9.10.2009

The Parousia is Present and Hidden

"...what counts is the prospect of a new advent, the fever of an essential expectation--a debased, modernized Parousia from which arise those systems so dear to the disinherited. Poverty is in fact the utopianist's great auxiliary, it is the matter he works in, the substance on which he feeds his thoughts, the providence of his obsessions. Without poverty he would be empty; but poverty occupies him, allures or embarrasses him, depending on whether he is poor or rich; from another point of view, poverty cannot do without him--it needs this theoretician, this adept of the future, especially since poverty itself, that endless meditation on the likelihood of escaping its own present, would hardly endure its dreariness without the obsession of another earth." --E.M. Cioran, History and Utopia, 1960
Many of my friends in academia are still awash in the afterbliss of the recent Presidential election, content to play the role of swooning cheerleaders as history marches on, so long as this man leads the way. Many of these same friends carefully explained to me, with a grave sense of duty, the cause of the great miseries of the 20th century: It was the mistaken certainty, derived from Enlightenment rationalism, that brought about the Holocaust... and the starvation of millions in the Soviet Union. If asked for more details, they could go on: It was the unwillingness to face that aporia of the present, the fragmenting epistemology beneath their own feet, that caused so much horror. I learned from friends in graduate school that it was not so much that Plato and Marx and Hitler were wrong--it was that they were certain. The Rhetoricians were busy in those days, persuading the masses to withhold judgment, to continue becoming, to refuse self-assurance and the dangers that inhered in such an attitude.

Now, with perhaps a single half an exception (Wrangler?), those same teachers are throwing their weight behind an American president. If cornered, they will not admit that they are "certain" about this American president's aptitude (their memories are too long for that mistake), but they will admit to being powerfully persuaded that America is moving in a good direction under this president's leadership.

So I mean to ask one more time: how does the Rhetorician decide which path to take? In theory, it was explained to me, Rhetoricians recognize that no path is objectively superior to other paths. Then: I am interested in the subjective. How is the decision made? Why support the guy who persuades that healthcare needs reforming instead of the guy who argues to the contrary?

It is not enough for the academic to say, "I support the President because he has persuaded me to support him." Nor is it enough to say, "I was persuaded by his fine use of the pathetic appeal, combined with a convincing string of data."

This question remains open for me; it seems a weak spot in the Rhetorical worldview. At present, I believe that Rhetoricians are refined Charlatans. I believe they are motivated by truth and reality as much as the next crowd, but discovering themselves to be part of a minority group (in terms of power), they resort to refusing the notions of truth and reality even as they believe very strongly that there is something true and practical about their view of what policies need to be enacted. The Rhetorician who says, out of one side of his mouth, that there is no objective foundation for judging, zealously believes what he won't speak out of the other side of his mouth--that his way would be more effective, more practical, and measurably better.

1 comment:

Casey said...

That's what I thought...