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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Art of Rhetoric

I would like to believe that I am well trained in the art of rhetoric. It is a case of "syiok sendiri", of course. But then again, if I am not even able to be "syiok" about myself, how would others be "syiok" with me? And today, in the spirit of "syioksendiri-ism", may I bore all of you with my thoughts on this subject.

It is common knowledge that some of our Ministers - and members of Cabinet - are quite intellectually challenged. This is obvious from the various statements which they make in public. Zahid Hamidi's "we must respect their culture" - when he was trying to deflect the embarrassment caused to the BN, and himself, caused by the Chinese sexy concert - was but one example of an absolute failure of the brain to take control of the tongue.

Further back in time, Nazri Aziz's "he called me because I am his Minister" - uttered while attempting to explain why the Lord President called him to issue a denial respecting the Linggam tape - was a shining example of a lack of appreciation of how the legal system worked.

Mahathir Mohammad is a champion when it comes to rhetoric. After his retirement, he is fond of laying the blame for everything which has gone wrong on everybody but himself. "I did not sack Tun Salleh, the tribunal did", said him. Of course, he forgot that he was the one who established the tribunal. "I did not put Anwar in jail, the Court found him guilty and put him in jail". Yes, yes, haven't we all heard of that too. "I did not destroy UMNO, Abdullah did". "I did not this, you did".

What these esteemed intellectuals failed to realise, and appreciate, is the fact that their audience are not at all stupid. Their audience are not some 3 year-olds with phlegm running down their nose holding a half sucked lollipops standing still with mouth wide opened in awe of them and their speeches. In fact, it is quite stupid of them to think that we are.

The ability to project oneself to an audience is a must if one were to aspire to be a good politician and consequently, a good leader. What more if one is a Minister. Even more if one is a Foreign Minister.

Anifah Aman's obsession with the Altantuya murder and Anwar Ibrahim's moral standing in the USA was astounding, by any standard. It is taken right out of the book of diplomacy, namely, from the first paragraph of the Chapter titled, "What Not To Do". It was totally unprovoked, irrelevant and too insignificant, especially when viewed from the perspective of the State Secretary, "Her Excellency" Hillary Clinton. In fact, for our Foreign Minister to address her as such, is a protocol disaster for Malaysia.

I hate to wonder what Americans and other civilised nations think of us. And to think about a headline on the Star proclaiming that "America wants to learn from us" - when in fact what was said was "we (America) must learn from each other (in dealing with the economic meltdown)" - makes me ticklish all over. That was "syioksendiri-ism" taken to the extreme!

Eco Umberto, in a paper given at University of Bologna on 20th May 2004 posits that rhetoric is a technique of persuasion. It involves discussing, arguing or debating over matters in order to find an opinion which is agreed to by the highest number of people. In short, it is the mechanic by which a consensus on a particular issue is achieved.

It is therefore important that the participants in that debate or exchange of rhetoric should work out arguments that are hard to dispute, to use proper and suitable language and also to "arouse in the the audience those emotions appropriate to the triumph of our arguments".

Let's analyse Anifah Aman's latest statements about Anwar Ibrahim's interview by the New Yorker recently. Hishamuddin Hussein was quick to say that Anwar was trying to "fool the world". Not to be left out, Anifah was quoted as saying that Malaysians should be “very, very hurt” by what was published in New Yorker and continued to say “Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian”.

That is a clear example of how a debater or participant in an exchange of rhetoric should not start his or her argument. That technique is called "captatio malevolentiae", a technique which is normally aimed at alienating the audience from the speaker and turning them against the speaker. It is like me, standing up in Court to begin my case by saying, "I know morons like you won't understand me but allow me to teach you". (I must hasten to add that I am not saying that there are moronic Judges in our Courts). Or, how about me saying, "I think you are an idiot if you don't agree with me on this".

The exact response of the audience to that kind of rhetoric would be one of isolation and soon, one of anger and resentment. "What do you mean I am an idiot if I don't agree with you?", would be the silent response. Soon, somebody would loudly say, "I am not the idiot, you are!". And from then onward, the debater would just be drowned with so much negative responses that his or her arguments would not even take off, let alone heard, dissected, analysed and agreed with.

Putting that to the fact, our obvious response to Minister Anifah would be, "what do you mean I am not a Malaysian if I don't feel embarrassed?" "If I am not a Malaysian, what am I, a Martian?", says a more cynical and sarcastic audience. "In fact, what you said, Mr Minister does not make sense. You said any "Malaysian who do not feel embarrassed, is not Malaysian". That is rather inconsistent. How could a Malaysian not be a Malaysian?", asked another one who was obviously more detailed and analytical.

Just to complete this short dissertation, allow me to explain the opposite of "captatio malevolentiae". It is called "captatio benevolentiae". This is aimed at getting approval from the audience by indirectly - and without sounding condescending - complimenting them. I can begin a debate on the abolition of the ISA, for example, by saying "I am sure the right thinking people in the room would agree with me that the ISA is draconian and uncivilised". Soon, everybody would be agreeing with me because then, they would be "right thinking". Or how about, "it is an honour for me to speak before such a distinguished and learned people".

And so, I supposed, Minister Anifah should have said, "I think right thinking people of Malaysia would be embarrassed at what Anwar said to the New Yorker."

I am sure all of you, highly intelligent readers of this post, would agree with that. :)


Fi-sha said...

Dear Art

Stop tickling my funny bones on this monday morning before i fall down my chair. Otherwise, Ill see you in court :P

Indeed, our mini-sters in this Malaysia Boleh Land are capable of whipping up grand 'syioksendiri' quotes, I stop reading RD's Laughter is the Best Medicine for quite some time now.

p.s. Err Boss, i think my little nephew of 3-yr old is not stupid - he would just ignore the sour grape Surat Khabar Lama.

pinsysu said...

agree with ya totally ... hard to understand how these ministers with sub-par IQs managed to get to where they are ...

Ihsan said...

pinsysu, do you want to know how these ministers with sub-par IQs managed to get to where they are? We stupid Malaysians elected them, that's how! In the case of Anifah Aman, the stupid people of Kimanis elected him. I mean, who's stupider, the stupid elected representative, of the ones who elected the stupid representative?

Anonymous said...

With all due respects Art, I think you've got it slightly wrong.

In the spirit of syiok-sendiri-ism, our Excellency totally believes that all Malaysians are just like him, a genuine, 100% Malaysian.

And, any original tulin-quality Malaysian will think like him, i.e. dislike all the opposing voices.

If you don't (think like him), well, you are not a Malaysian. You may still think you are a Malaysian but you won't be.

Che Ahmad said...

A good read indeed, thanks.

bennyloh said...

CHINESE SEXY DANCERJust trying to help, Art. The one you address as "Loh, nice food at Bum's"
For too long we are being treated and made to believe we are 3-year olds. Good, wake us up with the reminders.

Amir Hamzah said...

Dear Art,

You've got yourself a fan in the form of yours truly!! Keep writing man!!

mei1 said...

our ministers are not only well-known for flip-flop but also well-known for silly remarks i.e. do not use their brains to think before they speak....what a shame!! wait, do they know what does shame mean??

LAT said...


A "talented" simpleton like you should be clonned to preserve from being extinct from the face of the earth ! Am indeed very interested to see how your "divine-genius- brain" looks like in the X-ray !

Am wondering all these pea-size brain ministers would ever know the world is still round while they continue to "syioksendiri" !

Anonymous said...

Many ministers have mouths which too fast for the brains. Just like high speed printers but bullock cart CPU.

Leithaisor said...

Not to detract the least from an excellent posting in which you put into words far, far better than I could have, or dare to, but perhaps the word "snot" would have been better instead of "phlegm" in "...phlegm running down their nose..."?

Anonymous said...

Did you see Mrs. Clintion's body language while Minister Anifah was talking. She must be thinking that Malaysia is exhausted of intelligent individuals to become a Minister, more so a Foreign Minister. This Orang Utan from Borneo representing Malaysia at the White House, is an embarresment to the our beloved country, Malaysia!

Cruzeiro said...

Despite the fact that all you say may be true, they aren't to be blamed for their imbecility.
How can you blame these guys for saying all these stupid things, Art?

It was the voters who asked for it - after all it was what got them elected in the first place. They served hogwash to the Malaysians of the Umno/BN species to feed on (who happily lapped it up thru the NEP/Education/racism), and accordingly nurtured their support base. Is it any wonder that we still have a whole load of stupid Malaysians who crave the hogwash they spout?
With the seige mentality, fear and apathy being reinforced every day, these politicians just seek to consolidate their power base, while the people happily wallow in the cesspool of sectarianism and politics of fear in a police state.

That's why we have the hordes falling head over heels for Mahathir's "wisdom".

Mahathir did it again at the BUM 2009 - he blamed the press for "self-censorship" which he had to adjust to (giving the paul keating affair as an example)!! He also called his audience BUMs after which he even got an appreciative applause!!

The Americans or any western nation don't care much for our politicians - they just go thru all these events out of protocol. They know as well as you & I that these are just warlords and goons in Gucci suits.

p-loon said...

Yet another well-articulated piece from you, Art. I hope his excellency, our foreign minister, has learnt a thing or two from it. I certainly have.

Carry on blogging.

Walski69 said...

More important (for me, at least) than the art of rhetoric, is the rhetoric of Art.

Definitely more entertaining, but most importantly more sensible.

Carry on, kind sir!

Anonymous said...

Dear Art,

Well written, humourous and art..iculated. Keep up the good writing and humour. You've got my attention!!!

Rethoric "Cuti-cuti Sakit Malaysia" said...

We speak of being centre of healthcare & hospitality & champion in health tourism but 2 of our Sultans recently seek treatment in US & Singapore. Why cant the govemnt give the royals a sense of confidence in our own healthcare service when their life is at risk?

Nowadays state gorvrnmnt can change suddenly therefore is important for the Sultans to stay at home. What happen to the MSC initiative about remote operation brainchild of Tun M? ...which is possible considering so many internet broadband service providers such as Streamyx from the GLC with top KPI, TM.

Well...at least the Sultan is attended by Malaysian working in the foreign country hospital! ..Thanks to our exporting of skill worker (or brain drain). Thanks those Malaysians u made us proud .......

..we salute you!

In support of Msia health tourism - "Cuti-cuti Sakit Malaysia"

Tok Onn said...

Intelligent article, Mr. Articulate.
Right thinking readers would definitely agree with you.
I've always use this line of rhetoric you call benevolentiae before but have loose some grips lately.
Thanks for the reminder man.

Anonymous said...

The author has concisely summarized my thoughts with so few words.

As to the quote by Anifah Aman that "Malaysian who do not feel embarassed are not Malaysians", does that mean that Americans, for example, who agree with, with him are honourary Malaysians?

This is definitely un-artful diplomacy. Perhaps this is part of Najib's 1Malaysia proganda.

Shamsul Yunos said...

Its an OK piece but I do wonder why you have not included the master of rhetoric in your list, the one chap that even Umno was labeling as master of rhetoric, the best master of rhetoric from Umno's ranks?

Anwar Ibrahim

or does he lose the title because he agrees with you and therefore you stop making fun of him

I realise that we are at a point where even the most lucid and logical argument from BN is treated with contempt while the most disgusting tripe from Anwar fanboys are treated like gold but the fact is the physical development and the philosophy of the country's development is a BN creation so they can't be all stupid can they

But since you are a Pro-Anwar blogger I do expect you to poke fun only at BN but I think from the way Penang and Selangor are acting, they are more repressive than BN, the only reason why they have not banned NST and UTUSAN outright and deny their permit is because they do not have the power yet

they make a hue adn cry aboutthe Government taking action against the slanderous political newspapers Suara Keadilan and Harakah and Roket, sutrat warning aje tu bukan apa pun

art harun said...

Dear Encik Shamsul,

Thank you for dropping by and letting me know your thoughts.

FYI, I am not pro-Anwar nor am I pro anybody. I write on matters close to my heart and they are just my thoughts and nothing more. I don't have any agenda nor am I a promoter of anybody's agenda. I am not a member of any political party (as far as I know). Please don't get me wrong.

Yes. I criticise the Government mainly. I admit that. But I do that because they are the Government. They are in power. They are supposed to deliver. And when they don't, they are supposed to be answerable. This blog is about creating awareness. That is my primary purpose.

Perhaps I should just say that I am a very very demanding citizen.

And yes, I do give due respect to the "most lucid and logical arguments", from the BN side. I read Wenger J Kahiry and am a frequent commenter on his blog because I find him intellectually stimulating. Ditto Rocky Bru's. But of course, most BN bloggers just prefer to call people YB Babi and the likes. That is a turn off for me.

Thank you again for dropping by.

Tiger said...

Maybe in 2013, the BN ministers will arrest themselves under ISA "for their own protection".
Good one, Art!

kok pin said...

Dear art,

I open my mind a little after reading your article. I have bought into alot rhetorics that are just plain rant instead of mature rationalizations.

I'm glad to find a voice of reason in a sea of rants.


backStreetGluttons said...

Last time when we say Gomen clowns people thought we are trying to be funny , ever since those Nazri , Infomister aka al ajeera , botak et el days.
Now we have one more orangutan who really looks like a Sahahan OMG ! Not surprising when the top is rotten and with murder... they say

Anonymous said...

Encik Shamsol

Ada ke org UMNO label DSAI Raja Retorik?

Kalau ada, saya pun tak tahu sama ada org UMNO tahu makna retorik masa dia orang label Anwar Raja Retorik? Kot ikut sedap mulut jer kot guna perkataan besar2 tapi tak tahu makna...

Anonymous said...

Right thinking Malaysian would agree with me that Anifah Aman is a catastrophic disaster on the diplomatic front....and that my friend...is simply wonderful!!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, for a moment I thought the American crown a new Queen on that occasion..." Your Excellency "

Hej Anifah,

Are you anywhere around?? Your highness here speaking.... Are you there??? hehehe....

Shamsul Yunos said...

Anon 20:47

Why do you like to insist that everyone in Umno is stupid, where is that name calling going to get you? By the way, if you read myname carefully, it is spelt Shamsul.

You seem to take strong offence to the short form of Brother Anwar Bin Ibrahim but nowhere have you mentioned any distaste for the practice of calling Najib Najis - I did not hear you say it at BUM 2009 adn I certainly don not see it on your blog

beign critical and demanding is fine, we need that to keep teh Gvoernment in check but if you want to claim to be neutral adn promote civil discourse, you have to attack falsehood and bad taste on all sides that is all I am saying

The high road is a very narrow and vertigo inducing, you cannot lean even a bit to one side without falling off. The high road is also flanked by very slippery slopes

If you want to take then you have to apply exacting standards to yourself

art harun said...

Eh Encik Shamsul,

You were at BUM? Did we meet? If we did, I am sorry because I am terribly bad with names and faces.

Thank you for your reminder. However, I must say that I am nt taking the "high roads" at all. The high roads are beyond me and I would never be able to walk along one, let alone on one. I am just an ordinary guy who is trying in ways possible to him.

Najib being called "Najis". Well, if it is of any comfort to you, those too are a complete turn off for me. I don't read stuffs like that. If you see all my articles, I don't partake in rumours, name calling or gossiping. All my articles are based on facts from the public domain and they are written to express my thoughts on any given subject matter. No more than that. People may agree or disagree.

But what I find irritating is the quickness of speed that some people throw labels at me when I express my thoughts. Quickly I become "pro-Anwar" or "pro-PR blogger" etc. When in fact, I don't have any agenda nor do I pursue anybody's agenda.

Yes, admittedly I have leanings towards a certain direction. But trust me, I have always been like this since I was in school!

And if you would recall, in my talk at BUM, I did remind the blogging community of its responsibility. I did say bloggers have to comply with the law, be responsible, accountable and truthful. In fact, the Star quoted me on that.

But of course, if I don't practise it (I try very hard, trust me), do drop by and whack me. I could, in that circumstance, use some spanking.

Have a great weekend.