Thursday, October 22, 2015

Robert L. Scott and Donald K. Smith--"The Rhetoric of Confrontation"

Readings on the Rhetoric of Social Protest, 2nd ed.


"But primary to every confrontation in any setting, radical or moderate, is the impulse to confront. From what roots does that impulse spring" (28).

"Rather the 'have nots' picture themselves as radically divided form traditional society, questioning not simply the limitations of its benevolence but more fundamentally its purposes and modes of operation" (29).

"Those who rule and take the fruit of the system  as their due create an equation that identifies themselves with the force of good (order, civilization, progress) which struggles with evil (chaos, the primitive, retrogression). In such a circumstance, established authority often crusades to eliminate the vessels of evil by direct action; but often its leader work benignly and energetically to transform the others into worthy copies of themselves...during which time the mass of the others must be carefully held apart to keep them from contaminating the system...Reversing the equation will deny the justice of the system that has dehumanized them" (30).

"Michael Novak, a Standford University professor, pictures student disruption as a tactic to remove the mask of respectability worn by the establishment and kept in place both by the centralized control of communication processes and the traditional canons of free speech" (31).

"Finally, one should observe the possible use of confrontation as a tactic for achieving attention and an importance not readily attainable through decorum...Without doubt, for many the act of confrontation itself, the march, the sit-in, or altercation with the police is enough. It is consummatory. Through it the radical acts out his drama of self-assertion and writes in smeary, wordless language all over the establishment, 'we know you for what you are. And you know that we know'" (33).

The rhetoric of confrontation is"inherently symbolic" and "carries a message. It dissolves the lines between marches, sit-ins, demonstrations, acts of physical violence, and aggressive discourse. In this way it informs us of the essential nature of discourse itself as human action" (33). 

Confrontational rhetoric is at odds with the Aristotelian ideal of rhetoric "as an instrument of established society, presupposing the 'goods' of order, civility, reason, decorum, and civil or theocratic law...Even if the presuppositions of civility and rationality underlying the old rhetoric are sound, they can no longer be treated as self-evident. A rhetorical theory suitable to our age must take into account the charge that civility and decorum serve as masks for the preservation of injustice, that they condemn the dispossessed to non-being, and that as transmitted in a technological society they become the instrumentalities of power for those who 'have'" (33).

"Those who would confront have learned a brutal art, practiced sometimes awkwardly and sometimes skillfully, which demands response. But that art may provoke the response that confirms its presuppositions, gratifies the adherents of those presuppositions , and turns the power-enforced victory of the establishment into a symbolic victory for its opponents" (34).

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