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The Rhetoric of Now Part 1: Stasis

by kellogg Tue May 1st, 2007 at 08:10:15 AM EST

Cross-posted from  paralepsis and Daily Kos.  

This is the first in a series about how concepts from rhetoric can help progressives understand -- and change -- the current political climate.  It is based on the premise that the noble and ancient discipline of rhetoric is not trickery or deception, but rather that rhetorical literacy is a vital element of a healthy political community.  To quote the Greek rhetorician Isocrates, "the power to speak well and think right will reward the person who approaches the art of discourse with love of wisdom and love of honor."  (from the Antidosis). I hold that rhetoric anticipates and surpasses the best aspects of the current vogue for "framing," and that the rhetorical tradition offers a more humane and generous way of comprehending the social world.  

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob


This series has two aims.  First, I want to rehabilitate the discipline of rhetoric for politics.  Rhetoric is enormously productive in academic life, but in politics it remains associated with professional liars like [insert your favorite consultant here].  Second, I want to provide a vocabulary for interpreting in our present moment.  Each diary will define a concept from classical or modern rhetoric and apply it, from a progressive Democratic perspective, to an aspect of the present crisis.  

For this first installment, I'll discuss stasis theory.  

What is a stasis?  In ancient Greece, stasies were questions or issues.  The term derives from a word meaning "a stand."  In an argument, the stasis can be considered the location of a dispute, the place where a speaker takes a stand. The roots of stasis theory are found in the Sophists (you know, the folks Socrates opposed).  Later, in Roman rhetoric, stases were more carefully developed as a set of ways of defining arguments.  Eventually most ancient rhetoricians settled on four stases.  Let me define them and then talk about how they're used.  

In his Institutes of Oratory (Book 3), Quintilian writes:

Let students learn, therefore, before all, that there are four modes of proceeding in every cause and that he ought to make it his first business to consider which four modes he who is going to plead. Beginning first of all with the defendant, by far the strongest mode of defense is if the charge which is made can be denied; the next, if an act of the kind charged against the accused can be said not to have been done; the third, and most honorable, if what is done is proved to have been justly done. If we cannot command these methods, the last and only mode of defense is that of eluding an accusation, which can neither be denied nor combated, by the aid of some point of law, so as make it appear that the action has not been brought in due legal form.

These are the four stases, the four "modes of proceeding."


1. Conjecture (stasis stochasmos).  Call this the question, "does the thing at issue exist"?

2. Definition (stasis horos). Call this the question, "what is the thing at issue anyway"?

3. Quality or value (stasis poiotes). Call this the question, "is the thing at issue good or bad"?

4. Policy or procedure (stasis metalepsis).  Call this the question, "what is the proper format for dealing with the thing at issue"?

 
A good example is given in the Teaching Company's fine audio course on argumentation.  Professor David Zarefsky walks through the case of a person who is being accused of stealing another's car.  To the accusation "You stole my car!," the accused can say "No I didn't" (conjecture), "It wasn't stealing, it was borrowing" (definition), "and a good thing too because I saved a life" (value), or "so call the cops why don't you!" (procedure).  

A few points to recognize.

First: all arguments come into being at some point of clash or stasis.  A person who creates an issue wants to describe the issue so that the clash takes place at a point of advantage.  

Second: we can argue at a given point of stasis, or we can try to rephrase the question at another stasis.    In other words, with stasis theory you can take a question and rephrase it in at least three different ways (many more, actually).  Instead of arguing at the point you're offered, it's often worth playing around with the stases, seeing which ones work, so that you can respond at a point of greater effectiveness.  If you can change the question, you have a real advantage -- especially if you can keep it changed.  

Third: stases are related in a specific way.  Arguments at the stasis of definition have already accepted the conjecture.  Arguments about value have already accepted both conjecture and definition.  And arguments about policy have usually -- though not always -- accepted conjecture, definition, and value.  In other words, conjecture is far upstream in the argument, and procedure is (usually) downstream.  

An example from the present crisis.  In early 2003, a number of public arguments took place about whether the US was going to seek an additional resolution from the United Nations before invading.  As it turned out, we were going to and then didn't.  No surprise in the hypocrisy of our government.  But this argument about the UN is an argument about procedure.  Simply by having this argument take center stage, we have already accepted -- at least implicitly -- a number of conjectures (such as "Iraq is a threat"), definitions (such as "Iraq is part of the Axis of Evil"), and values (such as "Invading Iraq would be good if it were done right").  

Of course, many of those who wanted an additional resolution didn't accept any of these things.  But allowing the debate to unfold at the stasis of procedure effectively shut the door on those other, upstream debates.  Nowadays conservatives all claim that "everybody thought Iraq had WMDs."  Now, empirically, that's just flat-out false.  But by pitching the battle downstream, our public rhetoricians -- that is to say, our politicians -- established the illusion of a de facto consensus upstream.  This haunts political discourse to this day, it was avoidable, and all the corrections in the world won't allow politicians to rehabilitate a case they willingly gave up.

Next up: kairos, or rhetorical time.  

Thanks to ATinNM, who suggested I cross-post here.  

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In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:43:01 PM EST
So what do you think of Jeffrey Feldman's book (reviewed here)? He writes about this topic as well:


All political debate exists on three levels: values (top), issues (middle), and policy (bottom). Progressives love to talk on the bottom two levels because they seem more "real" and concrete. Policy and issues are where the facts are. You can put policy onto paper and make an issue a web page heading. Values are tougher to figure out.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:45:13 PM EST
Thanks for this question Jerome.  

Feldman seems to be getting at what rhetoricians used to call theoretical versus practical questions.  The classic example was the theoretical question "Should a person marry?" versus the practical question "Should Cato marry?"  He's also pointing out, rightly, that policy issues are conducted with values in mind.  The representations are slightly different, though, because Feldman's somewhat schematic representation seems to suggest that values are a sort of ultimate abstract level, and that you've got to get the values in order before anything else gets resolved.  In actual political debates, however, the course of dispute seems to be more multifacted, tricky, and unpredictable.  

by kellogg (kellogg[dot]david[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 05:04:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In an argument, the stasis can be considered the location of a dispute, the place where a speaker takes a stand.

This is vital to grasp.  The best argument one can muster will fail when the other side places the discussion on the ground of their choosing.  All too often we on the Left unthinkingly let the Neo-Lib/Cons establish the stasis.  When we do that we give them an edge almost impossible to overcome.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 04:50:14 PM EST
The most blatant example of this I know of is the abortion debate.  Somewhere along the line, the pro-choice politicians ceded the field and let the argument turn from the health and lives of women into an argument about when exactly a fetus turned into a baby and at what point it became the taking of a life.  

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 06:31:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a good example, and a complicated one, because the anti-choice people figure that if you accept their argument at the stasis of definition ("the life was taken"), then the value question will decide itself.   That's not actually true, as some arguments in medical ethics literature have made clear.  (There was a famous argument about what happens if you wake up one morning and find yourself hooked up to someone else's life support.  You're told that you have to remain on the machine for nine months or the other person will die. The ethicist argues that this is untrue: because you didn't ask to be put on the machine, you are free to unhook yourself even if the act will result in the death of the other.)

But more to the point, we can go back to the conjecture question and ask, "What is actually happening?"  And we can see that event as the reduction of harm to the woman, as an assertion of her moral right to freedom, as a lot of other things that have nothing to do with the definitional status of the fetus, which is dubious at best and which should not be allowed to trump every other consideration.  

by kellogg (kellogg[dot]david[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 06:46:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a relevance to my view of ET in this also. I find the 'values' debates here to be the most interesting, since they are often far more to do with perceptions than facts. There are a lot of great people here who I would class in my own way as 'engineers', and a few 'artists' (and quite a few oscillating between the two).

But the 'stand' here is esssentially owned by the engineers.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 06:33:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How do we add "values" to "engineering?" (One point of Modernism was how to add "engineering" to "values" & that hasn't worked-out so good.) How do include, reach for, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in a discussion on - say - national agricultural policy without some agreement on what the Good, the True, and the Beautiful is and/or could be?  Is that a discussion we should be having first?  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 01:12:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We'd probaby have to start with good, true and beautiful ;-) Is that what we want? Are they the best words we have? Should we be using words at all?

Brilliant point about Modernism! Another one I shall steal ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:34:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We should cease trying to define the indefinable and move instead to "relational" logic, I think.

ie Definition in relative terms.

Damned if I know how THAT might work!

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:47:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Is there any difference between this approach and the one I was proposing ;-) You are bringing perceptions into it again.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:31:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Indefinitely!

"Reality is defined by the questions you put to it".     J A Wheeler


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:39:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just clarifying ;-)

BTW I have to put you in the artistic engineer category. Sort of samurai.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:49:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From Wikipedia

The logic of relatives, short for the logic of relative terms, is the study of relations in their logical, philosophical, or semiotic aspects, as distinguished from, though closely coordinated with, their more properly formal, mathematical, or objective aspects.

The consideration of relative terms has its roots in antiquity, but it entered a radically new phase of development with the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, beginning with his paper "Description of a Notation for the Logic of Relatives, Resulting from an Amplification of the Conceptions of Boole's Calculus of Logic" (1870).

I've been intending dip into this after the eleventy-million other things I have on my plate clear.


She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 09:27:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
'Tis better than starting with the bad, false, and ugly.

& You're Welcome.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 09:21:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In an argument, the stasis can be considered the location of a dispute, the place where a speaker takes a stand.,/i>
This is vital to grasp.  The best argument one can muster will fail when the other side places the discussion on the ground of their choosing.  All too often we on the Left unthinkingly let the Neo-Lib/Cons establish the stasis.  When we do that we give them an edge almost impossible to overcome.

Hey AT, I agree with you but choosing the location of the stasis doesn't mean ignoring the gross misrepresentations of basic facts by the rightwing when they state their storyline. In fact, despinning their framing as it occur may enable us to establish our stasis of choice. For example, in the other thread, I said that I couldn't understand how we could let rightwingers get away unchallenged with using "assistanat" in a public debate because it is devastating to let them pretend unopposed that their system favors "rewards according to merit" in opposition to the "welfare queens of the nanny state". Neolibs have been pounding this music for 30 years with great success also because progressives have ignored it. No mention of "assistanat" should be permitted without a discussion of "corporate welfare" and the cost of toilet sits sold by Halliburton.

by Fete des fous on Mon May 7th, 2007 at 08:19:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My only previous exposure to Rhetoric was thanks to Robert Pirsig - courtesy of his marvellous "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

The crucial point of the book, and in my untutored and intuitive opinion, one of the most significant moments in the history of Philosophy, was his identification of that moment when the Sophists allowed "Good" to be encapsulated and Rhetoric reduced to a mere Aristotelian subset.

 And now he began to see for the first time the unbelievable magnitude of what man, when he gained power to understand and rule the world in terms of dialectic truths, had lost. He had built empires of scientific capability to manipulate the phenomena of nature into enormous manifestations of his own dreams of power and wealth--but for this he had exchanged an empire of understanding of equal magnitude: an understanding of what it is to be a part of the world, and not an enemy of it.

and

 Dialectic, which is the parent of logic, came itself from rhetoric. Rhetoric is in turn the child of the myths and poetry of ancient Greece. That is so historically, and that is so by any application of common sense

I am indebted to you, kellogg, for opening up a hugely important subject. It is only through a new Rhetoric - a new "narrative" or approach to our Reality - that we can snuff out the current dominant narrative at its source - its fundamentally wrong Values.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 05:32:13 PM EST
Wonderful diary, kellogg -- thanks for bringing it over here.  I dislike verbal bullies and they seem to have a grasp of this and will often resort to "just answer the question."  I've been known to say "no -- I don't accept the premise of your question."  Now I know what to call that! :)

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 06:25:04 PM EST
rhetoric as (mostly) used by the Right is trickery and deception. That's it's sole reason for existing.

There are really no substantive issues to discuss in many political debates, because the motivation behind reducing politics to talking points - whether it's abortion, guns, or 9/11 - is purely to hold on to power. The points are used to herd a base which has conditioned to jerk its knees on demand. That deafening sound you can hear is these canned talking points drowning out all other ideas and concepts.

This is not a metaphor. Semantically speaking, the Right in the US has successfully herded its base in much the same way that a rancher herds cattle. It's only now, after the herders are starting to reek of disaster, that the cattle are starting to break free.

As I see it, staseis/frames/whatever you want to call them, are closely related to emotional framing. And emotional framing is the real point of rhetoric. The intellectual content - the elements that can be argued about rationally - are the cover story, not the persuasive payload.  

This means it's only intermittently possible to dismiss a talking point by not agreeing with the premise.

The real root of framing is perpetual tracking of dominance/submission relationships. The Right wins these arguments because they assert dominance very forcefully - and that's the subtext which makes the rest of the frame believable, and which crowds out alternative responses.

When Iraq goes wrong, or when abstinence advocates are caught hiring hookers, or some other tragicomical disaster strikes, that dominance relationship is challenged. That's when it becomes possible to challenge the talking points. At that point they're no longer convincing - not for rational reasons, but because in emotional terms, a loss of dominance equates to a loss of credibility.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 09:27:52 PM EST
No argument here on your main points.  But one of my points is that it's impossible to advance political discourse without rhetoric.  It's easy to think that because we have the facts on our side, we shouldn't stoop to (for example) using emotion. But not only should we, it's not stooping, because emotions, among other things, are part of our common humanity.  
by kellogg (kellogg[dot]david[at]gmail[dot]com) on Sun Apr 29th, 2007 at 09:51:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree. But I think the structure of rhetoric depends on a pre-rational subtext. Unless you can access the pre-rational level, your talking points won't be accepted.

Lakoff seems to have started this by raising the issue of frames and explaining how the frames used by progressives and conservatives are based on different value assumptions.

But my point is that there's an even more basic level where the debate isn't about values but about tribal and inter-tribal hierarchies - and specifically about the dominance and submission relationships that define them.

When a conservative talks about abortion, the abortion issue itself is a cover-story for the real dynamic - which is an assertion of power over those who disagree.

This power-grab dynamic is the one unifying feature of all conservative politics and corporate expansionism.

And there is no rhetorical answer to it, because it's not a rhetorical position - it's simply a statement of 'I own you and I control you'.

When you look at the Iraq quagmire, or Gitmo, or any of the other Bush disasters, or the Econo or FT writing nonsense about Europe, the basic aim is to assert dominance, either by force or by chutzpah and fiat.

The talking points around that aim are tangential. They're either lies, or irrelevant, or they don't make sense.

So how do you rhetorically challenge an assertion of dominance?

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 10:03:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's a good question.  The answer, I suggest, is that you can't challenge it with the person who wants to dominate. Rather, you challenge it with others who, though they have no stake in that dominance, enable it nonetheless.  This is really a question of audience.  
by kellogg (kellogg[dot]david[at]gmail[dot]com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 12:16:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One basic analysis would be that dominants cannot be dominants on their own. They can't dominate themselves. The submissive are needed. It is a dialogue.

The rhetorical answer to assertions of dominance is to ignore the assertion.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:36:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is this not about ethos - who you are in the rethorical position.

So you have some sort of debate with an authorian that tries to some sort of audience build himself (or herself in some cases) up as a dominator. What are the aspects of a dominator? Can you lead them into a rethorical situation where these aspects can not be fulfilled? This of course also depends on who you are in this situation.

To make in a bit more concrete, say that you are debating death penalty with a law-and-order authorian. If you are seen by the audience as more powerful (having higher rank or something) you can dismiss his attempt at establishing dominance by a lofty discussion on the realities of crime (what is). But if you are less powerful that will be seen by those seeking a leader as confirming your opponents masculine and muscular ways. Instead you might be able to ridicule your opponent - claiming he is searching for the bogeyman under his bed - and by turning him into a ridiculous figure, that is scared while you (who are less powerful) walks with courage undermine his position as leader.

Then of course there are battles you can not win, and when the opponents control the pulpit (ie MSM) that is often the case.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Fri May 4th, 2007 at 08:11:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not to dismiss the points you make, I agree with all of them, but we're in the middle of a battle and I'm tired of losing.  I'm tired of cringing everytime some Leftwing politician opens their mouth and makes a hash of it.  Our opponents have and will continue to use these techniques.  We'd better gear up and quit taking a toothpick to a gunfight.

We don't lose on intellectual grounds nor even with the ideas we esteem and espouse.  We lose because we're gawd-awful at making our case.  There is no reason we can't use framing.  It's not making the worst case the better but making the best case the persuasive.  We lose, among other reasons, when we unquestionably accept the Neo-Lib/Con stasis.  (Thanks to Kellogg for the concept!)  

Do I wish to see the Left move into spouting vacuous inanities?  Of course not.  What I do wish to see is our use of modern communication techniques to level the playing field so that our message is not overwhelmed at the starting gate.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 12:27:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is not only "talking points" routine of right-wingers. It is their symbiosis with the media. They set and keep current rules of political discussion. And those rules are kept pretty far away from proper rhetorics.

Some think-tank minds may know proper rhetorics very well - but they also know that it may not necessarily suit individual interests. Once you know principles of proper rhetorics, you may twist or foul the principles to your own advantage, especially if you know human mind well.

Today, the only good opportunity for real debate are televized presidential debates - and boy, those debates are formated to make proper debating very difficult. You "cannot" address the opponent directly, for example. Even worse, the trend is to allow still less time for argumentation, with stiffer restrictions still. Progressive politicians are too submissive in following the rules, both agreed or "unwritten" - while the other side knows very well how to proceed and wait out.

Sure, people have short attention spans and could be annoyed by statistics, pedantic logic. But these pitfalls are overemployed and overstressed, to detiment of progressive politicians. As the "anti-intelectual" culture is being strenghtened continuously, debates are easier to manipulate by those with certain powers.

Progressives need to reverse these trends. You can't do much at once, or openly. Preparatory measures are needed. But the goal must be a more rationality-friendly media. Proper debating principles are out there, but they need to be imposed (at least partially). It may take an ongoing "fight", but the progressives need more weight of rationality.

Making up one-liners and talking points is important, especially now; the progressives should learn and use that reasonably well. But they must feel more comfortable with talking out their arguments properly and fully, and confronting right-wing nonsense directly. The point is to inspire and bring your idea or message to other people - it does not matter much whether you do that following implicitly optimal rules (perceivably "accepted" by everyone), or whether you succeed in a "too brainy" way. You also do not have to convince absolutely everyone.

by das monde on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 02:23:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The French presidential debate this week will be face-to-face, two metres apart, and there will be non-stop examples of stasis and also of dominance assertion...
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 04:42:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am going to repost the link to Propaganda by Edward L. Bernays, for those who haven't read this lovely little book yet. Note, I really do mean lovely quite sincerely... No sarcasm or irony here. It is a very enjoyable read! Propaganda for propaganda it is, this book. Making the comment linked below propaganda for propaganda for propaganda. And the present comment? Propaganda for propaganda for propaganda for propaganda, naturally!!

Propaganda comment, with my favourite excerpt from the book. (How to sell pianos)

Propaganda (Published 1928) by Edward L. Bernays The book available in its entirety, in pdf format, via the link above. It is listed as being in the public domain. Read it, it is a lovely book!

(Notice how I make a direct appeal here that you should read the book. Thus demonstrating that I did not learn how to use the techniques promoted by the book... I am a bad propagandaist!)

Propaganda and Rhetoric. I think they go hand in hand, and the left need to get much, much better at both! Good diary.

by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:13:11 AM EST
It is a good read. This book is a fantastic tour of the mechanics of for-profit media control in the modern age (which in my opinion don't get covered nearly enough by those that would seem to care about the topic).

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 03:27:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this, kellogg (and to AT for inviting you). I look forward to the following diaries.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 04:53:18 PM EST
Look in the recent diaries.  
by kellogg (kellogg[dot]david[at]gmail[dot]com) on Mon Apr 30th, 2007 at 09:24:28 PM EST


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