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A question of rhetoric

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Of all the most widely known sciences, the art of speaking, rhetoric, remains the least understood despite its wide usage. Misunderstood because its significance has been reduced to the common, or, because the arguments made in its name are either made by those who do not understand it, rhetoric has thus remained a field unacknowledged over the years. From the speeches of Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, to the arguments of such great philosophers as Plato and Aristotle, the understanding of the essence Rhetoric is the counterpart of Dialectic.

“Both alike are concerned with such things as come, more or less, within the general ken of all men and belong to no definite science. Accordingly all men make use, more or less, of both; for to a certain extent all men attempt to discuss statements and to maintain them, to defend themselves and to attack others…”

Ordinary people do this either at random or through practice and from acquired habit. Both ways being possible, the subject in question (the gist of the concerned debate) can plainly be handled systematically, or simply in laymen terms. The reason for this is because it is possible to inquire the reason why some speakers succeed through practice and others spontaneously when it comes to the mastery of rhetoric. Those that go out in pursuit of the mastery of rhetoric will at once agree that such an inquiry (the rhetorical question) is the function of the art of speaking.

Like everything else, rhetoric has had to go through certain processes of evolution over the years and the framers of the current treatises on rhetoric have constructed their own forms of interpretation which are but a small portion of that art. The modes of persuasion are the only true constituents of the art: everything else is merely accessory. These writers, however, say nothing about enthymemes, which are the substance of rhetorical persuasion, but deal mainly with non-essentials. 

An enthymeme is described in the Wordweb digital dictionary as “an argument consisting of only two propositions, an antecedent and consequent deduced from it; a syllogism with one premise omitted; as, We are dependent; therefore we should be humble. Here the major proposition is suppressed. The complete syllogism would be, Dependent creatures should be humble; we are dependent creatures; therefore we should be humble.” Herein lies the basis to simple logic and the principles related to the causality of entities, behaviours and tendencies.

There is always a reason why things are as they are, why they behave as they do, and how they ended up where they are; there is just no automatic when it comes to the real understanding of how things are: there is always a cause for the given quality.

The basic character of the advocate or the politician speaking for the sake of arousing of prejudice, pity, anger, and similar emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts that make up the true essence of rhetoric. The episode of persuasion in lobby speech by the politician or the presentation of the argument by the lawyer in court is merely a personal appeal to the man who is judging the case or the audience of political fanatics at a rally listening to the arguments presented.

Consequently, if some of the rules for trials or political speaking that are now part of everyday speak in some states in the world would be changed, most of those people we hear speaking would have nothing to say. If states were well-governed states and rules governing episodes where the art of persuasion were applied everywhere, and people were held to their word, the politician defended by excuses would have nothing to say.

People speak as they please and go on to refute their utterances simply due to the fact that there are no rules or laws governing public acts of rhetoric for the sake of the politician achieving their political goals and ends. What happens in a lot of cases is that those that openly criticise the protected lies are persecuted. It may be because the art of speaking has somehow been divorced from the more important aspect that should be its result: deed. We speak without doing and delivering on the promises we make in our speeches simply because there are no consequences careless talk. 

All of us without doubt think that the laws of any state should prescribe the basic rules of public speaking, but some would not agree. This is because modern parliament has drifted far from the early court of Areopagus in ancient Greece where the politician had an audience of the ordinary citizens to listen to their arguments. The modern parliament has become the domain of the few that actually divorce themselves in act from the public that elected them into parliament on the day when they take their oath.

The old court and the presence of the general public served the purpose of giving a level of practicality to the speakers arguing in the court on the Athenian hill. The presence of the citizens in this council of politicians had the effect that the speakers were forced to watch their thoughts and this led to the forbidding of talk about non-essentials as we find in modern political arguments in parliament. The presence of the common people amongst the politicians in parliament, if adopted in modern times would prove to be sound law and custom.

Those that speak would at least be more careful with their words when it came to addressing the concerns of the masses. The mudslinging one finds in parliaments these days for the sake of arousing feelings of polarity amongst the citizens of the state is not the right way to go about  using what we call rhetoric when it is in fact not. What we have in modern politics is just closed discussion between individuals serving their goals and interests and not those of the ballot casters.

The strictness with which court procedure is run may be due to the quoted fact that, “is not right to pervert the judge by moving him to anger or envy or pity one might as well warp a carpenter’s rule before using it. Again, a litigant has clearly nothing to do but to show that the alleged fact is so or is not so, that it has or has not happened.” The issue of whether a thing is important or unimportant, just or unjust, is the sole reserve of the judge. The judge must be an individual willing to refuse to take his instructions from the litigants in the case. 

The judge must be able to decide if all the points of the law have been defined according to their statutes. Instances where the law seems to fail should be rightly questioned by relevant legal authorities and not in the moot courts of public opinion as seems to be the case where lawmaking authorities have been captured by the ruling sector of society. Well-drawn laws in themselves define all the points they possibly can and leave as few as may be to the decision of the judges. Where judgements seem flawed, it is not up to the layman but the relevant authority to see to it that such judgements are rectified. 

The reality we face as Africa is finding one man, or a few men, who are sensible persons that are capable of legislating and administering justice. This is due to the fact that it is easier to find common sense in a small group than it is to find it in a large number of people of varied opinions. It should be understood that it takes long periods of consideration to make laws and the decisions made on their basis in the courts are given at short notice. This naturally makes it hard for those who try the case (the judges) to satisfy the claims of justice and expediency.

The most important reason of all is that the decision of the lawgiver is not particular but prospective and general, one can guess the reason to be based on the premise that it is not safe to adopt an absolute stance when in it comes to making judgements in court. The attitude that members of the public adopt when it comes to discussing decisions in court is the attitude of the ultimate judge that is both jury and executioner that finds it their duty to decide on absolutely cases brought before them.

Such individuals have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgement obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain. It therefore means in general that the judgement of the case should be the reserve of only the judge and colleagues and not the layman public. Judges should also be allowed to decide as few things as possible to avoid blunders that may lead to their integrity being questioned by the unlearned public.

There are always questions as to whether something has happened or has not happened, will be or will not be, is or is not. This is natural behaviour in humankind; we possess the faculty of curiosity in our minds that is always questioning things. This is natural behaviour, but there are certain instances where the right answers and procedures must of necessity be left to those who know, since the layman cannot foresee the results due to inexperience.

It is evident that we have become victims in a continent where those who lay down rules about matters salient to the running of society lack either the knowledge of vital social issues, or, they are just concerned about their personal interests. Such behaviour is the result of the ignorance of the contents of the speeches made promised when the political era began. The introduction and the narration, or any of the other divisions of a speech on this continent merely theorize about non-essentials as if they belonged to the art of speaking.

Politicians and lobbyists actually speak without commitment to their goals set in the promises, and the only question with which these speakers at the political rallies deal with is how to put the electing public into a given frame of mind suitable for their end in parliament. About the orator’s proper modes of persuasion there seems to be nothing to be discussed, that is, and there is no effort on the part of the speaker to gain skill in being competent enough to be logical and practical at the end of the day.

One can therefore conclude that, the act of persuasion on different platforms should apply in the same systematic manner in the different spheres where rhetoric forms the core of the speech episode. The principles that apply to political oratory should be able to apply to forensic oratory. The former is considered a nobler business perhaps because it began the whole process of rhetoric and may be considered fitter for the citizen concerned with the harmonious running of a state.

It is maybe more important than that which concerns the relations of private individuals, and the reason for this is that in political oratory there is more inducement to talk about nonessentials due to the wide nature of the whole process of politics.
“Political oratory is less given to unscrupulous practices than forensic, because it treats of wider issues. In a political debate the man who is forming a judgement is making a decision about his own vital interests. There is no need, therefore, to prove anything except that the facts are what the supporter of a measure maintains they are.”

In forensic oratory adopted by law as a field this is not enough; to conciliate the listener is what pays here. In a court-case, other people’s affairs are what is to be decided upon, and the judges should be intent on judging between the litigants and not surrendering to them. This is one of the reasons why irrelevant speaking is forbidden in the law-courts, it may not be the case in the court of public assembly where everyone is left to their own device and opinion. 

Rhetorical study is concerned with the act of persuasion, which in itself a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated. The orator’s demonstration is, therefore, that he who is best able to see how and from what elements the two sides to an argument are produced will also be best skilled in providing logical answers. This means that he should further learn what the subject-matter is and in what respects it differs from what is considered logical.

The true and the approximately true are apprehended by the same mental faculty and the man who makes a good guess at truth is likely to make a good guess at probabilities. The literary writer is often in search of the truth, and however philosophical or mundane, can always foretell the end result. We need to adopt an attitude that questions the rhetorical speeches of our leaders if we are to make any meaningful progress in our different societies and states.

Tšepiso S. Mothibi

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We need a coordinated approach on youth challenges

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For a number of good reasons, all of us are concerned about problems that face Lesotho’s young people, particularly youth unemployment, and the increasing tendency towards anti-social behaviour among sections of Lesotho youth including their increasing admiration for criminality.

Not only do members of such groups admire criminality and actually commit crimes but they commit crimes without much care as to the harm and other costs that their actions inflict on immediate victims and on society-at-large.

Evidence of public concern about these problems includes the fact that within society individuals, groups and public and private institutions have all expressed concerns over problems facing the youth, with some of these parties making attempts to come up with ideas and measures to assist.

However, a number of problems seem to be emerging on, at least, three fronts. Firstly, a seeming lack of coordination in addressing problems that face young people. Secondly, lack of clarity on questions of whether (a) parties that seek to assist are basing their interventions on credibly identified sources of problems that face young people; and (b) whether any credible assessments are made to ensure that interventions such parties are proposing and implementing have potential to solve problems that face Lesotho’s young people.

There are many examples of what may seem to us, members of the general public, to be lack of coordination in approaches to solve problems facing young people. One such example may be sufficient. On January 8, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast a statement in which the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) authorities announced establishment of some army facility where Basotho young people would be taught some values, including patriotism.

The very next day, on January 9, 2024, Lesotho TV broadcast another statement, this time by the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS) authorities, announcing the LMPS’s plan to establish a police facility at which young people would be taught anti-crime and other values. In their essence, the LMPS’s plan sounded not totally dissimilar to LDF’s.
Apart from the LDF and LMPS’s plans for Lesotho’s youth, there are also public and private sector initiatives to nurture and support entrepreneurial talents of Lesotho’s youth with a view, among others, to fight youth unemployment and develop the country’s private sector.

Politicians have also been seen to sponsor football games for young people in their constituencies with a view, they say, to keep young people from crime and narcotics. These events cannot be criticised too much but given that they are one, or two-day events that take place during specific times, they look more like publicity stunts.

National sports federations are now complaining that politicians who sponsor these events put too much stress on sports as a means to fight crime. What federations want is that, if politicians want to help, they should stress the importance of sports as careers, and sponsor young people to develop their sporting talents accordingly.

Amidst expressions of concerns and various parties’ attempts to address problems facing Lesotho youth, public authorities that we have not heard from, or from who we do not hear enough, are those charged with responsibilities over precisely problems facing young people; that is, authorities at the Ministry of Youth.

Admittedly, we do not know if the initiatives of the LDF, LMPS, and others are carried out in consultation with or with the blessing of the Ministry of Youth.

The worry ought to be not only whether interventions of the LDF, LMPS, and others have the blessings of the Ministry of Youth. Instead, the worry should extend to the question of whether the Ministry has any national plan to address problems facing young people. And, if such a plan exists, we would expect that it identifies the LDF and LMPS as places where young place can be coached; and initiatives of these and other institutions would align with such a plan.

Without an identification of the army and the police as implementing agencies of the Ministry’s plan, and without the army and police’s initiatives alignment with the Ministry’s plan, at least two things are likely to result: duplication of effort — as seems to be the case with the LDF and LPMS plans; or, at worst, LDF and LMPS plans might contradict and undermine national plans entrusted to the Ministry of Youth.

In the worst case scenario that a national plan does not exist, we face the danger that anybody wishing to address problems facing Lesotho’s young people can do so, basing herself, or himself on a personal or group perception, and implementing plans and solutions based on such perception.

As in the case of too many people stirring the same cooking pot without coordination, undesirable consequences can be expected from a situation where just about anybody can apply a solution to a public problem.

As hinted above, a good national plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people would have two characteristics, at least. First, it would be based on our assertion of the kind of society we want to be; an investigation of problems that stand in the way of achieving such a society; how such problems can be overcome, say, through school curricula; and how, in general, from Early Childhood Care & Development (ECCD), young people can be brought up and socialised in ways that ensure they will be useful members of a society we wish to be.

Any action that is not based on an investigation of the problems that stand in the way of achieving a society we want to be has little chances of success. Such action would be based on some understanding that the young who are anti-social, unpatriotic and criminals are naturally bad people.

It is, of course, not as simple as that. For example, one possible explanation for the absence of patriotism among young people may have something to do with socio-economic inequality in Lesotho: those who are closed out of, and excluded from, benefiting from Lesotho’s wealth and power cannot be expected to be patriots.

A second characteristic of a plan aimed at addressing problems that face Lesotho’s young people is that, such a plan should identify and/or establish institutions designed — and with appropriate skills — to implement ideas and proposals that come out of credible investigations.

It is unclear whether the LDF and LMPS plans have resulted from something like considerations suggested above. While it is admitted that these institutions’ initiatives are limited to addressing problems of lack of patriotism and criminality among the young people, one clear problem with their plans and solutions is that, it might be the case that they are catching young people a little late, when schooling and general socialisation have already entrenched anti-social values that we see among sections of young people; namely, individualism and the inability to think of others.

In one word, these institutions catch these young people when tendencies towards criminality, anti-social behaviour, and lack of patriotism might have already hardened.
Perhaps the biggest hope we should have is that the army and the police will have full complement of resources necessary for providing full and wholesome mentoring to young people who undergo army and police mentoring.

Short of adequate resources necessary for achieving what the army and the police have in mind, we might end up with cohorts of young people with a faulty army and police culture that may come back to haunt us. Inserting a faulty army culture among a section of young people brought us bitter results in the 1970s and 1980s that should not be repeated.

To conclude, no one can argue against all of us being concerned with problems of youth unemployment; increasing tendencies of young people’s admiration of criminality and their participation in crime. And no one can argue against all of us coming up with ideas and proposals of how to address these problems.

However, our concerns and proposals ought to be based on:
a nationally-agreed assertion of society we want to be;
a credible investigation of difficulties that stand in the way of us becoming society we want to be;

and coordination of proposals and ideas aimed at becoming society we want to be.

As with other specific instances of socio-economic development in Lesotho, problems facing the country’s young people cry out for the long-neglected establishment of the National Planning Board, as prescribed in Section 105 of the Constitution of Lesotho.

Prof Motlatsi Thabane

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Call that a muffin?

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In Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) one of the characters says about the British, “We have everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language.” Between American English and British English there are many, many differences. Which is not to say that either American or British English are standardised; there are multiple varieties within each. As a south-western Brit I can find it difficult to fully understand what someone from Liverpool or Newcastle is saying.

I remember one year during the NUL’s International Theatre for Development project we had a student from the islands of Scotland. She was brilliant and hard-working and full of good ideas — if only one could understand the ideas when she introduced them. The NUL students grouped together and asked me: “Chris, can you translate what Kirsty is saying for us?” and I replied: “I’m as lost as you are.”

Between American and British English it’s not just a matter of pronunciation but also of vocabulary (I’ll be coming to muffins — see the title of this piece — in a while) and spelling.
In the biographical film Prick Up Your Ears British, dramatist Joe Orton shares a room with Ken Halliwell and they decide to write a novel together. Ken asks Joe “can you spell?” and Joe replies “yes, but not accurately.”

This is hardly a surprise, given that he’s a Brit. The American spelling system is far more regular and rational than the British. (Readers with laptops will have noticed that your spell-check gives the option of British or American spelling, but that doesn’t help you as in Lesotho the British system is used, so for the time being you’re stuck with it).

I mean, what can you say about a spelling system where “plough” rhymes with “now”, but “tough” rhymes with “stuff”– and “now” doesn’t rhyme with “low.” Yipes (as the Americans say). When I was lecturing in Lesotho and in Nigeria and marking assignments I was always very lenient over spelling, because I know what a mountain it is to climb (the latter word rhyming with “time”, of course).

Then there is the matter of vocabulary or denotation (a term I hope readers remember from a few weeks back). There are many examples of things that are denoted by different words in British and American English: lift / elevator; pavement / sidewalk; windscreen / windshield; petrol / gas; cinema / movie theater (and look at the American spelling of (Brit) “theatre”– a lot easier). And some of these reflect our different histories.

For example, there’s a vegetable, a kind of small marrow, the British call it a courgette (one of my favourite vegetables, in case any of you are planning to invite me for dinner). That’s a word that British English has borrowed directly from French — that is, a loan word (I’m not sure we plan to give it back).

The Americans on the other hand call it a zucchini, a loan word from Italian, which I guess reflects the size and influence of the Italian community in the USA. (Speaking of vegetables, I can’t give you an explanation for why the Brits call an aubergine an aubergine — another loan word from French — but the Americans call it an egg-plant).

Next week I’ll get around to muffins — a sore point — and I’ll move on to differences between English and French and between Sesotho and Setswana. Bet you can’t wait.

Chris Dunton is a former Professor of English and Dean of Humanities at the National University of Lesotho.

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Insight

Lessons from Israel: Part 3

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I shall round off my account of my 1995 trip to Israel by putting on my tour guide cap. Staying in Tel Aviv, most days were fully taken up by the conference, which was my reason for being there. Tel Aviv in July is scorchingly hot, so there were walks along the beach only before breakfast and after sunset. I did take a little time off to go with South African author Stephen Gray to an art gallery that had a painting he wanted to see (a portrait by Modigliani of Beatrice Hastings, whose biography Stephen was then writing).

I wasn’t especially keen on the hotel restaurant, where dinner comprised meat served by the ton (surprisingly little fish, given that we were on the coast. By contrast, I had always been surprised and happy that Maseru restaurants are so good on fish, despite the fact that Lesotho isn’t exactly maritime). But I discovered a little Russian Jewish restaurant that offered Beluga caviar at an amazingly cheap price. I suspect it had fallen off the back of a lorry, as we say in the UK — i.e. that it was contraband, acquired illegally. I just blinked innocently and enjoyed myself. I can’t think of a more delicious way of starting a meal than with caviar, freshly-made blinis and a large glass of deeply chilled Wyberowa vodka — no ice, please. (I only say all this to show you what a very cosmopolitan chap I am).

The conference ran to a packed schedule and we worked hard (no, really). Half-way through we were given a day off and taken to Jerusalem. On arrival I teamed up with an old Nigerian friend and a friend of his from Senegal and we took ourselves first to the Dome of the Rock, the main mosque, which is splendid and radiant (wow, the mosaics!) Then we saw the Wailing Wall.

Then we trudged up the Via Dolorosa to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Via marks the route along which Christ was forced to carry his cross on the way to his crucifixion (dolorosa means something like “of miseries”). I had expected it to be lined with sculptures showing the Stations of the Cross (rather like the lovely ones at Fatima, near Ramabanta).

Instead it was one tourist gift shop after another. Here I came across one of the most repugnant things I’ve seen in my life. Proudly displayed for sale, a wall clock with the face adorned with the image of the head of Christ, the two clock hands protruding from his nose.

At the top of the Via Dolorosa, the fourth century Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the holiest site in the world for Christians, which is breathtakingly beautiful. The interior is (not visibly) divided into sections, the upkeep of each of which is the responsibility of one of the major denominations: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Greek Orthodox, Egyptian Coptic, and so on. I had had the impression this was an arrangement worked out under the colonial regime of British Palestine, but Google tells me it dates back to the Status Quo of 1757.

My companions had done their homework and suggested we head first for the roof, which had been allocated to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (dare one possibly suggest a tinge of racism in this marginalisation?). There we found a cluster of monkish cells, each inhabited by an elderly Ethiopian monk, at least two of whom spoke English or French. They were delighted to see us, and utterly sweet, hospitable, and in their accounts of their pastoral work spellbinding.

To be concluded

Chris Dunton

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