Luis Alejandro Guerrero
September 26, 2016
The Death of Rhetoric
In the first chapter of his book “City of Rhetoric” David Fleming argues that the fragmentation of cities and essentially society is leading to the death of rhetoric. Fleming states that “When faced with seemingly intractable social conflicts, the most resourceful among us simply retreat into communities of the like-minded”(14). In essence we have created homogenous communities in which discussion is not necessary because everyone is similar. These bubbles that have been created have caused the death of political discourse and rhetoric. According to Fleming what is most troubling is that the younger generations are growing unaware of public discourse and rhetoric, they believe that everyone is homogenous because they are trapped in these bubbles. However the most interesting aspect of this dilemma is how one goes about fixing it. Fleming exemplifies the complexity of this issue by illustrating the case of Cabrini Green in which due to migration, social issues, and fear among other factors there is now a homogeneously poor and African American populous in a sector of Chicago. There are now 3 leading ideas on how to go about remedying the situation. The first was to disperse the local populace into different parts of the city, the second was to introduce higher income citizens to the city and the third was to empower the people already living there. While all of the proposals offer positives and negatives it is interesting to view the issue through a rhetorical lens and analyze what each solution means for the composition of discourse within the city.
While the discourse and composition of our cities is an important aspect of Fleming’s argument, he also takes time to visit the past and the roots that have led to our current day situation. Fleming states “ For the ancient Greeks who first conceptualized it, rhetoric was precisely the skill of inventing and delivering argument in the context of public debate and disagreement”(13). Thus one can deduce that rhetoric was created because the makeup of cities were not homogenous, and that people had to develop intellectual arguments in order to prove their point. This distinction between individuals is what allowed society to flourish. In the words of Fleming “Language so seen was distinctively political”(13). People need language and vice versa however once people are devoid of differences and political discourse is no longer needed then language dies. Fleming also points out the consequences of political discourse in a homogenous populace. In such an area opinions become extreme, fragmentation of people causes extremities and these extremities are what cause conflicts. It is important to be exposed to contrary opinions in order to evolve as individuals and to practice rhetoric. However Fleming is also quick to point out that where we come from is also important. As we are “situated” human beings. We share cultures with others, share roots and ideals. It is important to keep this in mind because it is what unites people as societies. However that does not mean that there cannot be any room for differences. Fleming is adamant on the fact that place matters however he is aware that others do not share his views and he attributes this to the fact that as technology advances people feel as if they are less reliant on their environment. However they fail to see that geography is constantly playing a critical role in their lives. Geography and the makeup of communities are creating divisive societies. The rich create metropolis’, buy bigger houses while the plight of the poor worsens. These increasing differences is what is causing a fragmentation in society. There is constantly less middleground and more polemic views of the other.
In essence David Fleming argues that as communities lose their heterogenous aspects the populace of those communities lose their ability to argue causing to rhetoric diminish, which will eventually lead to the death of rhetoric. He believes that it is primordial that humans learn to settle their differences rather than to seek those who believe the same as they do. As society becomes homogeneously fragmented people become encased in social bubbles, which is what is causing the death of rhetoric; one must learn to be able to see the other opinion of an issue in order to grow intellectually. The real danger lies in the future, what will happen to society when people are on opposite ends of the spectrum? What conflict will arise and will people who are not used to hearing differing opinions be able to come together and find a common solution? Our built physical environment is directly impacting our public discourse, our liberties, our use of rhetoric and relationships as people, which is why Fleming believes that it is an issue that must be addressed.