Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 20, No. 6, 2021
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
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David Solway
Louis René Beres
Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
Don Dewey
Howard Richler
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Jordan Adler
Andrew Hlavacek
Daniel Charchuk
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Diane Gordon
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Barbara Ehrenreich
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Nayan Chanda
Charles Lewis
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Tariq Ali
Michael Albert
Rochelle Gurstein
Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website: www.nickcatalano.n


A great many people think they are thinking
when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.
William James


In several previous essays for Arts & Opinion I’ve referenced difficulties 5th B.C. century Athenians had as their new ‘Democracy’ took root. A major problem was rhetoric. Upon the establishment of the new system about 505 B.C., it soon became evident that power advantages in their free speech assemblies lay in the talent of citizens who could best employ effective persuasive rhetoric. As a result, very quickly, scores of teachers of rhetoric or ‘sophists’ flooded the Agora or main thoroughfare in Athens earning huge sums paid by eager students and ‘politicians’ seeking to learn the techniques of successful persuasive rhetoric. In order to increase their power, citizens needed to become expert at manoeuvring words.

Soon the teachers began to identify and explain hundreds of language skills, tactics and manipulations; and successful ‘orators’ became celebrities -- i.e. Pericles. Although the initial desire was to use persuasive rhetoric to advance justice and social equilibrium, it soon became obvious that rhetorical mastery had a dark side. Selfish, immoral and unjust causes could also be advanced as truth and facts morphed into a rhetorical sea of lies and distortions. Persuasive rhetoric could be used to erode logical, rational, thought by appealing to the myriad human emotions and fears everyone has. Its power was awesome. Even the leading sophist Gorgias had to admit the power it had. “The effect of speech upon the condition of the soul is comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies,” he said at the height of democratic speechifying in the 5th century.

In its glossary, the Oxford Handbook of Rhetorical Studies lists hundreds of Greek terms which can effectively defy logic and thus advance distortion, prejudice and untruth. Terms like adianoeta, brachylogia, cataplexis, metalepsis, erotema, and literally hundreds of others were formulated by the Greek sophists, and orators studied them hard so they could use rhetorical weaponry when needed.

The evil that descended from this development cannot be measured. Presently, reference to ‘fake news’ by logical twisters in the media and their use of exaggerations, prejudicial opinions and lies has society dangling. Lies about vaccines, rigged elections, mask mandates, etc. are enormously effective because most citizens are ignorant of the aforementioned rhetorical tricks. So . . . Logical thinking goes out the window replaced by heaps of prejudice, fear and often childish emotions.

Greek citizens carefully studied and scrutinized the rhetorical techniques and the way they afforded manipulation of logic and reason. This educational approach continued in the classical world of Greece and Rome for a thousand years. But, incredibly, few students these days have even a smattering of logic history much less a knowledge of how to manipulate it. As a matter of fact, if you presented a list of terms like the ones mentioned above to English teachers in schools across the country you would find very few who’ve even heard of them.

This lack of education has resulted in millions of people accepting fake news, rumour, gossip, distortion and lies.

In the 4th century, Aristotle, upon witnessing the violations of logic employed by trained speakers, wrote a treatise he called Posterior Analytics. Herein, he teaches the reader how to arrive at correct conclusions by correctly linking valid premises. This essay together with Aristotle’s entire oeuvre is just as valuable today as it was 2500 years ago. However, if you ask anyone with a college education if they have studied Aristotelian logic and philosophy in school, you would find very few who have.

The power of rhetoric to persuade by substituting emotion, prejudice and clever falsehoods for logic and reason has never been overcome. Through the ages, from Ancient Greece and Rome to Hitler’s Germany to Tucker Carlson, millions of people have been seduced, deceived and deluded. Issues have been muddled, lies have proliferated and truth hopelessly buried. Heretofore no one has come up with solutions to combat this insidious human invention and enormous suffering continues to damage societies and threaten populations.

Ironically, the Greeks came as close to defeating this execrable practice as anyone. Because of their unparalleled worship of reason, the titanic achievement of their philosophers -- Socrates, Plato, Aristotle et al -- and the sheer amount of study evidenced by the identification of the logic violations we referenced above, Greeks at least provided citizens mechanisms for truth to emerge.

As a result of their achievements, the present crises of distortions and lies most readily observable in the media can be battled. How? By adherence to reason through intense study.

I’m not proposing to have students memorize and utilize the hundreds of rhetorical devices defying logic that we noted above. But if only a few of these tricks are identified in classes, shared, and constantly identified, citizens can access greater truth.

So make sure your youngsters (and stilted oldsters) know a just few terms like begging the question, red herring, hasty generalization, ad hominem, post Hoc, false analogy and circular reasoning. And send them to schools where education focuses on great minds and disciplines. There is no substitute for a curriculum featuring study of mathematics, physics, biology, great literature, history, art and philosophy. Also a focus on classical rhetoric in English and speech courses might be a great idea if you can find schools that offer it. You would be surprised at how few you come across.

The rhetoric problem is global. Recently, The New York Times reported that Trump media officials have traveled to Brazil to offer aid to president Jair Bolsonaro who is experiencing widespread unpopularity as the upcoming election looms. He has advocated proliferation of guns, has denied administration of Covid vaccine, and has accelerated deforestation. The Trump people immediately instructed him on the efficacy of false news and they put before him their favourite lie -- advance the notion that the election is rigged.


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By Nick Catalano:
Alternative Approaches to Learning
Aesthetic History and Chronicled Fact
Terror in China: Cultural Erasure and Computer Genocide
The Roller Coaster of Democracy
And Justice for All
Costly Failures in American Higher Education
Trump and the Dumbing Down of the American Presidency
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


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