Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blog #2

1. What did you think of when you encountered the word argument as you began reading this chapter? What do you think now? (150-200 words)

The first thing that normally comes to mind when I think of argument is "To make a case for." This is my own personal definition, and it really comes from that fact that as a writer, a father, and someone who likes to go online and engage in unmoderated messageboard debate (meaning that sources are rarely cited, unless I'm trying to move in for the kill on a particular topic), I am frequently called on to justify my point of view on a given topic. For example, when I tell my oldest child that she cannot go over to her friend's house to play for the day, in order to seem like a fair parent, I need to make the arguments that we might be leaving the house soon, her friend's parents said that they would be busy for the day, and that she's still grounded for cutting the cat's hair with the scissors. Of course this is a very easy argument to win because I am the final authority in this case.

According to Nancy V. Wood, in Essentials of Argument, "Argument classes are taught in college because they improve the students' ability to read and think critically and write or speak about signifficant problems and issues that have social consequences. (5)" In my experience in the real world, a number of people end up in careers that have nothing to do with the field in which they earned their degree in college. The fact that they have a college degree is often enough to earn them the opportunity to fill various positions based solely upon the fact that they are able to think problems through critically and then act upon them competently.

When properly used, argument informs us of critical things, such as the best candidate to vote for in an election based upon their stance on the issues rather than whether or not we simply like them as individuals. Critical thinking helps us watch a movie and then evaluate it based on the artistry of the film making as well as the message it is trying to convey. For instance, is a war movie trying to expose the horrors of war by showing the plight of a soldier, as in Saving Private Ryan? Is it a propaganda film that is meant to influence the audience to support U.S. interests abroad, as I would argue that the third Rambo movie does? Critical thinking allows us to determine which products are the best to buy based on its features, benefits, and consumer reviews as opposed to relying on the hype of salespeople.

When faced with a complex problem, how do we deal with it? We must be able to come to decisions and then present arguments to explain why we took the actions that we took. We must also be able to analyze the arguments made by others to decide whether we agree or disagree with what they are saying, and sometimes offer up counter-arguments in an attempt to change a proposed course of action.

Honestly, my opinion about argument isn't any different now than it was before the reading. Argument is everywhere in our society, and it makes us better and more useful individuals if we recognize it when we see it and analyze it to determine the best way to process it.

2. Why did you choose your magazine? (75-100 words)

I chose Discover because of all of the magazines that were listed, it was the one that appealed to me the most. It is the one magazine from the list we were given that is most likely to have articles that I'd be interested in reading. I enjoy science articles, yet not coming from a background in hard science, I fit perfectly with this magazine's target audience. Discover is a science magazine for lay-people. In other words I like to read about all of the neat new developments in science and technology, but I'm not particularly interested in trying to make sense of the complexity of the actual science since I lack the background.

1. Wood, Nancy. Essentials of Argument. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Blog #1

How does Foss define rhetoric? Describe in your own words what this means to you and offer a few examples from your experience.

I read the twenty page introduction to Rhetoric by Karen Foss with a specific eye for a definition of rhetoric, and while the subject matter tended to meander from theoretical to the historical, the key statement seemed to be "For us, rhetoric is the human use of symbols to communicate" (1). Symbols are the expression of our reality through language.

Foss talks about two key ideas relating to symbols, the first being that "Humans construct the world in which they live through their symbolic choices" (2). While symbols could just as easily translate to a number of different modes of communication, including art or music, the most appropriate type of symbol is language and words. The idea is that words, or symbols, that we choose may contain positive or negative connotations. For example, if I am describing a new version of an intellectual work with the pejorative term "dumbed down," I am using that specific term to voice disapproval. Likewise, if I were trying to cast it in a neutral or positive light, I might choose the term "streamlined" or "simplified."

Symbols can also be a representation of physical objects. Foss uses the example of a tree. "For instance, a tree standing in the forest is not a symbol; it does not stand for something else. It is simply a tree, although the word chosen to represent the thing standing in the forest is a symbol" (3).

A rhetorician who is conscious and intentional with their use of symbols is able to craft an argument that is intended to accomplish a goal. The nature of that goal might be to convince people to adopt your way of thinking, come to a consensus on a difficult matter, or settle a dispute. Rhetoric may include writing, oration, physical, multi-media.... Being new to the world of rhetoric, I would simply interpret it as communication.

Google defines rhetoric as:
* using language effectively to please or persuade
* grandiosity: high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation; "the grandiosity of his prose"; "an excessive ornateness of language"
* palaver: loud and confused and empty talk; "mere rhetoric"
* study of the technique and rules for using language effectively (especially in public speaking)

What this means to me is that rhetoric is a way to convey meaning and expression, persuade others, raise awareness, and otherwise communicate through the use of symbols.

In the past, having never actually studied rhetoric, I have used it for a variety of purposes, including debating political issues, particularly around election time; incorporating it into my roleplaying game writings; and I have used it for the purpose of marketing the roleplaying games I have been involved with.

Currently, for those who haven't notices, the country I live in is in the final months of a presidential campaign. I have engaged in conversation with others on various messageboards where I have sought to gain information and opinions about the candidates. I have mainly been in information gathering mode up to this point, and I have only recently made a decision about which candidate best represents me and my interests. The goal of these debates has not been to inform other people's views, but rather, to try to come to a consensus among other similar-minded individuals of what the issues, strengths, and weaknesses are surrounding each candidate. Now that I have picked one, my rhetoric in these place will likely change to a stance where I will try to persuade others to vote with me.

The rhetoric in the professional writing I have done is a little harder to spot. Roleplaying game material tends to be escapist, so people don't appreciate it when it becomes too preachy. Nevertheless, there are a few jabs at modern political figures and organizations, though a person would have to read the material carefully to find the parallels, as well as the commentary I'm making. There is much to be said about understated allegory.

Finally, I have used rhetoric on this very blog to promote the book I released in June called Reign of Discordia. Unlike most of my other writings, this one was released through a much smaller publisher, so I tried to help that publisher as much as possible by promoting the book myself through my blog and messageboards. My goal was to be informative and make it sound appealing without being so assertive about it in high traffic areas as to make myself annoying in the eyes of the other people who visit these sites. Obviously, continuously bumping the same thread over and over on a messageboard and talking about it in every unrelated conversation would become irritating, while it is far more appropriate to pimp the book to a much higher degree in my own online space.

I feel that professional writers should possess an understanding of rhetoric because such knowledge helps them more effectively convey meaning and promote their message through their various works.

Foss, Karen, Sonya Foss, and Robert Trapp. "An Introduction to Rhetoric."Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. 3rd ed. London: Waveland Press, 2003. 1-18.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you happen to be one of the 2.5 people who have been following my blog for the past few months, you might be in for a surprise as the content starts to include some things that are very not gaming related.

You see, I have this dirty little secret I've been hiding for a number of years now. I attended college back in the early nineties, but I never finished. I may have gone on to manage a retail store, work at WotC, and write some gaming books, but the fact is that in the real world, employers generally tend to treat you like an uneducated schmuck if you don't have a degree. This was somewhat true a decade ago, but it seems to be more true as time goes by because nearly every kid who manages to graduate highschool is now going on to complete their college degree.

While that begs the question of how a degree gets a person ahead in life if everyone has one, that doesn't really address the question of what happens to the people who don't have one. My experience is that it leaves them looking at the options of perpetual retail or fast food hell. You know, I've done my time in those trenches and I'd rather be standing on the corner hustling random strangers for their spare change than go back to it.

What's sad is that when I decided that I wasn't going to go back and finish, oh something like thirteen years ago, I was only three semesters from graduation. That's one and a half years. Back then that seemed like such a long time, and I was so burned out, and I assumed that by demonstrating competence, I could be successful without that expensive piece of paper. Frankly, I have been successful in many areas, but not as successful as I should have been. What's the reason I didn't land any upper management jobs, or get the editor positions I applied for, or even be interviewed for some jobs that randomly applied for and still feel are beneath me? My work references were good.... Its that lack of a degree.

So I'm going back to school to finish my degree, and I'm not giving up until I'm successful. I might even try to go on to grad school if I can figure out how to fund it.

One of the classes I'm taking is an introduction to rhetoric. Based on the classroom discussions and the reading I've done so far, I really think I'm going to learn a lot in this class (and I'm not just saying that to suck up to the professor, who will be reading this blog). Part of my grade for the class will be to keep a blog that addresses some of the subject matter we will be studying. I've decided to just merge it in with my regular blog to keep things easy for me.

So if you happen to be one of my very few regular readers, prepare to learn something that has nothing to do with games. If it seems a little esoteric, don't give up, there will also be gaming related ramblings posted here whenever I feel the need to post about it. In fact, I'm not turning my back on the gaming industry. I have some small projects currently in the works that will be manageable with my class schedule, and then I have some hopes for where I might end up after I have my degree. I'm not done with gaming. In fact, after my eight years in the industry, I'm just getting started.