“I Am Principled…

You are stubborn. He is a pigheaded fool.”

I first ran across this in the textbook for a logic course my dad was taking at UT-Nashville when I was in sixth grade. He took me with him on one or two evenings, and I went ahead and read the textbooks at home.

Years later, in a course on contemporary rhetoric during my Ph.D. years, I learned about Kenneth Burke’s concept of the terministic screen, and Richard M. Weaver’s “god terms” and “devil terms.” From Wiki:

“God terms” are words particular to a certain age and are vague, but have “inherent potency” in their meanings.[69] Such words include progress and freedom – words that seem impenetrable and automatically give a phrase positive meaning. In contrast, “devil terms” are the mirror image, and include words such as Communist and Un-American.[70] Rhetoric, Weaver argued, must employ such terminology only with care. Employing ethical rhetoric is the first step towards rejecting vague terminology with propagandistic value.[71] Upon hearing a “god” or “devil” term, Weaver suggested that a listener should “hold a dialectic with himself” to consider the intention behind such persuasive words.[72]

Meanwhile, somewhere in between Dad’s class and my own, I read L. Sprague de Camp’s bio of H.P. Lovecraft, where he offered a bit of criticism of HPL’s use of adjectives. Although I’m not quoting from memory, de Camp basically suggested that while adjectives like red or large tell the reader about qualities of the thing in question, adjectives like hideous and repulsive tell the reader not about the thing, but about the observer’s reaction to the thing. It’s an important distinction.

Without going full Sapir-Whorf here, I think we can make a strong case for the idea that we love us some preconceived notions (which vary from person to person), and that those notions form our terministic screens. I would further contend that our political culture is now operating on the level of the Rorschach test. People see what they want to see, through the filters of their terministic screens (and if you forgot your teministic screen, teeth will be provided). We see these social inkblots as moments out of context, we react, and often we employ the adjectives that describe our reactions as though we are describing the thing itself. Our emotional reactions become our facts.

What do we see? Fear or Rage?

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What do we see? 

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Photo: Eddie Adams

What do we see?

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And what do you see in you?

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
This entry was posted in Culture, Education, Faith, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “I Am Principled…

  1. Apologies: I wrote a piece before I read this, in which I described the Covington Catholic incident as a Rorschach. Purely by coincidence, I assure you.

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