Fidelbogen’s The Practice of Rhetorical Discipline is a brief, and I think excellent, guide for framing discussion on nearly any topic although he has written it specifically to frame discussion of feminism and counter-feminism. With his kind permission, I have reposted it here. I have not edited it for content, but have done some reformatting to fit the aesthetics of my site.
The Practice of Rhetorical Discipline
By Fidelbogen @ The Counter-Feminist
Rhetoric is the art of persuasion. And since persuasion is a matter of prime importance, rhetoric must on no account be neglected, but rather subjected to the requirements of a discipline. We are engaged in a contest for hearts and minds, a serious business which oughtn’t be left to the hazards of a random crapshoot. The way we go about saying, or not saying, what we choose to say, or not say, will either float us or sink us.
In the present talk I purposely exclude the topic of fallacious argument. That topic has been worked over by so many writers already that I feel I can be of greater service if I limit myself to fields not so thoroughly plowed.
Very well. The sum of rhetorical discipline may be condensed into a single short phrase: minimize grappling points. What follows will be a gloss upon this precept.
A grappling point is anything in the form or content of your communication that gives your enemy an edge, an angle, or an opening. You might say that a grappling point gives your enemy a handhold so he can swing you around, or a foothold so he can climb over you. This sets you in a position of weakness or passivity, and negates you as an obstacle, so that your enemy advances in a tactical or strategic way.
The opponents of feminism are famous for speaking their minds “not wisely but too well”. In this way they offer grappling points to their enemy and make their own work needlessly difficult. Their ineptitude may be arrayed under a four-fold heading.
Firstly, that they will say indiscreet things which are bound to excite the wrong kind of controversy at the wrong moment. In this, they fail to establish politics by being politic.
Secondly, that they will use an unseemly or undignified tone. In this, they fail to establish tonal mastery.
Thirdly, that they will neglect to uphold a consistent narrative of non-feminist sovereignty that would cast the opposition in the role of an aggressor power. In this, they fail to establish the necessary political frame.
Fourthly, that they lack political focus, meaning that they neglect structural unity of message. They speak heterogenously on a ragbag of topics with little thought to the strategic implications of what they choose to talk about, and why, and when. In this, they fail to establish message discipline. Consequently, they waste time and energy and bog down the movement.
Under all of these headings, the failure in question may be understood as a failure to minimize grappling points. I will now enlarge upon each case in turn.
In the first case, the impolitic non-feminist behaves as a “loose cannon-mouth” and makes impeachable utterances. An impeachable utterance may be defined as any saying which at least arguably transgresses the norms of morality or decency. I say arguably, because evaluative criteria and subtext will differ from one social group to the next. Different groups argue things differently, and to different conclusions.
And so, a statement that would give a feminist a conniption might produce nary a ripple amongst the great middle mass of non-feminist men and women. Any utterance which is arguably impeachable is at least arguably a grappling point, but if the “argument” is unpersuasive to most people, then it will gain no political traction outside the feminist cultural space. And so it makes a weak grappling point: the worst the feminists can do is dangle you in front of other feminists and cluck about what a horrid specimen you are — but nobody else will give a rip! This bottles up the feminists within their communal psychology and isolates them from the rest of the world. Such an effect, for our purpose, is desirable.
But if you say something universally impeachable, something that would disturb nearly anybody, it makes a strong grappling point: the feminists can use it for political traction in the larger world. It does not bottle them up in their group psychology; it empowers them to “reach out and touch someone” other than themselves. Such an effect, for our purpose, is undesirable.
So don’t be a loose cannon-mouth. You should frame your communication in a way that offers no universal grappling points — alternately stated, a non-objectionable surface. We call this the common gaze standard because it plays to the psychic consensus of the great middle mass.
One point remains to be considered. You might ask: “How if I discipline my rhetoric to where even the feminists can find nothing impeachable about it? Is it worth my trouble to attempt this?” And I would reply: possibly. It depends how hard you want to work, so it is for you to weigh the advantage or disadvantage in a given case.
To highlight just the advantage, note that mastery in this field could be a method of psychological warfare. A universally non-objectionable surface would leave the luckless feminist with almost nothing to use against you even in her own mind. That would cut off retreat into communal psychology; each feminist would stand alone as a solitary individual, if you will, before the judgment seat. For many of them, any desperate escape would be preferable to such a desperate hell, and in many cases criminal behavior, driven by rationalization, seems a likely outcome. But until the feminists are ready to “come clean”, I would spare them no empathy. Empathy is for your friends.
I turn now to the second case, which addresses the commonly-seen failure to establish tonal mastery. An unseemly or undignified tone does not, in itself, entail either fallacious argument or impeachable utterance of any kind — although it might occur in tandem with these. But I call it a grappling point because, in the ad hominem rough-and-tumble of real-world polemic, contestants will frankly use it against you in that way. And which is more, they will do so to pragmatic effect — a point which bears consideration.
A further consideration is, that the way you say things often weighs a lot more than what you say. A discourse of considerable audacity may, if couched in a dry, nonchalant diction, pass altogether unremarked by the great middle mass — and even by quite a few feminists. What many people find objectionable in a given speaker or writer might be nothing more than, for example, that he sounds angry and disagreeable — and it’s a turn-off! So, by the right combination of knowing what the target audience will bear hearing, and intoning this suitably, you can make great headway and speak your mind more boldly and candidly than you might think.
There is, of course, an art of sounding angry. It can be done. However, you need to maintain “artistic control” and to apply the right effect knowingly, bending or breaking the rules in a calculated way with the proper sense of timing. Such is tonal mastery. But you are wiser to follow the rules until confident of breaking them masterfully.
Whining is another unseemly and undignified tone. Indeed, it is arguably the worst of the lot, and ought to be eschewed. Whining may best be described as complaint for its own sake, accompanied by a keening vocal affect with a descending pitch. And although vocal affect is not present in writing, it is possible to achieve a written whine — perceived as such by others — if you do little else than complain endlessly.
In order that you will not seem to be whining — in either speech or writing — you should forbear to make emotionally-fraught inventories of self-evident things. Thus, you ought simply to recite the bare facts in their bare factuality, and let that bare factuality paint the required picture by virtue of its intrinsic poignancy. This is akin to the advice given to writers, to “show but don’t tell.” Facts are weighty witnesses that will testify with overwhelming precision if you let them. A bare factual narrative packs the needful cargo on its own account, and needn’t be lumbered with pathos.
I should add, that feminists love to accuse their enemies of whining. I mean, they are keen to use that indictment for a grappling point in order to make mileage by mockery. But when you stop whining, they should start worrying, for it hints that you have gone to the next level of insurgency in your thoughts, and are incubating serious plans.
The subject of women often crops up in conjunction with both anger and whining, and when it does, the talk morphs into what some might loosely call “misogyny”. This is not strictly a matter of tone, but rather topic. Still, it is important to note the connection between women as a focus of discussion, and the emotion that goes in step with this. I say it is important, because the ramifications are politically consequential and relate to our study of grappling points.
I turn now to the third case, that of neglecting to frame the political narrative in terms of non-feminist sovereignty. Such neglect has rhetorical consequences, for it sets you eternally on the defensive with any feminist you meet and continually reinforces the feminist construct. You might call it a grappling point a priori.
The feminist war, at its heart, is a war of sovereignties. A certain cultural paradigm (feminism) has gone into a colonizing modality, intending to nullify the sovereignty of any other paradigm that gets in its way. And make no mistake, they ALL get in feminism’s way.
And so the greatest non-feminist weapon we have, is our knowledge of non-feminist sovereignty — no, the certainty of it! In good truth, we are the bulk of the universe. And the laws and principles of that realm work to our advantage more so than otherwise. Yes, the natural order has got our back, and we should so fully internalize this conviction that it will inform every act, every mood, and every gesture that we make. For the feminist colonization of our lives has been a massive aggression built on nothing better than sheer presumption. We ought to know this by now, and we ought to act like we know it.
We should take a page from Marx, and ruthlessly challenge everything about them and their world. And in the spirit of the Frankfurt playbook, we should develop our own edition of “critical theory”, and put it to work right away. Remember that “the theory is to criticize” — and true to that spirit, everything they presume to say or presume to know, is fair game. When they say “patriarchy”, or “misogyny”, or “sexism”, or “wage gap”, or “glass ceiling”, we bounce back instantly with “WHAT patriarchy? WHAT misogyny? WHAT sexism? WHAT wage gap? WHAT glass ceiling?” Yes, undermine them. Deconstruct their categories and presuppositions non-stop. Be skeptical. Be agnostical. Demand explanations. Never let up for one instant — never let them clear the runway! Feminism is not the world, which means among other things that feminism is not the intellectual world. Accordingly, they shall export none of their intellectual merchandise into our world without paying a good stiff tariff — and if we don’t want it in our world, we ship it back in toto.
And if we are scanning the horizon of political events, either current or historic, we shall impose the frame of non-feminist sovereignty upon discoverable feminist actions, and so classify all such actions as to their degree of aggression against us.
To summarize: we must frame our political thinking (hence our talking) in terms of feminist aggression against the rest of the world, and in terms of thwarting such aggression. This, by virtue of reiteration and practice, will grow into a disciplined rhetorical instinct.
I turn now to the fourth case, that in which political focus — or structural unity of message — is neglected. Proper attention to this point may be understood as a discipline, and for that reason we call it message discipline. This term is established lingo among people who talk about electoral politics, but we make it part of rhetorical discipline because it falls within the gamut of operations that will minimize grappling points. Message discipline, you might say, puts rhetorical discipline on a collective basis.
The rhetorical consequence of neglecting message discipline is that grappling points will multiply in an uncontrolled manner. So it is important to keep a strong hand on the message that we transmit to the general population. Politically speaking, our “message” takes the form of issues and talking points, and in practice this has been an unorganized babble. Many people are talking about many things, and what we palaver about most overall, enters the common awareness, for better or worse, as a composite average of what we ARE.
Now, if there is a “true” or “central” message that we ought to be transmitting, then I reckon it should be one that is politically efficient in terms of a goal. And what is our goal? It is to damage feminism as much as possible by spreading information efficient to that purpose. Such, in bottom-line terms, is how we parse our doings: all of it boils down to some form of information trafficking. But we must always have a care about efficiency, because some information works more efficiently than other information in the work of damaging feminism. So remember that our message is part of our public image, and that public image is nothing if not trafficked information. Therefore we must ask if our public image, as related to our message, is efficient to the purpose of damaging feminism.
In addition to compromising our public image, neglected message discipline pulls us into all manner of conversations which are better avoided. For any time you voice an opinion, there is a chance you’ll be requested to defend it. And in politics, the more opinions you voice the more battles you must fight. Yes, the more you bite off, the more you must chew — one sees that is logical! Therefore we need not, and should not, take a stand on every issue under the sun. This generates grappling points because it permits the other side to hoist and haul us around by putting us on the defensive. So the watchword is “pick your battles”. Any other policy creates a war on more than one front — the larger counterpart of being flanked on a battlefield.
In the end, message discipline means optimally efficient information trafficking in the service of a political goal. So if we compromise our public image by association with flakey or shady things, that is not optimally efficient. If we load the table with issues not relevant to damaging feminism, that is not optimally efficient. If we load the table with issues only weakly relevant to damaging feminism, that is not optimally efficient. If we let people of a certain political leaning siphon us into talking about “loaded” topics that needn’t be addressed at all — for example, race or LGBT issues — that is not optimally efficient. On it goes. All of these are areas where message discipline might get compromised, and as such, they generate grappling points. So rhetorical discipline commands our diligence in these areas.
There are exceptions. For example, were I to opine that the song of the mountain thrush has a more ethereal quality than the song of the lowland thrush, it would not compromise message discipline. That is because the subject of birdwatching is apolitical and mysterious. Also, it could add a whimsical note to an otherwise boring dissertation. So feel free to add those kinds of touches.
Very well. The four parts of rhetorical discipline, which I have introduced here, can be itemized briefly in the following nomenclature. I would suggest memorizing these for quick conversational reference:
- Discreet Utterance
- Tonal Mastery
- Narrative Frame
- Message Discipline
The remaining question, it seems to me, is the timeless one of how to herd cats. For it is impossible to run a control wire to every loose cannon-mouth in the sector. People will say what they will say even if it is politically ill-advised, and there is little we can do about this in the short run. So the best plan is to form a central column of rhetorically disciplined preachers who may gradually propagate their coherently schooled sensibility. These preachers may school others by example and in time generate a master signal and a focal point around which the chaotic clouds of impeachable or otherwise inefficient utterance will swirl.