Wisdom is to eloquence as Robin is to Batman. By himself Batman was a crusader for justice, but with the boy wonder beside him, together they became the dynamic duo. Cicero was an early Roman orator who believed that eloquence was of great benefit to man but that wisdom must accompany it. Though we may discuss what wisdom he referred to, I will assert that there is a body of wisdom that has stood the test of time and can be discovered by people of integrity, truth, and traditional morality.
The early Greeks were famous for their writings on speaking skills, but many of their speakers didn’t always have the best intentions. Skill in rhetoric was often used to acquit the guilty in court; an eloquent argument often persuaded jurors to pervert justice. Wisdom tells us that perverting justice is never a good thing.
Today’s political landscape violates much of what can be considered wisdom and reason but rather is populated by what I consider verbal violence against opposing views. Reason is thrown under the bus for what is merely popular and acceptable by a few dominant, manipulative voices.
Words are heaped up to smear the opposition. Without addressing the opposition’s views, labels reveal how an author seeks to undermine an argument with smear words. For example, someone can call an argument a cesspool of hate and ignorance, or they can label it a sham and an empty shell. Such labels appeal to the already initiated, those who agree that opposing viewpoints have no reason to exist but haven’t any desire to hear the other side.
Name-calling and character assassination also provide eloquence without wisdom a ready tool for demonizing an opponent. A criminal who testifies against another to get a lighter sentence can be questioned about his character, but to assume the worst about someone else simply because you don’t like their argument only shows a person without a legitimate rebuttal. Do we really think such character assassination demonstrates wisdom?
Another sneaky way of trying to falsely establish an argument is to present your side out of the mouth of an attractive person and find someone less attractive to be your opponent. Beauty can work wonders on an audience unwilling to deal directly with the facts of an argument. We think a position must be true based on appearances. Beautiful, handsome, and modern people think correctly; old-fashioned, not so attractive people don’t. Or so we are unwisely lead to believe.
Verbal attacks, name-calling, and using appearance to mask and argument wreak of manipulation and verbal bullying, ways of turning the argument in your favor without either reason or wisdom. Many speakers and writers participate in such manipulation but Cicero warns us against them by insisting the eloquence should not be divorced from wisdom. A find-sounding speech can be appealing but without wisdom, eloquence is merely a tool used to mislead.
© 2023 Robert T. Weber, Words Done Right LLC