Reputation and rhetoric
I have finally found that these posts I’ve filed under “society” are not my ramblings, but my essays, in that I am essaying as Montaigne did. As such, enjoy my latest essay, which I have written because I can no longer hold my frustration within me.
As brilliant of a rhetorician one can become, their words are worthless if nobody will listen to them. Ideally, the better one’s rhetoric is, the more people will listen to them. However, this does not entirely hold true in the real world. For someone who has a sound balance of reason, ethics, and emotion, rhetoric is not really the key; it is reputation to which people listen. Our reputation is what gets us into the door and our rhetoric drives us home. The speaker’s rhetoric therefore serves limited purpose unless the speaker’s reputation is good.
I can point to real world examples, which unfortunately become easier to find as we move on from the 2016 United States presidential election. We have been described as being in a post-truth society, and I think this means that reputation matters more than rhetoric in this society. Donald Trump did not win this election with his rhetoric; his rhetoric is pitiful and laughable. Yet, he won the election, and that must be attributed to his reputation. His mudslinging and slogans got him the votes, bolstered by who he was.
I’m not like most people my age, and so I feel great difficulty in being able to connect with many people of my age. In fact, I believe most people see me as an aloof and unsociable weirdo because I think differently than they do. I can’t connect with most people because of their undesirable human tendencies, which I will discuss later. This results in me becoming an outcast—against my will, of course—and what am I to do? I am a stubborn person. I cannot sacrifice the small victories in life because doing so would go against the tenets of classical rhetoric: logos, ethos, pathos. In keeping my ground, I alienate myself from many people. Furthermore, when I next wish to communicate with them, I am met with a wall of resistance regardless of my rhetoric or attitude. From this, we can see that first impressions truly do matter.
However, this isn’t entirely up to me. As humans, we innately like to gossip and form cliques. We like to exclude. We like to treat other people like crap to make ourselves feel better. For the weak minded, those who do not realize how bad this is, they enjoy doing this and innocently ignore rhetoric, instead focusing too much on reputation. That is why they will listen to the person and not the reason. As reasonable as Hillary Clinton’s platform was compared to Trump’s, American voters were skeptical of hers because of her reputation. Ad hominem fallacy, perhaps? She could not be trusted because of Benghazi and her email servers. She was also felt to be a snake. Therefore, we decided to go with Trump, a man with little to say but at least he isn’t a snake like Hillary.
This truly tears me up. On one hand, I don’t want a snake ruling us and screwing us over when we least expect it. On another hand, I don’t want someone with little reasonability to rule us. So it really comes to what we trust more: rhetoric or reputation? This time, America chose reputation. But I would have chosen rhetoric. Why? I look for the good in people, and so I want their reasonable side leading us. We all make mistakes at times, whether guided by our fallacious selfish desires or our temporary lack of judgement. Such leeway to these mistakes should not just be given to the hoi polloi, but also be afforded for presidents, but we should not choose someone who is prone to folly all the time.
A more salient example of this struggle would be social media. Why won’t people like or retweet my posts but will retweet other people’s posts when we both say the exact same thing? It certainly doesn’t come down to the content, but rather the person writing the post. This infuriates me, because as Epictetus says, some things are up to us while other things are not. The things that are up to us? Our opinions, impulses, aversions. What is not up to us? Reputation, body, etc. He says we should not worry about what isn’t up to us. Well, we truly do care about who says something. As a result, I effectively become a crazy person talking to his own echo chamber. Many times I have disguised my identity and my words fare much better than when they are paired with my name. It is most unfortunate how human psychology improperly discriminates based on such unreasonable standards.
Something else wrong with what Epictetus says? Well, I am skeptical about his dogmatic conclusion. Chiefly, I cannot settle to ignore what isn’t up to us. My restless mind yearns to find a resolution to fix my reputation. The easy way is to start with a clean slate, but at what cost? I will simply have it spoiled again by my idiocy while appealing to the nonrational side of people.
As a last resort, I cease thinking about this (epoché). I plead for people to give me a second chance. It probably won’t happen. This is perhaps all made in vain, but I must try because otherwise I am emotionally disturbed, and this is the best I can do. Please, don’t put my reputation over my rhetoric. Similarly, don’t put other people over me because of their reputation. I know it’s hard, but at the end of the day, it’s not reasonable. You cannot call yourself a good person unless you cease being swayed by reputations. See through reputations and focus on impartial rhetoric.