[KB] Hottentots Redux

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Mon Dec 8 17:06:44 EST 2014


In the current edition of the Primer, I added an addendum to Chapter 1.  It’s entitled, “More on Purpose as a Negative and a Command.”  This extended note elaborates on the declarative as an implicit imperative, a theme Burke puts front and center in the opening of PLF (pp. 1-8).  There, Burke describes the hortatory dimensions of seemingly innocent and detached “statements of fact,” the arm-twisting “decree” a supposedly “objective” report functions as, the incentive not only to “see things this way,” but also to “act on this declaration as summons.”  Burke illustrates “the secret commands and exhortations in words” with a quote from Carnap, by way of Edward M. Maisel.  Statements merely asserting the superiority of the race of Hottentots “should be analytically translated as, ‘Members of the race of Hottentots!  Unite and battle to dominate the other races!’  The facts of historical assertion here,” Burke goes on,
 “are but a strategy of inducement; apparently describing the SCENE for the action of a drama, they are themselves a dramatic ACT PRODDING TO ANOTHER DRAMATIC ACT” (p. 5; emphasis not added).

Interesting empirical support for Burke’s case appeared in yesterday’s New York Times (“Sunday Review,” or whatever it’s called): “When Talking about Bias Backfires,” by Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg.  Grant teaches at Wharton in U. Penn.  The authors cite the results of several integrated studies that show, “Hearing that discrimination is common is a license [read: incentive] to do it.”  Meaning: The “factual” statement that most people are prejudiced results in more prejudicial responses by readers of such reports.  When the stated “facts” of the matter are accompanied by admonitions not to go and do likewise, reader prejudice diminishes, judging by the reactions these experiments elicited.

The online version of this piece might have a December 6th date, instead of December 7th.
Needless to say, Burke’s name was not invoked by these researchers.


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