Social Media & Rhetoric

In the next couple days, I’ll be posting a 6-part series about social media and rhetoric that I’ve been tweaking with recently. Here is the intro:

I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul.

-Walt Whitman

1.1  Introduction

Words and sentences are powerful. This claim is not surprising. Each of us can recall countless moments in our life in which a conversation or speech impacted us in an influential way. Words enable us to express the depths of our soul with supreme clarity and meticulous detail. Yet, words are also brandished as immaterial weapons of mass destruction that extinguish relationships and obscure truth.

In these next couple posts, I will present a a model of rhetorical practice using Abraham Kuyper as a case study. First, I’ll consider the source and definition of rhetoric as it relates to God’s creative speech and the telos or goals rhetoric is aimed at. Second, I’ll examine the fall of rhetoric and the rise of sophistry in its ancient and contemporary forms. Third, I’ll express how Kuyper and those who come after provide for us wisdom regarding the proper use of rhetoric for the Christian. Specifically, practicing rhetoric as a habit that aims toward properly ordering one’s desires so that they align with the Kingdom of God.[1] Fourth, I’ll connect the previous sections to social media and its role in forming the public’s use of rhetoric and then provide some concepts and methods for using rhetorical language in the digital landscape.[2]

[1] I see one of the most fitting and needed use of this rhetorical theory in public dialogue and the political sphere due to the lack of charity and overwhelming amount of sophistry rampant in that sphere. With that in mind, it is certainly useful in many other spheres as well.
[2] I’m indebted to Derek Schuurman’s Shaping a Digital World for the structure and questions asked in this essay. His work helped guide my process as I explored what might be gained from this discussion. (Schuurman 2013)