the ethics of anger and rhetoric

I’ve become quite obsessive about thinking about anger recently. It’s quite apparent that liberal sensibility doesn’t lend itself to angry rhetoric. Watch how folks react to angry queers or angry women or angry working poor or angry people of color or angry anyone. They only listen if they identify with them — that is, agree with them beforehand or identify with them in some way.

All throughout my education in rhetoric, we focus on the rhetor’s faculty to find available means of persuasion, and rarely is anger amongst those means that are deemed effective. But we hardly ever focus on the audience’s moral responsibility to pay attention to evidence. Instead, (and this is not from my formal education), I see time and time again the dismissal: you’re too angry. Or the ad hominen attack: you’re just a victim! Or a hermeneutics of suspicion that’s pretty anti-intellectual: you have an personal agenda of (fill in the blank).

Of course, rhetoric would be unnecessary if we could all get outside of our subject positions and simply observe evidence and draw objective truths from it. But I think there is a moral responsibility to pay attention to evidence and to change based on that evidence. How then, do we listen to those who are angry?

I wish fishing through my blog for older posts on anger, and I came across this statement from Audre Lorde: “When we turn from anger we turn from insight, saying we will accept only the designs already known, deadly and safely familiar” (131).

Lord, Audre. “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984. 124-133.

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