Home / General / What is “violent rhetoric”?

What is “violent rhetoric”?


As someone who teaches rhetoric, I can only say that I’ve been profoundly disappointed in the quality of the conversation about the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords.  Despite all the condemnation of everyone else’s “violent rhetoric,” I’ve yet to see one post in which the term itself is defined.  It seems to mean, in the current political vernacular, anything said by someone else that involves anything even remotely violent.  Katrina Trinko’s attempt to tu quoque Keith Olbermann is particularly enlightening, as it describes a number of angry statements by Olbermann that are neither violent nor rhetorical, e.g.

In 2007, Olbermann called rival network Fox News “worse than al-Qaeda … for our society” and said the channel was “as dangerous as the Ku Klux Klan ever was.”

Neither of those statements are rhetorical because neither of them attempts to call its audience to action.  For them to be rhetorical, as per Aristotle in On Rhetoric, they would need to be intended to persuade.  Moreover, they would need to be intended to persuade a particular audience to undertake a particular action.  This is the rhetorical triangle:

Note the interconnectedness of the speaker and audience.  The general problem with discussing rhetoric in the current media environment is that the particularity of the audience is absent.  Anyone can read or watch or listen to anything without regard for their relation to the intended audience and without reference to the action whose commission the rhetor intends.  In such a situation, it is not surprising when the mode of persuasion favored by speakers is the one that is most effectively general.  To quote Aristotle again:

The first [mode of persuasion] depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos].

Though pathos is typically translated as an “appeal to emotion,” it is better understood as an “appeal to imagination.”  Anything that stokes the imagination, be it an image or a narrative, fits the bill.  It goes without saying that the majority of political rhetoric in America is, in this technical sense, pathetic.  This is simply because most politicians have questionable ethos and very few have speechwriters sufficiently talented to produce persuasive logos.  But it is also because most Americans are too suspicious of political motives to allow politicians to establish an ethos and too untrained in the literary arts to understand an appeal to logos.

Typically, then, we are left in a situation in which politicians, as rhetors, design speeches whose pathos is general enough to appeal to as wide an audience as possible.  It stands to reason that if we want to understand what “violent rhetoric” entails, we must focus on whose images and stories are stoking whose imaginations and to what effect.  Pointing out that Keith Olbermann associated Fox News with terrorist organizations foreign and domestic does nothing of the sort because the audience and intended effect of his statements is unclear.  How unclear?

If we posit his intended audience is liberals and leftists who believe President Obama is a centrist—which strikes me as a fairly accurate assessment—then we need to ask what the intended effect on that particular audience of associating Fox News with al-Qaeda would be.  Keeping in mind that we are currently at war with al-Qaeda, are we to believe that Olbermann is encouraging liberals and leftists to join a military-like organization and wage an Afghanistan-type offensive against Fox News?  Given that his audience is composed of people who are, generally speaking, opposed to war, does that make any sense?  Or is it more likely that he is simply attempting to create an association of like-with-like in which the likeness is supremely unflattering?  His rhetoric here is pathetic and inflammatory, but from the perspective of what it is intended to persuade its audience, it is also incoherent.  It can’t be considered “violent” because it in no way encourages its audience to have its imagination stoked by reference to violence.

Consider a slightly more infamous example:

Here the intended audience is those who believe President Obama is a radical leftist and associates itself with the center-right.  Unlike the audience of liberals and leftists, who oppose war and favor a restrictive interpretation of the Second Amendment, this audience is more hawkish and more likely to support of an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment.  I would contend that this is an example of “violent rhetoric” not because it contains crosshairs aimed at “the candidates” who represent “the problem” in need of “solution,” and despite the fact that talking about “solving” human beings has a rather untoward history, but because its violence is a product of whose imaginations are being stoked and how it is being done.

The intended effect of this image is not to encourage the assassination of candidates; however, the pathetic appeal being made to this particular audience is certainly intended to stoke their imaginations in ways related to their ideological belief in an expansive interpretation of the Second Amendment.  This rhetoric is violent, then, because it was intended to appeal to an audience whose imaginations would be stoked by a reference to shooting things.  The same cannot be said of this similar map:

Why not?  Are bullseye that different from crosshairs?  Of course not.  However, the intended audience is: the imaginations of liberals and leftists who support a restrictive interpretation of the Second Amendment are not stoked by images of bullseyes.  They generally have no pathetic investment in crossbows and so appeals of this sort are less likely to be effective than those like the one above.  In terms of rhetoric, then, only the first of these two maps can be designated as “violent” because only it attempts to persuade its audience into action by stoking imaginations by referencing shooting things.*

So now that we have something resembling a proper working definition of “violent rhetoric,” the next question is whether “violent rhetoric” like Palin’s is responsible for the assassination attempt on Gifford.  The answer is that I’m not convinced.**  From what I’ve read, he never expressed interest in guns until last November, so the likelihood of ads like hers stoking his imagination is slim.  The more pernicious rhetoric here is the conspiratorial variety being mainstreamed by the likes of Glenn Beck: rabid and ahistorical anti-federalism feeds into the beliefs of those who believe they’re being persecuted by vast faceless conspiracies.

*I suppose one possible objection is that shooting is not, in and of itself, a violent act, but given that it specifically links the crosshairs to candidates, I think that would be a difficult argument to make here.

**That said, I do believe whichever party was responsible for the dismantling the mental health system—generally in the 1980s and more recently in Arizona—and consistently lobbies for fewer restrictions on the purchasing of powerful weaponry is partly culpable for what happened on Saturday.

This is wonderful news for those who are looking for sleeveless leather jacket and army trench coat. We are the best online shop for plus size leather coats at affordable prices and pink motorcycle jacket as well. Rests assure, we don’t compromise on quality while making summer motorcycle gloves.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • Linkedin
  • Pinterest
  • In particular, epideictic rhetoric, which Aristotle named as one of the three branches of rhetoric, does not have the audience taking action as its goal. From Wikipedia:

    “This is rhetoric of ceremony, commemoration, declamation, demonstration, on the one hand, and of play, entertainment, display, including self-display. It is also the rhetoric used at festivals, the Olympic games, state visits and other formal events like openings, closings, anniversaries as well as at births, deaths, or marriages.”

  • Bill Tankerslu

    Have you read the book John or are you just citing wiki as a source?

  • Pingback: Was Jared Lee Loughner politically motivated, insane or just plain stupid? | The Terror Fabulous()

  • Pingback: Monday Roundup « Faith & Philanthropy()

  • Rifle sights are not symbolically equivalent to bulleyes.
    Bullseyes have non-weapon uses, though they imply something fast with concentrated impact (ideally striking the center of the bullseye). Darts are most commonly associated with bullseye targets.
    ‘Crosshairs’ have only two (similar) uses, afaik: Rifle scope sight, or bomb aiming device (I’ve only read about those, and i suspect the modern equivalent is a marker on an electronic display).
    A ‘defensive’ blog pointed out that Palin’s ‘crosshair’ is a defective representation of a scope sight in that the bisecting lines extend beyond the cylinder of the scope, and so cannot be crosshair symbols. i disagree because: The symbols *are* symbols. Rifle shooting is roughly half of Palin’s PR image.

    • BruceJ

      Crosshairs also are used in aiming a telescope (through a viewfinder). Not EVERY set of crosshairs has a violent purpose :-)

  • Pingback: well that civility was short-lived | argumentum ad cerebrum()

  • some guy

    So the point of all this is that if one agrees than a phrase or image is acceptable and if one does not agree than that phrase or image is not acceptable.

    Of course. But I guess only in America would one be so blinded by team loyalty (“our team good; your team bad”) that they could reach this conclusion.

    You can hold whatever opinion you want, sir or madame, but that does not make you correct. The fact that you are just another ignorant American who bases his view on politics solely on political team would be evidence of the opposite.

    • DocAmazing

      Wow. What a brave stand. You sure showed ’em, tiger.

  • Jazzo

    I think think this article is pretty much right. Most people are ignorant and just don’t take the time to fully understand things, and when we’re faced with something that we don’t understand we get confused or fustrated. But point blank don’t just believe what hear, find the scource or ask yourself why and get a real answer. Then you might not be as confused and you’ll feel more comfortable about the situation. Words are only as real and dangerous as we let them be.

  • Pingback: Quora()

  • Pingback: What did W. ever do to Joffrey? - Lawyers, Guns & Money : Lawyers, Guns & Money()

  • Pingback: Does the existence of conservative “individuals of color holistically demolish the Left’s paranoid, feverish, and disgusting fantasy that white Republicans speak with white bigots through some tribal Caucasian dialect[?]“ - Lawyers, Guns &am()

  • Pingback: Does the existence of conservative “individuals of color holistically demolish the Left’s paranoid, feverish, and disgusting fantasy that white Republicans speak with white bigots through some tribal Caucasian dialect[?]“ - Lawyers, Guns &am()

  • [url=http://nikefreerunfor.tumblr.com/]Nike Free Run[/url] Generally, that’s because teams in a post-season series have similar travel itineraries So riprap along bridges would be a prime pattern Some good lures for this would be a shad colored crank bait like Rebel Wee R or 5A and 6A Bombers to crank the rocks, also the bomber long A jerk bait is another good choice Cast parallel to the rock line and concentrate on deflecting the lure as often as possible The biggest key in the fall is repetitive casting, you ask why, because the bass have seen lures all summer So its important to cast repetition to a good looking area like a point of the riprap or a tree or brush laying down along the riprapPARALLEL PARKING FOR BASS: When it comes to bass fish there are not to many hard and fast rules but when you come across a seawall and lines of riprap, one rule rings come to mind [url=http://nikefreerun3for.blogspot.com/]nike free run 3[/url] Boarding is a pretty serious violation of hockey rules which occurs when an opposing team member checks a player and forces him into the boards of the rink Boarding can result in minor, major or severe penalties depending on the circumstances and the referees assessment of the situation Charging is another infraction that has penalties associated with it because it is the act of charging at a player from a long distance before checking the player which can be pretty violent in practice High-sticking, elbowing and head-butting are taken pretty serious in the game of hockey Such actions may result in a major penalty, a game misconduct penalty, suspension or fines http://nikefreerun2sale.cabanova.com/.
    [url=http://nikefreeshoespink.tumblr.com/]nike free shoes[/url] The shoes in black, green, white to alter the endure allotment of the abysmal tones of blush design, the wind becomes added simple and orderly This brace of shoes with the Bulls for the Bulls vs Air Jordan 13 CelticsDMP absolutely similar, but the aberration is still evident Both of these affairs appear to the ahead in the accumulating of autumn 2009, which provides a alternation of four Shoes Discount Jordan Retro 1 Phat PremierAnd with added blush combinations that are continuously getting appear lately, we anticipation this would be the best In addition, you should not discount is the accepted angle for use with shoes the aforementioned blush and arrangement of a able braiding to actualize a arrangement of velvet, which has 60 + alternation and addedAir Jordan sale has seen [url=http://nikefreetiffanynike.webs.com/]nike free tiffany[/url] – Pick up the clutter Every day – Put the dishes awayIf your organization is committed to achieving sustainable growth, conducting a comprehensive business risk survey can help you achieve your objective Most companies and other types of organizations face many types of known and hidden risks Some of the risks may be known to some people in the organization, but not to others including people generally responsible for identifying and managing risk Conducting a risk survey enables your company to measure risk likelihood and potential risk impact, and to gather comments explaining the risks and suggestions for mitigating the risks Risk surveys are usually sent to senior and middle management across the organization.

  • [url=http://cheapnikefreerunshoes.weebly.com/]cheap nike free run[/url] Her stand was simply and nicely decorated and spotlessly clean However she did not stop here She set up her stand next door to the most popular Hot Dog/snack stand This vender was well known throughout the neighborhood for his great food and service He had a great location near many offices on a busy street and he was not just seasonal he was there all year round so everybody knew him [url=http://lebron8forsaleonline.webs.com/]lebron 8 for sale[/url] Another thing you can do is find good mlm training You Tube is a good place to offer video training Different people have different points of view as it pertains to whether you should approach people you know about your MLM business1 How you are perceived by people around you If your well thought of should approach her friends and familyThey will be curious what you are up to so you may as well show them Plus the opportunities to build a network marketing business today are legitimate for anyone who wants to work http://www.cheapsoccercleats2u.biz.
    [url=http://www.lebron10xbasketball.com]lebron shoes for sale[/url] An essential concept to think about may be the scale the marketplace your attempting to catch, it is usually better to start smaller sized in the beginning, in no way try to catch a national marketplace in the beginning, choose a town, remember there are lots of other people doing the exact same things you tend to be, as well as try utilize unique keywords to the given marketplace, keywords which are still capable to grab the interest theyre becoming utilized for To allow them to work at growing traffic they cannot need to be lengthy blog content articles Even content articles of 100 in order to 200 words could be efficient Search engines like google love weblog content and they’ll arrive spider your site to get this six Online video marketing [url=http://nikefreerun3shoes.blogspot.com/]nike free run 3[/url] Joint VenturesThe last area I want to talk about may be the most lucrative on the Net, actually Anytime you can partner with another professional you are increasing your exposure and broadening your client baseThere are many advantages to joint venture partnering:* You gain access to another persons email list* You gain access to another persons expertise* You increase the odds of others wanting to partner with you.

  • [url=http://cheapnikefreesale.cabanova.com/]cheap nike free[/url] Gallhager started to notice that there was a direct correlation between a young horses skeletal structure and the chances of them developing lordosis Although the dip in the spine was not normally obvious when the foal was born As the foal grew and developed the back started to sway The inverted curve of the spine normally stabilized when the foal finished growing At six years old Spooner’s spine is just starting to stabilize (foals from Spooner’s family tend to grow taller until they are about six years old and several of them don’t completely broaden until they are eight) [url=http://freeshoescheappink.webstarts.com/]nike free shoes[/url] There’s no point in being tricky or clever Just adhere to the basics and your profits will increase accordingly One of the best ways of learning to write good solo ads is to study the other solo ads out there – try to figure out exactly what they’re attempting to sell – and then practice rewriting them according to the rules I’ve just given you http://nikefreetiffanynike.webs.com/.
    [url=http://cheapnikefreesale.blogspot.com/]cheap nike free[/url] SummarySo there are 5 basic reasons people get help:1 Don’t know how to do it2 Don’t have the time3 Don’t have the tools4 Don’t want to do it5 [url=http://cheapnikefreerunmake.blogspot.com/]cheap nike free run[/url] Web presence is a must Your website should be the first tool to make online want to STAY and find out more about your product or service The site should get the message across in an instant Remember, internet is for the generation which thinks, moves, and gets results in an instant!This is also the route where you would also add new dimensions to your product, whether it be the image, prestige, value, in other words, the total packaging Use all available technology as a means to get you to your desired end.

  • Sure, because no leftist could ever potentially be bent on violence but everyone sided on the right is clearly going to shoot someone. Inane.

  • Pingback: We’re Baaaaaack! | The Making Sense Show()

  • Pingback: 1/18/2011 | The Making Sense Show()

It is main inner container footer text