Rhetorical Thoughts on Michael Vick

This started as a comment on FB, but I figured I'd post it here. I've been thinking about this for about a week--what Michael Vick needs to do to "prove his remorse." (I assumed that this is what spurred Cody Lumpkins' FB post--remembering him to be a Falcons fan). My idea is that all he needs to do is offer a short Public Service Announcement, something like this:

"Dear America, I am truly sorry for the suffering I caused each and every animal. I have had two years in prison to reflect on the seriousness of my crimes. I hope that this message will help convince young people out there to stay away from the heinousness of dog fighting. While I ask for your forgiveness, I urge that none of us forget this incident--that it serves to help end animal cruelty."

That's all he has to say. Then, he has to do some more PSA's and donate some time to animal cruelty. In fact, Cody, I think the question becomes "how CAN'T one show remorse"--for the answer to that question, see PacMan Jones. Everyone who matters in football is ready to give this guy a second chance--Goodell, Arthur Blank, Tony Dungy (who's words probably carry the most weight).

I think his rhetorical situation needs to be informed by the failures of A-Rod's steroids apology. Beyond the fact that A-Rod lied (d'oh for thinking that the American baseball media wouldn't look into the story of someone they already despise--they/we only ignore the facts when they/we like someone), he transfered blame to a "something" other than himself. In A-Rod's case, it was "youth." "Young and stupid." Well, at least one of those were true.

Vick could go the same route, and talk about "culture"--being brought up in a culture that values dog fighting. Were I defending him (postmodernist that I am), this is the route I would go--that the outrage against Vick is a bit excessive if viewed across the access of cultural difference. We can certainly still identify it as wrong, but hopefully such an identification would come with less venom if we undermine the absolute "natural" foundation for such an indentification. A few players tried to go the "culturally relative" route, by noting that there's not much difference between dog fighting and hunting, and they were publicly lambasted. And while I agree that there is a difference between dog fighting and hunting, I would say that its not that big a difference.... BUT

This is not the rhetorical route for Vick to go. Because I believe that many people do not care about dog fighting to the degree the media would have us believe. The truly, picket-carrying outraged are out there--and they will reject Vick no matter what. But I think the majority of the public audience would be willing to give Vick a chance so long as his remorse seems heartfelt (pathos) and as long as he "owns" his misdeed (instead of projecting the wrong-doing onto an era in sports, the stupidity of youth, his brother's pharmacist, etc.). I believe Vick deserves a second chance--and I believe all the rhetorical markers are in place for him to actually get one. What remains to be seen is whether or not he will waste it.


Casey said...

This is the perfect example of what I and so many others find most objectionable about Rhetoric and Rhetorical Theory.

What you say is true: all Vick needs to do is "prove his remorse." The PSA and a little work with PETA should do the trick. That'll persuade 'em.

Of course, he has alternatives: he could present the "cultural-difference" argument. Or, he could actually experience remorse.But to disingenuously "assess the rhetorical situation" and say what needs to be said in order to get back on the field--? That seems like a poor way to live. And it suggests to me again that Rhetoric uses the word "Ethics" in ways that I don't understand or want to understand.

Doesn't your Levinas make you hesitate to suggest stuff like this? -- shouldn't it be "always already forbidden" or something like that, to simply give'em what they want? Should I stand face-to-face with the other and simply tell him what he wants to hear?

As a result of this post, I feel like I'm looking for the first time very clearly at two different ways of living -- one seems to me pragmatic and amoral, the other seems fraught with honor, dignity, and much difficulty.

Of course, I know I'm forcing you to backpedal and/or recant or obfuscate -- I know this is too harsh a criticism for you to see it my way. Given your view about telling an audience what an audience wants to hear, this comment must seem unbearably pedantic--maybe you'll say "fascist." I won't expect an agreeable response.

"...so long as his remorse seems heartfelt?" That's so shady, man! So Machiavelli.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

Working from Levinas theological writings, nothing has meaning until it is social. The Bible, and the interpretations that he makes, do not mean anything until they are shared--until they become dialogue. There is no possibility for an ethical life lived apart from others.

And so the Vick apology I offer intends to be ethical by facing up (taking responsibility) solely upon itself--offering judgment to the other without security of reciprocation.

Because we are social beings, and because interpretation is never homogeneous, there is a need to be attentive to language and choice. But I don't think this necessarily means you are "telling them what they want to hear." If you look at the choices I made in imagining Vick's apology, I stressed not inventing arguments to explain away the mistake. I urged taking full responsibility, without denial or excuse. What could be more face-to-face than that?

As to you two ways of living, its a horribly reductive binary. And it assumes that one can have positive possession of an absolute Good moral code from which to judicate honor and dignity. I don't think any one person can possess that, they can only work toward it with others.

Casey said...

There's no external "Good code" -- I'm just talking about speaking what you actually believe... as opposed to mouthing the proper words. I'm not thinking about the Bible or any other moral code here.

You speak here as if there are no "feelings" until the word is spoken. I know (again, from experience) that that is not the case. Vick either feels remorse or he does not -- and let's not deconstruct the word. All I'm asking is that Vick speaks what he believes, and not speak what he does not believe.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. I've never known you to be a a person who panders. Are you refusing to acknowledge the existence of emotion before it is social?

Like, if I feel that a given government program is unjust or ineffective, but its heavily favored by "the people," should I just say that I support the program if it will make my life easier? If I don't feel sorry for killing dogs--for whatever reason, either because I'm an ass or because I believe cultural differences justify my behavior--should I really say I feel sorry?

Integrity, man.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

What I would say here is that his experience of remorse means nothing until he expresses it to another person. And he would be foolish not to think about how this other person views them.

Whether Vick actually feels remorse is useless and irrelevant to me. I only care if his actions lead others to think he really feels remorse. I can have no access to his "True" emotional state. Nor even to my own. There is no way, no way, no way, to look at him before he speaks and say "that is/is not a remorseful man." We should only judge based on actions.

Unfortunately, we often judge based on preconceptions, cultural narratives, elements of the rhetorical ecology etc (pick you terminology here). Vick would be wise to take these factors into account, and act as remorseful as he can.

Casey said...

Hm... I guess I see what you're saying now. It's not as bad as I thought. In fact, maybe you're right.

I guess I'm willing to recognize that I'm always saying things I'd rather not be saying just to "fit in." I guess I'm just wondering whether hypocrisy has a bad reputation for a reason --

For example, I don't believe in stuff like tucking my shirt in. But I recognize that it's FAR more expedient to just tuck my shirt in than explain all day why I don't... that does seem hypocritical to me. And sometimes I feel bad about it. You're just saying, "Don't feel bad about it?"

Interestingly: I think hypocrisy is deemed a kind of moral failing because terrible social situations can arise where speaking your emotional truth (little, subjective "t"-truth) can lead to an immediate loss of power and rights. We judge the hypocrite more harshly because of that old poem, "First they came for the communists, but I did not say anything because I wasn't a communist" poem...

What if "cultural difference" is a good enough reason to kill dogs? Then isn't Vick's silence implicitly condemning others who share that culture?

Or something like that? So, okay. I hear you now.

BUT (digressing): The idea that the emotional experience (of remorse or any emotion) means nothing until it is expressed misses the fact that the emotion itself seems to be the cause of the expression... are you sure you're not missing that? This claim that nothing's meaningful until it's communicated -- I'm still dubious.

Insignificant Wrangler said...

What makes me squeemish about my own position is the idea of complicity in the face of evil. It is a trace of the Holocaust--and, not surprisingly, Levinas's work aims to prevent the possibility of that specific evil. Of course, if we all practice welcoming the other, then there arises no totalizing evil that threatens to annihilate...

I guess the pragmatist in me says "there are times to address cultural differences." In a perfect world (like Emerson's), that time is every time. But, as much as I [might] have come to like [accept?] the public, I also realize that people hold onto their cultural narratives with an unconsciously strong vigor. Any challenge translates into emotion. "There are times and places from which one can address cultural differences"--but offering an apology doesn't really fit the kairos.

Ultimately, I like the dog-fighting=hunting analogy because I am part deconstructionist (or sophist), and generally approve of anything that rocks the status quo. But the Levinasian in me feels guilty for this enjoyment. Damn, Nietzsche would be all over me.

For purposes of our little play, I have to downgrade the importance of subjective emotional experience. Though I believe "everything" in humans boils down to pathos--and that this isn't pathetic. It is only pejorative from a perspective that prefers logos (hence why I am never going to get along with Socrates and Plato). Emotions shape our logical responses. And emotions extend beyond consciousness and conscious control. This, I believe, we agree on.

But I'll still come back and reverse the terms (for it is, after all, a possibility) and assert that, as symbol using animals (Burke), we have a need to express/interpret (all expression is an act of interpretation) those emotions to ourselves. And then, often, to others. This, I would argue, is the impact of Being literate (especially, but I am an Ong person--I think the communicative technologies we use greatly influence the way we are).

Good stuff. I feel (hmm...) like we actually were just saying something to each other, and, perhaps, something was said.

I am sure we will unsay it later.

P.S. Integrity, as far as I know, means consistency. And consistency is a measure of quantifiable action...

Casey said...

Yeah -- that all sounds good to me, actually. A remarkable consensus, given our starting points on this topic.

I will offer one "for further reading" suggestion, since the point came up: we do agree that emotion is a kind of primary motivation for human beings, and that we struggle to be in conscious control of emotions, and often aren't.

The "rationality" of Plato and Socrates is, nowadays, supposed (wrongly) to be a kind of antidote to foggy emotional thinking. But I genuinely believe that that is the result of some really bad reading that has piled up over the centuries. Words like "rationality" and even "logos" have shifted in their meanings tremendously in those thousands of years, and I'm convinced that rationality as Plato understood it would indeed have taken account of emotion as a force that operates below the level of consciousness.

You really need to trudge through that Peter Kingsley book (Reality) I keep recommending, despite the fact that it's probably located in the "new age" section of your local bookstore (that is, it's not mainstream academic). That book's quite long, and if you really don't have the time, you could try his shorter version, In the Dark Places of Wisdom. Both present an argument about the presocratics that I think you would really enjoy, and probably sympathize with.