The Red Rhetor Digest (July 12, 2015)

This week’s Red Rhetor, on empathy, linguistics, gay marriage, media theory, transgender rights, and rape on television:

1. Empathy is actually a choice (New York Times)

Inspired by a competing body of recent research, we believe that empathy is a choice that we make whether to extend ourselves to others. The “limits” to our empathy are merely apparent, and can change, sometimes drastically, depending on what we want to feel. . . .

Arguments against empathy rely on an outdated view of emotion as a capricious beast that needs to yield to sober reason. Yes, there are many situations in which empathy appears to be limited in its scope, but this is not a deficiency in the emotion itself. In our view, empathy is only as limited as we choose it to be.

2. Open Letter to Terry Gross (Language Log)

Linguist Sameer ud Dowla Khan writes an open letter to Terry Gross about her story on the “gay voice.” Excerpt:

But when you step back and think about all the things that are identified as deviations from “natural” speech–vocal fry, upspeak, filler words, dentalized “s”, a wide pitch range, etc.–you notice that there’s only one thing that these features have in common: these are the things that are not traditionally associated with straight white educated male speakers of American English. And there we have it: what gets categorized as “natural” is just how people in power speak. And any feature that deviates from that is given labels like “unnatural”, “uneducated”, or just a “style”. Any sociolinguist could have said that in a second, but Ms. Sankin only provided this stigmatizing view instead.

3. The Anthropoid Condition: Brían Hanrahan interviews John Durham Peters (Los Angeles Review of Books)

An interview about John Durham Peters’s new book The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media. Discusses media theory as theology, the male bias in the history of technology, and the effects of algorithms and writing on cognition and society.

4. The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club (New York Times)

Michael Cobb, author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled, explores the implications of Justice Kennedy’s tying of dignity to coupledom: “A marriage equality based upon dignity makes pathetic singles of us all.”

5. The K-12 Binary: Schools are becoming ground zero for clashes over transgender rights (The Atlantic)

6. Can We Just, Like, Get Over the Way Women Talk? (The Cut)

Lakoff argues that the very things career coaches advise women to cut out of their speech are actually signs of highly evolved communication. When we use words like so, I guess, like, actually, and I mean, we are sending signals to the listener to help them figure out what’s new, what’s important, or what’s funny. We’re connecting with them. “Rather than being weakeners or signs of fuzziness of mind, as is often said, they create cohesion and coherence between what speaker and hearer together need to accomplish — understanding and sharing,” Lakoff says. “This is the major job of an articulate social species. If women use these forms more, it is because we are better at being human.”

7. ‘Orange Is the New Black’ Is the Only TV Show That Understands Rape (Vulture)

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2 Responses to The Red Rhetor Digest (July 12, 2015)

  1. Maria Kingsbury says:

    (In regards to #2): I have many of the same objections to the representation of “gay voice” on Fresh Air that Sameer ud Dowla Khan illustrates (although he is far more articulate than I was when I was hollering at my car radio). I especially found troubling the idea of a “natural” or “normal” voice, especially since voices, even over the course of a single day for a single individual, can and often do change dramatically as material conditions and cultural context shifts.

    Underlying the Fresh Air segment, too, is the assumption that somehow voices are uniquely revelatory of the “hidden” aspects of an individual; the characteristics that cannot be seen might be heard (proven?) without the individual’s conscious consent, in the voice. I think this is a shaky foundation upon which to build an argument, especially when, as ud Dowla Khan suggests, it has the power to reach Fresh Air’s wide audience.

    Awesome links. I’m looking forward to future installments!

  2. Michael says:

    Thanks, Maria! I think your point about voice “revealing” something about the inner truth of a person is a spot on assessment. (I didn’t listen to the episode, but I trust your judgment here.)

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