Kenneth Burke considers finding common ground among people -- along the lines of consubstantiality, or identification -- as the only answer to our most pressing problem as humans, which is the alienation, or division, we feel from others.
In "A Rhetoric of Motives," per James Herrick, Burke writes: "If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity. If men were wholly and truly of one substance, absolute communication would be of man's very essence."
As I am still feeling the bruises of yet another civil war-like political season, I wonder if Americans now have passed the point of no return in terms of consubstantiality. I don't feel hopeful at all that we can reach a period again in which we debate political issues together as Americans, trying to create the best country in the world, as opposed to Party A or Party B grasping for power and trying to dictate the ways in which the people in the other party live, which they really don't want to do.
It seems so long ago, in 2000, when a legitimate case could have been made that Republicans and Democrats were pretty much in the same place on many issues, arguing positions at least in the vicinity of each other. Ralph Nader made the case that the two parties were inseparable in ideas on the table, which was considered a bad thing. Of course, both parties at the time were concerned with a lot of negative matter, such as maintaining power and the two-party system, and feeding their corporate lamprey, and giving breaks to the rich, and a host of other slimy situations. But today, after about a decade of dramatically divisive rhetoric -- at first meant to separate the parties, but then manipulated as power grabs -- what are we left with in the ruins?
As Burke imagined, warfare! ... The bloody, bitter, hostile, horrible, hate-filled discourse of division. Unfortunately, mud-slinging, hate and character-assassination wins elections, and as long as it does, I suppose, politicians will go that route (they are, after all, politicians). But what do we as Americans get left with? Does anyone really feel good about the state of America right now? Does anyone feel like we are in this big community together?
Or do we feel divided? West Coasters versus East Coasters? City folk versus country folk? The intellectual elite versus the real people (who, apparently, are the ones you would want to sit down and drink a beer with)? War mongers / pacifists, who need to "man up." Capitalists / Socialists. Etc. Where is this getting us? Maybe instead we should be returning to Burke's suggestion of trying to find common ground, not as a form of pacifying "the enemy," which is us, by the way, but as a form realizing we are all working toward similar goals of creating a dynamic and fascinating place to live, where we can raise healthy and intelligent and happy children, and pursue what we want, when we want and how we want, and spend our lives enjoying each other, not dreading or hating each other. We don't live in two Americas. We aren't as different as we might feel that we are. We have differences, of course, but what would be the alternative, pure conformity? We all want a great country and great people and happiness. I think everyone should demand a resurgence of a rhetoric of unity from our leaders, not division. And vote out those who just continually tear us apart. That doesn't mean we eliminate debates, or differences of opinion, but we focus on the ground we share. We focus on rhetoric that brings us together. We don't focus on gaining power and leverage to boss others around. We focus on wielding words that unite us, and we return to Burke's noble effort "toward the elimination of warfare."
- ▼ November (6)
- ► 2009 (68)