Professor considers ethics of rhetoric

first_imgAssociate professor of English John Duffy examined the quality of American public discourse and its social impact Saturday in his lecture “Beyond Civility: The crisis in American public discourse.”The lecture, the final installment of the Snite Museum’s Saturday Scholars series, examined both the current trends in American civil discourse and the measures needed to address the problem effectively. According to Duffy, the problem with contemporary public discourse lies in its polarizing and factually questionable nature.“We seem to have reached the point in our public deliberation in which there is no widely shared agreement as to the nature of a fact,” Duffy said. “There is little place in our public arguments for deliberative language that might express doubt, explore ambiguities, admit errors or acknowledge positions that might depart from orthodoxy.”Duffy said some of the main factors behind the nature of contemporary civil discourse lay in economics and technology. He said sensationalized, polarizing rhetoric has become more marketable for lucrative corporations and media, while the accessibility modern technology has given to news channels and public radio has created a media climate saturated with misleading and combative discourse from both politicians and media pundits.“There is nothing new about vilification, but what makes our moment extraordinary is not the fact of our corrosive discourse, rather it’s the technologies that allow us to disseminate the discourse so effectively,” he said. “We’re unique not because of the toxic nature of our rhetoric, but because of the methods we have to liberate the toxins.”According to Duffy, in order to create a more fruitful rhetoric, we must begin to understand the purpose of argument not merely as a tool of persuasion, but also as a way to engage in a relationship with another human being where opinion is well articulated and respectful of the other’s intelligence. Duffy said this requires a knowledge of “rhetorical virtues.”“To understand rhetorical virtue is to understand that speaking and writing are not merely instrumental but are fundamentally ethical activities,” he said. “That means we are obliged to answer certain questions of ourselves before we speak or write. How does our speech or writing reflect, say, the virtues of respectfulness, generosity? How does our writing respect the practices of tolerance?”While many believe the solution to polarizing, ineffective discourse is to encourage greater civility, Duffy said civility is often a “misleading metric.” Since civility is both too vague to define and too limited in its approach to rhetoric, Duffy said what is needed in civil discourse is a better recognition of rhetorical virtue and purpose.“What the rhetorical virtues offer is something different. They offer a language of assessment and practice of public discourse,” he said. “They call upon us to speak and write, not as Republicans or liberals, Libertarians or Democrats, but as a people committed to an ethical discourse and a common good.”Tags: Beyond Civility, John Duffy, Saturday Scholarslast_img read more

Gun Shot Wounds and Artisan Beef Jerky: The Age of Entitlement

first_imgI had a dream last night that I got shot two times in the chest while heating up a burrito in the microwave at this “Stab and Grab” gas station on the South Slope of downtown Asheville. Getting shot hurt like hell, and it definitely ruined the shirt I was wearing, but otherwise it didn’t slow me down. I waited for the microwave to ding, paid for my burrito and carried on with my errands.I spent the evening prior to that dream bar hopping through Asheville’s formerly sketchy South Slope neighborhood, where the “Stab and Grab” has been a fixture for decades. I say “formerly sketchy” because just a year ago, the neighborhood was full of abandoned warehouses and chain link fences capped in barbed wire. Admittedly, “sketchy” is a relative term (this is Asheville, after all, even our sketchy bits have an edge of whimsy and charm), but in general, most people skipped over the South Slope on their way to better-lit parts of town. But within the past year, a number of breweries, pubs and stores have opened, making the neighborhood a bonafide destination, particularly if you’re into beer.Last night, my friends and I knocked out a fast trail ride on an urban system, then pedaled straight to the South Slope to check out the neighborhood’s newest resident, Tasty Beverage Co., which is quite possibly the greatest bottle shop in the history of bottle shops.It was opening night, and Tasty Beverage Co. was all shiny and new. The beer was organized in a beautiful, OCD kind of way—by state but also by season and also by style. A massive cooler was stocked with beers you could drink on premise, but there were also rows and rows of choices meant to be savored at a later date. I could get lost on those aisles for days geeking out on the different beers—plenty of local options, naturally, but also wild styles from breweries that are hard to find in these parts.And of course, there’s a bar. You can’t open a business in Asheville without a solid bar. In fact, I refuse to shop at your place of business if you don’t offer beer on tap. I don’t care if you sell children’s clothes or tires, give me at least three solid craft beer options while I peruse your wares, or I’m not even going to bother setting foot in your store.I’m not sure when I became so entitled. I have the same issue with grocery stores. If the store doesn’t have a Starbucks and sushi restaurant, I’m going elsewhere for my Lucky Charms and kale. And I’ll go out of my way to fill up at the gas station that has free wi-fi and an artisan pretzel maker on site. Even if I’m not in the mood for a pretzel and email session, it’s nice to know those options are available while I pump gas.Tasty Beverage Co. caters to entitled ass holes like me. It has everything I could possibly want, from that rare milk stout on tap to the jar of locally-crafted beef jerky (just $2 a stick!). It’s only a matter of time before a rodeo of food trucks sets up outside the store. I wonder, will I still make the trek into the “Stab and Grab” for microwavable burritos, or will I succumb to the allure of the food truck offering a $9 grilled cheese? Or hell, maybe the “Stab and Grab” won’t even be there in another year. It’ll probably get converted into a Beanie Bar, where you knit your own wool beanies while drinking local kombucha. What will I dream of then?http://tastybeverageco.com/beer/last_img read more