Tuesday, December 28, 2010

I Cor. 2 -- the limits of rhetoric

"A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns," wrote American novelist Mario Puzo.

As the recent shakedowns of the American public reveal, "banksters" who are considered "too big to fail" are immunized from the consequences of their own cupidity, their own stupidity, by their partners in government who enrich that tiny handful of plutocrats by impoverishing every American taxpayer. The printing presses are smoking, and for the first time in living memory, the American dollar is dropping towards, or below, parity with the Canadian "loony."[1] As the currency is inflated / debased / debauched, the losers are the thrifty, the people who, through systematic self-denial, accrued savings.

Somehow, the "symbol-handlers" dance rings around the "thing-handlers," time after time. People with verbal skills are both respected, and resented. Winston Churchill's silver-tongued oratory might rally a desperate nation to win a desperate struggle -- but after the war, the weary electorate turns him out of office.[2]

We normally think in words,[3] understand the world around us by the stories we tell ourselves, and are influenced by those who can use words effectively. Knowing how easily we can be misled, we are suspicious of the rhetoricians among us. Congressmen are held in lower repute than used-car salesmen, for example.

In the ancient world, skill in rhetoric was the key to political advancement. People who could teach the trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) made good money. However, when Paul spoke to the Corinthians, he deliberately refused to exploit them with fancy language:
1Co 2:1 Kardeşler, Tanrı'yla ilgili bildiriyi duyurmak için size geldiğimde, söz ustalığıyla ya da üstün bilgelikle gelmedim.
1Co 2:2 Aranızdayken, İsa Mesih'ten ve O'nun çarmıha gerilişinden başka hiçbir şey bilmemeye kararlıydım.
1Co 2:3 Size zayıflık ve korku içinde geldim, tir tir titriyordum!
1Co 2:4 Sözüm ve bildirim, insan bilgeliğinin ikna edici sözlerine değil, Ruh'un kanıtlayıcı gücüne dayanıyordu.
1Co 2:5 Öyle ki, imanınız insan bilgeliğine değil, Tanrı gücüne dayansın.

Let's have some fun with a simple Turkish word that can be expanded in a number of delightful ways:
  • bilmek -- to know. to be aware. to understand. to learn. to recognize. to assume. to appreciate. ken. savvy
  • bilge -- wise. learned. erudite. omniscient. polymath. profound. sophisticated. wise person. scholar. luminary. owl. sage. sophisticate.
  • bildiri -- announcement. assertion. bulletin. communique. declaration. handout. manifesto. notice. notification. paper. report. communiqué.
  • bildirim -- my announcement. assertion. bulletin. communique. declaration. handout, etc.
  • bilgelik -- wisdom. erudition. savoir vivre. sagacity.
  • bilgelikle -- characterized by bilgelkik.
A famous line from one of Shakespeare's plays goes, "The lady protesteth overmuch, methinks." When people try too hard to convince us, we "smell a rat." Paul gave his audience the facts -- the King had arrived. He informed his audience about what they needed to do -- pledge allegiance to the King, and enter the royal service. He demonstrated the benefits of the Kingdom, by working a miraculous healing or three. Maybe an exorcism. Then, he left it up to the audience to make up their own minds.

People tend to "own" decisions they reach on their own initiative, and to disown "decisions" they felt pressured into making -- by slick rhetoric, by abusive social pressure, etc.


[1] A $1 coin, minted in base metal, with a loon -- an aquatic bird -- on the obverse side.

[2] Kemal Atatürk not only led his people to victory against overwhelming odds, but stayed in office long enough afterwards to preserve the fruits of that victory.

[3] An exception that tests this rule is the autistic folks who can say, as Temple Grandin's book title does, I Think In Pictures. She processes the universe of spoken language by imagining it to be a movie.

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