[KB] Desilet, Moby Dick, and Melodrama

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Fri May 16 10:36:07 EDT 2008

This is Greg Desilet's response to my most recent post on thie theme:

Ed, (I'm sending this from a different address since the server for my other 
address is having trouble today)

I have to compliment you on your ability to grasp and summarize others' 
views. You’ve given me a very fair reading and I thank you for that. It really 
helps in the process of debate like this because it serves to move us more quickly 
toward the "pressure points," the points of genuine difference in our 

And I think you hit these points of difference as well as possible in a brief 
space in your last post. 

I only want to add a little about "outrage." I don't know that it's possible 
(or even desirable) for people to exert such control over emotions as to 
eliminate outrage from the repertoire of responses. However, I do believe that if 
people adopt the view I am recommending, over time that view will tend to 
influence emotional response in such a way that outrage may be the first response 
but one soon followed by the grief implicit in the “tragic” emotions of “awe” 
and “ruth.” These reflect a “wonder,” “dread,” and “compassion” toward 
the ways in which life can bring us to disaster as well as the ways in which 
colossal “blindness” can unwittingly facilitate such disaster. This emotional 
response should rightfully trigger, not a rhetoric of resignation and fear, but 
a rhetoric of resolve in confronting the complexity of life alongside the need 
for as just and expedient a response as human wisdom can devise.

We can’t see all the reasons why people do as they do, but to adopt as a base 
assumption that humans are inherently flawed or corrupt (as part of their 
nature) promotes a poor self-image. I detect within Burke’s dramatism a secular 
version of the “original sin” hypothesis about human nature. Better to suppose 
that humans operate within “limits” (as do all living things) and that these 
limits need to be valued as well as understood and continually reassessed.

So I do not want to “strike outrage from the repertoire” but rather place a 
check on allowing it alone (or primarily) to govern our response to human 
tragic deeds. Outrage and the rhetoric that goes with it do help to promote “
action,” but I would argue that action promoted under these influences will, more 
likely than not, serve only to advance the agenda of the Iron Law of History 
and its scapegoating mechanism. Certainly the history of the Middle East lends 
support to this conclusion. 

In fairness, though, I acknowledge to Ed that I may be wrong here. The “
attitude” toward conflict and tragedy that I’m suggesting may, if broadly adopted 
and contrary to what I claim, serve only to promote cultural depression and 
forms of resignation that will undermine appropriate “action” altogether. Or, 
as Ed suggests, this attitude may be “unrealistic” in being too idealistic and 
impossible of broad attainment because it inadequately conceives of human 
nature and our human (as Nietzsche would say, “our all too human) “equipment for 

Ed also suggests that the view I propose, along with Aristotle/Nietzsche, 
will eliminate the “drama of human life.” I’d counter with the notion that we 
wouldn’t be “eliminating” the drama so much as just changing the drama. I don’
t think we can take the “drama” (and for that matter the “tragedy”) out of 
life any more than we can take difference and conflict and competition out of 
life. What we can do is try to theorize the conflict and tragic elements of 
life in ways that may promote “better” life (more constructive, less deadly and 
unnecessary conflict). 

So, at this point, I can only say to Ed: You have given me (and Burke as 
well, in my opinion) a fair reading and you remain unpersuaded. That’s all I could 
ask, except that you also be persuaded! But that’s the beauty of rhetoric: it’
s non-coercive! You side with Burke and offer excellent extensions of his 
thinking. And that’s sufficient to make me want to continue re-examining my views 
in the light of this discussion. Thanks again for your contributions. All for 


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