How I Pick My Battles

One of my friends asked a provocative question over facebook this morning. Those familiar with this blog's history will likely know its source. But it is a great question. My answer might be a little "blue," but I think it is pretty direct.

Here's the question (edited a bit):

I'm still sort of unclear about the process "Rhetoricians" (y'know, Sophists, etc.) practice *before* they get to arguing. That is, how do they decide which side of the debate they'll take?

Here's my response:

Somewhat in my Kairos piece, and explicitly in a few other things I am trying to finish, I argue that rhetoric _should_ take the side of the less empowered other. Rhetoric becomes a tool for identifying and combatting hegemony. Of course, we can't universally back the other, because sometimes the other is bat shit crazy. So part of the rhetorical process that I inherit from Levinas calls for us to compare the other and the neighbor. The basis of the comparison concerns which is more attentive to the other's respons-ability. Who acts in a gesture of welcome? Who seeks to totalize and control? An ethical rhetoric, I argue, always view control, disembodiment, Idealism, etc. skeptically.


Casey said...

So, Rhetoric should take the side of the less empowered other. Jesus would've called that "the least among ye."

...and/but who is arguing on the other side?--against the less empowered other? Are they not themselves Sophists?

Let's Book said...

Well, everyone is a rhetor in one sense, right? So aren't you just talking about being an ethical person? (Q)

Insignificant Wrangler said...

@Casey - I have offered a definition of sophistry. By the definition I laid out, no, not everyone is a sophist equally arguing against oppression. But the value of my definition of sophistry is constrained by my ability to advocate for it.

@Book - I'm not sure the word ethics has one, stable definition. So, in advocating for sophistry, I'm also advocating for an approach to ethics. The two terms, sophistry and ethics, are intertwined for me.

I am opposed to versions of ethics that center themselves around a free subject/individual agent. Ultimately, ethics are caught up with the relation to other(s).