Monday, August 31, 2015

Same Party, Different Reasons

I'm reading a economic philosophy text that has this Captain Obvious moment: Political power seeks out economic power; economic power seeks out political power. In China, the state leaders became capitalists. In the U.S., business leaders became statists. Well, gosh, golly, people with one form of power like to hang with other people with power and they all see the world through the same elitist prisms.

Curiously, this power-like-power issue affects the Democratic electorate more than the Republican electorate. But is it money setting the agenda, or that people in power reflect the values of their party activists? I believe politicians are simply counting votes.

An analysis of voting trends found the super wealthy and the low-income voters occupy the same political party, but for very different reasons when they rank concerns. (Tangent: The GOP does not attract most millionaires – a little shy of half — but does receive the support of a majority in the top quintile, which starts at $187,000.)

Rich progressives: Green energy, climate change lead the concerns.

Low-income liberals: Minimum wage, unionization, and child care.

Is there overlap? Certainly, but the group with the money sets the agenda. As a result, "feel good" green policies receive priority among elected leaders. This isn't a result of the leaders not caring about workers, though green policies raise prices and have more consequence on the working lower- and middle-income than wealthy households. (Also, when you're poor, green issues aren't your top priority. Surviving is.)

It might be that because leaders are wealthy, they socialize with other wealthy people and hear the concerns of those voter-donors more often.

For the Republican party, something stranger happens. The activists who are loudest are not the wealthy and, in fact, the policies of the candidates conflict with the wealthiest donors. Most of the top-tier donors to the GOP support gay rights, legal reform, and relaxed immigration rules. Charles Koch loudly opposes most GOP orthodoxy on these social issues, particularly legal reform.

What explains the balance of power dynamics between the parties and their donors?

It is curious, that Republic politicians ignore donors and large business organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, on hot-button issues. It could be cynical, but I know some conservative politicians and they really do believe what they say on social issues. Maybe it is that these are not the key issues to the top donors, so these donors tolerate appeals to the socially conservative base.

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.