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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Words Fitly Spoken: Part III

PATHOS : Words that Stir
[re-posted from Saturday's version of these thoughts]

Just when I was afraid this series about Aristotle's three elements of persuasive public speaking (ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS) would seem irrelevant, along came a news story that vividly illustrates the need to be cautious with PATHOS.

PATHOS is the Greek word from which we get the words pathetic, sympathetic, apathetic, etc. It refers to a speaker's ability to genuinely feel as well as the ability to inspire deep feelings in others. In Part IV, we'll be discussing LOGOS (which is Greek for "word," but Aristotle used it to mean the building blocks of LOGIC and reasoning). When PATHOS is not supported by LOGOS, the result is either sentimentality or BOMBAST (in which fervor trumps all else). Allow me to illustrate uncontrolled PATHOS with the following Youtube clips:
The first is this anti-Hillary tirade from Senator Obama's pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright (not to be confused with these more controversial clips that hit the news this week.) In fairness to Rev. Wright, let me say that the context of "clips" should always be considered; and in fairness to Obama, I'll add that we've all, at times, disagreed with the tone, opinions, and political ideas of religious leaders with whom we may otherwise hold common ground. I'm not judging Obama's church or its former pastor. I do not judge the validity of the PATHOS the reverend Mr. Wright feels. I'll let each viewer judge for themselves as to whether this sort of speaking helps or hurts the cause.
It's possible that this suddenly-retired pastor should consider the choice that all persuasive speakers face: Am I going to recklessly say what I feel entitled to say because I feel it’s right even if it hurts the cause I supposedly want to help? Or am I going to be careful with my words and feelings because they may be used to hurt the very cause I feel so deeply about? In other words, will the venum I spew in my church help or hurt my candidate beyond my church?
In any political argument, it’s not enough to “preach to the choir.” It's not enough to speak with bombastic conviction. It's not even enough to be right (when such things can be known). Stirring the feelings of those who already share them is easy. Likewise, anyone can give the world "a piece of their mind," but it takes a truly gifted speaker to change the mind of the masses.
I include the Wright video clips only to contrast his ineffectiveness when compared to Obama's PATHOS in this recent Obama clip as he attempts to calmly denounce the statements. It's not Obama's most eloquent oratory, but it's credible. In it he makes reference to this famous impromptu speech of Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy forty years ago, which is another great example of PATHOS.
[Caution: disturbing footage at the end.]
After viewing those Youtube clips, you may want to read this very interesting article that touches indirectly on why Obama may be able to bridge the gap that is at the heart of Rev. Wright's inflammatory rhetoric. It's called “American Adam,” and the author suggests that Obama is part of a recurring theme in American history.
"Obama is the candidate of ...a "new kind of politics," ... But, in emphasizing newness, Obama is actually voicing a very old theme. When he speaks of change, hope, and choosing the future over the past, when he pledges to end racial divisions ... Obama is striking chords that resonate deeply in the American psyche. He is making a promise to voters that is as old as the country itself: to wipe clean the slate of history and begin again from scratch. Looming over all of American history...is the Biblical figure of Adam, the only person, according to the West's major religions, to have lived unburdened by what came before him.... The myth of America as Adam runs through our country's literature... And it reemerges periodically in American politics--usually during times of upheaval or discontent.... Joe Lance [wrote] that he was backing Obama "because he transcends the old divides between black and white Americans. ..." Such ideas underlie enthusiastic newspaper endorsements of Obama. The Dallas Morning News wrote, "... no candidate is better equipped than Mr. Obama. His message isn't about anger and retribution. It's about moving forward." ...
If you have time, read the whole article. Even as a non-Obama supporter, I do see the "Adamic" pattern, but he is on his heels over this pastoral controversy. In a week or so we’ll see if his political skills can help coax this recent lion of March… to go out like a lamb.
[Update: Monday evening. We won't have to wait until the end of March to see if this "pastor disaster" had an effect. Obama dropped 5 points nationally over the weekend. This event has blown up more than I anticipated and has forced Obama to give the speech of his life on Tuesday, March 18, added below on March 19]
It will be interesting to see if his words will ring true enough to diffuse the parsing of each line and to de-fuse the explosive suspicions of political foes. Not to pile on, but here's an example of how Wright's harsh words taint Obama's authenticity if not his "judgment":
Last summer, Obama said in this speech at his church’s national convention, “Somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. Faith got hi-jacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian right who have been all to eager to exploit what divides us..." As a conservative person of faith, I am willing to consider the truth of those words. BUT why did Obama shirk that perfect opportunity to confess his own church's guilt for doing the same thing? Now that we've heard the divisive tirades of Obama's long-time pastor, last summer's rebuke sounds like a case of the pot calling the kettle white.
I've been one of those observers who disagree with Obama's liberal, big-govenment cure-alls, but I was impressed by his stump message of unity, so this has been a disappointing development. For the sake of the progress his candidacy represents, I do hope the senator's speech can press down this picked-at scab and let the healing begin. If so, it will live on as a powerful example of PATHOS and LOGOS working together in a time when it mattered most.
It's sad that the kind of inspirational PATHOS that inspired this poet on Youtube, has been upstaged by the words of Jeremiah Wright. Toward the end of that creative political poem she says:
“Progress and pride can’t coincide
the only way we win is unified.”
By the way, the Greek word PATHOS is also the root of the word PASSION. Later this week, I hope to post some thoughts more in keeping with Passion Week.
Update: 3-30-08: Three weeks later the "Pastor Disaster" is still fodder for talking heads and columnists. To most viewers it has "gone away," but when I read this piece in the New York Daily News, which removes the racial aspect of the story, I saw how it may be more important than it first seemed.


Blogger Dr.John said...

I have enjoyed the first two articles and look forward to the third.

15/3/08 6:29 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Dr. John,
There has been an interesting development in the past 48 hours that illustrates PATHOS at the other end of the emotional spectrum. It will be interesting if Obama's pastor's comments, which are full of shocking PATHOS and passion, will damage Obama's "words fitly spoken" approach to politics.

I will resume Part III after Easter. Thanks for expressing your interest.

15/3/08 9:13 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

On Saturday, I had posted a brief explanation of why I was putting Part III on hold. Dr. John commented at that time. Then I found the clips and decided to brush up the post dated Sunday.

16/3/08 12:46 PM  
Blogger Dr.John said...

THis was well thought out and well written. I was very disturbed with the use that Glen Beck made of the same clip by the Pastor. I am not an Obama supporter but I do believe in fairness. I think this article was well balanced.

17/3/08 6:56 PM  
Blogger patterns of ink said...

Thanks, Dr. John,
So far you and I are the only ones weighing in on this. It's either to "touchy" of a topic or I have completely lulled my readers to sleep over the past few weeks of inactivity in the blogosphere. =)

Tomorrow's speech should be fascinating. If anyone can do it, this skilled orator can, but if he doesn't, I think this is the beginning of the end of his campaign. I didn't see this coming. I do not believe that Obama shares Wright's views, but it does beg the question: why did he not pull out of this church when Oprah did in the '90s? It seems to fly in the face of Obama's stump speeches and his ability to bridge the gap. I have a feeling this will be a memorable speech tomorrow.

17/3/08 8:48 PM  

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