Kenneth Burke called humans “symbol-using animals”—we make, use, and misuse symbols constantly in our heads, in conversations with others, on paper, on our laptops, on our phones, in or on as many situations and objects as we possibly can. We send these symbols out into the world at a rapid rate, and we reciprocally absorb them from other places and then respond to them in turn. And on and on.
Rhetoric and related fields (linguistics, discourse analysis, writing studies, communication, media studies, literacy, philosophy, political science) can help us better understand how this saturation of symbols serves contemporary politics, in how language and other symbols can frame who we are, how we think, and how we act (to include inaction).
A modest hope of this blog is that by reading it, you can begin to sharpen your own rhetorical skills in a world where words have consequences. A close study of rhetoric can allow us to think about what our ideology is and isn’t, even if we can never fully pin down a finished and coherent ideological and political system to live by. A less modest hope is that by reading this blog, you can avoid a passive consumption of the news, start to figure out who your allies are, who the activists are that you can support and become, and what to do next.
This blog is sponsored by Rhetoricians for Peace, a community of writing teachers dedicated to exploring opportunities in civil and academic discourse for promoting non-violence. We believe symbols—spoken, written, drawn, carried out by procedure, etc.—can help create situations where violence can prosper and where democratic spaces can be threatened. With that in mind, we wanted to create a space where we could analyze instances in which symbols—primarily language—are used to try to foster such situations.
We take as our inspiration the notion of “doublespeak,” hence the blog’s title The Daily Doublespeak (in a future blog post, we will further explore the origins and relevance of this term to today’s political climate). Doublespeak is defined by Oxford English Dictionary as “deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language.” The site’s subtitle is “Exposing Everyday Propaganda.” Distilled from over 100 years of definitions of the term, Thomas Huckin defines propaganda as “false or misleading information or ideas addressed to a mass audience by parties who thereby gain advantage. Propaganda is created and disseminated systematically and does not invite critical analysis or response” (p. 126). While not exclusive to the sorts of posts we will write here, these two concepts capture the sorts of problems we see with much political rhetoric: it can be dishonest, it can be manipulative, it often serves material interests at odds with its audience, and it resists a good faith discourse on the most pressing problems in the world.
Look for us to post here about four times per week, and please let us know what you think in the comments section. We hope that by following this blog you can let language serve as a way to learn about your own politics and how you can help, in ways both small and large, make the world a less violent and more inclusive place.