Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fantasy versus Ideology

Rhetorical criticism is an inherent part of punditry.  Because rhetoric is the use of symbols to influence thought and action, analyzing the rhetoric of political candidates helps us to make informed  choices between candidates.  Recently, respected members of the conservative right have described President Obama and other prominent Democrats as ideological, and call for Republicans to respond with ideology.  I believe this is a mistake of apples-and-oranges in comparing the two rhetorical purposes.  This is not an election about ideology.  This is an election about fantasy versus ideology.

When fantasy rhetoric is used, people in a particular group use communication to create reality.  Once the fantasy is shared, meanings that used to be understood by individuals converge and alter to create a shared reality.  The creation of a shared reality requires the use of both fact-based and fiction based media.  Fantasy rhetoric depends on stereotypes and stock scenarios that can be repeated, allowing new members to put new experiences into familiar forms.  In this way the fantasy vision unifies experiences, creating a master analogy that applies to all situations.  When the master analogy is shared, the experiences of individuals that would be exceptions to the analogy are perceived by the group as rare or personal.  This creates a large number of people who will see their experiences as unique and uncommon, while still believing and acting on the fantasy.

Here's an example:
  • Women should not be punished with a baby.
  • Children do not bring joy to a home, but interfere with a woman's ability to advance in her career and drain family funds, creating poverty.
  • News reports of children abused or abandoned by single parents increase.  MTV presents the sad world of teen moms as a reality show. 
  • The stock scenario of the single parent is retold with abusive partners, the need for government assistance, and the inability to juggle work and child care.
  • Since the life of a child born into this situation is so hard on both the child and the parent, abortion is the humane choice.
  • The master analogy becomes that poverty is the same as death.
  • A particular young woman who had a child as a teen, and later graduated from college, and married for life, will assume that her situation is unique.  No other young woman has the family support or the intelligence to be able to do the same thing. 
Let's compare this rhetorical fantasy with the ideological rhetoric of the conservatives.  Like fantasy, ideology strives to present a cohesive world view.  Ideology starts with a principle, and ends with how that principle manifests in lived experiences.  Ideology does not depend on fiction, but rather depends on a combination of faith and fact.  Ideology sees failures to reach desired outcomes as the result of abandoning the principle.  When faced with many failures, the ideologue returns to re-educate with the principle.  The principle is never abandoned.

Here's an example:

  • All people have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Life is the formost right, because with out it, no subsequent right is possible.
  • This right to life is a gift to all human beings through God and nature.  
  • When faced with an unplanned pregnancy, the ideologue of faith will believe that God has a reason for this new life having been created at this time.  The ideologue of nature will understand that the choice to create the life has already been made at the time of conception.  The life exists and it has value.  In order for the new life to receive liberty and pursue happiness, the life must be preserved and protected.
  • Failure to live  violates the original principle, negating all other rights.
  • When many people violate the principle of life, the conservative ideologue returns to nature and God to re-educate the populace.
  • There are no exceptions to the principle of a God-and-nature-given right to life.
When conservatives try to apply ideas to fantasies, we frequently run into brick walls.  The stereotypes and stock scenarios of the liberal fantasy have become deeply intrenched in our culture.  We might be seeing a final backlash from the media.  I find it humorous that professed liberal pundits are calling Debbie Wasserman Schultz out about false statements on the 'war on women' fantasy, and our President on his use of entertainment media rather than the White House reporters.  These reporters are abandoning the fantasy.

Ideologues are wise to remind us of our rights and our fundamental principles.  It is time for our country to wake up from this fantasy nightmare.

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