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The Art Of Rethoric May 26, 2009

Posted by nikmj in anwaribrahimblog, General, malaysiakini, National, news, Politics.
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I would like to believe that I am well trained in the art of rhetoric. It is a case of “syiok sendiri”, of course. But then again, if I am not even able to be “syiok” about myself, how would others be “syiok” with me? And today, in the spirit of “syioksendiri-ism”, may I bore all of you with my thoughts on this subject.

It is common knowledge that some of our Ministers – and members of Cabinet – are quite intellectually challenged. This is obvious from the various statements which they make in public. Zahid Hamidi’s “we must respect their culture” – when he was trying to deflect the embarrassment caused to the BN, and himself, caused by the Chinese sexy concert – was but one example of an absolute failure of the brain to take control of the tongue.

Further back in time, Nazri Aziz’s “he called me because I am his Minister” – uttered while attempting to explain why the Lord President called him to issue a denial respecting the Linggam tape – was a shining example of a lack of appreciation of how the legal system worked.

Mahathir Mohammad is a champion when it comes to rhetoric. After his retirement, he is fond of laying the blame for everything which has gone wrong on everybody but himself. “I did not sack Tun Salleh, the tribunal did”, said him. Of course, he forgot that he was the one who established the tribunal. “I did not put Anwar in jail, the Court found him guilty and put him in jail”. Yes, yes, haven’t we all heard of that too. “I did not destroy UMNO, Abdullah did”. “I did not this, you did”.

What these esteemed intellectuals failed to realise, and appreciate, is the fact that their audience are not at all stupid. Their audience are not some 3 year-olds with phlegm running down their nose holding a half sucked lollipops standing still with mouth wide opened in awe of them and their speeches. In fact, it is quite stupid of them to think that we are.

The ability to project oneself to an audience is a must if one were to aspire to be a good politician and consequently, a good leader. What more if one is a Minister. Even more if one is a Foreign Minister.

Anifah Aman’s obsession with the Altantuya murder and Anwar Ibrahim’s moral standing in the USA was astounding, by any standard. It is taken right out of the book of diplomacy, namely, from the first paragraph of the Chapter titled, “What Not To Do”. It was totally unprovoked, irrelevant and too insignificant, especially when viewed from the perspective of the State Secretary, “Her Excellency” Hillary Clinton. In fact, for our Foreign Minister to address her as such, is a protocol disaster for Malaysia.

I hate to wonder what Americans and other civilised nations think of us. And to think about a headline on the Star proclaiming that “America wants to learn from us” – when in fact what was said was “we (America) must learn from each other (in dealing with the economic meltdown)” – makes me ticklish all over. That was “syioksendiri-ism” taken to the extreme!

Eco Umberto, in a paper given at University of Bologna on 20th May 2004 posits that rhetoric is a technique of persuasion. It involves discussing, arguing or debating over matters in order to find an opinion which is agreed to by the highest number of people. In short, it is the mechanic by which a consensus on a particular issue is achieved.

It is therefore important that the participants in that debate or exchange of rhetoric should work out arguments that are hard to dispute, to use proper and suitable language and also to “arouse in the the audience those emotions appropriate to the triumph of our arguments”.

Let’s analyse Anifah Aman’s latest statements about Anwar Ibrahim’s interview by the New Yorker recently. Hishamuddin Hussein was quick to say that Anwar was trying to “fool the world”. Not to be left out, Anifah was quoted as saying that Malaysians should be “very, very hurt” by what was published in New Yorker and continued to say “Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian”.

That is a clear example of how a debater or participant in an exchange of rhetoric should not start his or her argument. That technique is called “captatio malevolentiae”, a technique which is normally aimed at alienating the audience from the speaker and turning them against the speaker. It is like me, standing up in Court to begin my case by saying, “I know morons like you won’t understand me but allow me to teach you”. (I must hasten to add that I am not saying that there are moronic Judges in our Courts). Or, how about me saying, “I think you are an idiot if you don’t agree with me on this”.

The exact response of the audience to that kind of rhetoric would be one of isolation and soon, one of anger and resentment. “What do you mean I am an idiot if I don’t agree with you?”, would be the silent response. Soon, somebody would loudly say, “I am not the idiot, you are!”. And from then onward, the debater would just be drowned with so much negative responses that his or her arguments would not even take off, let alone heard, dissected, analysed and agreed with.

Putting that to the fact, our obvious response to Minister Anifah would be, “what do you mean I am not a Malaysian if I don’t feel embarrassed?” “If I am not a Malaysian, what am I, a Martian?”, says a more cynical and sarcastic audience. “In fact, what you said, Mr Minister does not make sense. You said any “Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian”. That is rather inconsistent. How could a Malaysian not be a Malaysian?”, asked another one who was obviously more detailed and analytical.

Just to complete this short dissertation, allow me to explain the opposite of “captatio malevolentiae”. It is called “captatio benevolentiae”. This is aimed at getting approval from the audience by indirectly – and without sounding condescending – complimenting them. I can begin a debate on the abolition of the ISA, for example, by saying “I am sure the right thinking people in the room would agree with me that the ISA is draconian and uncivilised”. Soon, everybody would be agreeing with me because then, they would be “right thinking”. Or how about, “it is an honour for me to speak before such a distinguished and learned people”.

And so, I supposed, Minister Anifah should have said, “I think right thinking people of Malaysia would be embarrassed at what Anwar said to the New Yorker.”

I am sure all of you, highly intelligent readers of this post, would agree with that.🙂 (AnwarIbrahimBlog)

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