Oustide of miming, rhetoric could be one of the most maligned arts out there. It’s derision has become built into our language:
“That argument is purely rhetorical.”
“It’s all just rhetoric.”
The funny thing is that most of us don’t actually understand what the word means. We toss it around to mean arguing for argument’s sake, or the wanton display of verbal fireworks, or political doublespeak.
My friends, it is so, so, so much more.
It’s a dive into the psychology, aesthetics, and amalgamations of language, perception, expression, and persuasion. It affects politics, art, society, and our ability to negotiate at garage sales.
It’s morphed over the centuries, with movements as distinct as movements within visual art and scientific thought.
It is fascinating and useful. It was once taught in even primary school curricula. For centuries is was a required component of any university education. Then we got away from it, and now it’s only studied by classical history nuts and media students.
Why? Why is it that in a time where information and opinion are so readily available and so constantly thrust in our faces (even when we try to avoid it), don’t we teach the art of critically deconstructing argument from our earliest school years? Why, when a huge segment of our global population can self-publish at the click of a button, don’t we have dedicated instruction in the ways of clear and persuasive expression for our youngsters?
Anyone can start a snazzy looking blog or YouTube channel. These are incredibly powerful publishing platforms. Why don’t we persistently arm our youth with the ability to create content that has some studied element of rhetorical skill?
Imparting to our kids a bit of knowledge about how others perceive the things we say and write would have a powerful effect in their lives. A bit of knowledge and discipline in this area could go a long way. Maybe we’d see fewer social media gaffs going viral, fewer intelligent politicians and luminaries making asses of themselves over Twitter, fewer 18-year-olds scuttling up their future job search because of an ill-thought Facebook post.
We’d be sacrificing a bit of entertainment, of course, but in the long run the benefits would well outweigh that drawback.