Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Defining Moments: Red Herring

Q: Why are attempts at misdirection called "Red Herrings?"

A: The term comes from the English sport of fox hunting.

Fox hounds, obviously, are kept on the trail of a fox by their sense of smell. To give the foxes more of a sporting chance, and to separate the truly great hunting dogs from the mediocre, it sometimes was the practice of fox hunters to drag a smoked red herring, a fish with an extremely strong (some would say malodorous) smell, across various trails near to where the hunting was to take place. The lesser dogs would be thrown off the trail of the fox by the strong smell of the red herring.

So intentional attempts at misdirection in literature, law, politics, philosophy, and daily life, have come to be known as "red herrings."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Defining Moments: Bachelor

Q: Why do we call the undergraduate degree a "Bachelor's Degree?"

A: The term "bachelor" originally referred to a soldier who was too young and inexperienced to lead other soldiers into war. So the term came to refer to someone who was not yet fit for leadership, or someone of inferior rank.

In contrast, a "Master" was someone who was at least fit to teach, while a "Doctor" was someone who had mastered a field of inquiry.

The "Bachelor's Degree" has nothing to do with gender, despite the fevered imaginations of many feminists.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Communication is Dead

Communication is dead, and we killed it.

Interestingly enough, culture is generally seen as a mass expression of individualized communication. It is seen as the result of communication, and as a vehicle for communication.

In the case of the Modern West, however, and more especially America, culture is the blunt object with which political elites have bludgeoned communication to death. We are left with a bloody mess, and surprisingly (?), with silence.

It is the silence of the asylum, however. Dead quiet pierced by the occasional unintelligible shriek. Or the psychological silence self-imposed when one is trying to sleep through the banging, clanging, and Tourette's-like jibberish from those who want desperately to be heard, but have no way of saying anything meaningful.

How did culture kill communication?

1) Political Correctness -

Nowadays the average person is so busy tailoring their speech to meet the fraudulent mandates of “sensitivity” that they no longer have the will to state what they really think. Fueling this sterile and arbitrary vernacular is the need to exclude others from the arena of legitimate debate. It’s a method by which the irrational can silence the rational. It is a method by which the unthinking control those capable of thought. Political Correctness is not an aid to communication, it is the antithesis of communication.

2) Education -

The beginning of communication was once spelling, grammar, and composition - one prong of the so-called "3 R's." In the 1980s, trendy educrats started replacing actual teaching with the so-called "feel-good curriculum" in which such monstrosities as creative spelling and inclusive speech (like s/he) flourished.

The discipline imposed upon communication by such formal commitments as spelling, grammar, and logic were replaced by mere expression. The value of communication was in the expression, not the form. This wrongheaded nonsense has given rise to a culture in which everyone talks, but nobody listens, because at the end of the day nobody has anything worthwhile to say.

3) Entertainment -

Entertainment once told a story. One cannot help but admire, when watching old shows like "Good Times," "Welcome Back Kotter," and even "Married, With Children," the talent of the writers who once authored scripts for television shows. Strict, tight, intelligent, and witty, these scripts (and others like them) once wove in and out of a plot to give the audience not only a story, but insight into the culture and the human condition, along with the occasional surreptitious wink so that the audience understood that the actors and writers knew that they were engaged in a spoof.

Modern entertainment, seems amateurish and disjointed by comparison. And the spoof has become reality, as pop divas seem completely unaware that their value consists in constructing an alternate, fake reality - not in defining reality itself.

5) Superfluity -

In the final analysis, one of the reasons that communication has died is that thinking has died. Years of outcome-based education, lack of respect for the liberal arts, and the feel-good culture has produced generations in which the majority do not think thoughts worthy of being communicated. Without engaging in serious thought, there are precious few thoughts worth communicating.

Rhetorical Services exists to resuscitate effective communication. On our staff we have English teachers, public speakers, legal scholars, medical professionals, political activists, writers, and communication professionals. Our goal is not only to ensure compelling communication, but to teach it, and to argue for it.

Genuine communication is a foundational element in genuine civilization. When communication suffers, civilization's very underpinnings are weakened.

Check back to this site, as over the next several days we will be showing how each of the above factors have undermined communication, logic, and rhetoric in the modern world.