Tag Archives: terrorist

Appealing to the Masses

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

Great Orator, 1944 by Irving Norman

As we near the end of what may be the longest and most contentious election in US history, I have been thinking a lot about something I read in my college English Composition textbook (which I still have after all these years). It was in a section explaining how rhetoric is used to appeal to a crowd of people, and the importance of using key words that tap into the fears and prejudices of the audience. Anyway, here is the quote:

The streets of our country are in turmoil. The universities are filled with students rebelling and rioting. Communists are seeking to destroy our country. Russia is threatening us with her might, and the public is in danger. Yes, danger from within and without. We need law and order. Yes, without law and order our nation cannot survive. Elect us, and we shall by law and order be respected among the nations of the world. Without law and order our republic shall fall.

(Excerpt from speech by Adolf Hitler: Strategies for Successful Writing)

Fear seems to be the driving motivator in this election, and regardless of a person’s political inclination, fear and insecurity are the primary impetuses in candidate selection. People supporting Trump are afraid that they are losing their jobs, that they are not being heard and represented, and that the country is heading in a direction that contradicts their beliefs. On the flip side, people supporting Clinton fear increasing racism and intolerance, increased influence of corporate interests, and loss of women’s rights. Add to that the fact that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, is concerned about terrorist threats and political instability in other countries. Put all this together, and you have an election based upon fear, which is stoked by a media that seeks to capitalize on this widespread sentiment.

I am not going to tell you who to vote for, because it is your choice and you have the right to vote your conscience. I would encourage everyone, though, to take a step back, take a deep breath, and try to make a decision that is less fear based. It is tough—trust me, I know—but it is important.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading and thinking.

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Doctor Who – Eleventh Doctor: Year Two – Issue 5

DoctorWho_2-05

While I’ve been following this arc since the beginning, I have not written about any installments in a while. That’s because, while entertaining, there hasn’t been anything that has jumped out at me as being worth expounding on. But this issue addresses a topic that interests me, which is fanaticism.

The problem, you see, is that mindless devotion to a cause is… well… it’s actually repulsively common. Sontarans… Cybermen… Daleks. The loss of the self, faceless efficiency, blah blah blah. Rank and file, back-and-forth, endless attrition. Potato people. That’s how wars are fought. But they’re won by madmen. Those happy to do the unthinkable in pursuit of victory—even if it means their own death.

As I read this, I could not help but think of fanatics in bellicose situations. Whether these individuals are labeled as heroes or terrorists really depends on which side of the conflict you are on. But the sad fact is the same—some people are so driven by the cause they believe in that they are willing to give their life or take the lives of others for an idea or a cause.

I’ve wondered, on occasion, whether there was a cause that I would be willing to sacrifice my life for. It’s a difficult question to answer honestly. I would like to say that for the greater good of humanity, I would sacrifice myself. But would I? I really can’t answer that, because I don’t know. Right now, there is no ideology that I feel so strongly about.

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The Paris Attacks: Was the Date Symbolic?

FrenchFlag

I generally try to focus my blog posts on books, poems, stories, and comics, but since the bulk of my reading over the past 10 hours has focused on the tragic events in Paris, I suppose I should share my thoughts.

First off, my thoughts and prayers are with the people of France, the victims, and their families. It pains me to think of what they must be going through.

Next, I would like to point out something that was obvious to me. This attack happened on Friday the 13th. I’m not superstitious, but I also do not believe in coincidences. It would not surprise me if the assaults were orchestrated to happen on this day for symbolic reasons.

If ISIS was behind this attack, and it seems likely that they were, we should consider that they labeled the French as infidels. During the Crusades, France sent the Knights Templar to the Holy Land to fight the Muslims. Afterwards, King Philip, fearing the power of the Templars, orchestrated the arrest and subsequent torture and execution of the Knights Templar on Friday the 13th, 1307. I hate to sound like a conspiracy nut, but the parallel gives me pause. If this was a planned and orchestrated attack, then I can only assume that the perpetrators chose a date that would hold symbolic meaning and would be easily remembered, just as the 9/11 date for the attack on the World Trade Center.

I want to close by reiterating that my thoughts and prayers are with France. My heart goes out to the people there.

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“The Wolf and the Lamb: The Rhetoric of Oppression” by Umberto Eco

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

I read this essay yesterday and it took a day to digest this fully, even though the impact of it was immediate. In this piece, Eco explores how rhetoric is used to justify tyranny and the oppression of others by leaders and governments. He backs up his arguments by examining speeches and documents from various sources to demonstrate how the various techniques are employed.

Eco defines rhetoric as “a technique of persuasion, and persuasion is not a bad thing, even though, reprehensibly, you can persuade someone to act against his own interests.” (Turning Back the Clock: p. 45) He then presents Phaedrus’s fable of the wolf and the lamb as the classic example of the rhetoric of oppression. In the fable, the wolf and the lamb meet at a stream to drink. The wolf wants to eat the lamb and goes through a series of arguments with the lamb until the wolf can justify his attack on the lamb.

Eco points out that these arguments become more effective when they are aligned with a shared public opinion. As an example, he uses a passage from Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf in which he argues against the inferiority of other races, specifically blacks. The quote, while disturbing and lengthy, is worth including since it demonstrates how logic can be used in an attempt to promote ideas that are clearly deranged and racist.

From time to time our illustrated papers publish, for the edification of the German philistine, the news that in some quarter or other of the globe, and for the first time there, a Negro has become a lawyer, a teacher, a pastor, even a grand opera tenor or something of that kind. While the bourgeois blockhead stares with amazed admiration at the notice that tells him how marvelous are the achievements of our modern educational system, the more cunning Jew sees in this fact evidence in support of the theory with which he wants to infect the public, namely that all men are equal. It does not dawn on the dull bourgeois mind that the published fact is a sin against reason itself, that it is an act of criminal insanity to train a being anthropoid only by birth until the pretense can be made that the being has been turned into a lawyer—while millions who belong to the most civilized races have to remain in positions unworthy of their cultural level. The bourgeois mind does not realize that it is a sin against the will of the eternal Creator to allow hundreds of thousands of highly gifted people to remain floundering in the swamp of proletarian misery while Hottentots and Zulus are drilled to fill positions in the intellectual professions. For here we have the product only of a drilling technique, just as in the case of a performing dog. If the same amount of care and effort were applied among intelligent races, each individual would become a thousand times more capable in such matters… It is indeed intolerable to think that year after year hundreds of thousands of young people without a vestige of talent are deemed worthy of a higher education, while other hundreds of thousands who possess hugh natural gifts have to go without any sort of higher schooling at all. The practical loss to the nation is incalculable.

(ibid: pp. 48 – 49)

Eco asserts that one of the most effective forms of oppressive rhetoric is to employ the conspiracy argument, positing the idea that there is a plot by another person or country that threatens one’s safety.

In general, in order to maintain popular support for their decisions, dictatorships point the finger at a country, group, race, or secret society that is plotting against the people under the dictator. All forms of populism, even contemporary ones, try to obtain consensus by talking of a threat from abroad, or from internal groups.

(ibid: p. 52)

I have seen firsthand just how effective this rhetorical tool is. In the United States, the threat of terrorist attacks against American targets has led to the loss of individual freedoms and the implementation of oppressive laws such as the Patriot Act. It is also used profusely by media groups such as FOX News or MSNBC to polarize support for a particular political side. For example, if we consider something like the controversial Keystone Pipeline, FOX News would claim that liberals have fabricated evidence of climate change to push through their agenda which could have a negative impact on jobs in this country. Conversely, MSNBC would assert that right-wing legislators are being paid off by the oil lobby and seek to benefit financially at the expense of everyone else. Without taking sides here, we can see that both sides are using the same type of rhetoric, each claiming a conspiratorial plan by the other side.

Toward the end of the essay, Eco cites a speech by Pericles included in the writings of Thucydides where Pericles justifies an Athenian assault against a neighboring city state because it is their right.

This is another figure, perhaps the shrewdest, of the rhetoric of oppression: we have the right to impose our might on others because we embody the best form of government in existence.

(ibid: p. 62)

I cannot recall the number of times I have hear it said that we are invading a country to free the citizens from a dictator or to install or protect democracy. This argument strike deep in every American because we are conditioned to believe that democracy is the best form of government. And why wouldn’t people in every country want to share in the freedom afforded by a democratic country? But if we think about it, we must accept that this is only rhetoric used to persuade us to accept the decisions made by leaders. It is a way for leaders to justify their actions so that the majority of citizens will acquiesce. As Eco points out, it is a shrewd form of the rhetoric of oppression.

There are other examples in this essay that are worth reading and considering. I strongly encourage you to buy a copy of Turning Back the Clock and read this essay in its entirety. It is powerful and sobering, and after reading it, you will notice just how insidious this form of rhetoric is.

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“Love America and March for Peace” by Umberto Eco

UmbertoEco

Image Source: The Guardian

 

This essay is included in Turning Back the Clock and for me highlights the issue of people’s tendency to see complex issues as clear and simple. There is a new paradigm where individuals are expected to support one side or the other, regardless of any grey area that may exist. Examples: If you do not support the US war on terror, then you are an ISIS sympathizer. If you support Israel, then you are a fascist that supports the oppression of Palestine. If you do not condemn the officer who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, then you are obviously a racist. This is all a manifestation of what I personally like to call the “football team” mentality. People pick a team or side and support their “team” regardless of what they or the opposing side does. Nowhere is this clearer than in politics nowadays. Support for political parties is more polarized than it’s ever been.

As Eco points out, this mentality leads to deeper social divides.

At the heart of these painful but not yet bloody rifts, you hear statements every day that lead inevitably to racism, of the type “All those against the war are allies of Saddam,” but also “All those who think the use of force is justified are Nazis.” Shall we try to think about this?

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 32)

It seems that individuals love to label other groups as “Nazis” to emphasize that these opposing groups are crossing some moral boundary. The problem that I see in doing this is that it diminishes the memory of the atrocities that were actually perpetrated by the Nazis. For example, after a recent Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on gay marriage, the City Council here in Asheville displayed a rainbow flag to show support. Opponents of marriage equality immediately condemned the members of City Council and called them Nazis because they acted without their approval. Personally, I see no correlation between City Council’s hanging of a banner and the crimes committed in Nazi Germany.

This is all connected to the “with us or against us” mentality, where any opposition or questioning is immediately condemned.

These few observations are sufficient, I hope, to suggest that the situation in which we find ourselves, precisely because of the gravity, does not admit of clear-cut divisions or condemnations of the kind “If that’s what you think, then you are the enemy.” This too is fundamentalism. You can love the United States, as a tradition, as a people, as a culture, and with deep respect due to those who won on the field the rank of the world’s most powerful country. You can be deeply touched by the injury America suffered in 2001, but without denying the need to warn Americans that their government is making a mistake and that they should see our position not as a betrayal but as frank dissent. Not warning them means trampling on the right to dissent—the exact opposite of what we learned, after years of dictatorship, from our liberators of 1945.

(ibid: pp. 35 – 36)

I hope that this trend of vilifying those whose opinions differ changes soon. It’s very destructive and prevents human progress, and progress is essential. If we are not moving forward as a society, then we are most likely moving backwards.

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George W. Bush’s 9/11 Speech

GeorgeWBush

As I was having my coffee this morning, I wondered what I should read on the anniversary of 9/11. In the past, I had read things like Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers. Today, I opted to read George W. Bush’s speech which he delivered on that evening. There is one part of the speech that struck me:

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

It’s ironic how just last night my wife and I were discussing how fearful everyone is nowadays and how people’s actions seem motivated by that fear. This fear seems to be fanned by the media. As much as I hate to admit it, 13 years later, it seems the perpetrators of the attack may have been successful in their ultimate goal. We have become a fearful nation.

I wish I knew what the answer was.

I am including the full text of the speech for those who wish to read it.


 

Good evening.

Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts.

The victims were in airplanes or in their offices — secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers. Moms and dads. Friends and neighbors.

Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness and a quiet, unyielding anger.

These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed. Our country is strong. A great people has been moved to defend a great nation.

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature, and we responded with the best of America, with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, D.C., to help with local rescue efforts.

Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.

The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight and will be open for business tomorrow.

Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business as well.

The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources for our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.

I appreciate so very much the members of Congress who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks. And on behalf of the American people, I thank the many world leaders who have called to offer their condolences and assistance.

America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.

Tonight I ask for your prayers for all those who grieve, for the children whose worlds have been shattered, for all whose sense of safety and security has been threatened. And I pray they will be comforted by a power greater than any of us spoken through the ages in Psalm 23: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me.”

This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time.

None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.

Thank you. Good night and God bless America.

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