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rhetoric

It’s a wonderful illustration of the emptiness of much Beltway foreign-policy-speak. McCain and Graham want Obama to act both “deliberately” and “urgently” because they’re both happy words. (As opposed to “lethargically” and “rashly,” which are nastier synonyms for the same thing.) But when you translate these uplifting abstractions into plain English, you see how contradictory McCain and Graham’s demands actually are. You can either demand that Obama not bomb Syria until he’s ensured he has a plan likely to win international and congressional support, or you can demand that he bomb as soon as possible. You can’t demand both. The Unbearable Emptiness of a New York Times Op-Ed

Sound bites now pass for erudite commentary and merge with the banality of celebrity culture, which produces its own self-serving illiteracy and cult of privatization and consumerism. Moreover, as the power of communication and language wanes, collapsing into the seepage of hateful discourses, the eager cheerleaders of casino capitalism along with the ever-present anti-public intellectuals dominate the airwaves and screen culture in order to aggressively wage a war against all public institutions, youth, women, immigrants, unions, poor minorities, the homeless, gays, workers, the unemployed, poor children and others. In this instance, thinking degenerates into forms of ideological boosterism and the crucial potential of thinking to serve as a dynamic resource disappears from the American cultural and academic landscapes. When thinking itself becomes dangerous, society loses its ability to question itself and paves the way for authoritarian regimes of power. The success of conservatives in colonizing, if not undermining, any model of critical reflection often takes place by reducing thought to a matter of commonsense while supporting rampant forms of anti-intellectualism - most evident in the Republican Party’s recent war on evidence-based arguments, science and reason. At the same time, the success on the part of right-wing ideologues, conservative foundations, and anti-public intellectuals to shape domestic and foreign policy and gain the support of most Americans for doing so speaks to a roundly successful pedagogical and political strategy to manipulate public opinion while legitimating the rise of an authoritarian. At the least, this war on reason and politics raises serious questions about the failure of the academy to counter such views. In particular, it raises questions about the alienating nature of what passes for critical thought, theory and informed commentary in the academy. Moreover, the issue here is not weather critical intellectuals can use theory to solve the myriad problems facing the United States and the larger world, but what role critical thought plays in various sites as crucial to developing the formative culture that produces critical modes of agency and makes democracy possible. Henry A. Giroux

Are you trapped in your vocabulary?: You don’t know how to speak of the United States in any way other than what you’ve been taught? So you speak of the present as though it is the past and your answers are as antique as your questions. Michael Ventura

In my autobiography, “Living for Change,” I talk about my experience as a graduate student with a professor whose name was Paul Weiss. Paul was a Jewish philosopher brought up on the Lower East Side of New York. He had a way of speaking so you knew that everything he said had never been said before. It gave me a whole new view of conversation. I think to recognize that conversation is very different from writing, to know how much is spontaneous and how much of it emerges not so much from reflection as much as from reaction to changing realities. Just to deal with the spoken word in a different way than you deal with the written word and to understand how much we know of ourselves and the world through the spoken word, and how it’s essentially a social medium—it’s amazing. It’s given me a lot to think about. Grace Lee Boggs

The notion that the American Revolution was somehow against “government” and “taxation” in general, and not - as all the Founders said - against oligarchy and rule by monopolists and feudal lords - is among the most hilarious conflations and orwellian propaganda campaigns of our lifetimes. CONTRARY BRIN: So Do Outcomes Matter More than Rhetoric?

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Back in the early 1900s, Charles Beard noted that merely to tell Americans that their factories were injuring workers more wantonly than those of any other country would fail to move a nation so fixated on profit. You had, he said (and I’m paraphrasing, because I’m not able to look it up at the moment), to tell the American people that it was inefficient to keep killing workers – that it was a waste of human capital, an unproductive use of resources. This rhetorical tactic aims at moral ends by appealing to a venal calculus. Like the commuter who rescued his fellow-citizen from a train track because he didn’t want to be late to work, maybe we will rescue our public goods from disruption – not because it’s the right thing to do, but because we won’t profit if we don’t. Lepore on disruption

Milton Friedman and Vlad Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Barry Goldwater, Barack Obama and Rand Paul, Francois Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Fidel Castro, Friedrich Hayek and Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman and Augusto Pinochet: They may well have disagreed about this and that. But they have agreed, or said they did, that the state was a force that was historically pitted against private capital. To reduce one was to increase the other and vice versa. They vary inversely and the balance between them that you recommend constitutes the fundamental way of characterizing your political position. This spectrum stretches from authoritarianism on the one end to authoritarianism on the other, with authoritarianism in between. It makes anything that is not that incomprehensible. It narrows all alternatives to variations on hierarchy, structures of inequality, or profoundly unjust distributions of power and wealth. There are alternatives, and the one I would suggest is this: We should arrange political positions according to whether they propose to increase hierarchy or to dismantle it. Instead of left and right, we should be thinking about vertical versus horizontal arrangements of power and wealth. The Left-Right Political Spectrum Is Bogus

WE live in the age of grace and the age of futility, the age of speed and the age of dullness. The way we live now is not poetic. We live prose, we breathe prose, and we drink, alas, prose. There is prose that does us no great harm, and that may even, in small doses, prove medicinal, the way snake oil cured everything by curing nothing. But to live continually in the natter of ill-written and ill-spoken prose is to become deaf to what language can do. Poetry: Who Needs It?

Researchers may have found out the problem with politics in America, and it’s simple: We’re all just repeating exactly what we hear on television. We’re not even changing the words around. We’re restating the loudest version of any argument, verbatim. America Loves Experts, and America’s Most Loved Experts Are Terrible

Marketers and managers use jargon because it’s safe. No one stops them to ask: exactly what is it you are breaking through? What precisely are you transforming, and how are you certain the new thing will be better than the old (e.g. New Coke)? If no one, especially no one in power, challenges its use, jargon spreads, choking the life out of conversations and meetings forever. Pay attention to who uses the most jargon: it’s never the brightest. It’s those who want to be perceived as the best and the brightest, something they know they are not. They use cheap language tricks to intimidate, distract, and confuse, hoping to sneak past those afraid to ask what they really mean. Why Jargon Feeds on Lazy Minds

…liberals use more complex arguments, acknowledging different points of view before asserting the (alleged) superiority of their own. Conservatives, in contrast, use simpler arguments and are less likely to concede there are any other reasonable viewpoints. Liberal Writers More Likely to Note Other Points of View

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