ERWC Leadership Event 2017: Speech

We have just completed our ERWC Leadership Conferences for 2017.  The Sacramento event was held at the Hilton Sacramento Arden West Hotel, June 20-21.  Unfortunately, the hotel’s air conditioning system failed at about 11:00 am, so the first day sessions were conducted under less than ideal conditions and the second day sessions were curtailed.  The Los Angeles event, at the Westin Los Angeles Airport June 27-28, ran much more smoothly.  I would like to thank the presenters, the support staff, and the participants for a wonderful event.

I will post on other aspects of the conferences and ERWC 3.0 in the next few days, but today I want to post the speech I gave at both events.


I am sorry I missed the leadership events last year. I had a scheduling conflict. I was in London. My wife and I had been invited to visit her brother, who is an executive in a large scientific instruments company, while he was temporarily stationed in the U.K. The company had rented a lovely home for him in Beaconsfield, an upscale suburb, where we were invited to stay. As it happened, we were in London just before the Brexit referendum and returned from the continent just after it.

The difference was palpable. The city we had left was a vibrant, optimistic, multicultural metropolis. The city we returned to was downcast, confused, stunned. My brother-in-law said he canceled several multi-million dollar deals the day after Brexit, and six months later he was working from Shanghai. The United Kingdom is still in turmoil and the future is difficult to predict.

How did this happen? I would say that it was largely a matter of rhetoric.

The city of London voted largely to remain in the European Union (though I did see “Leave” signs even in Beaconsfield) as did Scotland, Northern Ireland, and most young people, who saw the right to freely travel and live in Europe as a path toward adventure, education and jobs. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave.

I happened to talk to some Welsh soccer fans in Paris, who kept reminding me that they were Welsh, not English. They said that they had voted Leave because of immigrants, whom they felt were getting benefits they had not earned and did not deserve. Membership in the E.U. and the required free movement of people from any E.U. member country to any other has brought lots of Polish and Eastern European people to the U.K. to work in service jobs and to harvest agricultural products. Many British people feel that immigrants from elsewhere in the E.U. are taking away jobs, getting undeserved benefits, diluting British culture with foreign ways, and committing crimes. Sound familiar? So the solution is to exit the E.U. But that also means giving up free access to the European market, which is the foundation of most economic activity in the U.K.

The following image represents two of the main arguments that Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and a leader of the “Leave” campaign, made to support Brexit:

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The slogan on the sign sounds like a simple way to improve the National Health Service, but it ignores all the other benefits that might accrue from E.U. membership. The url on the podium, voteleavetakecontrol.org, makes another simplistic argument that focuses on immigration, but simply ignores the issue of the free market. Johnson, a flamboyant and popular leader, also argued that the U.K. could “Have our cake and eat it,” implying that Britain could negotiate a deal to control immigration and still have access to the free market. He never explained why the E.U. would agree to that.

The arguments for “Remain,” on the other hand, were mostly economic, cast in terms of currency fluctuations, trade figures, economic forecasts. Many arguments sound like this paragraph from an article in the Business Insider:

If the pound is weak, again, it will make it more expensive for us to trade. Equities are already tumbling because extra costs will hurt not just Britain’s biggest companies’ pockets, but also how they can afford to pay staff. Morgan Stanley points out that a Brexit would devastate a number of markets within just six months.

From Here is an avalanche of reasons why Britain should stay in the EU, Business Insider Jun. 16, 2016

The average citizen without a corporate job or any investments in stocks would be unmoved by this rhetoric.

Aristotle says, “The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning.” In other words, rhetoric is for matters about which we cannot have certainty, and for audiences who would not understand the proofs we might give if we had them.

Boris Johnson and the rest of the Leave campaign were clearly more persuasive to the electorate in this regard, providing a simple, appealing logos for people who were disinclined to follow complicated arguments. And notice how this logos appeals to both a simple logic and a nationalistic pathos: “Let’s stop giving money to foreigners and spend it on our own health care! Let’s take control of our borders and keep the foreigners out!” On the other hand, the message from the Remain campaign is coldly logical: “If we do this, we will lose money.”

And here we come to my main point in discussing Brexit: the speaker who masters the art of understanding the audience and the rest of the rhetorical situation, and in crafting a message that moves both the emotions and the intellect of this audience in this context, is the one who will be most persuasive. Too often, we are tempted to see Aristotle’s three appeals as discreet elements that can be recognized and sorted into boxes. In fact, they work together seamlessly and harmoniously. Logos alone is rarely persuasive in a public forum.

In your packets you will find a new version of my rather ancient article “Three Ways to Persuade.” In this revision, I have attempted to connect the appeals together, mostly through the conduit of audience. In the updating and re-envisioning of ERWC that is currently ongoing, this is one of the main themes. We want to provide students and teachers with a more subtle, flexible, and useful set of rhetorical tools, for both analyzing and writing texts. Even after 14 years of growth and success, this is an exciting time to be involved in ERWC. And now I want to turn things over to my colleagues Meline Akashian and Nelson Graff for an introduction to more of these rhetorical tools.

 

Revisiting “Three Ways to Persuade”

My short article, “Three Ways to Persuade,” has been a part of ERWC since the early days.  It is included in my first ERWC module, “The Rhetoric of the Op-Ed Page,” but many teachers extracted it and used it earlier in the course.  It was designed to be a simple introduction to Aristotle’s three appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos.  It has been uploaded by teachers to various websites and many teaching websites link to it. It hasn’t exactly gone viral, but it is quite popular.

The earliest version of the article was written as a handout for a First Year Writing class I was teaching as a T.A. at the University of Southern California, probably in 1990.  At that time, the former Yugoslavia was breaking apart and I drew some of my examples of pathos from the conflict between Serbians and Croatians and the practice of “ethnic cleansing.”  Once the article became widely available on the internet, I started to receive complaints from Serbs that my otherwise very useful article was biased against them.  I considered their arguments and decided that I was not an expert on the former Yugoslavia, that my purpose was not to write about Yugoslavia, and that I did not need those specific examples.   I revised the piece.  One of my correspondents about this matter took it upon himself to contact every site that linked to the article and encourage them, quite persuasively I am sure, to upload the revised version.

As I have noted in other blog posts, a couple of years ago instructors in First Year Writing courses in colleges and universities began to complain about receiving large numbers of overly simplistic rhetorical analysis essays that combined ethos, logos, and pathos with the five-paragraph essay.   In a typical example, the writer claims in the introduction that the author of the text under analysis “uses” ethos, logos, and pathos, writes a body paragraph about each appeal with examples from the text showing the “use” of the appeal, and then writes a conclusion that repeats the claim about “using” ethos, logos, and pathos, as if that were an important thing to prove.  It is all quite neat and tidy.  It does show that the student writer has some understanding of the appeals and is able to recognize elements of the text that might function in this way.  However, such an analysis ignores more important concerns such as audience and purpose.  This is akin to naive birdwatching–identifying and checking off birds on a list without thinking about the whole ecosystem and why this bird is in this context at this moment.

I first heard about this problem on the Writing Program Administrators listserv, but when I asked instructors on my own campus about it, they agreed.   There are lots of potential causes for this, including the new emphasis on persuasion and argumentation in the Common Core standards, but I wondered if my semi-viral article was in part responsible.  I started thinking about revising it again.

This issue resulted in lots of discussion in the ERWC committees about the utility of the three appeals, whether we should present Aristotle as Aristotle or try to modernize him, and whether the problems created by this simplistic use of the appeals were inherent in the appeals or a matter of instruction.  One point of contention was Aristotle’s conception of logos.  Aristotle favors arguments from probability, which he calls “artistic proofs,” and distrusts “inartistic proofs,” arguments based on eye witnesses, documents, and other elements that we would call “evidence,” because he thinks witnesses can be bribed and documents can be forged. I think this is why textbooks that are very much based in classical rhetoric, such as Andrea Lunsford’s Everything’s an Argument, bring in Stephen Toulmin’s system when they get to logos.

After all of this discussion, I created a revised version of the piece, which is now called, “Three Ways to Persuade: Integrating the Three Appeals.”  I decided to remain true to Aristotle, but connect Aristotle to more modern rhetorical concepts.  This version makes it clear that the three appeals work in concert together. I reordered the appeals so that I could use Kenneth Burke’s concept of “identification” as a bridge between ethos and pathos and use the psychological concept of “desire,” and the rationalization of desire, as a bridge between pathos and logos.  I have also included a paragraph describing the difference between Aristotle’s syllogistic arguments from probability and evidence-based arguments such as one gets from Toulmin.

It is still only four pages long.  I hope that the additional conceptual material does not confuse students, but helps them use these concepts in a more productive and useful way.  See what you think.  Please post a comment if you have responses or suggestions.