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The Rhetoric of We: To Strive for Empathy PART I

The Rhetoric of We: To Strive for Empathy PART I

Recommended song to play during the reading of this article is below.

The rhetoric of "we" is a powerful concept that is too often overlooked.

  • We did it!
  • We failed.
  • We need to work together.
  • We're better than them.
  • We need your help!
  • We should celebrate!

And in the form of "us"

  • Let us pray/Give us strength
  • This is the best option for us
  • Each of us needs to consider this
  • What's best for us is this

Get ready for long paragraph. Feel free to skip

Underneath the seemingly empty words lay a powerful rhetorical tool—citation for Thank you for arguing by Jay Heinrichs—that sways the minds of nations. People really respond to the whole "us versus them" mentality. Democrats versus Republicans. Democracy versus Communism. Take one race, plant the sinister seed into their head that the other race is corrupting OUR innocent children, or ruining OUR economy, or taking over OUR country, or all of the above plus they're different than US and you've got a serious hate group on your hands. Take one religion and plant a sinister seed into its followers heads that . . . . corrupting the innocent youth, . . . . you get the point. Humans have evolved to pick sides instead of looking at the issue as an "all of us wanting a better future together" mentality.

Great! You understand the basic concept—but here's where it gets trickier and less clear-cut. And this part, you don't have to choose a side, because it's ALL of us!

I can't wear polaroid sunglasses without feeling like a jerk. And when I get a nice haircut and wear a good collared shirt I feel like some rich snob kid. I can only feel authentic wearing some "ehg" not-too-nice garb, like jeans and sneakers and a cleanish T-shirt, which kind of sucks considering the subtle effects that (the wearing of the ehg clothing) has on my perception of myself.

I'm not alone in this, I know. It feel ridiculous.


All of this may seem quite shallow, but when it comes to leading a fulfilling lifestyle, I find it actually matters more than you'd first think. Confidence, the wikihow article says, comes easier if you feel like you look sharp. And insecurity comes from your perception of what you think others think about you. Them versus me. So you're inclined to become them, become part of the "we," however many subtle changes you make.

In the bustling, grossly crowded, Traverse city airport, you can't look anyone in the eyes. Holding eye contact, the woman sneers at me with that "what are you looking at" face. The older woman snorts loudly and swallows what I presume to be saliva and mucous. The acne-ridden pre-teen to my right taps idly on his phone and rubs his greasy hands over his face and then screen, smudging it. A Harvard-type—with the Latin-embroidered Harvard insignia on his briefcase—grunts as he flips through some economics page of the paper newspaper. There are two screaming children on the floor complaining about something with frustrated parents. Loudmouths discuss unimportant things and even do math out loud, counting, and chewing, about their taxes or address or something. So loud I cannot block them out with my headphones, which blare "CALMING FAN NOISE" over youtube, except when my phone pops up a "SYSTEM UPDATE THING" message, and then the video stops and I have to click it every 10 minutes. Growing impatient towards these people I refuse to empathize at all with their greasy, sweaty, ugly faces. I imagine punting the small child 3 yards, and other cathartic acts of violence to make me—very briefly—chuckle like an asshole. There's cramped leg room, and someone turns to see why I'm chuckling to myself, judging my shallow attempt at laughter. It's the type of scene from the comedy Curb your Enthusiasm. A loudspeaker blares something about another flight, and won't stop talking. You can see why my mood turns sour, and why I then abruptly took my bags and walked far, far away. To the window of the gate-lounge boarding area, where there was comfortable seating.

The way she shook her head was vehement, exasperated. ‘The feeling is why I want to. The feeling is the reason I want to die.’ . . . ‘Listen,’ she said, ‘Have you ever felt sick? I mean naseous, like you knew you were going to throw up?’ The doctor made a gesture like Well sure. ‘But that’s just in your stomach,’ Kate Gompers said. ‘It’s a horrible feeling but it’s just in your stomach. That’s why the term is “sick to your stomach.”‘ She was back to looking intently at her lower carpopedals. ‘What I told Dr. Garton is OK but imagine if you felt that way all over, inside. All through you. Like every cell and every atom or brain-cell or whatever was so nauseous it wanted to throw up, but it couldn’t, and you felt that way all the time, and you’re sure, you’re positive the feeling will never go away, you’re going to spend the rest of your natural life feeling like this.’
— Infinite Jest, page 70 something or whatever

I loved to hate them. They're hatably dumb and slimy. And their music, too. Their squeaking, unoiled-hinge like POP music, or their "too-smooth" white unoriginal milquetoast unclassic bland blank JAZZ in the elevators or malls or airport bathrooms. I want to yell "FUCK ME IN THE ASS" as loud as I can to disrupt their day, and scatter any notion of unabsurdity from their bland little lives. Like the "fuck me in the pussy" guy—though he was a hoax look it up. All of it too superficial, reduced to a grotesque and slapdashedly dull level. And everyone around you, everyone feeling just as miserable as you, likewise views you as greasy. And maybe sometimes you look at yourself and start to see yourself as greasy too, and it bothers you. In fact, you hate it, because in your mind you look so much cooler than you actually really are. Like someone poured gasoline into a mud puddle and your reflections a little bit runnier and sloppier, and you can't ignite the gasoline and burn the ugly out because, stupidly, it's mixed in with the water. 

Something I couldn't shake: a notion poised during the return flight back to Atlanta. That the only way to scrub yourself clean of the ugliness and the shallowness and the uncomfortable judgement-ridden cramped space of grunts and crying and mucous swallowing was, simply, to remove yourself from that space and scrub hard. Move to where there's no annoying people, and scrub the grime off every day. The cynical jokes and thoughts, like brushing your teeth, every day. And it would get easier.

I also saw a father and daughter. The daughter was flailing her arms about, almost trying to slap her father in the face in some strange childlike game. And the father playfully blocked and avoided these slaps until he had enough, and picked the child up with a "swoosh" noise and she giggled and laughed out of fear and excitement and giggly happiness. And he set her down.

Another grandfatherly type, presumably "Mr. David," knelt down and hugged his grandchildren goodbye. The children screamed loudly and incoherently and in broken child-language "WE LUB U MR DAVID!!" over and over just "we lub u mr david u we lub u" And I swore he started crying. And later, in line, one of the kids—the middle child, around 5, a girl—said she wanted infinity jobs. And the older one, around 7, said "no because you can't because infinity's not even a real number."

And on the plane, a woman saw I was reading Infinite Jest, and she read it 4-5 times herself between 20 years ago and today, and she said I had to have two bookmarks instead of one, and I told to her my small secret that my bookmark was the library number for Understanding David Foster Wallace in the library at Georgia College, which I had toured 2 months ago. 

Part 1 is over. Warning: the next part talks about suicide, if that makes you uncomfortable I would not recommend reading it.

I find myself very intrigued with the notion of suicide. It's not that I want a way out, or that I'm in any mental or physical pain whatsoever, but the notion that I will cease to exist—what is existence, or nonexistence, in the first place?—is a weird notion that doesn't get talked about too much casually with the family or in the workplace. Try to remember what it was like before you were born. That's death. Is there an afterlife, or a before-life, and what would that look like. But more pressing, and more helpful, is the reason why thinking about suicide in a constructive and pensive manner can lead to some serious philosophical dilemmas: for the better AND for the worse.

For one, I'm not condoning suicide, and I hope I'm not romanticizing it in any way. It's selfish—not that I would know, nobody I know has committed suicide (to my knowledge) and I have never *seriously and deliberately* considered it myself—and perhaps immoral in many circumstances. The only plausibly excusable reasons for suicide being mental/physical torture, sacrifice to save the many, etc. etc. But what about for the average American/Canadian/World-Citizen/Human-Being/Conscious-or-Unconscious Entity? What reasons, other than the dopamine chemicals coming out of my brain telling me I'm happy or living a meaningful life, does one have to live? Even if there is a god, I think it's futile to try and convince someone that there's a massively important and imminent reason for me—a speck of dust in a vast ocean, which is a drop in a vast ocean inside another vast ocean for infinity—to exist. Why live? And here's where we have Camus 3 principles of the absurd, and the conclusion's always: "well, decide for yourself but here we all are trying to make the most of this strange predicament and hopefully make other people's lives better if they have consciousness too."

Other than existentialism-----What do we get out of thinking about suicide!?!?!

There's a reasonably simple answer to this question, which this guy Emil Cioran has thought about for a really, really long time.

This guy Cioran is sordid for some, avant-garde for some others, and indisputably bleak: his writings contain many dark elements, making him great to read if you're feeling truly lost and melancholic. Here's another video to give you an idea if you're interested. But the rest of the article will be swinging away from this concept.

Here's something I wrote in the airport:

"I sometimes get the feeling the only reason no one would ever in their right mind allow me to, say, jump out of a plane, or buy a loaded gun and shoot myself in the head, is because they would be fired from their job. Imagine if you're the flight attendant, and you have someone come to the front of the plane and ask you sincerely 'I'm sane, I'm not drunk, and I will pay you $10,000 if I can jump out of this plane and kill myself if I make it look like an unavoidable incident.' Of course, it would disturb the other passengers including yourself, and the ethical dilemma of living with that notion would stay with you a long time, but realistically it'd be quite fast--opening the door for a split second and shutting it. If I were the flight attendant, I'd hope the first thing to come to mind would be a very human thought of "NO! You are a HUMAN PERSON and I won't let you die on my watch!" But I do believe that people should always have the option of suicide ON THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS: They are sane and not mentally ill conflicted with depression or anxiety or an overcomable/treatable illness; We have exhausted all other measures and attempts to appease and help the individual; The individual has considered this option for a sufficient period of time; The individual has been sober/not-on-withdrawal and able to think reasonably/clearly about the implications of suicide during the time of deciding best option; the individual consents to suicide; the individual is making this choice for themselves ONLY—no one else gets harmed or suffers mentally/physically from his/her/they're decision—and are not doing it because another wishes they do it. Succinctly, that the option of suicide is the most logical option available. That freedom should, if done right, be available. There's a scene in Black Mirror that puts this case for choice in the most extreme and understandable of ways: Season 2 Ep 7 "White Christmas." 

Greta (Oona Chaplin) is a wealthy and demanding woman. Waiting in bed for an operation, she rejects the slightly overdone toast offered for her breakfast. An anaesthetist arrives and applies a face-mask, telling Greta to count backwards from ten as she is sedated. Greta appears to suffer a frightening out-of-body experience.

A “Greta cookie”—a bean-sized chip—is surgically extracted from the side of Greta’s head and is placed in a portable electronic device. The device is returned to Greta’s home, where Matt greets the confused and terrified “Greta cookie” consciousness. He explains that she is not actually Greta, but rather a digital copy of Greta’s consciousness, called a cookie, designed to control Greta’s smart house and calendar, ensuring everything is perfect for the real Greta. Matt then creates a virtual body for Greta’s digital copy and puts her in a simulated white room containing nothing but a control panel.

The copy refuses to accept that she is not a real person and rejects being forced to be a slave to Greta’s desires. Matt’s job is to break the willpower of digital copies through torture, so they will submit to a life of servitude to their real counterparts. He alters the Greta cookie’s perception of time so what feels to her like three weeks pass in a matter of seconds, and she is traumatized by her solitude in the room with nothing to do. Despite this, the copy still refuses to work, so Matt repeats the process and increases the perceived time to six months. This drives her mad with emptiness, so when Matt reappears to her she immediately submits to her new role.

The next morning, the real Greta is awakened by her favourite music, and her copy, whose spirit is completely broken, prepares Greta’s breakfast exactly as she knows Greta likes it and presents to her a list of her upcoming appointments.

My grandmother on my mother's side owns a butterfly garden for her business. Quaint, that's cool, nice, beautiful. Most of the butterflies are grown from caterpillars, living happy lives. But some of the the butterflies are not grown from caterpillars, and, from the butterfly's perspective, are taken in another, more eerie and horrifying way. My grandmother—who is a caring and accomplished woman and (at least to my knowledge) a good person ethically/morally—orders them almost frozen. They come in thin white papers, like when you buy stamps at the post office, or like a tea bag, that are zipped around them very tightly so that their wings are stretched--almost crucified--like stretching your arms as far as possible and snapping them out of the sockets backwards painfully--backwards, but the people who transport these butterflies they grow the caterpillars in bulk and ship the butterflies in these awful papers and then chill the butterflies down intensely so that their minds go numb and vacuous and fatuous and vapid and witless: empty: and they're cognizant and conscious the entire time, and then when they arrive and thaw, they "walk out on the paper and open their wings for once and then live their lives in a bigger and fancier prisons. Where they can't fly away—and I don't think they have the option/brain function to kill themselves—and they're stuck in their 12ft by 12ft hexagon filled with flower vases and a small fountain. At least, until my grandmother lets them out of their prison. She is their god. And she's, reasonably, a good god, I believe, and she's a nice older lady, but we don't often think about the consciousness of butterflies, or the ethical dilemma involved in such an innocent situation, or about suicide.

The accredited Ken Pope, PHD and ABPP Harvard-educated highly experienced clinical and forensic psychologist, introduced his paper Recognizing, Assessing, and Responding to Suicidal Risk by saying "Working with a suicidal patient gives us a chance to help save a life. It brings the weight, worry, and uncertainty of professional responsibilities when life or death decisions are on the line as well as joy, satisfaction, and a deep sigh of relief when things go well.  Other times it can bring shock, numbness, grief, second-guessing, and guilt." The paper is actually kinda compelling, both from the sense of morbid curiosity and from its eloquence and authenticity.

Suicide continues to be considered rather seriously philosophically, pragmatically, and psychologically. Wallace writes about it in Infinite Jest, which poses one of the most inspiring and deeply thoughtful and human and poignantly righteous reasons for discussing such an earnest and profound issue: the fact that when you write it into fiction, unromantically, realistically, and wholesomely, and elegantly in a style such like David Foster Wallace, you can alter, for an instant or a lifetime, someone's perspective on solipsism and really deeply connect with someone. You feel less alone in this lonely, lonely world. And you realize that there truly are things to live for, and that it's something in need of pondering for more than an ACT's 40 minutes in Wallace's words "over a pot of tea or coffee." You realize that there really is a "we," but that it's way more about the individual, you, and that perhaps the best way to go about things is finding out individually what you want and then coming back and relating with others. The "we" is important, though unfortunately it's too-often used in ways such as altering someone's perceptions of themselves in order to achieve some agenda in advertising/politics/some realm, but it can also be used to reach a consensus on why life's important. "Hell is other people", but hell is also living without other people, and hell is living with no meaning, and I pity someone who is unable to empathize, because I would never in my life want to be that lonely. Part 2 coming out soon.

The Reason I'm Obsessed with David Foster Wallace

The Reason I'm Obsessed with David Foster Wallace

Pre-4th-of-July discussion on Aesthetics

Pre-4th-of-July discussion on Aesthetics