Subscribe via RSS Feed

What is “violent rhetoric”? Redux

[ 101 ] December 19, 2012 |

The conservatives currently hounding Erik clearly never read this post. If they had, they’d realize that there’s a difference between a gun control advocate saying someone needs to be shot and a gun rights advocate doing the same. Rhetoric is only “violent” when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience. Putting the head of a President on a pike in a television show that appeals to violent barbarians is one thing — being a labor historian who “demands” the head of a paramilitary organization “on a stick” is another entirely. Not a single member of Erik’s Twitter audience took his tweet as an incitement to violence. The same couldn’t be said, for example, if Wayne LaPierre had tweeted the very same thing about someone trying to take away his right to bear fully automatic weapons with extended magazines. Why?

Because LaPierre’s audience includes heavily armed people prone to violence, whereas Erik’s consists of pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers.*

The long and short of it is simple: if you come upon a discussion of rhetoric in which people completely ignore the issue of audience, don’t take them seriously because they’re not making a rhetorical argument.

*I must add that I’m impressed: Erik got someone to read his dissertation. That kind of suckering is Internet Tradition-worthy if ever anything was.

Share with Sociable

Comments (101)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Timb says:

    Did you use my comment to that or are you nitpicking on your own? Dammit, Scott, this is my turf and I won’t have you stealing Pablo and Jeff and RSM and JD and Patterico’s hatred and disdain. They consider you a bigger target and you’re stealing my thunder.

  2. Sherm says:

    For some reason, Loomis can’t resist talking about early 20th century homosexual lumberjacks, and the anal sex they preferred (over oral sex). I mean, after reading pages 155-56 I immediately thought of the Monty Python “Lumberjack Song” (video here; lyrics here). And I felt I needed a shower, too.

    Rather interesting that McCain felt the need for some alone time in the shower following that read.

  3. bradP says:

    Now you are assuming some very absurd things about your own side.

    1) There were some tweeted death threats concerning LaPierre and NRA members.

    2) When you call someone the head of a child-murdering terrorist organization, you are kinda limited on what exactly the “head on a stick” line was a metaphor for.

    3) Walking this back from should be killed to should be thrown in prison for life isn’t going to resolve any of the problems the argument has.

    • spencer says:

      3) Walking this back from should be killed to should be thrown in prison for life isn’t going to resolve any of the problems the argument has.

      If the problem is the so-called “violent” nature of the rhetoric, why not?

  4. J. Otto Pohl says:

    Interesting take on the issue of audience. I had been thinking about these things more along lines of intent. It is obvious that Dr. Loomis did not intend for anybody to take his words literally. Nor is there any reasonable interpretation of his words as an incitement to actual violence.

    However, I am not sure that people can actually know their audience. I have absolutely no idea who reads my blog and my blog has very few readers. But, still I get a few hits from Norway, the Netherlands, France, Indonesia, and other places where I know nobody on a regular basis. I have no idea who they are. I do not even know who the two dozen people who purchased copies of my second book, Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949 (Westport: Greenwood, 1999) over the last two years are. All I know is I got a $124 royalty check recently. So I don’t think we can know anything about our audiences really. We can only note what reasonable people would interpret. Obviously not all of the readers of the writings of Dr. Loomis are pacifists since a number of people have interpreted his words as violent. These people are not being reasonable. But, it does show that you never know who might be reading what you write.

  5. S_noe says:

    Because LaPierre’s audience includes heavily armed people prone to violence, whereas Erik’s consists of pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers.*

    The ass-fucking lumberjacks weren’t hugging no trees, bro.

  6. Thanks for this. Aside from the fact that blah blah blah…metaphor…it seems weird to me that the side with all the guns and the side who wants to blood-water liberty trees should suddenly find themselves with such pearl-clutching case of the vapahs. I fear we may soon run out of fainting couches for these rough, tough, rugged individualists.

  7. Timb says:

    That “badger pundit” guy is really a fan, since he’s the one who did a fabulous exposé of Erik’s Facebook page at Jacobson’s place. Erik has a fanboy

  8. tt says:

    Rhetoric is only “violent” when its intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience.

    That’s not the sense I got from the post you linked:

    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.

    Aren’t you saying that Palin’s rhetoric is violent even if her intention is not to encourage violent acts?

    Not that this affects your main point.

    • DrDick says:

      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.

      Did you read this part, because that is where he talks about an audience receptive to the idea of armed violence?

      • tt says:

        I read everything. In today’s post, SEK states that a requirement for rhetoric to be violent is that its “intent is encourage violent acts to a receptive audience.” There are two components to this statement: for rhetoric to be classified as “violent”, 1) the intent must be to encourage violent acts 2) the audience of the rhetoric must be receptive to this encouragement (or at least the person using the rhetoric must perceive the audience to be receptive).

        However, in the Palin post, SEK explicitly states that he is not claiming that Palin’s intent is to encourage assassination. The rest of the post also implies there need not be any intention to actually encourage violent acts for rhetoric to qualify as violent.

        I think your summary of SEK’s argument in the Palin post is misleading or imprecise. What SEK actually said is that Palin’s rhetoric is violent because “it was intended to appeal to an audience whose imaginations would be stoked by a reference to shooting things.” This does not imply that Palin’s audience is prepared to actually start killing people at Palin’s directive. It’s violent rhetoric because it feeds off violent fantasy. But this is quite different from encouraging violent acts in reality.

        • SEK says:

          I take your point, but I’m not willing to concede your distinction: you can’t stoke the violent imaginations of non-violent people, because they don’t have violent fantasies to appeal to. The distinction between exciting violent imaginations and people committing violent acts isn’t a significant one, because you’re not going to inspire Jainists to go on killing sprees.

          • tt says:

            But Palin’s intent wasn’t to encourage people to commit violent acts. She was appealing to violent fantasies in order to incite people to political, democratic action (defeating her political opponents electorally). I think it’s fair to say that encouraging violent acts is a dangerous side effect of this rhetorical strategy, but its not the intent and therefore doesn’t fall under the definition you use in this post.

            • SEK says:

              Violent rhetoric appeals to violent fantasies, and is intended to create action on the basis of that appeal. You can’t appeal to violent fantasies without using violent rhetoric. I probably should’ve put “violent” in scare quotes in this post, but I assumed people had already read and/or would read the linked one.

              • brandon says:

                You can’t appeal to violent fantasies without using violent rhetoric.

                you can’t stoke the violent imaginations of non-violent people, because they don’t have violent fantasies to appeal to

                …eehhhhh I’m not sure either of these two assertions make sense or are true. What is the nature of the person in question’s nonviolence? Is it just that they don’t think of violence, or is it a matter of principle, or of situational logic? I mean, I’m speaking as someone who doesn’t do violent things, but entertains little violent fantasies of people all the time (“That guy cut in front of me on the exit ramp! Off with his head! That guy wrote positively & at length about Camille Paglia? Off with his head!”). People compartmentalize, they’re complicated.

          • Manta says:

            “you can’t stoke the violent imaginations of non-violent people, because they don’t have violent fantasies to appeal to.”

            True, but then those non-violent people do no exist.

          • gmack says:

            Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that one can quite easily make this same argument about Loomis’ comments. All one needs to do is to say that there are people on the left who possess violent fantasies that Loomis’ imagery can stoke. It’s not hard to argue: The image of putting someone’s head on a stick invokes, say, incidents of the French Revolution, where the story is that the revolutionaries put one of Marie Antoinette’s friend’s head on a pike and waved it under Antoinette’s window. Thus, I think it’s possible to argue that the image stokes the imagination of the revolutionary who is inspired by the idea of the people rising up and attacking their oppressors. Granted, I don’t think this particular fantasy is terribly widespread among the left or anywhere else, but I my concern is that your whole argument here depends upon the assumption that Erik’s audience are non-violent, or that there are no violent fantasies on the left. This assumption is, I think, at least potentially problematic. It’s certainly not an assumption that those on the right are willing to grant, particularly since they think Loomis and his readers unreconstructed communists and (therefore) in favor of class warfare, violent union attacks, anarchistic property destruction, and so on.

            Of course, I know this depiction of Loomis and his readers (of which I am one, of course) is false; my point is that the question of whether his rhetoric is “violent” is itself a political question, dependent o
            n how one understands one’s opponents and their ideology.

            • SEK says:

              I know this depiction of Loomis and his readers (of which I am one, of course) is false; my point is that the question of whether his rhetoric is “violent” is itself a political question, dependent on how one understands one’s opponents and their ideology.

              This is exactly my point. You can create a hypothetical situation in which Loomis’s statement qualifies as violent rhetoric, but if you look at the actual, concrete rhetorical situation in which he made that statement, you can’t reasonably draw the same conclusion. Rhetoric is always contingent. (Verbal and visual, as I note in many of my film posts: foreign films look “foreign” because they’re not designed to appeal to American audiences.)

  9. AcademicLurker says:

    The president of Loomis’ university missed a golden opportunity.

    The University of Rhode Island does not promote, condone, or endorse either the specific practice of placing people’s severed heads on sticks nor the practice of decapitation in general. Professor Loomis speaks for himself alone.

  10. Jameson Quinn says:

    This audience argument may be true, but it is very weak, because it sounds like special pleading. It’s much better to base things on bright lines than “but I’m a good person and you’re not,” even when you’re talking to a bad person.

    • DrDick says:

      You cannot fairly interpret the meaning of any statement without its context, including the audience to which its is directed. That is what makes Reagan’s speech on states’ rights at Philadelphia, MS, an open invocation of racism.

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        It’s worth distinguishing rhetoric using e.g., imagery of violence from rhetoric which is in its effect violent. I guess that SEK is focusing on the latter.

        Obviously, even rhetoric without depictions of violence can be violent (just as “will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest” is a command) and plenty of rhetoric with depictions of violence have no violent intent or effect.

        Furthermore, expressions can be the violent acts themselves (threats or vicious comments) or incitements to other forms of violence.

        Finally, effect, intent, and responsibility can come apart or run together in a variety of ways.

      • Manta says:

        Taking Otto’s comment above: (especially on internet), you have no idea who your audience is: especially if you are worried not about the average reader, but about the mentally unstable person who may decide to kill somebody.

    • SEK says:

      This audience argument may be true, but it is very weak, because it sounds like special pleading.

      It’s not special pleading, it’s always pleading. As a teacher of rhetoric, I insist that my students examine all three elements of the rhetorical triangle before making a judgment about a rhetorical statement. Only on the Internet does this requirement meet with a challenge.

      Just look at any of my film posts: I discuss the effect a technique (message) used by a director (rhetor) was intended to have an audience (um, audience). It’s not as if I reserve my rhetorical integrity for times when it’s politically convenient.

    • Hob says:

      The audience argument isn’t about good people vs. bad people; it’s about what kinds of responses are realistically imaginable given the known behavior and interests of the people. You could be a terrible person and yet, if you’re not interested in guns or in shooting people, and if everyone knows this about you, then someone telling you “that guy ought to be shot” is different than someone saying that to a room full of heavily armed wingnuts. Similarly, if you say you’d like to see a good show, you’ll get a different response from a room full of classical music enthusiasts versus a room full of strippers.

  11. dp says:

    The right-wing’s two-minute-hate is predictable and unsurprising.

    What is distressing is the willingness of presumably non-right-wing establishment people — the police, the president of URI — to even notice such stupidity, much less lend it credibility by acting in response to it.

    • Richard says:

      I dont have a problem, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, with the police asking a few questions of Erik and being assured that he never intended to kill anybody. (It would be another thing if they arrested him or took any action except a short interview). I do have a problem with the response of the URI president not even making a halfhearted defense of free speech rights.

      • DrDick says:

        Right. It seems perfectly clear from Erik’s account that the police thought it was a waste of time, but were going through the motions just in case. Nothing wrong with that and I would rather the police do that than to ignore all such warnings. The URI president is weasel of a different stripe.

  12. wengler says:

    I would say it doesn’t really matter though, because the other side doesn’t give a shit about being accurate or truthful.

    They just want to smear someone in order to change the subject on a topic they are so painfully losing. They are scum-sucking bullshitters and it’s foolish to even have the pretense of debate with them.

  13. man... says:

    I couldn’t get my entire dissertation committee to read my dissertation. Loomis unambiguously wins this round.

    • DrDick says:

      Yeah, I think maybe a dozen people outside of my committee (who actually did read the whole thing) have ever read mine in the past 25 years.

      • spencer says:

        I actually have gotten people to pay money for mine, because I managed to convince Springer to publish it.

        Well, it was a slightly shorter version of it, but still.

        • spencer says:

          Though one of my committee members did ask a question during my defense that demonstrated that he hadn’t read any revisions since the second draft. So there’s that.

      • elm says:

        I actually got a royalty check from ProQuest because some confused souls purchased my dissertation (not a book based on the dissertation; the actual dissertation.) If I remember correctly, it sold a dozen copies.

        No one has ever admitted to me that they were the ones who bought it, which I take as a good sign that they’re at least properly ashamed of themselves.

  14. Anonymous says:

    A lot of words to say that radical lefties don’t kill people, radical righties do.

  15. cooperstreet says:

    Is it unusual to not have a single research publication four years after graduating with a PhD in the humanities?

    • SEK says:

      Not at all. Especially considering that’s the time when, at least in English, we’re encouraged to make the dissertation-to-book transition.

      • SEK says:

        Wait, I thought you were attacking Loomis, but I take it you’re attacking me? Because I just had one published last year and two in the pipeline, as well as a book contract. So neener neener neener.

      • cooperstreet says:

        I wasn’t attacking anyone. Just surprised at the situation, is all. I was under the impression that humanities PhD students publish during their PhD programs.

        • SEK says:

          They try to, but given the current situation — reduced funding, meaning more teaching, and the death of academic publishing, meaning fewer places to publish — it doesn’t happen often. I published a few articles while a grad student, but that’s because I had blogging to shoehorn me a wider audience. Most grad students are just stuck in an untenable situation when it comes to publishing articles no one ever reads.

  16. Gus says:

    I am not a homosexual.

  17. Oregon Beer Snob says:

    I think the main thing I’ve learned from this whole ridiculous mess is that the only thing the right wing knows how to do is troll, both online and IRL. And they don’t do it particularly well.

    And that the pres of URI is a bit of an asshole.*

    *Note: Not a metaphor — I’m assuming the guy actually has an asshole.

  18. Davis says:

    He found the dissertation he skimmed to be “plodding” and not a page-turner, as most of them are, like a John Grisham novel.

  19. Joe Regular says:

    It wasn’t just that one tweet. He was ranting like an idiot. He retweeted a very violent one. He was not acting like a university professor. Not even one on twitter.

  20. Joe Regular says:

    It wasn’t rhetoric. He was just mouthing off like a bloody idiot.

  21. Derelict says:

    I must add that I’m impressed: Erik got someone to read his dissertation. That kind of suckering is Internet Tradition-worthy if ever anything was.

    Is this a new kind of Rick-Rolling? Maybe we can all it Erik-Rolling?

  22. Joe Regular says:

    Eric Doofus’s blab does not rise to the level of rhetoric.

  23. Byond Politics says:

    When you made reference to a “paramilitary organization,” which organization would that be? Are you calling the NRA, the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization, a paramilitary organization? That’d probably surprise most of its membership.

    When you implied that some people were prone to violence, who were you referring to? The millions of peaceful citizens of the US who own guns?

    In reality, most of the murders that take place in the United States are not committed by NRA members. Some, like the dozens in Connecticut last week, are committed with stolen guns and not by gun owners. I suspect that many of the nearly 500 murders in Chicago (over 100 victims were children) were also committed with stolen guns. Incidentally, this number is larger than the number of US lives lost in Afghanistan this year; I don’t know how many lives have been lost by the President’s secretive drone program…)

    What’s outrageous is the enormous amount of violence being committed by a small number of people in a city that prides itself on its gun control.

    Shrugging your shoulders at that and then point your fingers at millions of peaceful citizens means that you are abandoning a minority population to a brutal fate.

  24. [...] acceptable when Sarah Palin now-famously used an image of crosshairs on an election map. But as a defense of Loomis on the blog Lawyers, Guns & Money informs us, “Rhetoric is only ‘violent’ when its intent is encourage violent acts [...]

  25. mtraven says:

    Perhaps Erik will be invited to give an Onion Talk.

  26. Ironhawk86 says:

    So its a question of audience, huh? Guessing someone’s too ignorant to know that virtually all the politically-motivated crime in this country is perpetrated by leftists. I’ll bet you anything that there are more felony convictions for Erik Loomis and the people who listen to him or attend his classes than the NRA’s entire membership.

  27. Dagney says:

    “Share this everywhere, especially gun-nut and anti-game websites. Also see if you can’t send it in to the NRA somehow, like through the feedback on their website or something.”
    – the creator of the videogame (username gizmo01942)

    It‘s a video-game for “pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers”, in which one can target Wayne LaPierre and shoot him with the expected result of gore and blood.

    Some of ‘em “pacifistic homosexual tree-huggers” sure love videogames depicting Lapierre’s murder!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.