When many modern people consider the term “rhetoric,” the first thing that comes to mind is the phrase “mere rhetoric,” implying that rhetoric consists of nothing but words, phrases and techniques designed to make political and other sorts of statements sound right or good, even if they are bad and wrong.
As I discussed during my first podcast, this is part of a two-century old trend to marginalize ancient wisdom (including the study of classical subjects like rhetoric), in favor of the many new and important topics that today make up modern school curricula. And it’s a short step from de-prioritizing a subject to dismissing it as irrelevant or even morally questionable.
The phrase “mere rhetoric” implies that there is something superior to prose that has been carefully crafted using language tools that have historically been simply called “rhetoric,” possibly a form of discourse that is pure and honest, one that no longer requires fancy phrasing and standard structures to get our points across.
But given that we have not yet entered such a realm of pure and honest discourse (and given that such a language nirvana may not actually exist), we may have put ourselves in a position where the tools of rhetoric are at the disposal of those who wish to persuade us (such as politicians and advertisers), while the rest of us have chosen to be ignorant of what these tools are (or of the fact that they even exist).
This week’s podcast will help rectify that situation with an introduction to rhetorical devices: what they are, how they work, and how they can be used to either get other people to do what you want or, at the very least, prevent others from bypassing your critical thinking skills in order to get you to do what they want.
This week’s resources include: