Monday, August 24, 2015

You're ideology is wrong! (And so is mine)

Simplistic arguments backed by faulty logic abound on the Internet. Among the most common of these are claims that specific political and economic ideologies have a) proved to be failures or b) never been tried in practice. On the left, writers claim that Somalia is an example of libertarianism or Ayn Rand's objectivism. On the right, writers and commenters point to the former Soviet Union, China, and North Korea as examples of socialism or Marxism failing.

Developed Western nations are, in Europe and North America, democratic republics operating as social welfare states with generally "free" markets.

Pragmatically, whether you believe in Karl Marx's theories of social economic evolution or Adam Smith or Hayek or von Mises or anyone else doesn't matter. Our nations, as their citizens have voted and their politicians have legislated, evolved into hybrid systems of "democratic socialism" with wealth redistribution, social safety nets, and the creative destruction of capitalist markets. Our nations adjust, sometimes suddenly after a cycle of leaders or two, but we are unlikely to reject this mix of markets and welfare.

What we argue about is the extent to which we can trust markets, government, and the general nature of human beings. Sometimes, though less commonly, we pause to ask if our political and economic views are cultural or "natural" — but we generally assume we are the models of how people think. (I do believe humans have some common traits: protecting family or tribe over the stranger, for example.)

Why must we argue the extremes, when we should admit that most people in the West are somewhere in the muddled middle, not ideologues? Because we have to argue vehemently, we assume, to change the opinions of the middle. Plus, arguing loudly earns cheers of support from those agreeing with us.

Now, a return to the absurdity of arguing against the "radicals" — who all tend to claim to care more about the "individual" and the "human" than the system, curiously enough. It's not by accident that Marx and true communists saw perfection as no longer needing centralized government and libertarians in the anarcho-capitalist range also dream of this perfect world without government. These are radical optimists, both with too much faith in human nature… and unable to see their similar end points (see upcoming post on why "Left-Right" is a flawed, circular model).

Somalia is not an example of libertarian policies. In fact, warlords enforce dozens if not hundreds of small fiefdoms with strict regulations. Private property, a key tenant of classical liberalism, is not respected and nor is the rule of law… Unless you count strict religious laws.

and a great write-up on the absurdity of using Somalia as an example of anything Western:

North Korea is not an example of socialism. Claiming a dynastic totalitarian regime represents socialism or any of the ideals of Marx is either intentionally misleading or appallingly ignorant. North Korea is a cult, not a model of communism or socialism or anything Marx theorized. It's a nutcase with a nation.

Even communists reject North Korea as communist.


The only "more socialists" nations (comparatively) we might study are in Latin America, and the complicated post-colonial histories reflect lots and lots of interference in the "natural" development of those nations. Central and South America, like much of Africa, is the consequence of history. Nations didn't view their conquests though the prism of modern values. Today, the best we can do it not mess up other nations even more and justify this by claiming one political or economic ideology is unquestionably the "right" and "natural" way for all cultures to function.

Again, a reminder that an upcoming post explores the complications and problems with the left/right divide in political rhetoric. Of course, it's so much easier to call each other fascists and thugs…

Monday, August 17, 2015

Teaching While Writing

Teaching writing can improve your craft, but steal your time.

I love teaching. It is one of the two things I enjoy most, almost even with writing. Teaching about writing? That's as close to an ideal job as I can imagine.

Unfortunately, the reality of teaching writing at a college or university isn't always the ideal.

Helping others write well, helps you write better. That is why teaching writing can be an important second or primary career for writers. However, the teaching assignments and class sizes can quickly offset any benefits to mentoring emerging writers.

Many of us with advanced degrees in writing dream of teaching our creative passions. Those with advanced degrees in literature and similar fields also wish to teach and share their personal areas of interest. A third set of scholars, focused on composition and rhetoric, are dedicated to teaching what can best be described as the norms of academia.

If you are passionate about literature, discussing the great works seldom feels like drudgery. My own experiences teaching literature-based courses were wonderful. To be a good writer, you need to be an active reader. An active reader analyzes the rhetorical choices of other authors. Therefore, teaching literature can remind a creative writer of the limitless choices all writers have.

Teaching creative writing, which should include some reading assignments, allows a writer to explore the craft with passionate emerging writers. Even students not considering careers in writing seem to enjoy discovering their own authorial voices.

If you get the rare chance to teach a small creative writing class, nothing is more rewarding or more conducive to your own creative writing. As students develop their own works, I would find myself working in parallel and discussing my own struggles with the students. I learned as much from my writing students as I hope I might have taught them. Our shared passions converted the writing class into a writers' group; this was precisely my dream when I pursued teaching.

I have only had the opportunity to teach a handful of creative writing classes and seminars.

The reality is… most of us end up teaching composition. Also known as first-year writing, college writing, and academic argumentation, this is that course in which students prepare three or four "academic" formulaic papers adhering to Modern Language Association (MLA) formatting and style guidelines. Occasionally, APA formatting and style are also taught. Although most of us appreciate the need to master these templates for success in other courses, academic writing is rarely the passion of those teaching it.

My doctorate degree is in rhetoric, and though the program emphasized scientific and technical communication, I was able to explore my interest in creative writing. Likewise, my Masters degree is in English composition theory and rhetoric. The immediate assumption is that I am interested in and passionate about academic writing. As stated above, I appreciate academic writing, though I also routinely mock its pretentious and inflated style.

Do not assume that completing a Master of fine arts degree in writing leads to different teaching assignments. In fact, every MFA I know personally predominately teaches college composition. One reason I obtained the PhD is that some universities prefer the PhD for teaching upper division and graduate courses in writing.

Allow me to explain why teaching FYC, college composition, can be an obstacle to pursuing creative writing.

Composition courses are often non-tenure-track, lecturer, and adjunct teaching posts. While our colleagues in literature might teach two or three courses a semester, many composition instructors teach three, four, or even five sections per semester. Because composition is a general education requirement, sections often include 25 to 35 students. Pause to consider the time required to provide feedback to 100 or more students. I found myself spending from 15 to 25 minutes per paper, attempting to provide guidance in place of mere corrections. That time grading and mentoring exceeds 40 to 50 hours per assignment.

Exactly when can a writing instructor write? During the summers? During winter breaks? During those hours at night when most humans sleep? My colleagues and I at various universities often commiserate that there is no time for our creative pursuits. The writing we must do, especially if we want to obtain tenure, is generally academic. Poetry, novels, and screenplays are set aside because they must be.

There is the adjunct path, which requires accepting part-time work, without benefits, to leave time for writing. That’s the path I have opted to follow twice, and might be a choice I make in the future. Full-time writing professorships provided income and security at the cost of time for… creative writing. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Call for Papers: Rhetoric of Typography and Letterforms

Call for proposals for an edited collection:
Type Matters: the Rhetoricity of Letterforms
Edited by C.S. Wyatt and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss

Stephen Bernhardt warned us almost 30 years ago that our "preoccupation with conventional essay format" excludes the rhetorical rigor of typographic elements. Later, John Trimbur extended this argument, noting that "one of the main obstacles to seeing the materiality of writing has been the essayist tradition and its notion of a transparent text." Many visual rhetoric scholars have interrogated the ways in which meaning-making happens iconographically, photographically, and via other visual means. Few, however (save for Anne Frances Wysocki), have paid much attention to the rhetorical work that typography does.

Although always part of any text's argument, the choice of typeface is an under-articulated and under-studied aspect of textual production within composition and rhetoric. Today, even as there are thousands of font face options available to us, composers and rhetoricians often take the power of letterforms for granted or—worse yet, we would argue—situate typography as ideally invisible, meant only to convey thought and ideas and not as itself contributing to rhetorical meaning. Typographic choices convey meaning.

Design scholars—including Robert Bringhurst, Steven Heller, Ellen Lupton, Alex White, and Edward Tufte—have emphasized that the layout of a page affects the reading and interpretation of the text. Type Matters seeks to bridge the scholarship of typography and design with the field of rhetoric.

We thus invite authors to situate "texts" broadly; to think rhetorically, technologically, and culturally; to draw from scholarship ranging from rhetoric and writing studies to graphic design theory and beyond; and to explore the ways in which the visual and tactile shapes of letters convey persuasive information to audiences.

We seek chapters in which authors articulate the ways in which and places where typography rubs up against rhetorical principles. Specific questions we ask proposal authors to consider include but are not limited to:
  • How does text design function rhetorically? In what ways are letterforms persuasive?
  • What have been some perhaps common trends and intersection points in the history of rhetoric and typography?
  • In what ways can we—rhetoric and composition studies scholars—better attend to the work of typography in our teaching and our scholarship?
  • Where and in what ways do typefaces and culture intersect? To what end?
  • What are the interconnections and/or implications of typefaces and dis/different abilities?
  • How have decorative fonts and even emoji fonts changed the concept of "writing?"
The deadline for 500-word proposals is September 30, 2015 (with notification to authors by October 30, 2015, and draft chapters due by January 15, 2016).

Queries are welcome and encouraged. Direct proposals and queries to C. S. Wyatt (wyatt050 -at- umn -dot- edu) and Dànielle Nicole DeVoss (devossda -at- msu -dot- edu).

Monday, August 03, 2015

Evolving the Rogue Rhet Blog

The first rogue rhetorician blog posts appeared in June 2005, a little over 10 years ago. I was about to begin my second year as a graduate student in English composition and rhetorical theory. My primary interest was, and remains, the rhetoric of creative writing especially for the stage and screen.

In that decade, the word "screen" has expanded from television and film to websites and streaming video services. Though certainly less noticeable to the general public, the theatrical stage has also evolved to include new media. The rhetoric of stage and screen now includes social media, with readers and viewers responding to texts, performances, and video in real time.

I still believe that fiction and creative nonfiction remain more persuasive than academic or journalistic writings. Entertainment remains the best way to reach a mass audience and change public opinion, especially entertainment that unifies audiences through laughter.

During my graduate studies, I found myself shifting from the rhetoric of creative writing to studies of how technology affects composing of texts, video, and other forms of self-expression. Studying the interfaces of software and online communities, I do consider the software tools we use significant factors in how we write. Writing software, from brainstorming applications to full-featured word processors, guides authors through a process the software development team has selected as the "best" approach to composition.

Digital technologies, though increasingly affordable, feature many barriers beyond price. As writers, our cultures and experiences shape our relationships with any tools we use to record words or express ourselves in other ways. To relate to software and websites, the user must understand the concepts embodied by icons, text menus, and other interface elements. The user must also accept and embrace the theoretical approach to writing inherent within the application.

When people ask how I can be interested in the rhetoric of fiction, visual rhetoric, marginalized communities, software development, and the history of the printed word, it is because some people fail to see the connections I take for granted.

As this blog continues, I hope to include more about the rhetoric of fiction and visual rhetoric. Although discussions of public policy, community divisions, and overall pedagogy of rhetoric will continue on this blog, I seek to expand the rogue rhetorician and increase its value to every visitor, including creative writers, artists, students, teachers, and, yes, writing application developers.

I began my graduate studies seeking a Masters degree in creative writing, with a specialization in poetry. I opted to pursue a doctorate instead of a Master of Fine Arts in writing. Looking back, the MFA would have been valuable as a playwright and screenwriter interested in all creative writing. However, the doctorate allowed me to explore rhetorical theory and tradition beyond what an MFA typically covers. Thankfully, I have been able to explore the histories of cinema and stage in classes, seminars, and professionally. That professional experience as a writer complements my doctorate.

Five years have passed since completing my graduate studies. I have a deeper understanding of rhetoric as a discipline, and my conviction that creative writing is among the most effective rhetorical forms has been reinforced. Likewise, I often consider how the tools I use influence my writing process.

Appreciate this blog for the variety of topics it will cover under the title Rogue Rhetorician. If I can expand the concept of rhetoric for some readers, and support the comprehensive understanding of rhetoric of other readers, then this blog should be interesting. If nothing else, writing helps clarify my thinking process; writing is thinking.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Rhetorical Games Writing Professors Play

My original title for this posting was a bit presumptuous:

Rhetoric of the Liberal Professor Afraid to Debate

After reflection, I realize the professor isn't "afraid" to debate an economic issue, but simply doesn't realize there is a debate because his worldview and selection biases screen out other information. At least, that's my theory.

Recently, as part of a trend of articles on the dangers of too much political correctness and identity politics on campus, an anonymous "liberal professor" mentioned that a (racist) student wrongly associated Fannie and Freddie with the housing bubble. This example was to show that the professor handled "debates" well in the past. Actually, the example shows quite the opposite: that conservative and libertarian ideas are depicted as racist, mean-spirited, ill-informed, and furthered by ignorant people.

Quite simply, the example is a stereotype. Accurate of events or not, this shining example of how great the professor handled debate really shows how his biases led him away from a real, informed, discussion on an important topic.

Every economist, regulator, and financial professional I personally know (and I spend the last two years at a school famous for Nobel Laureates) casts at least some blame on the GSEs. But, by linking argument to a racist, the professor tailored his past defense of debates in class to his likely readers. Rhetoric, layers deep.
I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me
by Edward Schlosser on June 3, 2015

What it was like before
In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street's recklessness had destroyed the economy.

The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

"What about Fannie and Freddie?" he asked. "Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn't get anything, and then they couldn't pay for them. What about that?"

I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn't it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let's talk about whether that was effective, okay? If you don't think it was, how could it have been?

The rest of the discussion went on as usual.
I am sorry, but only "most experts" this professor happens to read disagree with the idea Fannie and Freddie weren't a serious problem. And the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which was targeted at urban minorities, had serious problems with sub-prime and risky loans.

As framed, the "black people" phrase is horrible and inciting, but the professor (if he understood the economics) could have explained the good intentions that led to a bad policy (and are leading to the same policies again).

Using a racist to show how well you handle debate is a rhetoric stunt, not proof of your actual ability to engage in meaningful debate on serious economic and social topics.
The next week, I got called into my director's office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I "possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story." The story in question wasn't described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week's class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.
Read the above simplification of what the student had probably said versus how the professor frames it. The student asked about Freddie and Fannie, along with minority lending (in a crude way, possibly). The professor, however, tells his director only that the student in question suggested "the economic collapse was caused by poor black people." No, the student, without the skills of a college-educated professor, was asking about a much larger public policy.

A great professor would have reframed the question, with the student, and suggested doing some additional research and presenting that later in a paper, with citations from both pro- and con- arguments about the role of GSEs in the economic collapse of the housing market and corresponding recession. There's even debate about if the collapse in housing was caused by labor issues or led to those labor market issues. Lots of great questions for study… all ignored.

And, because we are afraid to debate questions or we don't know any better, here we go again… according to The Economist, USA Today, Bloomberg, and other financial news outlets.
America restores the weak lending standards that led to the housing crash
Oct 25th 2014 | NEW YORK | From the print edition
WHEN politicians bashed Wall Street for its reckless mortgage lending in the wake of the subprime crisis, bankers retorted that it was the politicians' enthusiasm for expanding home ownership, even if it meant small deposits and low credit standards, that had really fomented the disaster. Yet that enthusiasm is undimmed: in a speech on October 20th Mel Watt, head of the Federal Housing Finance Authority (FHFA), announced plans to reintroduce mortgages with deposits as low as 3% through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two government-backed housing giants it regulates.

Both Fannie and Freddie were bailed out during the financial crisis. There was much talk in Congress of winding them down; in the meantime, they tightened loan requirements to limit the risk to taxpayers. But that changed when Barack Obama appointed Mr Watt, a congressman from North Carolina and long-term evangelist for home ownership.

Fannie and Freddie do not issue mortgages. Instead, they buy them from banks and guarantee the securities into which they are bundled for resale. Over the past two years many big mortgage lenders have paid billions of dollars in fines and been forced to buy back piles of dud loans on the grounds that they did not conform to Fannie's and Freddie's rules. These settlements were controversial, in that the pair had actively sought out risky mortgages to satisfy their mission to promote "affordable housing".
Clearly, there is another deep side to this debate. But, not as this professor views it. His biases limit his perspective and his reaction to an ill-informed (aren't most of them) student is not helpful or educational for that student.

I'm convinced this professor is constructing "conservative" questioners in an artificially bad light, but let's assume his recollections are entirely accurate. He still misrepresents the student to the writing program director. This "open-minded" liberal professor heard only the racist subtext of a question, and missed the serious policy question. That's sad. And that's what many conservatives and libertarians dislike about higher education.

Of course, would the writing professor be aware of the concerns about Fannie and Freddie voiced in financial media? Probably not. And certainly, this professor is not a reader of "conservative" or "libertarian" journals.
THERE ARE TWO KEY EXAMPLES of this misguided government policy. One is the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). The other is the affordable housing "mission" that the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were charged with fulfilling.
— American Spectator
Yes, the American Spectator is "conservative" but that doesn't mean its facts are incorrect or somehow not worthy of discussion. Our liberal professor, however, doesn't seem to be aware of alternative viewpoints that might have merit.

Things are actually returning to the pre-crash state. That should concern us, but this professor's students likely don't know we're inflating the markets again. Everything from quantitative easing (QE) by central banks to lowering of lending standards, all meant to kickstart weak economies, could create the same bubbles we saw with the dot-com and housing bubbles.

Today (June 2015) Bloomberg data show the MEDIAN down payment is back to 4%, a dangerously low level that means buyers have no equity in their homes. That limits mobility and results in negative liquidity if they must try to relocate.

Yes, I'm picking apart one aspect of what this professor wrote about how great and wonderful he was before becoming afraid of his liberal students. Yet, his example is a cherry-picked "conservative" readers of this professor's column will find a believable representative of conservatives on campus.

For me, even if I agree with the points the professor later makes about liberals and progressives wanting to avoid any and all disturbing debates, the way the economic debate is depicted calls into question the author's teaching and actual ability to engage in deep discussions.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Angry Words Don't Persuade

As a colleague observed, there has been no shortage of topics for rhetorical analysis since returning to school in late August. The second half of 2014 has offered a long list of potential topics, internationally, nationally, and locally. The two challenges for me have been the time to blog and the passion to delve into topics that offer little hope for persuasion or meaningful discussion.

I am convinced that we select our facts, as there are often just enough accurate facts to support some thin version of most events or general theories. You can select your facts, cherry picking a reality. We all do this, to some extent.

Our deep dislike and distrust of other viewpoints makes solving problems difficult. We resort to name calling, reveling in our distaste for views we oppose. We exist in not just two Americas, but in four or five or a dozen American realities, all slightly (or seriously) out of alignment.

Here's an interesting contrast. The Washington Post published an article on finding common ground to solve problems. If you focus on shared ideals and agreement, before debating an issue, the parties involved are more likely to compromise. In theory, this could help end some, not all, partisan gridlock in national politics. Core values would hold, but more overlap would be admitted in debate:
On the other hand, we have a Salon column examining neurology and partisan psychology that starts by calling some Republican lawmakers "clowns" — because the ad hominem is a great persuasive device. Starting a discussion with name calling, even if you have valid points to make, isn't going to win converts.
At least the Salon column ends with…
Once you're aware that the Dunning-Kruger effect is involved, it's anybody's guess, really, who is more incompetent than whom.
Yes, that's a good reason to call the opposition "clowns" in the headline, then.

I remember when Ronald Reagan was elected. There was more than a little vitriol from his opponents. When Bill Clinton was elected, the Republicans respond to what they viewed as mistreatment of Reagan (and some of his nominees) by going all-out after a Democratic president. The escalation of hateful rhetoric has continued, with each side describing the other in increasingly contemptuous terms. And each side is better at spotting the slights against them than admitting their own role in this spiral of hateful language.

"The other side is worse" doesn't excuse what's happening in our political discourse. But, it isn't going to change any time soon. It is depressing, and it is the historical norm.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Am I in Technical Rhetoric?

The calls for papers and conference invitations on technical communication I receive seem to construe "tech comm" narrowly… broadly, yet narrowly. My passions are outside virtual worlds or instruction manuals. I want to push in a new direct.

First, there's the tendency to group any and all "new media" or "digital" studies within the rhetoric and tech comm. That leads to an obsession with all things virtual, even though a lot of what has been studied under this umbrella faded away before the scholarly papers were published. Our rhetoricians spent a lot of energy studying what was, to be blunt, pointless: MySpace, Second Life, MOOs/MUDs, USENET newsgroups, instant messaging, and more.

They will argue that even what proved ephemeral was important because something was revealed about communication, at least in that moment, in that medium that was studied. Personally, the only value I see in a study of SecondLife is that it might reveal something about the little group of people who could tolerate the lousy interface and mediocre experience.

I read the discussions of these scholars and am frustrated by how disconnected they seem to be from the online, digital lives of "average" geeks — and even most people. They might be the only people I know using Twitter. None of my students use Twitter. Young people don't even "surf the web" anymore. They use apps to get information. The idea of buying music or films on a plastic disc? Not my students. They stream the world, renting content. The entire "Napster" and "copyright" debate strikes young people as weird.

After the online rhetoricians, you get the "instruction manual" crowd of tech comm. These scholars view user manuals, online help, and technical documentation as their domain. Sometimes, they stray into cookbooks, crafting, and other fun topics. (I love cultural anthropology.)

A few brave rhetoric and tech comm people dive into medical texts, public policy, and legal issues. I appreciate those boundary pushers, working in the fringes. We can debate how this brings rhetoric back to more classical roots, away from the "technical" component, but I'm all for classical studies when they shed light on existing conditions.

The STEM rhetoricians focus on engineering and technology as understood by scientists. These are the "rhetoric of science" scholars. The philosophy and rhetoric of science fascinates me because the people with expertise are often not included in policy debates. The STEM experts struggle with public rhetoric.

My passion is the rhetoric of economics. It's technical, but ignored. We need a rhetoric of economics, especially at this moment in history. Economics unifies philosophy, psychology, history, and mathematics. Economics is not quite a science, yet it relies on scientific analyses.

I worry I'd be alone at a rhetoric or tech comm conference. I'd be the one author of a paper on the rhetoric of economists, the one person wanting to analyze Federal Reserve reports for hints on policy trends.

Then again, maybe the Fed is as mythical as SecondLife and reading the Beige Book is as practical as MySpace.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Better for Me, Better for (My) Students

Perfection and compulsive organization drive me to over-prepare for the courses I teach. I've found that some instructors, especially at the college and university level, are comfortable with a loose seminar approach to teaching, I like to have lots of notes, outlines, slides, and handouts. Without the structure, I would be easily distracted or my pacing wouldn't fit the class meeting time limitations.

I post most, but not all, of my notes online for students. Having the slides and handouts gives them a chance to review materials covered in class, something I would value as a student. Because I'm a perfectionist, as a student I reviewed materials throughout each semester. My assumption is that many students want that same ability to review and learn at their own paces.

For assignments, I like detailed handouts with all due dates at the top. I describe the assignment, the objectives, the grading criteria, and mention any additional resources available to help complete the assignment. I also prepare grading rubrics that guide students, but reserve flexibility for grading if students fail to meet major objectives. It's not enough to write the perfect paper technically, the paper also has to address the assigned topic! (And yes, I've had students argue that they deserved "B" grades for assignments that were "perfect" except for missing the required topic entirely.)

Having such a structured course, from a detailed calendar to grading rubrics, does not preclude making adjustments nor does it limit my ability to be creative. The structure exists to help cram a lot of material into a 16-week semester, as best I can.

In the business school, my approach is considered standard and reflects the practices of many of my colleagues. However, some of the writing instructors I know bristle at the use of rubrics and the slides I use to guide lectures. These philosophical differences run deep between the disciplines, and I find myself an outlier when I read writing forums or lists. But, my approach would have been what I sought as a student and aligns well with the students I teach, primarily STEM majors.

I was the students I teach. Hopefully, they help me meet their needs effectively.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Facebook, Politics, and Friendships

I dislike political posts on Facebook.

I also dislike that these posts are called "memes" for some reason. These posts are usually manipulated images with silly bumper-sticker statements, "memes" — a meme is a cultural norm passed along, not a bumper sticker. Then again, bumper stickers might be a meme: a style or behavior spreading through a community. The "meme" would be the action of posting these polarizing, annoying online images.

Posting your political insights, borrowed from some partisan group, isn't going to sway friends and family with opposing views. If anything, it drives them to block your posts from their timelines or to "de-friend" and "unfollow" you completely.

Stop it.

Those "witty" posts about the president, Republicans, Democrats, libertarians, business, and whatever else you find so compelling… compels me to ignore you. I don't remove friends for their political views, but I stop reading their posts to social media.

Being vehemently anti-whatever isn't open-minded, no matter how evil you believe others with an opposing viewpoint must be.

I am sickened by the polarization online. It's depressing. It's why I avoid reading the comments below most articles online. If you have to resort to elementary school name calling ("Rethugs" and "Dumbocrats") or misuse of labels ("Fascists" seems popular), I don't really want to feed into the discourse.

Technology didn't improve democratic discourse. It seems to be killing it. Yes, the majority will still "win" and with even 51 percent of the vote, the winners won't listen to any good ideas from the opposition. Why? Because you cannot work with people you've been calling evil (and worse) for the last year or two.

Today, the radicals of our parties demand an all-or-nothing approach to governing. I believe social media are exacerbating such rigid ideological stances. Compromise? That's unacceptable to the Facebook warriors, fed by Daily Kos, Red State, and dozens of Facebook and Twitter feeds tossing rhetorical hand grenades into policy debates.

I wonder if our government would be better if we forced elected leaders to stay in D.C. for six months, with no media access, randomly assigned to dormitories and seated alphabetically in the chambers. Instead of trying to be celebrated on Twitter, maybe our officials would talk to each other as colleagues.

Maybe I could create a "meme" about getting along!

Ironically, I bet friends across the political spectrum would be offended, realizing I'm attacking their tendencies to promote anger, distrust, and cynicism.

Remember when we were told that it is never wise to discuss politics or religion? That's still good advice, especially on social media. It would make the online world a little nicer, too.

How sad that the online discourse is so toxic.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Plays are Rhetorical Acts and Scholarship

As a creative writer, and rhetorician, I embrace the idea that my works aim to persuade and motivate people to act. Trying to explain that creative writing is an expression of theory in practice, applied knowledge of rhetorical analyses, is proving to be a challenge. I turn to Wayne C. Booth for inspiration. Any other ideas on how to approach this question?

I outline, I plan, I study rhetorical traditions from theater, religion, politics, and education. I turn to Isocrates, Sophocles, Aristotle, Aristophanes, and traditions across the centuries.

Other writers work through these analyses, but maybe not as consciously. We ready other writers, we study other scripts, we examine what has and what has not affected change. If we seek to entertain, we study those works that have succeeded by that measure and turn to scholarship on form and structure.

Creative writing, and all art, is scholarly. It must be, to be effective.