Sunday, March 5

rhetoric is a dirty word

on thursday I sat in on a small crash course in proposal writing, taught by professor John Mclaughlin, who wrote proposals for the government and the military for eight years.

proposal writing never sounded very interesting to me, but after this short class the other day, i realize it's just like rhetoric. Mclaughlin introduced the concept of proposal writing by explaining the purpose and process in terms of selling/marketing to a customer. that's rhetoric.

when I said as much('so, this is just... rhetoric, isn't it?), he simply looked at us. rhetoric, he explained, is not a word he likes to use. he's not one of those tech. writing professors who goes on and on about communication and theories. to him, there is no "audience," only a customer. there is no "rhetoric," there's only sales pitch. what does rhetoric even mean, anyway?

the art of influence. it sounds so grand and eloquent. rhetoric.

and all it is, really, in real life, is an indelicate a thing as sales pitch?

ah well. whatever you call it, it's there and its how the world works. and even if i don't end up working for a company that needs a real proposal writer, understanding proposals is the same as understanding any written form of rhetoric. it's selling stuff.

the other cool thing Mclaughlin said was that you're never really talking about things or features. you're talking about power. he didn't use the word power, but he explained that a pair of shoes is not just a pair of shoes. it's a way to keep your feet warm and safe. or a way to make your feet look stylish and match your skirt. or a way to make yourself 3 inches taller. people aren't interested in things. they're interested in benefits. what does it do for them? what kind of power or ability or stylishness will it give them?

this idea reminds me of what hugh macleod says all the time about "the market for something to believe in" being infinite. I wonder what kind of power or benefit is in belief...
or maybe that is the benefit behind all benefits: confidence. you want to be sure of things. to know that your shoes won't fall apart. you want to have faith. you want to be able to live your life without worrying about your poor vulnerable feet. wow.

there is so much doubt in the world.

the market. infinite. yeah.

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