Neo-Aristotelian Criticism in September 2005 Essay

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Tears of recognition that all of us are on a journey and none of us have arrived at a destination. it's not just me. it's all of us. Tears of relief to know that the path isn't supposed to be straight or easy or even. (Fonda 2005)

By evoking the image of a collective of teary-eyed conference-goers, Fonda immediately establishes an emotional connection with the audience, and the effect is to align the audience's interests with her own. From this point on, one may interpret Fonda's mentions of emotion as attempts to perpetuate this connection and manipulate the emotions of the audience along with her rhetoric. Thus, when Fonda recalls hiding in a foxhole with a Vietnamese girl as American planes dropped bombs all around them, and, after crawling out, crying as she says "I'm so sorry" over and over to her, the goal is to use the power of those emotions in order to tenderize the audience, so that when the Fonda of the anecdote has her epiphanic moment, the audience will share some small part of that emotional experience (Fonda 2005). Not all of Fonda's emotional appeals rely on fear or crying, however, because the second of two anecdotes that make up the bulk of her speech includes meeting a woman who "moved from a place of love," and whose warmness and gentle manner so affected her that "it was palpable, like sinking into a warm tub after a cold winter" (Fonda 2005). Pathos so permeates Fonda's speech that the final lines, like the first, attempt to engage the audience's emotions and ingratiate the speaker with them, so that their interests, and ideally their, beliefs, are aligned. After concluding her speech, Fonda states that "we're going to end this in prayer. We want to go out on a prayerful note," an especially telling statement considering that prayer, by definition, depends upon an emotional connection with a perceived higher power rather than any logical belief in it.

The abundance of pathos in Fonda's speech should lead the reader to believe that it is lacking in logos, or logical arguments. Instead, these arguments almost always come as a kind of conclusion to the emotional appeal, such that the pathos sets up the audience to be as receptive as possible to the argument. For example, Fonda's emotional story about Vietnam is the backdrop for her argument that in many ways, the government sets the standards of behavior and belief for its citizens, so a government that teaches people "to love and to separate good from evil" will produce citizens, like the little Vietnamese girl, who do not automatically hate everyone from another country even if those countries are at war (Fonda 2005). Therefore, while Fonda does make a number of logical arguments, these are a much smaller portion of the speech (in terms of actual space) than the emotional appeals. The logos of the speech is further subjugated to the pathos due to the fact that the majority of Fonda's arguments are examples of inductive reasoning, and so the focus remains on the specific example or anecdote rather than the more general conclusion. Thus, even as Fonda deploys "reflective deliberation, strategic thinking, and emotional maturity" in her appeal to the audience, she does not seem to seeking deliberation or thinking on their part, but rather emotional attachment and goodwill, something that is evidenced by her use of certain external proofs, or ideas taken from elsewhere that support her overall effort (Thompson 258).

In addition to her original ideas, Fonda includes references to a few other works in an effort to bolster her persuasive ability. In her discussion of the government's affects on its citizens behaviors, she mentions Michael Moore's film Bowling for Columbine, which compares the differences between Canadian and American violent crime. While the reference to Moore is brief and effective, Fonda also includes two other external sources that are somewhat problematic, as Fonda presents them as ostensibly reasonable evidence for her claims, but upon even cursory examination, they are nothing more than pseudo scientific nonsense. Firstly, Fonda mentions a scene from the movie What the Bleep do We Know which revolves around the writings of Masaru Emoto. Fonda reiterates Emoto's claim that water molecules arrange themselves differently depending upon certain words being written on their container, or people directing certain thoughts at the water (such as "I love you" or "I hate you"). Emoto and Fonda claim that water molecules will arrange themselves into more beautiful configurations depending on whether or not the words or thoughts are positive. Fonda presents this claim as fact, stating "this is true," but in reality, no scientist has ever been able to replicate Emoto's work, and it is regarded as pseudoscience by the scientific community (Radin, Lund, et. al. 481).

Immediately afterward, Fonda introduces a related claim regarding the effect of transcendental meditation on crime. In 1993, "a group of approximately 4,000 participants in the Transcendental Meditation and TM-Sidhi programs of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi assembled in Washington, D.C." In order to test the hypothesis that meditation could reduce crime rates. Fonda breathlessly recounts this event, stating that "they met with the police department in D.C. And they said we're going to meditate and the violent crime rate is going to drop," before claiming that "4,000 people from all over the world meditated for a week. And the violent crime rate dropped 25%" (Fonda 2005). While it took some additional experimentation to disprove Emoto's claims, this statement is simply false. Violent crime did not drop twenty-five percent over that week, and in fact, there was no statistically significant drop in crime over that time period, despite efforts to massage the data to make it appear otherwise (such as excluding ten different murders because they occurred within thirty-six hours of each other) (Hagelin et. al. 200). Fonda explains her decision include both of these falsehoods by saying "what this says is change is so mysterious and we must not lose hope" (Fonda 2005). Objectively, the use of these two easily refutable pieces of pseudoscience should hinder Fonda's rhetorical effectiveness, because she presents them as evidence in a logical argument, but considering the makeup of the audience, and the fact that the conference was sponsored by a holistic wellness organization, the fact that these claims are untrue was likely not known by many in the audience, and furthermore, a good portion of the audience was likely primed to believe in the power of thoughts to effect the formation of water molecules or crime rates in Washington DC.

Fonda's speech is roughly organized chronologically, although she occasionally introduces a new topic seemingly out of the blue. After her tear-filled introduction, Fonda recalls her youth, her time acting, her time in Vietnam, and her return to the United States after living in France, with each of these time periods serving as the anecdotal basis for her larger argument regarding the need to love each other. After these anecdotes, however, Fonda simply moves from topic to topic with little clear structure. First, she notes that she "chaired the campaign for adolescent pregnancy prevention, so [she] can't talk about power without talking about choice" (Fond 2005). After that she talks about the effect of patriarchy on men, a feminist psychologist named Carol Gilligan, a perceived connection between patriarchy and the control of nature, terrorism, and finally the aforementioned instances of magic water and dropping crime rates. Each of these topics are introduced apropos of nothing, with statements like "I want to say something about patriarchy and nature" (Fonda 2005). The result is that Fonda's speech is not so much a coherent whole as a series of vignettes revolving around the same general themes, which would likely detract from her argumentative force if her goal was more clearly defined. Instead, the very loose structure works because her goal is not so much to rouse her audience towards a particular action or belief, but rather simply to encourage them to believe in the power of belief in love and themselves. This is why the examples of the magic water and dropping crime rates, while laughably untrue, do not detract from her argument; instead, they represent the same kind of magical thinking Fonda is asking of her audience.

Just as Fonda uses pathos as a means of buttressing the relatively scant logos in her speech, so too does she use figurative language and an energized delivery to generate interest and understanding in her audience all while saying relatively little of substance. For example, Fonda warns her audience to "think about what happens to a wounded beast. it's always right before the beast dies that it becomes most dangerous. And it thrashes and flails" (Fonda 2005). Later, she describes feminists as "the mud bubbling up from cracks and crevices" who must become "an army of love" in order to "ripen the time and turn that steam and those bubbles into a volcano" (Fonda 2005). The language is evocative and powerful, and it…[continue]

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