Political debate and the language being used


political rhetoric and political debate
is all over the news at the moment but the spoken word and the language is also
being debated what makes a great political orator and what role the
speech writers play today I’m launching the findings of the crisis of rhetoric
research project which provides answers to these questions and some
recommendations for how to make political rhetoric compelling while
working in the service of our democracy my name is Henriette van der Blom and I’m
a lecturer in ancient history at the
University of Birmingham my research concerns Roman oratory politics history
and culture and have written books about the most famous Roman orator Cicero and
his contemporaries who lived 2,000 years ago I have a special interest in
political rhetoric in antiquity and in comparison with modern political speech
I’m the founding director of the Network for oratory and politics which gathers
politicians speech writers political practitioners in general and academics
and the general public in discussions about political rhetoric in antiquity
and all the way up to today together with this network and a network of
political theorists and scientists we are hosting the crisis of rhetoric
research project running interdisciplinary workshops and also
launching it very soon the crisis of rhetoric project has created a national
network of rhetoric scholars ranging disciplines such as media classics
history English politics and linguistics but we have especially engaged with
political practitioners that is politicians their speech writers and
political journalists who report on political speech why are we doing this
well we found that in lots of research and in focus groups there was a real
concern about whether we could trust politicians and what they
say we have some details about these for example a YouGov poll found that 62%
agreed that politicians tell lies all the time
that was in 2012 in 2014 the Fabian Society ran a focus group where people
said that they want to see how politicians talk change they did not
trust them at all in 2016 the electoral reform society described the EU
referendum campaign as a potent cocktail of low levels of information high levels
of mistrust and considerable negativity from the campaigns and this has only
increased since then but what do we mean by a crisis a crisis of rhetoric well we
think it’s a turning point but not a collapse it’s a change in a condition of
things and that thing is rhetorical culture we think there’s a huge change
going on at the moment as we speak and as we listen to people speaking now the
rhetorical culture is made up of the places where political speech or
political argument happen it includes the stages we make for it and the
technologies that we use we watch and that broadcast it our values concerning
what makes a good and fair and appropriate argument that is also
undergoing change and who we think should actually engage in political
debate who should actually be allowed to say something that the rest of us will
listen to we think all of these parameters that we call rhetorical
culture is undergoing profound changes at the moment and that is why we’re
calling it a crisis of rhetoric so what are the pressures or the systemic
pressures even on this rhetorical culture so as we saw people don’t trust
politicians anymore that is a huge pressure on politicians obviously but
there is also decline in the institutions of political speech people
rarely see or hear a long-form political speech
anymore but they see small clips in the news with slogans or a snippet of a
speech that other people have selected for them they don’t see the whole
argument running through and that makes it difficult to assess the validity of
the claims of the politicians we’ve also found that political speeches are no
longer as they should be in dialogue with their audience but often speaking
to an audience being in a monologue with the audience simply having to accept or
reject but not come up with their views on the topic we’ve seen politicians
being afraid of their own words afraid of being caught out being captured
recorded and later being criticized for what they said and that cripples them
that stops them from actually expressing their viewpoints and it has also left a
space open for other types of politicians those who are ready to say
what we might have thought the unsayable to come in to convert public mistrust
and boredom into contempt for politics and for politicians there are of course
new and complex stages for rhetoric we hear political speech in televised
debates but there is no consensus over the format of these debates or who
should take part in them so the 2017 general election campaign the prime
minister did not engage in any of the televised debates and our current prime
minister has been criticised for not accepting invitations to interviews or
to speak with certain journalists so they’re not always engaging they’re
afraid of their own words so being caught out and finally we think a
pressure is that there’s a lack of respect for the craft of speech writing
and for the road of the speech writers so we call this also a crisis of Appeals
and by that we refer to rhetorical theory from antiquity so Aristotle the
Greek philosopher argued that you can appeal in three ways to your audience
you can appeal to their so the character which he called ethos you can appeal by
using logical argument logos or you can use emotional appeal each force I’ll now
go through these three appears briefly and explain why we think they are useful
tool for understanding what’s going on today a political rhetoric but also what
needs to happen what our recommendations are relating these so ethos relates to
character and that means the character of the speaker and the credibility and
authority with which he or she speaks but it also means their performance so
the sort of character that they are embody in that particular speech moment
you have to be a different character at a funeral from say a celebration that
has to fit it’s also about the character of the community that we are so those
can help to convey a sense of a community so for example we Brits or we
garden lovers or we who voted X or Y and finally ethos is also about how we
orient ourselves outwardly so for example Britain’s position as a former
Empire or Britain’s promise of being a global nation that’s all about the
character and the speaker has to try to convey some of that character through
their speech so a crisis in this ethos in this character building can be
understood as a dichotomy between ethos and authenticity so previously there
were huge distances in origin location and social types which are now closing
in because of media especially social media we can see what the other half
does and people get jealous leads to conflicts about inequality and
that problem is leading to another problem the problematization of what was
before perhaps accepted ideas or arguments in politics and populist sees
to reject ideologies and instead build a platform and being authentic that they
are speaking the true voice of the people so the crisis of ethos is also a
problem of identifying communities which the political speaker can address and
engage who are they actually addressing who is the audience for what they’re
saying and it’s the really a community in them and that is very tricky when you
have a very divisive issue going on in society at the moment but this is the
challenge because such an imagined community crime requires a shared
reference point and common narratives about who we are about who we want to be
now and in the future so that is an appeal through character and I’m now
going to move on to appeal to rational argument or logis and I’m going to use
one example here that is the example of enthymeme so when we say look at that
sky it’s going to rain we actually mean look at that sky there is a black cloud
and we know that contains a lot of water droplets that might fall down on us and
produce rain well we don’t say that whole thing because we assume that the
person was speaking to actually knows that when the sky looks dark it might
start to rain we’re leaving out that bit and we’re leaving out that premise which
makes this an empty meme and enthymeme is an argument with an unspoken premise
in it these enthymeme are the rhetorical form of argument the
flesh-and-blood of persuasion because we don’t want to say every single step in
our argument we want to assume some knowledge in our audience and so these
enthymemes are there all the time we don’t necessarily
notice them they concern probabilities and propositions to common sense we know
it’s going to rain right and they connect particulars to universals that
involve audiences in collective reasoning so when we say there’s a
crisis in logos a crisis and rational argument we mean that today enthymemes
are used as a hook to capture attention or create an emotion rather than
actually creating a challenge to think reconsider what could be a solution here
and that is because speeches are no longer deliberative they’re no longer
entering into a discussion with the audience offering an argument of choice
but they are instead treating audiences as if a fixed opinion because speeches
appeal to prejudice and they are pandering that is what is called
epideictic speech they’re pandering through previously preconceived ideas
and they’re not trying to change ideas or opinions that leads very nicely on to
epideictic speech the speech of praise and blame the third appeal to that of
eros talking so emotional appeal it’s also called pathos in rhetorical theory
is not in crisis we see it all the time in the news angry politicians angry
voters angry everybody or people who are just very unhappy about the situation
they have been appealed to and are trying to appeal to others with emotions
and emotions are not bad in every speech there is an emotional tone it cannot be
avoided and so speech writers and those who deliver speeches our politicians
should think carefully about what they and their audiences need this emotion to
be importantly for politics emotion motivate people to action speeches
cannot just made an audience of the academic
validity of a claim that doesn’t really work one of the ways in which we know of
the world is through emotion that has been recognized by psychologists and it
must of course be recognized by us as well politicians know this but the way
they use it is not always conducive to solutions they should engage people to
some action not just to anger and say this is all wrong but they should engage
people through emotion appeal to an action and constructive hopefully
positive action a pathos goes wrong when speeches pacify audiences or even wise
make them bored or when people are so inflamed that the action loses precision
or they become merely every action has this presentation made you think
differently about political speech would you like to know more you can visit the
networked foreign politics website where there’s a link to the crisis of rhetoric
website you can also go directly to the crisis of rhetoric website and you can
leave a message there you can email us and you can also download a booklet
which summarizes the findings of the crisis of rhetoric project




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