Beyond Rhetoric

Edwin Thor examines 'wisdom', wondering whether there is there substance behind 'wisdom' or whether it is just a trick. Edwin discusses that a preference for views such as Don Paragon's views implies a rejection of the magazine format - putting oneself above rhetoric is hardly credible when such an attitude is expressed in an article in a magazine.

Wisdom or Rhetoric?

Being an editor of a magazine places one in a special position. One judges other people's views, while also presenting one's own views. This position makes an editor extra aware and sensitive regarding concepts such as objectivity, truth and wisdom.

Wisdom is usually seen as the prerogative of those who know it all, but where knowledge is relatively neutral, wisdom also has distinctively qualitative aspects - it is as if the 'wise' are able to take the best parts out of a whole lot of knowledge; wisdom is seen as something that can be obtained only after many years of exposure to knowledge and gaining experience and learning from all this.

The question is if wisdom is merely an empty rhetorical qualification that people in a position of power grant themselves in their lust for more power and authority. Is there substance behind wisdom or is being wise merely a smokescreen, a learned discussion technique? Interestingly, this is not merely a philosophical question; in fact, philosophy literally means love of wisdom, implying that philosophy is past of the question and is too prejudiced to provide answers to such questions.

This question is not a new one, dreamed up by post-structuralists, deconstructionists, etc. In ancient Greece, the 'Sophists' took the position that there is no truth and that there are no hard facts to base one's argument upon, but instead there is merely better and worse rhetoric; for the Sophists, winning an argument, dispute or discussion was purely the result of applying superior discussion techniques, verbal strategy, rhetorical tactics and lines of reasoning.

People such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and Pythagoras could be called 'monoists'; they tried to make people believe in a single 'truth', using logical statements such as: if something is 'A', then it is 'A' and not 'B'. They believed in social order as a reflection of the order they saw universally in nature. They believed people should similarly submit to authority, to the rules of the State, etc.

Monoists have sought long and hard for rules and order in music, geometry, etc, in order to strengthen their arguments. In today's world, many scientists mimic such methods by making statements such as: This is as true as 1 + 1 = 2. Just prove to me that the fact that 1 + 1 = 2 is incorrect! People making such statements imply that certain things are absolute, that there is order in the Universe, thus arguing that it makes sense to similarly enforce rules upon society.

One obvious difference between the Sophists and the Monoists is that the Sophists readily admitted that they were just using rhetoric, a bag of tricks they had learned to use. On the other hand, Monoists believe in truth, wisdom, knowledge, facts, reality, science and universal rules of nature. Monoists believe only they are 'right' and detest any trickery. But the Sophists regard Monoists as magicians who fall for their own tricks; Sophists say that such magic is no more valid than any other illusions. A modern-day Sophist would say: It's all done with mirrors!

Don Paragon's Views

A decisive way to dethrone a magician who has started to believe in his own tricks is of course to show how the trick works. Don Paragon's views have been described in earlier articles in this magazine. Don says: "Scientists often resort to mathematical rhetoric to 'prove' their point, not to evidence obtained from nature. Thus, they play tricks, just like all other 'magicians'. Using the statement 1 + 1= 2 is merely a rhetorical trick to try and fool people into believing that there are 'rules of nature'. Not only is 'nature' a rhetorical concept, a statement such as 1 + 1= 2 is also inconsistent with the dynamics of this very 'nature'; it is not even a poor argument in support for social order; it reflects only a narrow and questionable rhetorical framework!"

Don's views have been described in articles such as The new Insight (25 August 1994) and Music that breaks the Rules (30 January 1995). As Don says: "Scientific wisdom of such learned people perhaps sounded convincing to those living under the spell of superstition; but concepts such as science, truth, reason, rationality, reality, facts, wisdom, knowledge, logic, etc, do not rise above that, they all reflect this narrow rhetoric".

In contrast to the Sophists, Don does not say that there is nothing but rhetoric behind such discussions; Don's Vision of the Future goes beyond wisdom, beyond mere rhetoric. According to Don, wisdom and similar concepts all tend towards singularity, which characterizes the oppression of the past. Don argues that as time goes by, such concepts will have less and less chance to force themselves upon society like they have done in the past. Don pictures future times that are characterized by concepts such as optionality, creativity and improvisation, e.g. as described in Vision of the Future.

In the article The Horror of School (31 August 1995) Don argues that all this science, knowledge, all these facts and details that school claims to teach, is part of the cultures that dominated an era that is about to be banned to history (as the Era of Government). According to Don, school makes children shut their eyes for tomorrow's opportunities; school does not encourage children to develop talents and qualities to help them cope with the future and grab such opportunities.

Don rejects educational discipline and argues that development of one's potentials benefits from applying improvisation and creativity, not merely in craft-work and manual arts, but also in reflecting on the ideas one has and in developing opinions and views; children benefit from opportunities to express themselves, to explore new issues and to develop a position on such issues; without this, children can hardly develop any views at all, they will merely mimic what they are told to say. Without respect for optionality, people are unable to change their opinions in the light of better arguments, they stick to a narrow-minded, egocentric view, they adopt a view that is forced upon them or they pretend not to have any view at all.

Don has expressed his views not by writing articles, having discussions or giving lectures, but by making music. Don is primarily a musician, songwriter and composer, choosing to express himself by means of music. The music certainly is not a background for Don's words, instead, song lyrics follow from his music. An applicable song, reflecting Don's views on truth, on reality, on logic and similar concepts, is We believe in Optionality.

So, is anyone 'right'?

So, who is 'right' in this debate? The scientists who search for the 'truth' and claim that their 'wisdom' is founded in the accumulation of knowledge they call science? Or Don Paragon who claims that all this science is merely bad rhetorics that is also part of a culture that is fast becoming obsolete? In general, the Editors of the WEBzine Optionality agree with Don Paragon that wisdom is merely a rhetorical attitude.

The problem is that putting oneself above such rhetoric is hardly credible when this is done from a philosophical position; even more so when this position is taken taken in an article; after all, an article seemingly consists of nothing but rhetoric itself. Of course, Quintessence likes to see itself as more than as a publisher of a magazine that merely contains text. Quintessence is in fact involved in many other activities, e.g. Quintessence acts as an agent for Don Paragon. But the point remains that publishing text seems inconsistent with Don Paragon's very views.

The Essence of Quintessence

Since 1996, Quintessence has scaled down the number of magazines issued in the conventional way (printed versions sent by mail), in order to concentrate more on other activities, such as promoting Don Paragon as a musician and developing an Internet presence.

Optionality Magazine is happy to present links to other pages (see bottom of page) that give meaning to optionality, as an expression of support and preference for hyperlinked multimedia communication over the written word. As an example, Optionality Magazine likes to give credit to multimedia firm Optionality for its design work. Optionality Magazine also points to all kinds of artwork and songs that have appeared in earlier issues. In future, Optionality Magazine plans to be more than a publisher of text, by including sounds, music, MIDI and synthesizer settings, and more visual work such as graphics, images, animation, perhaps even video. Hopefully, such work will offer even more optionality.

Finally, Quintessence does not want to present itself as a publisher, selling ready-made text and music recordings to the public. Instead, Quintessence encourages discussion and likes to stimulate response. Most of the content of these pages is built up after years of discussions, comments, adjustments and refinements of views. Such content will continue to be further developed in response to further comments. In future, Quintessence sees itself participating in more interactive sessions, rather than presenting information as a publisher. In such sessions, part of what is presented by Quintessence may be drawn from existing information, such as this article that is available online. But the essence of Quintessence's argumentation will always be taylored to the specific case. In the end, Quintessence is more a consultant than a publisher, studying each client's individual situation, rather than making universal statements.

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