[KB] Warrantable Outrage

Edappel8@cs.com Edappel8 at cs.com
Tue May 27 18:42:45 EDT 2008

       A few fugitaive thoughts prompted by an essay of Herb Simons' 
entitled, "Burke, Marx, and Warrantable Outrage": You may not have read it, but most 
Burkeans are aware of Herb's long-standing uneasiness with Burke's comic frame 
as, by itself, the uniform response and final answer to moral dislocations in 
the body politic, the international scene, and conflict situations of other 
kinds, as well.

       Herb hits the nail on the head in his summary of the "problem" at the 
end of his essay: "Melodrama," Herb says, " . . .  the poetics of the masses, 
. . . mobilizes and energizes when action is needed."  That's good.  We can 
add that it attributes importance and confers nobility, as well (CS).  Yet, 
melodrama is, of course, altogether devoid of the "ambivalence," the "two-way" 
comic vision of the case, that sees our side, as well as the other one, knee-deep 
in error and only "partial truths."  (I would add tragedy and burlesque, as 
well.)  That's bad.

       What do we do, then, in a crisis of a kind, one that calls for strong, 
forceful, and concerted action?  Herb suggests two preparatory paths, one 
intellectual and the other rhetorical, geared toward effective mobilization.  The 
intellectual goes from primal outrage (righteous indignation), to humble 
irony (comedic self-examination, a self-deconstructive comedic stance), to 
warranted outrage.  The artistic or rhetorical starts with melodrama, modified by 
high comedy, before a rhetoric of earned outrage emerges that can play well 
outside the fellowship of the self-righteous.  Herb takes several notions from 
Burke's toolbox for application in the comedic waystation between the primal 
outrage and that which finally bubbles up matured. The following are three I like, 
and one I add, expressed as self-examining questions:

       Can you "write out" at least some of the "partial truths" on each side 
of the dialectic?  Have you done so?  Herb cites Burke as doing something 
like this, when Burke once left his physician in a rage after an unsatisfactory 
visit, for which he was double-charged.  Can we function somewhat like the 
college debaters who don't know ahead of time which side of the issue they'll be 
assigned to take?

       Have you depersonalized, as much as possible, your "outrage," as 
directed instead toward "ideological critique" rather than character assassination?

       Can you show how your position will be "serviceable to society" in 
terms of the widest possible scope?

       And my addendum: Can you make the claim that your "partial truth" has 
been totally excluded from the public debate, not just given short shrift, 
perhaps intentionally so?

       If we can honestly say we've done our duty on these counts, or even 
one or two, maybe we can stear clear of Herb's major worry: "providing . . . a 
rhetorical rationale for just about any action by any group that can claim to 
have first engaged in 'self-examination.'"

       Show us your list, your answers!




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