Discourse is dead. I attended her funeral last night. The wake has been going on for years. Now all that is left is the grave side service and the grave dressing.
The eulogies were pronounced by one man and one woman. She seemed to know the dearly departed better than he did. Although, neither seems to have the credibility of deep, firsthand relationship.
The staccato of ad hominem attacks, diversionary red herrings, and hyperbole punctuated the supposed discourse with questionable ethics.
The Roman rhetorician, Quintillian, talked about the character of the public speaker, describing “Good men, speaking well.” Quintillian’s call for goodness of character as the basis of discourse echoed like a distant memory, long past, as last night’s eulogies droned.
Aristotle, the great Greek rhetorician, emphasizes a rhetoric founded upon principles of logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos refered to rational arguments using evidence and data. Ethos, Aristotle emphasized, pointed to source credibility—the essential goodwill and character of the speaker toward the audience. Pathos is the compelling and artful use of genuine emotional appeals through the narrative.
Last night, discourse was slain in the street. The artful trio of logos, pathos, and ethos fled the scene of the crime.
Reason has died. In its place, feelings rule.
Character and credibility have died. In their place, image rules.
Citizenship has died. In its place, consumerism rules.
Abandoning citizenship for consumerism, American culture has throttled discourse in favor of pre-packaged prejudice and propaganda, spending millions in commercials of character assassination, image insults, and soundbite “gotchas.” Handlers measure words and frame phrases to fill time and space with clever comments. We vote our pockets. We vote for the most glamorous package. We vote our purchases. We vote our pleasure. We vote our feelings.
We claim to construct a social reality through our many words. We insist that the “emperor’s new clothes” are the finest ever. We celebrate the finery. We agree upon its glamor. Until someone speaks and the truth is uncovered! Even then, we resist reality, preferring our socially constructed version that we have shaped. Truth eludes our grasp.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “There is hardly anything more depressing for us than when we realize that outwardly we have everything we want, but with all that we have nevertheless remain inwardly hollow and empty and superficial” (A Testament to Freedom, p. 235).
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
There is no freedom in falsity no matter how cleverly constructed.
God has created humanity in His image. We are created for intimacy with him. Augustine famously said, “We were made for Thee and we cannot rest until we rest in Thee.” The deeply imprinted imago dei upon humanity longs for truth, honesty, and respect for one another. Sin distorts honesty with lies, love with lust, respect with hostility, and otherness with self-centeredness. Sin distracts and deters from truth-seeking. Our abandonment of a quest to know truth, preferring packaged perspectives has slaughtered honest epistemology, and discourse dies along with it. We cannot discuss what we do not know.
Everett Piper writes, “Truth gives us freedom. Lies always lead to bondage and slavery.”
When last night’s eulogies finally ended, the observer had no more knowledge of the dearly departed than at the beginning of the secular “service.” The video caricature of communication, masquerading as a presidential debate, diminished language, leadership, civility, and citizenship.
A free and democratic republic is based upon a freedom of speech which allows a healthy, lively, and civil conversation about a nation, its values, its direction, and its beliefs. When discourse dies, the chains of enslavement clank in the shadows. For when discourse dies, dissent dies with her. Ideas die with her. Integrity dies with her. Honest quest for truth dies with her. Freedom dies with her.
Discourse is dead. We mourn her passing.