it as preeminent above rhetoric. Often, he referred to rhetoric in the pejorative sense, as he related it to those he viewed as manipulative, deceitful, and corruptive in discursive utilization. Much of his commentary on this subject, is in direct reference to Sophists such as Gorgias, who utilized rhetorical speech specifically for the purpose of manipulation. Much of Gorgias’ views on rhetoric stemmed from a belief that, in effect, nothing exists, or if it does in fact exist that we cannot know it, and if we can know it, we cannot effectively communicate what we know, without having shared experiences relying on shared deceptions, that are affected by language. He believed that language not only creates, but also changes, our opinions that become our only source of available knowledge (TRT 45; 83).  Therein lies Plato’s dissent. Plato’s concerns of this sort of approach to rhetoric are not relegated to pre-modernity, however. This concern should be just as much a modern one here as it was in Plato’s Athens (TRT 80). This sort of nihilistic approach to information-gathering is what seems to lead to the must-be-first mentality of the news media, as well as the social media phenomenon of shutting down speech that breaks from popular convention. This phenomenon, of course, could not be as effective as it has become, without this value placed on shared experiences that create groups of activists toward varying social causes. The next logical conclusion of these approaches will always lead malleable people to misuse their rhetorical power for their own purposes and to use the technological mediums, which now allow for information to be pushed to the masses within seconds, toward ends that only serve those who wield that power most effectively; or most manipulatively.

 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Good and True Outcomes in a Paradigm of Accepted Violence

Though the digital age has done much to bring Western society out of poverty and servitude, the human yearning for power over the populous— through controlling the readily accessible levels of information— and over each individual’s consciousness, becomes more pervasive. And with the search for power comes the inclination toward untruth, I believe, because lack of truth merely becomes a means toward the desired end of power and control. For the purposes of my analysis, truth will be defined as: that which is knowable, if it can in fact be known; that which is provable, if it can in fact be proven or demonstrated empirically; and that which leads individuals within our society to good and true outcomes, as reasoned and agreed upon through free-flowing rhetorical discourse.

It is important to note that truth, to Plato— in all its transcendent qualities— is, by definition, above one’s own whims and therefore, no one who seeks to use speech for their own gain, will gain true knowledge or purvey it (TRT 80). This type of speech— rhetorical speech— is meaningless to him because it is a result of an orator’s own whims, rather than a genuine service for the people. The main goal of this paper is in using Plato’s view of truth, coupled with Walter Benjamin’s Critique of Violence, as a lens through which to analyze the difficulty of Western society to adequately negotiate true and acceptable outcomes within media-oriented forums. Through the utilization of more analytic, objective, and dialectical approaches toward all rhetorical spaces, as well as through the argument of how the self-appointed leaders of these spaces— the likes of information-gathering conglomerates Facebook, Twitter, and at times even in our very own U.S. government— willingly and knowingly withholding information from the people and furthermore, attempting to limit speech, can be perceived as a form of violence against them, and therefore carries a harmful quality about it, which can lead to more physical types of violence from the populous. The seeking of truth here, is paramount in avoiding such outcomes.

It seems evident to say that truth is important. Such a proposition is unlikely to find much opposition within current societal discourse, at least on the surface. Truth seems to be integral to mankind’s ever-expanding search for knowledge. Though, power and influence appear to be the more common tools sought in gaining such knowledge, considering with power and influence one can impose truth— rather than allow it to be freely sought— which, even in the digital age is brought about through speech. Speech is, and has always been, a powerful vehicle through which both truth and falsehood could reign, in both a written and spoken sense. This has been increasingly evident in both the media and political realms of Western society; perhaps even more so due to the rapid expansion of easily accessible information, continually at the tip of our fingers. Both of these realms of information and influence are areas where truth must be the supreme consideration. Without this consideration, what is known becomes a result of what is imposed upon the people as truth— rather than what is thoughtfully presented and allowed to be reasoned— through the very tools billions of people rely on to be better equipped in the realm of knowledge. Knowledge is, after all, power. Because it is power: the willful withholding of said knowledge, or the complete suppression of the vehicle that would bring it into being, is tantamount to violence. This idea of violence will be further expounded upon, at a later point.

The question of truth’s significance to our modern society is not altogether different from in Plato’s Athens, where open forums were the playground of those who came equipped for verbal jousting and public negotiation (TRT  80). Exploring the work of Plato’s ideas regarding truth and rhetoric are instrumental in determining the state of our own media-oriented spaces. Rhetoric, in the public space of media, has become what Plato admonished as its greatest shortcoming which, as mentioned, is the tendency of rhetoric toward seeking personal desires rather than seeking truth. Plato of course makes a clear distinction between truth and self-will (TRT 83). A distinction this paper will seek to use in analyzing the violence of speech infringement, as well as the inclinations of companies, specifically Twitter, in using rhetorical strategies to further promote such violence against individuals while claiming to fight it. Can truth even be found in climates oriented around influence and power, for the sake of influence and power?” This topic will allow the case to be made that rhetorically oriented media climates do not actually allow room for truth at all, as they stand currently, and will also seek to demonstrate how, in analyzing modern society, we can better understand how seeking truth itself can lead society to a better understanding of rhetoric, especially in relation to national and global social movements; the end goal being a better hold on understanding and knowledge.

 

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

Female Panel Presentation: Response

 

 

There have been many panels that have been presented at KSU, but this is the first one I ever attended. the topic is not one that would usually incline me to excitement, but it was fairly interesting. While I am certain that many from our class will surely write on the feminist aspects, for which the presentation was focused, I was actually more interested in something that came from a place I did not expect.

IMG_2734

The four panelists discussing their respective projects and how they aim to utilize culture to impact society.

A bit toward the end of the discussion, the panel opened up the floor for the students in the audience to ask questions of the panelists. One female student began to tell her story, from an interesting perspective: of someone born from interracial parents. The one thing she said that was interesting to me was that her struggle was in finding out what it means to be “fully black” when you have one parent who is, and one who isn’t. It is an interesting thing to think about on the one hand because I know that my future children will probably ask me similar questions. On the other hand, it is interesting to me, that she chose one side, over the other, when she is both equally.

As a thought experiment though, it truly is fascinating to see what people come up with, when thinking of such a question. Especially when we consider that very few “black” people in America (whose ancestors have been here for generations) are actually 100%, or “fully black” to use the young woman’s words. In actuality, most are a mixture.

download

My own personal Ancestry map, from the research I have done. Africa, Various parts of Europe, though about 10 generations of my family have resided in the Georgia & Virginia areas.

This fact hit home to me when I started doing our family ancestry and I found out that I, myself have about 20-30% European ancestry, 60% African ancestry, as well as Cherokee ancestry. Though these results all matched with the oral familial stories we have been told for years, it was interesting to see them put in actual number form. This gave me a bit of a more nuanced view of what it meant to be anything because truly, we are all a mixture of the beautiful intricacies of those who came before us, of those who lived rich and diverse lives, and of those who traversed the world to bring us to where we all are now. 

This question of what it means to be “black” falls short, in my estimation, of the real question that should have been asked: what does your heritage tell you about being a human in this diverse and nuanced world, of which we are all apart? At the end of the end of the day, the immutable comes to little meaning. Skin may influence culture and it may place you in a community where you have an obvious aesthetic commonality, but it does not determine intelligence, worldview, where a person will end up in life, or that person’s worth. There is beauty in every living being and to me, there is a subtle beauty in seeing that which is at odds, come into oneness. But as humans do, we tend to focus on one part of ourselves, rather than on the self, as a whole. In seeing ourselves in such a way, we fracture ourselves; disregarding the intricate strands that makes us who we are. Who we are is not found on the outside, but just a bit deeper beneath the surface.

This panel was quite interesting to me because I do enjoy seeing the perspectives of other people. Though the panelists had different experiences and worldviews than my own, I think there is something to be said for allowing those perspectives to flourish, so we can learn from one another and broaden our own views. This is what allows us to become more effective rhetoricians, as we step onto our respective rhetorical stages in life.

Experiencing the Chasm, Standing on the Mountain

It seems to me, important to note, that I have never been someone who has cared much for speaking about race; mainly because the term and the concept is thrown around and almost weaponized, on a daily basis, in our modern and softer-skinned culture. I think this feature of who I am, is at least part of the reason I was less than excited to take my first free Saturday in a while, and venture to a place where race was the preeminent focus. In my aversion to race-related issues, I did recognize that perhaps a bit of apathy had arisen in me, over time, since I have had the privilege of growing up in a society that is vastly different from what my grandparents knew. But that apathy sort of colored (no pun intended) over the fact that these things I saw on the walls, were actually experienced by people in my own family. It seems likely that a sort of dissonance is created upon realizing that many of these things I saw were also perpetrated by others in my family.

As soon as you enter the initial room of the museum, you are met on both sides with pictures littering the walls.

 

img_20190302_133935

A collage of photographs labeled “White”

img_20190302_133939

A collage of photographs labeled “Colored”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left side, black and white photographs, crowned with neon letters that read, “White”. On the right side, black and white photographs, crowned also with neon letters that read, “Colored”. There wasn’t really any weight that hit me here, as I have known that this was the case, once upon a time. In fact, my own mother told me years ago, about when she had to get her birth certificate from her home town (of Metter, Georgia), how on it she saw the same words, “colored”. So, having been faced with it before was not really altogether shocking. It was more interesting, than anything, at how similar the walls were. On the one side, there were people smiling, dancing, and living their lives. On the other, you had the very same thing. What was so different about these people? Well, nothing. The black and white tint of the photographs demonstrated that much.

Continuing through the dark rooms of the lower bits of the museum, led us past old school televisions that were flashing poignant quotes and scenes from current events of the time.

My inquisitive nature meant I had to fondle the dials a bit, and run my fingertips over the metal casings, of these devices that seemed so foreign yet so familiar. It was fascinating to me, to be so close to something that was out of the past. I didn’t quite feel the same way though, when I came to the wall that read, in big white letters, “SEGREGATIONISTS”. A wall adorned by men who would have seen me and wondered how I could be in such an institution as a University; men who may have even looked upon me bewildered or even angry at how immensely their efforts failed. I didn’t feel any sort of animosity, in the least. On the contrary, I have more of a passing fascination with how a person can look upon another human being, who is made in the same image, and hold such a disdain for them, simply due to a difference in the hue of their skin. It always strikes me as highly illogical and unfortunate, because it is the easiest way to miss out on getting to know good people and getting to see the best of what those people have to offer your life, or society as a whole.  But that is the point though, isn’t it? When people have come up in an environment of fear of others, or a disdain for them, rather than an acknowledgement that all human beings are in this life-walk together, it leads them to lack value for the sanctity of every single life. And when that value for life’s preciousness is found deficient, man can bring his mind to the proper rationalization that malice against his neighbor, is justified, necessary, and perhaps even the right thing to do.

The violence, is what brought me out of my apathy toward this trip. In particular, the lunch counter simulation. A previous professor of mine told me about it, but I sort of dismissed it, for reasons I have stated, but experiencing it firsthand, is a different beast altogether. Upon first sitting down, writing on the counter prompts you to place your hands above the hand prints in front of you; the goal of course being to simulate a peaceful protest. The thing I noticed immediately was that having your hands in that position, sort of forces you to arch your back and place your head in a downward position. Immediately, your ears are bombarded with voices of men bellowing vulgarities in your direction and it escalates to a level of surreality that I had not expected. The vibration of my seat, to simulate someone kicking it, caused me to jump a bit and told my mind, ‘this is real’. With perfect clarity, I could hear a man sneering in my ear. I could hear the sound of spit he sucked in as he ravenously threatened me with, “I’m gonna kill you boy.” It was as if I could actually feel him with one hand on my shoulder, as he slid his face next to my ear. I noticed the words on the table in front of me also prompted me to close my eyes, but I refused to close them. I already felt as though I was there, and I knew if I did, my eyes would probably betray my successful composure. Upon getting up, I walked over to a friend from class, who had been sitting at the table next to me, and she was in tears. Every tear she wiped away broke me a bit. It broke me for a few reasons: it moved me that she was more upset about it than I was; seeing the pain in her face was eating away at the composure I had put so much effort into; and it reminded me just how far we have come.

We have come so incredibly far, in our society. I do not think we focus on that fact quite enough, if I am being honest. I also believe we forget that it would have been almost impossible to have gotten where we are, had people on both sides of the racial divide not organized under the auspices of togetherness.

img_20190302_142246

Marchers, of both races, together under one flag

Not togetherness in a generic or contrived sense of the word, but in actually coming together to combat a problem people on both sides saw and wanted to fix. What struck me throughout the exhibit, as profoundly amazing—whether from freedom riders who were willing to be beaten or killed for their cause or the holding of hands during marches, risking police retaliation—were the pictures of people of all hues, singing & walking together, showing that only together could this problem be fixed.

 

 

img_20190302_141908

Marchers on both sides of the racial divide, holding hands, in solidarity

 

Many times in our society, as a result of much of what has transpired in the past, we tend to paint all people in one group as the boogeymen, when in actuality, it takes people from all sides, to bring a nation together. It is a mistake not to recognize that only together, can we continue to move forward. Only through the lens of love’s patience, love’s kindness, love’s gentleness and understanding, can we move past the chasm of separation and onto the fertile promised land that Dr. King saw. He saw us ALL as Americans that were equal, under the only three colors that should really make the difference. We should all strive to remember what those colors are and why they hold us together.

img_20190302_141916

A young boy, at the Washington Monument, standing under the American flag

Faith in Women’s Rights

Faith was a cornerstone of both the women’s movement and the abolitionist movement. It is arguably what empowered so many women and men alike to finally arise and make their voices known. In part, as a result of the learned among them, as they worked out their own faith, had begun to see the glaring inconsistencies of those in power, attempting to use the faith they held so dearly, as a means by which to subjugate those they deemed the lesser. Faith was a central aspect of many of the arguments made concerning both women and slaves, and whether or not either had the right to even challenge their standing, let alone attempt to do away with that standing altogether. There were those few rhetorical giants, however, who saw through the silencing of women and slaves. People like the Grimkes, for instance, who took issue with, “men’s power, their fear of losing power, and their desire to keep it” (Sklar 130). In reality, this is not a male phenomenon, but a human one, and it seems that many of these rhetoricians knew this on some level. It is that need to have and keep power that drives so many of this race we call humans. Unfortunately, the outcome of such a singularly malcontented purpose, stokes the fires of dissent within the hearts of those being crushed under its weight.

The Grimkes had a different purpose. Theirs was not in gaining power, per se, but in reclaiming the agency that was taken away from themselves and their fellow women, by

GrimkeSisters

The Grimke sisters sitting for a photograph.

men who sought to keep them quiet. Not even simply quiet through the means of discreditation, but also through the means of less than adequate education being offered to women, at the time. Lucretia Mott also shared similar thoughts pertaining to woman’s education. In a letter Mott wrote to the women’s rights convention in Ohio, she said, “…when a fair opportunity shall be given for the equal cultivation of the intellect, and the stronger powers of the mind shall be called into action” (Sklar 65). Champions of women’s equality recognized that much of their difficulty in engaging with their opposition, in rhetorical spaces, was that men had greater “intellectual resources”. That is to say, more access to the means of expanding one’s intellect past the bounds of the small box our everyday lives are placed in. They had a higher quality of education, which sort of placed the opponents on a mountaintop and the proponents on a steep incline to climb, in order to even reach the first peak. Mott’s sentiment is an interesting one, because it is one that is echoed, or rather alluded to, in Frederick Douglass’ writings.

 

frederickdouglass-1848

Frederick Douglass was the most photographed man of his time.

Being that Douglass grew up in the prison of slavery, he put the utmost focus on education. He did educate himself after all. He figured out something, at an early age, that thousands of other slaves never figured out: learning to read and write was the key to forging his path out of slavery and abject poverty. He found that reading a variety and educating himself, was the way out of bondage. He realized that the reason the slave master refused to teach him how to read and write, was because even the master recognized that keeping the bound dumb, in the classical sense of the word, was the best way to keep them content in their bondage. To this point Douglass wrote, “the more I read, the more I began to detest my enslavers”. Douglass’ sentiment ties directly into the mindset of the women’s rights advocates. Women began to recognize that men in power wanted to keep them confined to “their spaces” in the house and as advisers to the men, because they feared how effective women would be at opposing the domineering culture that had been erected in an effort to keep them in their places. This is why people like the Grimkés were immensely effective.

 

The Grimkés used their rhetorical prowess, written and spoken, to refute two major institutions, or modes of thought, during their day. The subjugation of women— their speech stifled in the public forum— and the second would be, the institution of slavery. Many of the justifications for the acceptance of these two peculiar modes of thought were given on biblical grounds, from that aforementioned foundation of faith that the two sisters held close to the core of their beings. In actuality, biblical grounds were used for many justifications of the day. Of course, this is not shocking considering many early states, and of course the nation as a whole, were started by people of faith. What the Grimkés do extremely well however, is utilizing the bible to reason out why the modern justifications for both the subjugation of slaves and of women alike, often given on biblical bases, are falsely reasoned. They studied scripture, in its original forms of Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament), which gave them an ethos they might have otherwise been without. They wanted women to be able to speak freely in the public forum and live as equals to men, as God intended. In one of her letters, addressed to Mary S. Parker, Sarah Grimké invokes Jesus himself to bring this point home, by saying,

“The Lord Jesus defines the duties of his followers in his sermon on the Mount. He lays down grand principles by which they should be governed, without any reference to sex or condition… I follow him through all his precepts, and find him giving the same directions to women as to men, never even referring to the distinction now so strenuously insisted upon between masculine and feminine virtues: this is one of the anti-Christian ‘traditions of men’ which are taught, instead of the commandments of God”.

In that statement, Grimké immediately puts any person, who might be in opposition, on the defensive by pointing out how any argument that is opposite of men and women being completely equal, flies directly in the face of the very word they all claim to believe. She uses direct and precise words, to sort of cut directly to the heart of the matter, causing the reader or listener to contemplate their own hypocrisies. The most

AngelinaAndSarahGrimke

Grimké Sisters, at a later state in life.

notable way Grimke refutes the common notion of female inferiority, is a masterful one. As alluded to above, she uses the argument from authority. Such an argument is immensely effective against a group who claims to believe in the authority the speaker is invoking. God, the ultimate authority, is who the Grimke’s use continually to demonstrate to their audience, that much of what they have been taught does not actually stand the test of following Christ. She says, “hence our intercourse, instead of being elevated and refined, is generally calculated to excite and keep alive the lowest propensities of our nature… surely no one who contemplates the design of God in the creation of woman, can believe that she is now fulfilling that design”. She is saying here, that if men claim to follow God and believe in His precepts, that they should not accept women as mere objects for carnal enjoyment, not on the feminine basis, but should have interaction with woman as equal, because then women will serve the purpose which God put in them to do and can therefore be better partners for men, and for society. To this point her sister Angelina, in a letter to Theodore Weld and John Whittier, says, “…women could do and would do a hundred times more for the slave if she were not fettered… but we are actuated by the full conviction that if we are to do any good in the Anti Slavery cause, our right to labor in it must be firmly established… on the firm basis of human rights, the Bible” (Sklar 131-132).

 

 

Abolitionists

By: Eric Merriweather, Marisa Kipping, Joe Connaughton, Sophie Normil, and Kennedy Smith

 

 

Frederick Douglass set himself apart from many of the other rhetoricians of his day. The more obvious reasons notwithstanding, this orator set himself apart due both to his manner of speaking and how he honestly came about his vast vocabulary. Though he was not particularly philosophic in the classical sense, and had no prescribed theories of the nature of rhetorical speech, he did have a rhetorical theory that can be gleaned from his writings and speeches. That being said, he thought fairly philosophically: focusing heavily on education and on building a desire among the people to stand; leading him to speaking rhetorically. His methodology was also a bit different, as he saw the world through a lens that was altogether different than much of his audience. Douglass mainly approached the world through the lens of a slave who had become free. One other notable aspect of Douglass’ rhetorical approach, was in the bluntness and forcefulness of his speech. He did not hide behind overly ostentatious words— though he had more than an adequate vocabulary— but rather he used his history (his ethos) and logos to empower people to think more critically.

One example for Frederick Douglass was in his speech on the 4th of July. In the speech, he continually evokes nationalistic imagery as well as repetition of “your nation” to get the point across that while men, at this time, are still slaves in this country— the same country that fought the English “oppressors” for freedom— that it was not yet the country of black men and women, until they were just as free. Douglass draws a separation between American ideals and what the American reality was, at the time. He makes appeals to honor, pride, and country, in an effort to show that all people in the nation want to have a part in representing America.

Though Douglass did not particularly seem to have a refined view of rhetoric that was expressed in self-analytical terms, he did have views that allow us to piece together a sort of quasi-rhetorical philosophy for him. Being that Douglass grew up in the prison of slavery, he put the utmost focus on education. He did educate himself after all. He figured out something, at an early age, that thousands of other slaves never figured out: learning to read and write was the key to forging his path out of slavery and abject poverty. This led him to, what I believe, is the first aspect of his rhetorical philosophy. This of course is listening. Frederick Douglass expressed on more than one occasion, the importance of listening. Listening is an art form. It allowed Douglass to hear, to receive, and to truly absorb all he was hearing from other orators, at the time. Something within him recognized that listening was a key element to his success, in learning how to give voice to the thoughts in his head. To this point he said:

I was eager to hear anyone speak of slavery. I was a ready listener… I listened to his mighty words; mighty in truth—mighty in their simple earnestness (p. 1075).

Douglass had to listen in order to hear how effective speech sounded so that he too could speak effectively. In addition, he seemed to recognize in his friend Mr. William C. Coffin, the idea we might describe as Burke’s view of identification. When watching Mr. Coffin speak Douglass noted,

for a moment, he possessed that almost fabulous inspiration, often referred to, but seldom attained, in which a public meeting is transformed, as it were, into a single individuality— the orator wielding a thousand heads and hearts at once, and by the simple majesty of his controlling thought, converting his hearers into the express image of his own soul (p. 1076).

It seems evident that Douglass was witnessing the true persuasiveness of rhetoric firsthand, but I believe this goes a bit further into the real of identification. Douglass is expressing a phenomenon where the audience, himself included, are so taken in and enthralled by this man’s speech, that they all seem to be of one mind and soul. The third aspect of rhetoric I believe Douglass saw was the value of his own choices in speech or rather, his own decisions in being rhetorical. When speaking to the crowds that doubted his ever having been a slave, Douglass reasons, “still, I must speak just the word that seemed to me the word to be spoken by me” (p. 1078). He realized that the ethos he was presumed to have, at the beginning of his new journey, was lost if he withheld the truest version of himself from the audience. So again, his rhetorical philosophy seems to sum up as the continual search for knowledge, by an orator who listens, observes, and absorbs said knowledge in order to be more properly equipped to reason and express one’s words clearly, powerfully, and truthfully to an audience. This is how he intended to use his rhetorical ability to see chains broken and people free.

 

For a great series from PBS, on American Abolitionists, click here.