Peeling the onion

Every time you masturbate, God kills a kitten. Please think of the kittensTalk about the use of the pathetic appeal…

Rex sent me a larger photo he gleaned from somewhere out there, and I snipped this sticker from the corner. Persuasion is everywhere.

Of course, that’s not as bad as this or this.

Then, oddly enough, I connected a bit of theory with another one of Rex’s familiar admonitions:

Peel me an onion.

In one of my classes last night, the head of the Speech Communications department lectured on some of the current theory there, which overlaps a great deal with rhetorical theory. Though the theorists are different, some of the problems spring from the same fountain. Unlike my earlier estimation of them (I called them the milk and cookies department at one point, because it seemed like kindergarten forever), the goal in Speech Communications is to peel the onion.

The focus in Speech Communications is interpersonal relationships. It strikes me as a weird interface between psychology and rhetoric, a sort of applied psychology, which like rhetoric, is focused on negotiation of problems to a desired resolution. It’s persuasion, just as Aristotle defined rhetoric, but it’s more concerned with the touchy-feely side. Logical argument isn’t a primary concern, but instead, like the “New Rhetoric,” its aim is consubstantiality. We are supposed to all get together and have a group hug, I suppose.

But the model of self as an onion is really almost funny. I can’t remember the last time I got sufficiently peeled to think of the universe in this sort of way. I’m too tightly knit, interwoven as it were, to think of self in these terms. All my layers interpenetrate.


The Social Penetration Process. I can get behind that. After all, even Rex would admit that penetration is a common goal. That, according to these folks, involves peeling the onion. We start at the outer layers of superficial commonality, moving into the levels of ethical agreement. When we feel comfortable in revealing our deeply held spiritual values, then we’re getting nearer to the “core personality.”

I love models. But there are big problems with this one. It presupposes a unitary self. That is, according to most current theory, a fallacy. Of course the head of the department knew that. But when you discard the core of the onion, the skin just starts flailing about. I don’t think this model works well at all.

Mike Sanders, in another strange coincidence, spoke of another model similar to what the Speech Communications specialist offered last night. John Hiler proposed a model of “time economics” for blogging, where the amount of time invested in linking is far less than the time required to generate real content. Time-economics is a matter of time invested vs. reading time accrued. This has deep resonance with the costs and rewards model of friendship. The theory is that we weigh our friendships based on what the costs are versus the benefits in a reasonable economic model. When the scale tips too far, we shut the friendship down. I don’t buy that model either. It presupposes a sort of dialectic continuum to life, a continuum that I increasingly doubt.

Talking to Dr. Kleine during a break, he put it very succinctly: “Dialectic models have limited usefulness when you have more than two people, or more than two alternatives involved.” It’s not in my opinion, a useful model of web behaviors. It’s a rationale which hides the real reason why people often link, rather than write: they don’t want to peel the onion.

There are only a few link-pointing blogs that I read regularly, Wood s lot being one of them. The reason is that he provides thoughtful extracts rather than just quick ambiguous pointers. I would suspect that he spends a reasonable amount of time selecting which parts he extracts, because they are often key thoughts in the middle of huge documents. It’s hardly a more “efficient” mode of creating traffic, especially when it’s done well.

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