Esquire Theme by Matthew Buchanan
Social icons by Tim van Damme

11

Dec

It should also be noted, RR, which I did in class, that Hitler didn’t write jack, which means he was neither fantastic nor genius at anything but performance.

Hitler was an evil, lying, manipulating little twerp that was fabulous at getting what he wanted. The rhetoric he used to do so was awesomely effective, which was my only point when I said it was “awesome.” Effective rhetoric does not necessarily relate to “good” in this world, and the point of our exercise in reading Hitler was to ensure that, at the end of the semester, students unfamiliar with that concept could have it ham-fistedly driven into their heads by my Hitler spiel. Rhetoric is suspect. And rhetoric that seems to make sense and to play to your needs is not necessarily sending you down a good path. Remember that WMD shit in Iraq?

Trish is a genius. And deliberative rhetoric is a wonderful idea, which is why 306 has a controversies model, and why I, in the simplified nature of this course, ask students to write to hostile audiences. My hope is that doing so will help students understand the multitudes of opinions out there and generate better arguments in a deliberative setting. And, of course, I hope that they’ll be more open-minded.

The problem is, as some of you might have noticed, that getting students to write to hostile audiences is like pulling teeth. Like pulling a lot of teeth. Because it can be very hard to make the transition from writing opinion papers to actually considering that there are other ideas out there. Other opinions out there. Other solutions to problems out there. High school curricula encourage, in my experience, solipsism and the privileging of individual opinion as a right (FREEDOM OF SPEECH!). Which means that open minds, in the vast majority of the population, are few and far between, if not nonexistent. Because solipsism is so ingrained at the individual level, and because solipsism plays out at the national level in the form of blind nationalism (See, for instance, Hitler!), deliberative rhetoric is next to impossible for a large percentage of the population.

Try deliberating abortion. What. Try convincing someone who believes that all Muslims are evil that all Muslims are not, in fact, evil. Whew. I just broke a sweat.

But we’re talking at cross-purposes, I think, which is why I think you were so frustrated in class. There’s a difference between being good at rhetoric and being good at world domination. I can figure out this rhetoric stuff most days, but I can’t win at Axis and Allies.

There’s also difference between being good at performance and being “good.”

I also think that not recognizing Hitler’s speech-making/performing/whatever effectiveness is dangerous. Calling it effective rhetoric (it’s really just pandering, but it’s effective) is not meant to offend people of any race or faith that were harmed by the Nazis. It’s meant to call to your attention that rhetoric that is effective is not necessarily good, so that you evaluate rhetoric that encourages you to do things that may be morally wrong. The purpose is to bring to your attention that lots of people suffered and died at the hands of “good rhetoric,” and that you should be wary so that you don’t become the next Hitler.

My political point, if it’s not yet obvious, is that our government sucks. Parenting that doesn’t teach open-minded analysis of political opinions sucks, because then we get people falling in lock-step, goose-step, behind Halliburton.

And if that doesn’t make it clear: End American wars that kill people for 1) political gain, 2) economic gain, 3) assurance of white supremacy. Stop this bullshit Arizona illegal immigration crap. Stop locking up minorites because they smoked a dimebag of pot when white folks with boatloads of cocaine get off with a slap on the wrist.

This country has real problems, RR, because we don’t engage in deliberative rhetoric. You’re right. How do we begin to change that except by talking about how evil rhetoric can be?

Nice post, btw. The kids still say props? Props.

Holy crap, it’s 3:30 a.m. and I haven’t finished my paper yet. Later.

rreilly:

Okay so I’ve been meaning to talk about this for a while and since I’ve been mentioned by name in at least two posts, I guess I should get on it.

I will concede that Hitler knew exactly what he was doing. He said all the right things that would make the German people feel justified in exterminating those not of the “chosen race”. Kenneth Burke, who wrote about Hitler’s Mein Kampf (trans. My Battle), named the specific strategies Hitler employed in persuading the masses. A good summary can be found here. I know it’s from Wikipedia and I know you’re probably not going to take the time to read it, but it’s worth it and it will give you a better idea of why Hitler was so successful.

On the other hand, I refuse to agree that Hitler was a genius, rhetorical or otherwise. Anyone who was smart enough to figure out how the audience (the Germans) was feeling could have done exactly what Hitler did. The fact that no one else did makes it seem like Hitler was awesome at rhetoric. I’m not saying anything about his character because that is a completely separate thing from his rhetoric. What I want people to realize is that Hitler was shameless. His goal from the beginning was world domination and he was going to stop at nothing to achieve it. He just didn’t let everyone know all at once. He wanted to keep the crazy in until he had Germany under his thumb. That’s why Mein Kampf was such a huge deal—it revealed his hunger for power. Unfortunately no one except Churchill actually read it, so no one except Churchill knew what Hitler was actually after. 

Prof. Roberts-Miller said in my class that a lot of people see rhetoric as having an idea and getting that idea into others’ heads. It’s one speaker with lots of listeners and all the listeners eventually agree with the speaker. (This type of rhetoric is called asymmetric/instrumentalist discourse. The goal is to gain the audience’s compliance.) Hitler was fantastic at this type of rhetoric. However, he was horrible at deliberation, which is discourse where the better argument is supposed to win. Deliberation is far more effective than instrumentalist discourse because your audience is not always going to agree with what you think and someone might have a better idea. If we would engage in deliberation, which requires an open mind, we could make more beneficial decisions and constantly be discovering better ways to do things. The reason why Hitler was so terrible at deliberation is because he never believed he was wrong and he was never willing to admit he made a mistake.

Hitler believed in the triumph of the will, even against concrete materials and resources and information. He believed that because he wanted world domination so badly, it would just happen, even though his armies were running out of food, clothing, and warm weather, and even though his generals kept telling him that his tactics were failing. I think Hitler knew how to get people to agree with him, but once people tried to suggest better ideas, he shut them down because he didn’t believe in deliberation. That he wouldn’t deliberate became his downfall. Hitler knew how to use rhetoric to a point, I will grant you that. Yet I can’t help but think that if he were so great at rhetoric, why did he fail so miserably?

Rhetoric requires an open mind and the ability to change our minds. The world is constantly changing around us and if we don’t keep up, we are bound to fail like Hitler did. I know not everyone in this class would consider themselves a writer, but with the capacity to have an open mind and the power to change it, you are well on your way to becoming a better writer and a more informed member of society.

I realize the way I reacted in class was pretty intense. I’m like that, especially when I can’t say what I mean. That’s why I like writing so much. I can edit and edit and edit and get super precise with my words and meanings. The point is I felt like I couldn’t say what I meant and everyone else was convinced of Hitler’s genius (or so it seemed to me), so I just shut up. Not the greatest plan, but that’s how I usually react. Anyway, this video I posted is a comedian, Eddie Izzard, doing a bit about Hitler. Izzard’s language is a little harsh, but it’s enjoyable. You really only need to watch the first three minutes or so, but this guy is hilarious. Also, he’s a cross dresser.