Friday, September 21, 2007

Our in-group relations are always fraught with conflict

The Alethetics of Rhetoric Posted by larvalsubjects under Antagonism , Assemblages , Communication , Deleuze , Heidegger , Politics , Rhetoric , Systems , Uncategorized September 21, 2007
Burke writes, “The Rhetoric deals with the possibilities of classification in its partisan aspects; it considers the ways in which individuals are at odds with one another, or become identified with groups more or less at odds with one another” (Rhetoric of Motives, 22). There can be rhetorics that strive for deterritorialization and decoding, so as to create division within a group or seduce members of a group out of that group. Thus, for instance, when takes out the add that says General Petraeus or Betray Us?, not only are they attempting to deterritorialize Petraeus from his ethos, from the territory of his respectability, but also they are attempting to reterritorialize viewers of this ad on the territory of the anti-war movement. There is an attempted decoding of Petraeus’ identity in popular imagination, and a reterritorialization and recoding of that identity on the territory of betrayal. This kind of rhetoric attempts to produce a new group or enlarge an existing group (anti-war folk), seducing folk over into the code of the anti-war side and undermining the codes supporting the pro-war side.
At the moment it would appear that the conservatives have won the battle of rhetoric in this particular instance. The aim of the MoveOn ad was to deterritorialize Petraeus by undermining his credibility, thereby effecting a decoding of his report as credible. Moreover, the aim was to decode Petraeus identity as having the welfare of the troops in mind, and a recoding of his identity on the territory of the administration as someone who has neither regard for the troops, the American people, nor the suffering Iraqis. However, in an act that can only be described as “rhetorical judo”, the conservatives shifted the territory of discussion, turning discussion into a discussion about the Democratic presidential candidates and whether or not they support the troops, rather than the issues of the accuracy of the report, relief for the troops, and ending the war.
One of the central aims of any military engagement is to define where the battle is fought (the territory on which war is waged). The case is similar in rhetoric. An effective rhetorical exchange lies in defining the topic of debate, the territory of debate, so as to put ones opponent at a disadvantage. It is in this connection that we can speak of an “alethetics of rhetoric”. The effectiveness of the conservative rhetorical judo lies in a bait and switch that redefined the territory, deterritorializing the initial aim of the ad and reterritorializing it on another terrain where the ad becomes coded as being against the troops. A revealing here takes place, while the original issues of the accuracy of the report, troop relief, etc., becomes concealed. The success of this conservative gesture lies not in its accuracy or honesty or sophistication, but in the way it has led to a media blackout and forced democrats to respond. On the one hand, all the television news stations are now busily discussing whether or not the ad disrespects the troops and whether democrats support the ads, pushing discussion of any other issues into the background. Even the President made a statement about the ad today, generating yet more reporting. On the other hand, the democrats have now had to respond on this territory, rather than on other issues, putting them at a disadvantage. In this connection, it is especially odd that the 22 democratic senators voted in favor of the resolution to denounce the ad. At any rate, the general maxim here is “when confronted by an unpleasant argument, make the discussion about the person/people making the argument”. This often occurs in religious discussions as well, where the discussion inevitably shifts from the issues being discussed and the arguments being made, to a discussion about the persons making the arguments, the rhetorical style being used, etc. In this way, the original territory of the discussion is concealed and the religious territory is protected from insurrection.
Later Burke quotes Aristotle as saying “it is not difficult to praise Athenians among the Athenians” (55). This, I think, would be a different kind of rhetoric. When Lacanians talk about the “real”, one of the things they have in mind are the antagonisms that plague all social relationships. Our in-group relations are always fraught with conflict and this is one of the major reasons we create enemies-of-the-group or phantasms like terrorists, pedophiles, witches, and demons that threaten the group. Rather than focusing on real entities, it is here, instead, a question of looking at the structuring role these phantasms serve… Of why they become central points of anxiety and worry for a particular group of people at a particular point in time. Why, for instance, are Americans not obsessed with corporations that arguably do them far more harm either through shady financial dealings, various environmental disasters (polluting, etc), and layoffs? Why is it the terrorist and the child molester that captivate the minds of Americans, filling them with dark fears, rather than the CEO? Through the production of these figures or codes, we can deterritorialize aggressions that would be directed at people in our own group and reterritorialize it on some real or fictive entity (I think there’s always a lot of fiction at work in how we talk about these entities) so as to direct that aggression elsewhere and maintain the group. Here the Enemy functions as a sort of safety-valve for a group.
This other kind of rhetoric would not be about deterritorialization or reterritorialization, but rather about maintaining and sustaining territory. You praise the Athenians to the Athenians to ensure that the Athenians will remain Athenians. There’s a whole theory of affect in relation to coding that needs to be developed here; a theory that would focus on how certain affects are produced and reproduced to maintain the autopoietic re-production of group identities and the conditions of reproduction. Lucretius argues that properties like names, justice, nationality, etc., are not intrinsic properties of objects like solidity is a property of lead itself, but are rather accidental features attributed to objects that can be taken away without the object ceasing to be. Clearly this diverges from the relational position of Deleuze and Guattari, but it does have some merit in thinking about the nature of assemblages. Being-an-Athenian is something that has to be made and perpetually remade, as there’s nothing intrinsic about human bodies that entails they must remain Athenians. Praising the Athenians would thus be a way of maintaining a particular order of identifications (a set of codes) in much the same way we maintain our lawns.
In each of these rhetorical maneuvers there’s a disclosure that takes place and a simultaneous concealing of other discourse possibilities. One of the aims of the rhetorician should be the archeology of these silences, as Dan Price argues in Without a Woman To Read, that would allow for the production of other possibilities and be generative of deterritorializations. The peril to perpetually be avoided, however, is that of rhetorical judo that uses these deterritorializations as the very substance of reterritorializations and capture.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps its a bit simplistic but it seems to me any person or group of persons wherever they me on this planet are either for the politics & culture of peace or the politics and anti-"culture" of death.

    I also think that the entire world became infected by a post Sept 11 death-mentality of global emergency and end-time conflict.

    With rare exception all of those on the "right" side of the culture wars divide have opted for both the "culture" of death and the post Sept 11 death-mentality.

    Why? Because they were emotionally predisposed to such an aggressive fight to the death (of everyone if necessary) disposition.

    I quite like this world-wide Peace network.


    It was set up in response to the fact that not so long ago there was no such as Peace Studies at any university anywhere in the world.