Colbert on the"Danger" of the Internet

This comes from Colbert's interview with Keen--it is presented as something of a nightmare. But I think it adequately describes a digital/rhetorical/sophistic new media environment, one in which there is not getting outside the cave. Responding to Keen's claim that digital culture destroys objective media and criteria for truth, Colbert responds:

isn't reality something we decide?


Casey said...

Can I ask a serious question?

Because this book I just finished, by Peter Kingsley--Reality--is kind of tripping me out.

The question is, Why does the sophist speak? As I thought I mentioned somewhere last week, Kinglsey regards the highest idea as passing from Parmenides to Empedocles to Gorgias. At first, I was really surprised to read that -- the first two thirds of his book seemed to be an obviously mystical/spiritual take, and then to conclude with a sophistic take... it was just too much for me.

But something is dawning on me that I'm not sure I could've understood before now, and I don't see how you could understand it eitehr... it has to do with Kingsley's claim that Gorgias' adept verbal performances were not, for him, simply a parlor game -- Kingsley's Gorgias is not just passing time.

But that's not the view you, Burke, Rythaniel have, is it? Or is it? If it IS, ya'll have done a horrible job of trying to explain it to me since I've known you... if you disagree that Gorgias has a very distinct purpose, then you should probably read Kingsley's book, even tho' it's 559 pages long and mostly about Parmenides and Empedocles.

Feeling dizzy,


P.S. -- I hope it's apparent that the subject of my "serious question" is not unrelated to your post here.

Insignificant Wrangler said...


The question of sophistry.

I want to read Gorgias through Derrida, Levinas, Burke, and the postmodern/poststructuralist movements of the 20th century. So do people like Stanley Fish and Victor Vitanza.

I have never thought that Gorgias was merely "passing time" as a parlor trick. I tried to tease out a few posts ago, when discussing Heraclitus, how there was classical opposition to metaphysical dualism. Gorgias questioning can be seen as a deconstruction of the prioritization of Being, presence, Platonic idealism. That's how Vitanza reads it. On Non-Existence is playful in the same way as Of Grammatology [insert witty remark on how On Non-Existence no longer exists]. It is playing a high stakes shell game attempting to undermine some pretty serious assumptions about how the universe works. Sure, this is likely an over-read. But many scholars aren't so sure--most think that Gorgias intentionally set out to demonstrate the irrationality of Parmenides (it is as easy to "prove" that everything is one as it is to prove that everything is nothing). Others see it as a response to his essentialism.

So here's my take. For Gorgias, there is no truth outside the moment it is made. There is no Being until the world is called-into-being via our dialogue. Hence it is communication that makes possible (and only possible) existence. Until an idea risks communication, it cannot be. This, of course, defines communication as broadly as possible. And no communication is identical or total. I'm just paradoxically working backwards through:

i. Nothing exists
ii. Even if existence exists, it cannot be known
iii. Even if it could be known, it cannot be communicated.

Wherever you find some certainty, mix in the possibility of doubt.

Plato positions Gorgias as a mere performer--but remember in that dialogue Gorgias "agrees" to play Plato's game. He moves away from those characteristic adept verbal performances, obstensibly to use "clear" language. But this robs Gorgias of the foundation of his position: that language creates the world we see. Language catches us, moves us, colors the world. Clarity is an ideal. Color is real. Or, perhaps, color is reality emerging?

It is quite possible that I have not explained this sufficiently. We tend to read different stuff, so I think our vocabulary draws upon quite different lexicons. I'll try to dig up that Burke essay later today and send it to you and Michael. I would also earnestly recommend the intro and first chapter of Richard Lanham's "Economics of Attention." Although he might not mention Gorgias and Burke by name, he does present the "history" of rhetoric in light of Plato and later the Enlightenment in a very compelling narrative. And, I think, he offers a persuasive argument for how the times are a-changin'.

Thanks for the great question, it was an interesting way to spend my lunch break!

Casey said...

I think I understand you. Ultimately, maybe it's tough to discuss all of this "theoretically" -- consider it this way:

Isn't the choice between two ideas (for example): 1) There's no "true" answer about how we should run a national economy; all data is manipulate-able, and all of our analyses are biased (sophistry rules)... OR, 2) There are realities that cannot be obscured by any amount of language, and there is a best way to run the economy (dialectic rules).

I choose the economy only because it's a hot topic right now -- but the same choice might be discovered at the foundation of "lots" of arguments.

I'll look forward to reading the Burke article... and if my library has Lanham's book, I'll give it a look.


Insignificant Wrangler said...

Were I to hedge these alternatives, I would say that the sophist position would be "we cannot be sure of what the best way is." It is a matter of hesitation. People tend to be less forceful, less brute, when they entertain doubt. Postmodern sophistry places doubt as its first principle. Classical sophistry, well, who knows... we can't be sure what those Greeks were thinking.

Casey said...

From where I sit, it looks like postmodern sophistry is less doubtful than... well, me.

After all, it was Nathaniel who framed me as a Platonist because I doubted the reliability of the postmodern epistemology--I would never take that label myself. I guess I just feel like I've been trying to unhitch ya'll from your attachments and commitments since I met you.

It seems to me like contemporary/postmodern sophistry is much less doubtful than it should be -- so I appreciate your doubt very much!

I only tooted the Truth horn for so long because it seems to me to be a reasonable challenge to the sophist. And that's why I like to offer real-world scenarios as opposed to theory: in the case of the economy, if you show up at the table saying only, "we cannot be sure of what the best way is," you might as well not show up at all...

...though, of course, you'd be completely right to say such a thing.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

We sophists tend to be defensive, since we are often surrounded by Platonic-Enlightenment Truth on all sides. While society might have "hedged" a bit in recent decades, I still believe certainty and individualism rule the cultural roost. And, if [economically] times worsen, then dualist absolutism will return with a vengence [you are either with us or against us in the war against poverty].

It is also important to recognize that "postmodern sophistry" is an ambiguous term (d'uh). Not all postmoderns are sophists. Not all sophists are postmodern. Many postmodernists, particularly those working in the areas of race, gender, class, culture [women's studies, cultural studies, post-colonialism, african american studies] are caught up in intense political and social struggles. They represent the margins of the cultural field, and are fighting, at times desperately, to expose the unseen centers that marginalize them. Given the conditions of their fight, they are not in a position to "doubt." This is a matter that vexes Derrida, for instance, very much and is the root of the disagreement between Derrida and Foucault. To choose a side is to make a decision. Are we responsible enough to make decisions?

Of course, and even Derrida recognizes this, even IF we aren't responsible enough, decisions must be made. So, says Derrida, the trick is to remember that every decision is (always, already) wrong. That way, we make the decision hesitantly rather than confidently. We are vigilant to identify who our decision hurts, and to comfort them as much as we can. Coming out of the first half of the 20th century, Derrida didn't feel like we [humanity] should be celebrating our accomplishments too much. There's just too much guilt emanating out of the 19th and early 20th (and late 20th and early 21st) century.

As a rhetorician, I realize that you cannot show up to the table wishy-washy. Kairos won't allow it. However, you can be on the look out for the person who is just too confident. That's the one to keep an ear on.

Casey said...

"Every decision is always already wrong."

Wow... I almost LOVE that. Instead, though, I hate it. I prefer: "Every decision is always already right."

This slightest of disagreements may represent the greatest bit of insight I've ever approached... or else it's foolish zenfulness.