The Better Rhetor

Tuesday, May 06, 2003
Hail and Farewell!

We at the Better Rhetor are embarking on a journey of sorts, which means we are suspending this page indefinitely. We regret this, as we believe that blogs are the future of democratic discourse in America and want to be part of it, and, besides, it’s fun. Still, there is no shortage of Better Blogs and no shortage of Better Rhetors, even in these parlous times.

We would leave you with some of those Better Rhetors who have most helped us on our way.

To understand LANGUAGE, we could do worse than to begin with him:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

To understand PRINCIPLED DISSENT in contemporary America, we might study the writings of this man:

The democratic state uses force when persuasion does not work. It uses it against its own citizens when they cannot be persuaded to obey the laws. It uses it against other peoples in the act of war, not always in self-defense, but often when it cannot persuade other nations to do its bidding.

And this man:

There are no magic answers, no miraculous methods to overcome the problems we face, just the familiar ones: honest search for understanding, education, organization, action that raises the cost of state violence for its perpetrators or that lays the basis for institutional change -- and the kind of commitment that will persist despite the temptations of disillusionment, despite many failures and only limited successes, inspired by the hope of a brighter future.

To understand personal and political COURAGE, we could do far worse than to learn from this woman:

In the face of this approaching disaster, it behooves men and women not yet overcome by war madness to raise their voice of protest, to call the attention of the people to the crime and outrage which are about to be perpetrated on them.

Finally, if we want to know more about BEING HUMAN, we might read, from time to time, the writings of this word-artisan:

And it was at that age...Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no, they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating planations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesmal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
I felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke free on the open sky.

Hard to follow lines like that, but I’ll suggest only that that there is poetry to be found in our time in the churches, gyms, street corners, and parks where people are gathering to protest, to dissent, to resist, to refuse absolutely the propaganda and war machines of the Right.

Hope that I might meet you someday in one of those churches, gyms, or parks where people are gathering, organizing, and fighting for a better country. Thanks for reading.