Many Americans See God’s Hand in Economy. This is a very short article, but here is a teaser: “Liberal economic perspectives are synonymous with the belief that there is no one `ultimate truth,'” Froese said.
Once I finished Chapter 5 of Crowley’s text, I found myself thinking of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood’s speculative novel is too rich for a simple synopsis, so I’ll offer only that in her work, a totalitarian, theocratic government and society overthrows the elected democracy of the United States. Women in this society are subservient to men, and are denied even the right to an education (it’s illegal for women to learn to read, and are meant solely as breeding stock. Sound like another familiar early American creed?). This dystopian future seems not far off given Crowley’s assessment at the end of the chapter when she writes, “Christian activists do not merely with to pose their position as alternatives; rather, they want to erase dissent altogether, to insist that those of us who disagree with their policies ‘place ourselves avowedly with them’”(164). I confess to an irrational fear that we are on the cusp of becoming a theocracy, that a severe form of Christianity will be imposed upon us, and I’ll have to flee to Canada where I’ll have to learn to say ‘eh?’—or worse, I’ll have to move to Germany and finally learn how to talk as though I’m gargling at the same time.
Then I calm down and remember my Buddhist creed: “This too shall pass.” I’ve not gone far enough with Crowley’s work to know what her resolution is. I do suspect that she offers ways and means to counter extremism whether from the far right (or the far left; I’m suspicious of any system that seeks to regulate all human activity). But I look at the political field today and listen to the rumblings in the news and suspect that too many Americans are discomfited by the tenor of the discourse. I find it difficult to believe we’ll become that theocracy I fear.
I have to end here because a) I’m nearly out of time; b) I’m exhausted, and; 3) I must say that I read Crowley, understand the words, make sense of the sentences, even parse the paragraphs well, but find myself struggling to follow the overall thread of her argument as being anything more than this: “Apocalyptic fundamentalists are taking over America; we must stop them. Now.” I’m oversimplifying, I know, but I’m feeling dense—not defensive, I should add; I’m comfortable with my seeming denseness—and have difficulty sorting out the nuances of her work. Once I finish the book, I hope to have achieved further understanding.
I was thinking about apocalyptism and politics, two parties I had not previously considered cohabitating, so I did a little internet research and found a smattering of the following: When politics goes apocalyptic; Christian-right views are swaying politicians and threatening the environment; AMERICAN ATHEIST LEADER CALLS FOR THE ‘ERADICATION’ OF ‘FUNDAMENTALIST CHRISTIANS’; Religion remains fundamental to US politics. Of course there are many more articles blasting and praising apocalyptics and politicians on both sides, but reading Crowley has made me uber-aware of these issues as never before. After reading this book I do agree that a civil discourse could be meaningful, but I am not persuaded it will happen the way she wants it to. One of her sentences really struck me: “This plea for full disclosure feels to me like another expression of the liberal hope that if all relevant facts are available, understanding will take place (and justice will be done?),” p. 188. Her statement comes toward the end of her book, as if it would be unbearable anywhere else in the book. I imagine many Christians – politicians or not – embrace this hope for their respective goals.
Our discussions about abortion and deeply articulated belief systems demonstrate this lack of either full disclosure or understanding ~ or both. On page 9, Crowley argues that apocalyptism does more than offer intellectual sustenance to political activists: “it actually connects political activity to Christian duty.” Well, pardon my “French”, but duh. Christians and other religious followers usually do have an agenda, otherwise they would not have a set of beliefs, doctrines, mandates, values, traditions, etc. Apocalyptism represents just one group who advances their “ology” into the political stream. What about environmentalists? Homeschooling parents? Pro-choice, pro-life activists? The Private Equity Council? What I really sense here is a marginalized group, ironically. By demanding that followers to adhere to a Biblical standard, anyone who does not adhere is automatically out (so God is arbitrary?). Essentially, that means everyone is out, because even Christians cannot agree 100% on what the Bible means in every text. On the other hand, anyone who believes in freedom of choice may marginalize those who differ in the interpretation of freedom of choice (pro-choice, for instance). I believe that this inability to have all relevant facts available so that understanding can occur is mainly because we do take certain issues out of context. For instance, the concept of freedom of religion
(see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights) establishes the rights of humans to be religious or not, but not to persecute anyone for choosing one or the other. In this scenario, liberalism appears to have the most rational and thoughtful ideology. The apocalyptic trend appears to be in direct conflict with Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew 28, to spread the good news of His love to everyone (if you’re not with us, you’re against us).
Christians, by definition, are activists. But how does portraying apocalyptics as a group whose beliefs stem “from passionate commitment or life circumstances” persuade anyone to attempt a civil discourse? What is conservative about passion? Liberals hope that appeals to understanding will overcome these deep-seated beliefs (p. 43), but liberals are passionate, too. By the end of the text, I wonder if Crowley herself has written about apocalyptics with full disclosure, or only discussed the aspects of their beliefs that further her argument (say it isn’t so). I would like to explore the rhetorical side of her book, such as Isocrates’ idea that formal training makes students more skillful and resourceful to discover possibilities about subjects (p. 53). Not everyone has this formal training, so what to do? Perhaps the lack of rhetoric taught in school has led to our political demise after all.
After all of the stories relayed in Crowley’s book, do you believe there will ever be any stasis or understanding between liberals and apocalyptics? Is kairos possible in these grand games of ideology versus ideology? Rhetoric, shmetoric, it ain’t gonna happen. There is no stasis between apocalyptism and liberalism, and after reading this book, I doubt there is much desire for it.
On page 161 Crowley identifies features of fundamentalist arguments. These features include judging the efficacy of an argument based on the rhetor’s status as saved/unsaved, but also include strategies used specifically to address dissent: stereotyping, scapegoating, demonizing, and self-victimization. Crowley says self-victimization “enhances the group’s political and rhetorical power by generating sympathy for supposedly embattled Christians. This tactic conjectures public discursive venues as spaces in which Christians are being hunted down and persecuted (like witches?) by angry and venal secularists.” It seems that recently, self-victimization has been on the rise in the form of “gotcha” journalism.
According to Wikipedia, “Gotcha journalism” showed up in print in 1987 and then again in 1994, but it wasn’t until the 2004 U.S. Presidential election that the term really started to take off. “Wall Street Journal columnist Gordon Crovitz suggested that the term ‘gotcha journalism’ was used heavily by Republican campaign managers to diminish the credibility of journalists interviewing about the Iraq war.” Now, the term is usually used by Republicans to cover for any gaffes made in public. This from Urban Dictionary.com “simple, straight-forward questions that cannot be answered by inept politicians.” This term is most directly associated with Sarah Palin. Take this example of from a 2008 stop at a cheese steak shop in Philadelphia.
This is one of many examples of Palin being taken advantage of by “gotcha journalism.” Typically, as Crowley notes, these “attacks” happen in public discursive venues like restaurants. These public venues are the spaces in which secularists hunt down fundamentalists. In this case, Palin presents herself as the victim of an inquirer who was deliberately setting her up to fail. The attacker is Michael Rovito, a Temple graduate student who is also (and most importantly) an Obama supporter. Despite Rovito’s claims to the contrary, this question is presented by Palin as an instance of persecution. In the interview with Katie Couric, Palin says people were “hollering” at her and that Rovito said, “What are you going to do about Pakistan? You better have an answer to Pakistan!” as if this last statement was a threat. Rovito says he would have asked the same question (which was actually, “What should we do? like cross the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan, you think?) no matter which candidate had shown up at Tony Luke’s, and he claims that as a tax-paying citizen, he was merely taking advantage of an opportunity to ask a question. Rovito believes citizens should be allowed to ask questions without then becoming objects of scorn.
This example shows how two of the argumentation strategies identified by Crowley entwine to combat dissent. Sarah Palin uses self-victimization to cover for a statement she made that seems to agree with the enemy (in this case Barack Obama). There can’t be a victim without a perpetrator, and in this case, Rovito, Couric, and anyone else who questions her about her gaffe is demonized for taking her statement “out of context” or for expecting her to answer questions correctly under “duress.” Rovito says he has been the object of scorn for asking Palin a “gotcha” question.
The cheese steak gaffe is especially interesting because in this case, Palin is the dissenter. Her comment seemed to agree with Obama, rather than her running mate McCain. The position of McCain (and supposedly of Palin depending on whether you believe her first response or her recantation to be her actual position) seems at odds with the typical stance of conservatives. I cannot claim that either McCain or Palin are apocalyptic, but I think as conservatives they embody the idealogic that patriots are pro-war, and therefore, I would assume Palin and McCain would be all for going into Pakistan, especially if they are trying to hasten the second coming of Christ by making the events in Revelation come to fruition. Crowely says “apocalypticism and exceptionalism warrants an aggressively nationalistic foreign policy,” so, why wouldn’t they take the position that American should go across the border into Pakistan? Is opposing the enemy more important that being patriotic, or even fulfilling their holy calling?
Palin is a great source for examples of self-victimization, but there is another reason why I think she would make a perfect case study for Crowley investigation. Take this next clip.
This past summer, Sarah Palin was running around the country publicizing “Americana” and “our foundation” and “how important it is that we learn about our past and our challenges and victories.” But during that bus tour, she offered an interesting rendition of Paul Revere’s ride possibly indicating she needs to do some learning of her own. She may be inept, or she may be some kind of genius, I just don’t know. She certainly seems to be the spokeswoman for the Christian Right. Her definition of “Americana” and “our foundation” echo those of the Christian Right Crowley identifies. While Palin doesn’t erase history, she does rewrite it to suit the Christian Right. Much like conspiracy theorists, Palin brings up facts (that Revere was a courier, that the British had been “in that area” for 7 years) and then puts forth her interpretation of those events that support second amendment rights. She denies that she was in error at all, but just in case she also mentions that it was “a shout out ‘gotcha’ type of question” (of course). She also comments on the “Very heady days, rough waters ahead of us” that Americans will be facing, which to me, sounds like an apocalyptic warning.
Overall, I would be interested in reading an updated version of Crowley’s Towards a Civil Discourse that addresses the state of civil discourse in 2011. I wonder if she would have any examples of progress made in this arena that can be attributed to rhetoric, or if she would only have more examples of apocalyptics being apocalyptics and of liberals being liberals.
One page 135 in Sharon Crowley’s text, Towards A Civil Discourse, she examines the effects of Christian activists and their focus on achieving specific goals. She, and Justin Watson, claims that Christian activists use a two pronged attack to reach their desired targets. Specifically, the Christian Coalition uses “recognition” and “restoration” to meet their preferred objectives. Crowley states that “the Christian Right wants recognition of Christian positions and issues in the public sphere. However, members of this group also want to “restore” America to its status as a “Christian Nation.” The latter term becomes useful within contemporary political rhetoric. If the Christian Right is attempting to restore American values to what they once were (I’m not sure what time period), then the specific tools to persuade their audience need examination. One device, the jeremiad, becomes particularly useful when examining specific speeches. The jeremiad’s evolution begins with the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. In the book, the prophet Jeremiah laments the current state of the Hebrew peoples and predicts their nation will fall due to the broken covenant with God. This type of speech was also a favored by the Puritans, especially Jonathan Edwards. His “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” forecasts life in hell for those that do not repent and seek Christ’s salvation. With this history in mind, a speech in the jeremiad tradition seeks to display society’s current state, one that is always in moral peril, and offers a prophecy of its downfall typically in the near future.
As Sacvan Bercovitch describes the “current” American jeremiad (I use quotes here due to his book’s publishing date in 1978), it is “designed to join social criticism to spiritual renewal” (xi). He further states that “the jeremiad survived the decline of Puritan New England, and, in what amounted to a nationwide ritual of progress, contributed to the success of the republic” (xv). For Bercovitch, the American jeremiad helps establish a mythic tradition centered on the prophet crying out in isolation. While his study focuses on writers of fiction, he, nevertheless, states that this “symbol set free titanic creative energies in our classic writers, and it confined their freedom to the terms of the American myth. The dream that inspired them to defy the false Americanism of their time compelled them to speak their defiance as keepers of the dream” (180). For Melville, Hawthorne, and other canonical writers in the nineteenth century, the jeremiad became a vehicle of social critique. Not unlike the pervious periods who favored this type of writing. Each author lamented the state of society within their texts and offered a final prophecy of doom: for Melville’s Ahab, his singular vision destroys his whole world and his life.
But what of the jeremiad and its current configuration in modern political discourse? Examining two political texts, I believe the jeremiad develops two branches. The first corresponds to the past usage and attempts to “restore” traditional values within American society. The second division attempt s to position America’s current state as gloomy, but offers a future that can and will be better. Both of my chosen texts are political speeches from the 2008 presidential race. Barack Obama’s speech entitled “A More Perfect Union” was delivered on March 2008. The second text is Sarah Palin’s vice presidential nomination acceptance speech.
Palin’s speech re-enforces Crowley’s notion of restoration within political rhetoric. During Palin’s speech, she laments the current state of American politics and “the permanent political establishment” found in Washington D.C.. With her special skills as a political outsider, she asserts that the only way to restore America is to remove the special interests within the political community. “This was the spirit that brought me to the governor’s office, when I took on the old politics as usual in Juneau, when I stood up to the special interests, and the lobbyists, and the big oil companies, and the good-ol’ boys. Suddenly I realized that sudden and relentless reform never sits well with entrenched interests and power brokers. That’s why true reform is so hard to achieve” she states mid-way through the speech. Within the context of the jeremiad, Palin seeks to reaffirm traditional values such as “integrity,” “good will,” “clear convictions,” and “a servant’s heart.” She desires to reestablish the office of the presidency and vice presidency within these values precisely because her base identifies and suspects these ideals are not present in the present-day state of American Politics.
On the other hand, Barack Obama’s jeremiad begins with the existing state of the American society, but offers, to use his campaign slogan, hope. His message resonates due to the insistence that we can do better. Citing the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, he reveals the ideal America, but one that could not be fully realized due to equality issues. The central issue of the speech was racial politics within his campaign. Stating that
it’s only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn. On one end of the spectrum, we’ve heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it’s based solely on the desire of wild and wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we’ve heard my former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation and that rightly offend white and black alike.
For Obama, the speech deplores the surrounding issues of his past associations with several incendiary people. But, he provides hope, something that emerges from his form of the jeremiad. Stating at the end of the speech, Obama offers optimism:
This union may never be perfect, but generation after generation has shown that it can always be perfected. And today, whenever I find myself feeling doubtful or cynical about this possibility, what gives me the most hope is the next generation — the young people whose attitudes and beliefs and openness to change have already made history in this election.
Obama positions himself within the speech as an optimist. He acknowledges America’s past, but claims we can, nay we must do better, whereas Palin offers a model based on history’s idealized values and the need to restore them within American politics. Each speech contains an analysis of the current state of political discourse and how it is not satisfactory, but each speaker offers a different prophecy to remedy the situation. Palin want to restore, but Obama offers hope.
One of the issues that emerged for me while reading Crowley’s Toward a Civil Discourse is the importance of stasis—especially in today’s political discourse. In chapter 2, “Speaking of Rhetoric,” Crowley makes the point: “Rhetorically speaking, if stasis is not achieved, each side may generate all the evidence in the world to support its claims and yet never engage in argument” (29). This comment comes shortly after discussing the futile efforts each side of the abortion debate achieve by arguing the issue from different angles, and never agreeing to the terms of the argument—or coming to “stasis.”
As George Kennedy outlines in A New History of Classical Rhetoric, stasis theory is attributed as being fully “worked out in detail” by Hermagoras of Temnos around the middle of the second century BC, during the Hellenistic period. Looking back before Hermagoras, Kennedy interestingly notes that Aristotle never covers this form of invention strategy (97). Kennedy goes on to mention how,
According to Quintilian (3.6.3), it was first employed either by Naucrates, a pupil of Isocrates, or by Zopyrus of Clazomene, and he [Quintilian] points to the use of the word in Aeschines’ speech Against Ctesiphon (206) where the orator demands that Demosthenes be forced to speak about the real “stasis” of the case. (97-98)
I think looking at the historical background of stasis can provide us with a foundation for better understanding Crowley’s use of the term and attempt at outlining what a civil discourse might look like. As mentioned in class, “stasis” is a word that literally means “stand, standing, stance” in relation to a boxer’s stance toward an opponent (Kennedy 98). For Hermagoras, stasis was a form of invention that allowed a person to see the issue of debate in all its parts. It was a questioning strategy that included conjecture, definition, quality, and transference. Kennedy does a great job outlining the four questions. I thought it would be helpful to share his overview of these four points of stasis (Kennedy 98-99):
1. Stochasmos, Latin coniectura, “conjecturing” about the fact at issue, whether or not something had been done at a particular time by a particular person: e.g., Did X actually kill Y?
- In stasis of fact it is necessary to prove or disprove motive, ability, and desire. Further, the defendant’s person and character furnish evidence to indicate the probability or improbability of the alleged action.
2. Horos, Latin definitiva, whether an admitted action falls under the legal “definition” of a crime: e.g., Was the admitted killing of Y by X murder or homicide?
- If the stasis is one of definition (On Invention 2.53ff.), the speaker should define the crime, prove the definition, compare it with the act of the person accused, introduce commonplaces on the enormity and wickedness of the crime, or in the case of the defendant, on the utility and honorable nature of the act, attach the definition the opponent offers, compare similar cases, and finally attach the opponent personally.
3. Kata symbebekos or poiotes, Latin generalis or qualitas, the issue of the “quality” of the action, including its motivation and possible justification: e.g., Was the murder of Y by X in some way justified by the circumstances?
- The most complicated: It was to be employed when the speakers agreed about what had been done and about the legal term to describe the action, but disagreed about such matters as whether the action was important, just, or useful. Here the defendant could claim mitigating circumstances. Hermagoras divided stasis of quality into four parts:
- Deliberative: the topic of “advantageous” is characteristic of deliberative rhetoric.
- Demonstrative (i.e. epideictic): what is praiseworthy or blameworthy
- Judicial: what is advantageous is useful in judicial speeches in explaining the quality of an action (what is just or unjust)
- Pragmatic: probably referred to what was or was not useful or practicable.
4. Metalepsis, Latin translatio, objection to the legal process or “transference” of jurisdiction to a different tribunal: e.g., Can this court try X for a crime when X has been given immunity from prosecution or claims the crime was committed in another city?
- Is used when the defendant argues that the prosecutor has no right to prosecute or the court has no jurisdiction over the case.
For me, these questions help clarify how, in order for true arguments to be established, we must first agree to the “facts” and “definitions” of debate, as well as the “quality” and “policy” of the issue in debate. In this way, we may better see how we can all come to a common table of civic discourse and debate. And as Crowley so aptly observes in the first chapter: “What is missing from America’s civic discourse at this moment, then, it seems to me, is a willingness to acknowledge difference while remaining open to the necessity of respectful address to others and to their positions” (22). To me it seems, teaching stasis can be a hopeful means of bringing divergent groups together—even if only achieving understandable disagreement.
In the past week I have struggled with Crowley’s text. It is not that the ideas are impossible or even exceptionally difficult. It’s just that they’re so…so…
I want to write “insane.” But that I can’t fathom the motivations of Apocalyptic Christian Fundamentalist does not qualify them as insane. It doesn’t discount the possibility that they are insane, but that’s another matter. It’s easy to label them as “nutcases” or “crazies” or any number of other pejoratives. It’s easy, because that jives with our experiences and makes sense. To complicate this simple ratio of reasoning allows for the possibility that Apocalypticists are not the nutcases we thought them to be. After all, as we discussed in class, and end point to time allows our brains to cope with simply existing.
To be honest, I really do want to write about the insanity of Apocalyptic Christian Fundamentalists. I do think they’re off their rockers. It’s difficult for me to understand their mindset. I wasn’t raised in a church, my spiritual evolution is my own, and I have a hard time with many of the values espoused by this group, namely intolerance, self-imposed ignorance, and the pursuing of these values on a continual basis. Friday, when I posited the question “what happens if they were actually successful in their quest for the ideology of clarity?,” I was quite serious.
The definition of insanity is often cited as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results (ironically, this quote is continually misattributed to Einstein, Twain, and Benjamin Franklin). The legal definition is a bit clearer: “mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior (link).” My epiphany on Crowley’s work came in the form of a paradox: Apocalyptic Christian Fundamentalists are continually weaving through both complacency and the politics of change. They are, to borrow a phrase from literary theory, always already working to bring about change toward an old vision (in their minds) of what the world should look like while at the same time this vision has not necessarily changed–ever. Apocalypticists are doing the same thing, over and over, and waiting for the Tribulation to either start then end, or to end. Legally, I would be hard pressed to make the label stick–and only on the first qualifier.
Apocalypticists’ vision is flexible only in its adaptation toward incorporating newly encountered ideas into its own ideology, something that we have discussed in class. This can range from the banal to something more dangerous, as Crowley notes how LaHaye and Noebel rewrite history: “This argument [about colonists introducing a Reformation mind-set] revises early American History in interesting ways… More salient, however, is its erasure of the face that neither God nor the Christian Bible is mentioned in the Constitution of the United States” (152). While I have immense concern for the reframing and rewriting of history, the entrance of Apocalypticists into politics scares the bejesus out of me. Their immobile vision of how to shape the world obfuscates other, better options. Crowly writes that “believers must forget that interpretation mediates the text of the Bible and assume instead that God’s word is immediately and correctly grasped by those who receive it. People who don’t read the Bible in accordance with sanctioned readings either have insufficient faith or are so sinful that they cannot see reality clearly” (144). Apocalypticists won’t listen to reason, won’t make unsanctioned interpretive leaps, and cannot objectively evaluate an idea or situation. In other words, their rationalization of everything that challenges their beliefs even in the slightest as just a “test” from God or a trick of Satan stands forever as an affront to rationale thinking and to the cognitive capacities that could just as easily have been provided to them by a higher power. I can’t help but be reminded of this:
This discrepancy reveals another missed opportunity for stasis in the undercurrents of debate between liberalism and Apocalyptic Christian Fundamentalists. And I think it’s a basic reason why liberalists and apocalypticists cannot understand each other–one is a philosophy of progression and reason, the other is a philosophy of reversion to a set standard of values and moral guidelines. The foundational aspects of belief between these two groups are whole incompatible. And we would be insane, at least in the Einsteinian, Twainian, and Franklinian sense, to avoid understanding such an incompatibility. My fear is that, by knowing this, I’ve lost all hope in fighting this good fight.
Anyone else scared?
For this post I’d like to try to tie together both of my courses this semester. As I may have mentioned in one of our discussions, I am also taking Dr. Moder’s class, Metaphor in Discourse. We look at how metaphor is used in everyday speech, and in particular discourse contexts such as politics, education, and science. As I’ve been reading the last few chapters of Crowley, I’ve been trying to see connections between how people use metaphor and the ideologic of Christian Apocalyptics, and what Crowley calls their densely articulated belief systems. It make take me a little while to explain, but if you bear with me I’ll try to make it worth your while.
First I’ll have to explain a little about what we’ve discussed in the metaphor class. Metaphor has been examined by philosophers and rhetoricians at least since the classical Greek era. In his Rhetoric, Aristotle described the use of metaphor as a gift of insight that allows the speaker to highlight previously unseen comparisons between two seemingly unlike entities. For example, “Achilles is a lion” metaphorically asserts that the Greek hero Achilles possesses characteristics that we inherently associate with lions – strength, bravery, and nobility.
Contemporary linguists have shown how we unconsciously use metaphor to explain abstract concepts in terms of more concrete entities with which we are intimately familiar. These broad conceptual metaphors draw on common human experience or bodily sensations as a way of understanding less tangible concepts. For example, in the conceptual metaphor TIME is MONEY, numerous metaphorical expressions show how we talk about time, an abstract concept, in terms of something more tangible and experiential, money. For example:
- I don’t have the time to give you.
- I’ve invested a lot of time in that.
- This project cost me three months of work.
- This is a waste of time.
The highly abstract notion of time is conceived of here as a tangible object that can be wasted, invested, or given. Cognitive linguists claim that the everyday way that we use these conceptual metaphors is evidence that human cognition is essentially metaphorical – we process the world by understanding new/abstract concepts to old/concrete ones. And we do so, as in the case of the TIME is MONEY metaphor, without even thinking about it.
I could take another ten pages and explain in detail why I think that the old/concrete notions that we draw on in conceptual metaphor closely resemble densely articulated belief systems (hereafter DABS) , and why the unconscious way that we use metaphor relates to how difficult it is to engage in meaningful dialogue with Christian Apocalyptics. But instead I’ll show you a political cartoon from the website of influential Apocalytptic Hal Lindsey that uses a visual metaphor to express aspects of Apocalyptics’ DABS.
The cartoon’s author draws on two domains that Lindsey’s readers know well and with which they likely have personal experience – the bible and the 9/11 terror attacks. He then relates them to something much less familar and with which they are unlikely to have personal experience – turmoil in the Middle East. Crowley might say that the cartoon links Middle Eastern strife to two critical aspects of Apocalyptics’ DABS- American superpatriotism and the binary opposition between good and evil. The Jesus-like figure leading the host of angels says “Let’s roll”, the last words of a heroic passenger on United Airlines Flight 93 before successfully attacking the plane’s hijackers, bringing it down over a field in Pennsylvania before it could be crashed into another high-profile target. It invites readers to view Middle Eastern politics and events in terms of the biblical clash between good and evil, either through the prism of Jesus vs. Satan, or Heroic Americans vs. Evil Terrorists. As a persuasive argument, I suspect that this cartoon is highly effective to its audience, because it draws on multiple key aspects of their DABS by evoking events (9/11) and stories (from the Bible) that are well-known to them.
As I have already taken up too much of your time, I will close by presenting a few more cartoons from the same source, and inviting you to consider how they both speak to and metaphorically evoke aspects of their audience’s DABS.
In all honesty, by the time I finished reading chapters five and six of Crowley I was thoroughly disheartened. It seemed there was no way fundamentalist Christians and liberals (or really anyone who is not a fundamentalist) could ever really begin to engage in productive discourse about American politics, culture, or society because the gap between the two groups is so wide. However, in chapter seven, “How Beliefs Change”, Crowley outlines a series of rhetorical strategies she believes rhetors can use to break through some of the ideological boundaries and start initiating conversation with fundamentalists. Crowley draws on Stanely Fish’s The Trouble with Principle, where Fish provides two sources of conversion that can effectively persuade someone with a deeply articulated ideology to reject their beliefs: awareness of contradiction between ideology and a powerful emotion and a sufficient proof of a dissenting authority (190). Crowley then qualifies Fish’s model and says rhetorical change can, and will, begin “with admission of anew or countering claim to a belief system (192).”
In order to introduce such a counter claim into a system of belief that is “isolated from dissent” will not be easy, but Crowley provides several techniques she thinks will be at least mildly effective: story, value definition, and vocabulary change. The admission and redefining of values and the alteration of vocabulary to match these newly unveiled liberals values will not happen over night, but politicians are adept at using such rhetoric. Liberal values such as justice, freedom, and equality have resonated through speeches given on behalf of both the civil and women’s rights movements. Even Richard Nixon invokes the value of truth and honesty in his famous “Checkers” speech. But before any values can be discussed , Crowley says liberals have to get attention and the best way to do that is through story. Crowley asserts that the “most persuasive stories in a polity are myths” and Christian conservatives wrote Calvinist Christianity into the story of America’s founding because they understood this concept. According to Crowley, most effective way to get attention and in particular liberals should tell stories that coincide with “the history of America’s Constitution and its progressive revisions toward inclusion” more often as a means of persuasion.
As easy as it was to find examples of value invocation in political speeches, I had trouble finding a relatively contemporary example of the effective use of narrative, until I found a speech given on March 18, 2008 at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, by then presidential candidate Barack Obama. In the case of this speech, Obama is not trying to encourage communication and compromise between liberals and fundamentalists, but rather respond to controversial comments made by Revered Jeremiah Wright and call for racial unity among Americans. Nevertheless, it is worth examining the opening minutes of Obama’s speech because his “story” is so compelling.
Right off the bat Obama plants himself squarely within Crowley’s story criteria by quoting the opening line of the Constitution and proceeding to recount how “a group of men gathered and, with these simple words, launched America’s improbable experiment in democracy.” He does not simply list the facts, but instead weaves a historical narrative about the stain left behind by “the nation’s original sin of slavery” led generations of Americans to struggle through “protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience” in order to gain the promise of justice and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. The sentiment of creating “a more perfect union” (which is the title of the speech) is used to encourage Americans to continually strive to build upon the legacy founded in 1787 with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and Obama invites everyone to join the story of America by believing in his presidential campaign.
“I chose to run for President at this moment in history because I believe deeply that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together, unless we perfect our union by understanding that we may have different stories, but we hold common hopes; that we may not look the same and may not have come from the same place, but we all want to move in the same direction: towards a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”
At this point Obama could launch into the body of his speech where he works to contextualize his relationship with and response to Rev. Wright and call for racial unity amongst the American people, but instead he connects his own personal history to the narrative of the Constitution. This story, which begins “I’m the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas”, shows how the very story of America’s quest for “a more perfect union” has given him the opportunity to stand where he does today. Only America’s long history of fighting for the liberty and justice of its people, could have led to a moment in time where Obama was accepted as a presidential candidate and he connects his life and his family to this history. Obama said he was raised by a white grandfather who “survived a Depression to serve in Patton’s army during World War II”, and is married to a woman who “carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners”. This is an inheritance shared by the nation and one he will pass onto his own daughters. “It is a story that has seared into my genetic makeup the idea that this nation is more than the sum of its parts — that out of many, we are truly one.”
This is exactly the kind of narrative Crowley contends has the rhetorical power to build bridges between factions because it calls on the authority of America’s tradition of freedom and inclusion, while connecting it personally to a political figure that is working to continue the great tradition of democracy. In this particular speech, Obama could have simply started with his condemnation of Rev. Wright’s commentary and explanation of their past relationship; yet the use of story build the ethos he needs to make a call for racial unity. This speech contains the “emotionally compelling vision” Crowley says most liberal rhetors lack, and arouses the emotional response Crowley states is necessary to alter beliefs. I have no doubt Crowley was proud of Obama’s historical and personal narrative, even if only for its rhetorical value.
Sharon Crowley’s discussion of Apocalyptism and its insider-outsider dichotomy based on a “densely-articulated ideology” throws up some very serious roadblocks for rhetoricians who might dare to offer a voice of dissent to this brand of Christian fundamentalism. I find myself not always appreciating Crowley’s own rhetorical approach to the arguments she makes in her book, but I think she makes a very solid, overarching point here for the study of rhetoric – What is a rhetorician to do when the audience won’t debate? What is a rhetorician to do when the audience’s view of reality exists on a very different plane?
I think Aristotle would suggest the rhetorician (figuratively) step into the audience’s shoes, play by its rules, argue within its preset parameters. However, Crowley shows us that such an approach is not as easy as it might sound. Ideologues such as Apocalyptic fundamentalists can smell a dissenter from a hundred miles away, and they’re not about to let such foulness get close. Debate is the last thing that people with such densely-articulated ideologies want to consider. They are locked into (or held captive by) a set of parameters for reality that are as impermeable as … um … the O-State offensive line (er something like that).
As I’ve continued to read Crowley’s book, I’ve been reminded of another context in American politics in which there is no substantive debate, where rhetoricians on both sides always seem to pass by each other on different planes. But this one, I would argue, contains the majority of American votes, unlike with that of the Christian Right. For this reason, dissent faces an impregnable structure that is reinforced by sheer numbers of people. I’m referring to the American two-party political system and the popular view that any party or candidate that attempts to challenge that system from within it is simply not attuned to reality. That reality being that “third”-parties and candidates will never win a major election, and thus, serve only to spoil U.S. elections by syphoning votes away from candidates possessing a real chance to win.
In this context, popular opinion is captive to an electoral system so entrenched that assenters argue as though they are defending a dense ideology. Examples of this ideology/viewpoint can be found all over the mainstream media, particularly since the presidential election of 2000, in which Green Party candidate Ralph Nader was accused by Democrats of spoiling the election for their candidate, Al Gore. Over the past 11 years, Nader has repeatedly had to answer questions about whether he affected the outcome of that election. Did his left-leaning candidacy “take” votes that would have gone to Gore, votes that would have helped Gore defeat George W. Bush? The links below offer two examples of the mainstream media’s focus on this issue. An Internet search on Nader would reveal many more examples.
What’s interesting to note are the many other variables Nader mentioned on Meet the Press that affected the outcome of the 2000 election. I’ve done the research. It’s true that every third party on the ballot in Florida in 2000 (and there were several) received more votes than the 537 vote gap between Bush and Gore. It’s true that more than twice as many registered Democrats in Florida voted for Bush (250,000) than the total number of voters, Democrats and Republicans alike, that voted for Nader (97,000). It’s true that Florida Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, who actively campaigned for Bush that year, stopped the final vote re-count before it could be completed.
It’s true that Gore failed to win his home state of Tennessee and Clinton’s home state of Arkansas. And the list goes on …
Nader makes a point that’s worth considering at the very least: Why is the mainstream media so obsessed with only ONE variable, the Green Party variable, in quantifying Gore’s loss in 2000? Why do they seem uninterested in discussing those other variables?
One could even go further, if willing to risk expanding the argument into the conspiracy-theory realm, which Crowley talks about. That is, one could point out that Bush’s brother, Jeb, was the governor of Florida at the time. One could beg the question: Is the mainstream corporate media – six major conglomerates that control 95 percent of the national news media – mounting a smear campaign against Nader and his anti-corporate-power agenda? Personally, I don’t think we need to go that far.
The point worth making here is simply that there is a strong, resounding belief in this country that third party candidacies are a waste of time … because they have no realistic chance of winning. Spoiling elections is all third parties are good for.
Meanwhile, the anti-establishment dissenters that make up these parties continue to argue that they play a vital role in our elections. They bring up issues that the establishment is too sensitive to talk about, and by doing so, they push the power elite in directions more representative of the will of the people. They help keep the two parties honest, if you will. Otherwise, Democrats are free to hold the left side of the spectrum captive, and Republicans are free to hold the right captive. Where else can these voters go with their votes without more choices on the ballot? Thus, small parties feel it is their duty to push the agenda when it strays too far towards an elite hegemony that doesn’t listen to the masses.
It’s as solid as oak the belief that minor parties have no realistic chance of winning. They are irrelevant. And yet, there is no verifiable proof, no empirical evidence to suggest that a minor-party candidate could NOT win a major election. I submit, and I’m not alone in this thinking, that the only thing blocking such a phenomenon is the widely-accepted BELIEF that a minor party candidate can’t win. That’s it. The electorate has the freedom to choose to donate money to these candidates. The electorate has the freedom to vote for these candidate. The people DO, in reality, have the power. But the people won’t even consider it, let alone debate the idea.
With all of this in mind, it seems to me that Crowley’s point can be applied to other areas of the polis, not just to Apocalyptics, unfortunately. Ideology and views of reality clearly do not have to be rooted in fact. Or, perhaps, what constitutes “fact” is just too relative sometimes for substantive debate to take root. So, again, Crowley begs a very important question for rhetoric, one that I’m not sure how to answer.