The Elements of Rhetorical Discipline
- Part 2
First, I will speak of the spiritual foundation of our discipline.
Rhetoric is, if nothing else, a matter of presentation. And in the art of rhetorical discipline, the self-presentation of the operator becomes a business of paramount importance -- verily, a disciplined craft unto itself.
Yes, it all begins with you. Your self-presentation grows organically from your foundational pattern of engagement with the world. Understand therefore, that if your foundational pattern of engagement is an overmastering desire for self-expression, then your rhetorical posture at the outset will be one of weakness -- as a house built on crumbling sand.
Self-expression, so-called, is both pernicious and unnecessary. Mind you, we understand that self is an excellent thing, and worthy of enhancement. We encourage self. We likewise understand that expression is an excellent thing, and worthy of considered attention to its finer principles. We encourage expression. Yet we understand as a precondition to all of this, that "self" can never truly be "expressed" at all, but rather comes into being precisely as a co-product of expression. The reason that "self" cannot be expressed, is that it does not even exist in the first place until "expression" makes it exist.
So in the course of your expression, it is not "self", but something entirely ELSE that you should hope to personify -- namely, a matured and efficacious engagement with the business at hand, whatever that business might be. And from precisely this matured engagement, your "self" at last emerges, as a consequence of such engagement. But when you try to express "self" beforehand, as a willed project, you put the horse behind the wagon where it doesn't belong. This overmastering urge for self-expression both triggers, and is triggered by, a defective engagement with the business at hand -- it is a chicken-and-egg feedback loop which stokes itself continually, generating, finally, a very paltry kind of "self".
Conclusion: let the governing purpose behind all your speech be, that you wish to facilitate the business at hand. Frame your communication with that thought uppermost. This is LIFE advice, good for rhetorical discipline and a host of other things.
The present teaching distills itself into a practical maxim, namely, that you must kill the babble reflex. By babble reflex, I mean the urge to talk a lot, and talk mindlessly, under the prompting of the most wayward, trivial or disordered impulses. When you do this, you are putting random stuff out into the world -- as it were untucked shirttails, or untied shoelaces -- which gives your enemy a handhold for hoisting and hauling you around. In sum, you are projecting grappling points for your enemy's convenience. You oughtn't be so obliging.
The babble reflex arises when 'self-expression' is paramount. And the unbridled urge for self-expression is the mother-lode of all grappling points because, not being entirely controlled by the operator, it soon betrays the operator into the controlling hands of others -- and what else is a grappling point if not a locus of control by others? The maxim to control yourself or be controlled, might equally be stated as control yourself or don't have a self. For "self-expression" relentlessly undermines the bare possibility of having any self to express in the first place. It saps and weakens the self. It empties the vessel. It is a pernicious addiction, a disease of our age, a false god if ever there was, and surely not worthy of your reverence.
Yes, the world is bulging at the seams with people who are almost literally bursting to sing their little song every chance they get, to make their little voice heard by an indifferent universe, above the witless cacophony of others so essentially similar to themselves -- and I can only wonder why they all bother to do this! Entire industries and economic sectors have sprung into existence for the purpose of sucking their blood. But their babble reflex, I conclude, is a flimsy stratagem to outwit death or, at the very least, to anesthetize the dark and chill foreboding of it. But then of course, I don't think they actually think about this at all.
In sum, you need not "express" yourself, but only BE yourself, by your mindfulness of the business at hand, and by your way of communicating that business and that mindfulness. Adhere to this method, and the particular something which is you shall be plainly evident to all in the vicinity. This is not "self-expression". It is rather expression pure and simple-- or self pure and simple -- and it fends for itself. It is not your job to see to that, so why make extra work for yourself?
There is more which bears consideration. Consider, for example, that expression of any kind -- that is to say, transmission -- makes it more difficult to gather information. When you are talking, you are not listening. When you are putting out, you are not taking in. Hence, you are not gaining knowledge. The royal road to ignorance, accordingly, is the seductive music of your own voice. Enjoy that music by all means, since you will need to cultivate virtuosity on your instrument in order to fine-tune the art of persuasion. But know when to give it a rest and let "George" take over. That is to say, let the other guy be seduced by the music of HIS voice. As the celebrated maxim of Jesus Christ teaches us, it is more blessed to give than to receive. So let the other guy -- especially if he happens to be your enemy! -- reap the blessing of giving you more information than he is recieving.
Rhetorical discipline means crafting your communication with conscious will and purpose . . . yes? And crafting your communication includes crafting your silence . . yes?
All of this will develop in you the vital faculty of intuition -- to wit: compiled observation. I mean, that the accumulated force of all you have taken in, stored as a reservoir in your subconscious mind, will arrive in a flash of instantaneous seeing-and-knowing, just when the moment requires it. This might take the form of a nameless "insight" to guide you silently toward a correct judgment, or then again it might arrive as a pearl of wisdom that rolls casually from your lips during a mundane conversation. But none of this comes to the babbling fool, so . . . don't be a babbling fool!
In conclusion, please be aware that the present teaching is intended as a meditation-practice exercise for continual application in the realm of daily life. In the end, you will come to know what it means to drive your own car. And what is equally important, this teaching will force you to understand that you have BRAKES!
Nothing in the present treatise should be understood as moral instruction, or moralism of any kind. It is not moralism, but pragmatism. Purely and simply, it is power. Moreover, it is scalable power, with application to both macrocosm and microcosm.
The next installment in this series will address the political foundation of our discipline.