Friday, September 25, 2009

An Augustinian Perspective

Central to Augustine's theory of rhetoric is the difference between teaching and persuading. Teaching, Augustine maintains, must be done before persuasion. This makes a great deal of sense; when people know the facts, surely they will be more likely to act appropriately. In fact, Augustine says, "perhaps when the necessary things are known, [the audience] may be so moved by a knowledge of them that it is not necessary to move them further by greater powers of eloquence." Of course, this is not always the case, and Augustine understood this. Therefore, he presents his theory of emotional persuasion.

In a recent article in the AFL-CIO's monthly publication, America@Work, an attempt is made to fuse teaching and persuasion in an Augustinian manner. This article, "American Jobs: Going, Going..." by Jane Birnbaum, seems very successful, precisely because of its dual nature. The facts chosen to be taught to the audience are clearly chosen for maximum impact, and the emotions played on to move the audience are equally carefully selected.

Birnbaum's intent, or at least a part of it, truly does seem to be teaching, and from an Augustinian perspective this seems odd. After all, the readers of America@Work are almost exclusively union members who can be expected to already know the subject well enough to know what is right. Surely, to Augustine, all that is needed is an appeal to emotion, not further teaching. This makes more sense when one considers the following quotation from Augustine's On Christian Doctrine: "...for the sake of pleasing, things which are already known are also discussed where attention is given not to the things themselves but to the manner in which they are presented." Simply put, Birnbaum's decision to reiterate facts which much of her audience is already familiar with makes sense from an Augustinian point of view because her audience can be expected to be pleased by further evidence of the rightness of their ideology. Additionally, facts which are presented in this educational style were selected based on their emotional impact.

Examples of "teaching moments" abound in the article, mainly in the form of numbers. The reader is told that, "The US economy has 3.2 million fewer jobs today than when President George W. Bush took office." Bush's complicity in the unemployment crisis is reiterated later in the article, when we are told, "2.5 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared since President Bush took office in early 2001." This is an interesting choice. While it is presented factually, with what seems to be an intent to teach, it is also clearly intended to move the reader emotionally using Augustine's concept of making the reader "hate what you condemn." In total, George W. Bush is linked with numerical data on job loss three times in the article, although it is never explicitly stated that he is the cause of the job crisis.

Bush is invoked a fourth time in the article, although oddly enough this time it is used to lend credence to another appeal to emotion disguised as a teaching moment: "Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union address made clear the danger of access to data by unfriendly foreign operatives..." Clearly the intention is to promote fear here, by drawing a correlation between American companies doing business in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and China with the US's current relationship with Afghanistan. This relates to Augustine's admonishment to make the listener "fear what you threaten."

Fear and hate are not the only emotions appealed to. A sentence which teaches the reader about "low wage work that pays too little to keep even a small family out of poverty," obviously works on the Augustinian idea of making the listener, "take pity on those whom you place before him in speaking as being pitiful."

This article is very effective, probably because it is able to merge teaching and persuasion effectively. Our emotions are played on expertly, and discreetly. To someone who is not knowledgeable about the debate on outsourcing, this article would likely be even more effective, since the teaching elements would come into play in a more obvious way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

When the Workers' Movement Doesn't Work

In my last post, I looked at a piece which was clearly in support of international outsourcing. This time, I want to look at a piece from the opposing viewpoint. Because this viewpoint more closely aligns with my own views, I expected an easy analysis. This was not the case. The points made in this brochure, put out by the United Steelworkers, can be seen to draw from Aristotle's Categories of Argument, but are not used effectively.

Before beginning my Aristotelian analysis, I'd like to make a few points about the brochure in context. While it was made several years ago, and therefore might not be the most current source for rhetoric, it is still prominently linked on the AFL-CIO's website as though it were current. In my opinion, this placement shows two things: one, that this piece of rhetoric is being advanced into the current debate on outsourcing and globalization, and two, that there is clearly an issue at high levels in the labor movement regarding adapting rhetoric to fit changing rhetorical situations.

Anther point I'd like to make is about the relevance of the brochure itself to the debate on international outsourcing. While it is true that the brochure makes a stated point against sweatshops, the sweatshop issue is definitely one of the topoi surrounding the debate at hand. The argument advanced by the labor movement is that global outsourcing, particularly in production-based jobs, allows American companies to operate sweatshops (an enthymeme which calls up images of slave labor, incredibly low wages, and dangerous working conditions) outside of the states. If American companies were stopped from outsourcing these jobs, the argument continues, American labor laws would prevent these kinds of abuses.

On to Aristotle. The Aristotelian categories seem thin on the ground in this brochure. On the left inner panel, a list of examples are cited regarding abusive conditions in foreign factories. By induction, then, we can make the argument that these abusive conditions will continue if American companies continue to maintain factories in these countries. Where the argument breaks down is not in its facts, but in its appeal to emotion. The wording is never quite strong enough, the images never quite vivid enough, and it is as if these anecdotes were written by someone attempting to remove the emotional impact from the facts - the opposite of what would actually work.

Similarly, an Argument of Possibility is robbed of its power by the use of a poorly chosen meme. In the same panel as the examples, the statement is made, "We can do better; we can restore justice in our global trade relationships." The phrase "we can do better," was made famous by John Kerry, a presidential candidate who was known for not creating an emotional connection between himself and his audience. In modern culture, references to a failed presidential candidate, and especially an unsympathetic one, is not likely to be persuasive.

An Argument of More of Less is attempted, but the logic is so flawed that it becomes difficult to follow. An act known as the Dog and Cat Protection Act of 2000, the reader is told, "prohibits the importing or exporting of dog or cat fur products into the U.S. market. The goal of this act is to deter the brutality and suffering inflicted upon dogs and cats, whose fur was being used for products such as coats that were entering the United States." This statement, while certainly based in fact, and certainly emotionally effective to a typical American citizen does not necessarily correlate logically with the question, "Is it not time to extend these same protections to human beings?" The attempt to emotionally connect with the audience is clear, but it falls short logically when one considers that the argument against outsourcing does not apply to human beings or goods made from parts of human beings being imported into the states except in the most labored metaphor.

This brochure is problematic from a visual rhetoric standpoint as well. The images chosen do nothing to illustrate the stated problem of exploitation. In particular, the front cover of the brochure features a photograph of a young Asian woman working some kind of production job. While she is clearly Asian, and clearly working, there is nothing to suggest that she is being exploited in any way. She simply appears to be a normal young woman at work: clean, focused, and working in an environment that in no way seems to jibe with the "filthy" conditions we are told about elsewhere in the brochure. A far more effective image is hidden on the central inner panel, depicting young people bound with rope. However, no other mention is made of the image beyond a caption whose font is almost too tiny to read: "Textile workers in Bangladesh were beaten and tied with rope after speaking out for their rights." This image could have been the focal point for a truly affecting argument.

This brochure, simply put, does not work. Attempts to use Aristotelian lines of argument are present, but fall short in execution. If the Steelworkers' union's goal is to affect change in the American business world, this brochure is not likely to help.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Aristotle and India

To start off my analysis, I want to look at a website for a company which facilitates outsourcing, specifically to India. India is at the forefront of the debate on outsourcing, since many Indian companies have sprung up in recent years whose business is essentially pretending to be other businesses' call centers. This particular company is called Outsource2india, and they show a clear grasp of the Aristotelian principles of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos - particularly the first two.

The ethos of the website is clearly calculated, as demonstrated by the pastel, and therefore nonthreatening, color scheme chosen, the strict adherence to Western web conventions, and the flawless Standard Edited English. In addition, the article "The Benefits of Job Outsourcing to India" seems on the surface to be an objective study of the facts, adding to the ethos by suggesting that the site's goal is education and not advertisement. This site is saying, "We are friendly, factual, and comfortable." The use of the abbreviation O2I adds ethos for web designers and proponents of globalization as well, reminding that segment of the audience of the abbreviations for Internationalization (I18N) and Localization (L10N), both of which are certainly buzzwords for topoi used in any debate about global business. This visual signal tells the audience, "We know what we're talking about, and we're up on the modern jargon."

Pathos is not in short supply either. Word choice is the most obvious example, with words and phrases like, "undisturbed communication," "competitive edge," and "advantage" being very common. The benefits of outsourcing from the perspective of India are emphasized, giving the impression that a decision on the part of business owners to move call-center jobs isn't just a money saver, but also a move to help a developing economy. "With democracy, support from the government, more freedom for businesses, fewer restrictions and regulations, lesser interest rates and fewer restrictions concerning outsourcing, " the article tells us, "India has become a more ideal place for job outsourcing." This sentence does a fabulous job of communicating the logical message that doing business in this "New India" is economically beneficial for American business owners - while putting a warm, friendly overlay of pathos over the top.

Even things that seem problematic are spun to become benefits; overpopulation becomes a large and willing workforce, the remaining traces of British imperialism becomes "the English advantage," and any lingering worries about human rights are explained away with the friendly sentence, "The people in India are satisfied to work for lesser salaries and what people earn from the outsourcing industry is much higher than what they will earn elsewhere." Clearly, pathos plays a big part in the argument.

What is interesting about this use of pathos is that it is clearly intended to look like logos. The writer presents a clear argument in favor of outsourcing to India in terms that seem objective. However, the writer made a decision here: the logical argument in favor of outsourcing, which is typically expressed in strict monetary terms, is not very pleasant from an emotional standpoint, and as pointed out in The Political Brain, this makes it problematic. Therefore, rather than present the logical but emotionally offputting argument, the writer chose to focus on the ethos and pathos of the argument, using both to create the illusion of logos.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In this blog, I want to look at the rhetoric surrounding the issue of job outsourcing, specifically international outsourcing. This issue is important to me because as a college graduate and current grad student the time is fast approaching when I will be looking for a job. It is my hope that in any event there will be a job to find, but where and how I look will be determined by the outcome of this hotly debated issue.

There seem to be intelligent and coherent arguments on either side of this issue, so I feel confident that I will be able to find many examples of rhetorical theory at work.