The Opposite of Free Speech
By Dr. Shon Meckfessel
“Rhetoric” is a word which often sounds negative, but the 2,000-year-old discipline which I teach at Highline College has some valuable insights to offer our world in our present moment.
If our political system depends, at least in theory, on people making decisions over their own lives instead of trusting dictators to do it for them, then people must learn how to come to some kind of agreement about what to do together.
First, though, if these decisions are going to represent different needs and wants that people have, people must also learn to disagree effectively.
This is what the study of rhetoric is good for: learning to disagree productively, to persuade and allow oneself to carefully be persuaded without simply giving in to louder voices. (In the Pacific Northwest, famous for its passive aggressive indirectness, we are spectacularly bad at disagreement. Of course, we disagree all the time — but we often don’t know how to disagree well.)
Real rhetoric can only happen under very specific conditions. …
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This article was originally published in the print edition of the Federal Way Mirror on Oct. 6, 2017.
About the Author
Dr. Shon Meckfessel is English faculty at Highline College and the author of “Nonviolence Ain’t What It Used To Be: Unarmed Insurrection and the Rhetoric of Resistance.” Meckfessel received his Ph.D. in language and rhetoric from the University of Washington in 2014. He has been active in social movements for nearly 30 years, beginning in his native Sacramento, Calif. He has since researched and participated in social movements across the United States, Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. He is also the author of “Suffled How It Gush: A North American Anarchist in the Balkans” as well as numerous essays and articles. He has appeared as a social movement scholar and advocate in The New York Times and on Al Jazeera, BBC Radio, CNN, Fox News, KEXP, NPR and “Democracy Now!”
About Highline Voices
Highline Voices brings a range of diverse perspectives to our community, featuring the expertise of Highline College staff and faculty. Read other articles in the Highline Voices series that began in 2016. All Highline employees are welcome to contribute to the series. Email Tanya Powers or Kari Coglon Cantey for guidelines.