Why Major in Rhetoric…

A few days I received an e-mail from a reader:

rhetoricThe reader asked me, i) why did I study rhetoric at UC Berkeley? & ii) what is my current profession? This post may bore you, but this question couldn’t be asked at a better time because I haven’t written anything personal in a while. And, especially because I’m getting back into the writing game, it would be nice to write… something.

Why I Majored in Rhetoric

I majored in Rhetoric because I failed at everything else. I started my college career as a potential English Major candidate, however, due to peer pressure I transitioned towards the Economics route.

Yes, peer pressure. My roommates were studying to be chemical engineers, business majors, economist, pre-medical students, and here was I, being a liberal studies expected unemployed post-grad… taking English courses. This is why I transitioned towards an economics route.

Did I tell you? I’m a f*cking moron. I did well with intro to Economics and the upper division Macro-Economics. In fact, I loved (still do) economics. However, I couldn’t major in economics because I FAILED (barely passed) the math and statistic pre-requirements.

And, I didn’t want to retake these classes because I couldn’t afford adding another money-grabbing semester of school under my belt. Therefore, I had to find a major that I already had the pre-requirements for and that I could stack enough classes to a point where I knew I could complete my college career in 3 1/2 years.

Boom. Rhetoric.

I chose this major because it mixes english, philosophy, and economics into literature. Also, I was fortunate to have many of my english & economic classes already count as pre-requirements. Basically, I was on my way already.

Being lucky. I was on my way.

What Rhetoric Taught Me…

When people think of Rhetoric, they think of “the art of persuasion,” which is the ability to write or conduct speech to influence action. I think of Rhetoric in the same manner… however I’m going to emphasize that Rhetoric is more just than playing with words to be persuasive:

I love Rhetoric because it teaches you how to value the truth and to find the truth in everything.

You cannot be persuasive without being truthful. Overtime your lies will seep out and your persuasive speech will muddle throughout history as a work of bullshit. Truth lasts forever and truth is what a rhetorician is always trying to find in any situation / speech.

A rhetorician is a detective. They should be able to spot what’s wrong and what doesn’t sound right when an individual tries to persuade them towards an action. We’re not looking for the murderer, we’re looking and always watchful for the liar.

A rhetorician is also an economist… with words. The old adage of “less is more” is certainly true when it comes to rhetoric. One of the great rhetorical speeches of all time, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, is a mere 278 words – but is strong, persuasive, and lasting.

A great rhetorician is someone who can be more detailed, more specific, and more profound by saying less: to take out all the ridiculous minutia from speech is a rhetorician’s goal.

My Favorite Lesson I’ve Learned as a Rhetoric Major…

There are three appeals when it comes to rhetoric:

i. Logos – persuasion under reasoning and logic.

ii. Pathos – persuasion by triggering emotional responses.

iii. Ethos – persuasion through character.

My favorite of these appeals and the one I think has the highest chance of persuading someone is ethos. When you’re persuading someone through ethos, you’re doing it through credibility. An example I use is this:

Who would you rather listen to when it comes to fixing your car. A priest or a car mechanic? If you’re not being a smartass you’ll probably pick the car mechanic because they seem to be the most credible when it comes to fixing cars. Why the hell would you listen to a priest to fix your car? This doesn’t make sense.

Ethos relates back to truth. It’s always easier to persuade someone when you know what you’re talking about… when you’re credible enough to be talking about such subject. And, unlike those other two appeals, ethos takes the most effort to accomplish because it can take a long time to build the experience you need to become credible.

What’s funny is that one’s credibility can be quickly terminated through one mishap. This is why ethos is so strong because one can only stay credible if they’re being true.

The argument you can have is that it may be easy to fake ethos… but in the long run you cannot sustain fake ethos because everyone’s bullshit does get out in the open anyway… eventually.

Anyway, this is all.

Thanks for listening.

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  • Nicholas Olivares

    Great analysis of the major! I’m hoping to transfer into this major by Fall 2016 and this really helped me! Thanks!