Courtesy of David Letterman.
Were there ever instances where you thought, Maybe I was too hard on that person?
Oh, yeah. I always felt like, We got 500 people in the audience and it’s my responsibility to get a laugh. Many times, the laugh would come at the expense of the guest. I regret that now, but at the time you think, I’ve got to do anything to keep my head above water.
The other day Phillip Hofmeister showed up at City Hall bearing his side arm. Not surprising, Hofmeister after all is the president of Michigan Open Carry. In his words, he claimed to be asserting state law. “This is not a matter of feelings,” he said. And it is not. It is actually a philosophical statement.
Bringing the gun to chambers is an assertion that rights are not secured except by force. Sounds good. But think carefully. If rights are secured by force, then they are also granted by superior force. The alternative is that rights are recognized by discourse.
Ironically, then, as the bearing of weapons necessarily denies the priority of discourse it renders even its “right” as something limited. Indeed the bearing of weapons and their denial of discourse means that all rights are rendered limited, made alienable by superior force of the State (or the local warlord, gun bearer or whatever).
The bearing of a weapon in chamber is — philosophically — a stated preference for autocracy over against free self-governance.
The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to objective reality, and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “antirealist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by the pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representation of himself. p. 65
Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP. 2005.
The other aspect to add is that when one is sincere one is not accountable except in a personal sense. So, “he meant well.” If the question is that of being correct, then my perceived credibility is on the line. For most of us, this is high risk stuff. So instead we take an easier way out — being sincere seems to be an individual option, a way to get along. And here’s the irony, because it stops us from actually being accountable, relationship becomes more difficult’ our being sincere ends up then in a kind of loneliness.
One day, it would be interesting to tally up all the morally indefensible political attacks Rove has been party to in his life and to speculate about what circle of hell he and his hack Democratic analogs would occupy if Dante were writing today. These people are treated in television appearances as if they’re upstanding community members, but it really is true that much of their professional lives have been spent deliberately manipulating people for financial gain.
Conor Friedersdorf, “Obama Is Against Blowing a Bunch of Cash in Vegas, So the GOP Is for It” The Atlatic Online. 14 September 2012.
In our speech class we have been reading Joe Stowell’s wise, little devotional The Weight of Your Words. In chapter two he deals with characteristic sins of speech (and by extension of public “speaking”). There’s a word that Friedersdorf is reaching for, it’s beguilement.
Verbal fun has its place yet often we use it to hide our own thoughts. In the context of conflict, such fun can create problems, particularly when if goes into ridicule.
In a follow-up to the previous post, What and How We Say It, Alstair Roberts comments
Pastor Wilson has a sort of playful detachment from the whole conflict, a detachment that his opponents do not. He is not really peddling serious outrage in his post, but ridicule. While the outraged individuals are intense and serious in their exaggerations, Pastor Wilson is just purposefully getting a rise out of people. It isn’t about serious arguments for him, because he doesn’t seem to think that his opponents are making serious arguments.
As to the jocular, playful style — I would offer five observations on such ridicule:
- We use the style as a form of group identity. The mutual playfulness and ridicule is part of our belonging. You can see this with sports fans and their happy trash-talking of the other side;
- A playful style is often the stuff of long relationships, such as between spouses or debating partners. Again, we enter into the jocular style because of a mutuality;
- When directed outward, when the playfulness is focused unilaterally on another as ridicule, it functions as an assertion of social position, status, or “lording it over” the other in biblical terms. Benignly as parent to a child’s tantrum, but the same mocking voice also becomes the word of put-down as any high schooler will tell you. The assertion of ‘fun’ — “I was just joking” — becomes the excuse we tell ourselves. When expressed towards the weak, such fun easily wounds. This use of ridicule in particular lies in substantial tension with the call to servanthood;
- The jocular, ridiculing tone in blogging/arguments strikes me as especially gendered; it’s something guys do. See point one in the sports bar; and
- This jocular, scornful style is something for the young. And that’s fairly reasonable: the jibe is easier to execute than the analysis. Our humor moves from the superficial and external to the humane, Mel Brooks, perhaps, excepted.
Taken together, the jocular style is a way of holding people at a distance rather than engaging — I suspect this is one reason by Benedict’s Rule counseled against laughter. Or, to return the question to the Rev. Wilson: having spoken “playfully”, has he spoken wisely?
The language is troubling. But then again it’s not the first I’ve encountered this postured Valiant-for-Truth rhetorical style.
Perhaps because I deal with rhetoric a fair amount, in school and in marketing, that I found a certain irony in the Rev. Wilson’s response. It strikes me as a wee bit odd to decry the feminists as bed wetters with their manufactured offense — a matter of rhetorical persona as it were — while delivering it in a style that is itself more than a little rhetorically overblown. It’s easy once having assumed a highly manner style to fall into the necessity of continuing that same style. We become prisoner to our own outrage. In short, the Rev. Wilson did not strike me as particularly helping his own cause, or the broader one of faithful living.
Roberts adds this comment:
We must go to whatever lengths we can to protect the vulnerable and the weak from genuine spiritual or psychological harm, while seeking to present those employing the human shield to tyrannize their opponents and get their way in the debate for what they are. This demands far more careful, measured, and guarded rhetorical approaches than Pastor Wilson is giving us.