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Global liberal arts, culture of critical discourse, and academic (re)conquista: A case for rhetorical rapprochement between East and West Satoru Aonuma Department of English, Tsuda College 2-1-1 Tsuda-machi, Kodaira Tokyo 187-8577 Email: Everybody wants to rule the world Say that you’ll never never never never need it One headline why believe it ? Everybody wants to rule the world All for freedom and for pleasure Nothing ever lasts forever Everybody wants to rule the world “Everybody wants to rule the world” is one of pop-rock classics I still cherish today. It was performed by Tears for Fears, a British band internationally popular during the mid 1980s. When I first heard this tune on the radio (and watched a video on MTV) in my late teens, I did not understand what this song was about. The lyrics was abstract (so was the video clip); more important, it was sung in English which was not my language at that time. Years later, I rediscovered this song (and the band’s reunion!) and got some grasp of what they were singing. The song critiques the nature of human beings (or being humans): We are basically greedy, incorrigibly hypocritical, and self-righteously irrational (or irrationally self-righteous). In the words of Curt Smith, the band’s bassist and lead vocal, “The concept [of the song] is quite serious—it's about everybody wanting power, about warfare and the misery it causes.” “By looking at the maps of the world or the myths they often represented. . . , it is apparent that people have always carried an inflated sense of their place in the universe. In almost every society, from the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Chinese, to the Aztecs and Plains Indians of the Americas, humans have placed themselves at the center of the world” (Davis, 1993/2004, p. 41). In English, we call it the Omphalos Syndrome, a peculiar mindset that we, not they, are at the center of the universe, monopolizing the “navel” or omphalos placed at the famous

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Temple of Delphi in Greece. In the Chinese (character) using world, it is long known as 中華思想, meaning that we, not they, are the one and only full-fledged flower or prima donna at the center of the stage and that others are just peripherals in our owned world. Call it the Omphalos Syndrome or 中華思想, the human tendency that we are the world’s center hence are licensed to rule the rest is universal. And I submit that what we can call centricity scholarship is one variant of this pathology we suffer. Putting themselves at the world’s center or navel, these scholars are claiming that they are better informed and more cultured or civilized thus they are in the position to control the universe of discourse, teaching barbarians how they ought to behave and communicate. In this regard, Eurocentricity, Afrocentricity, and Asiacentricity are variances of the same ideological thinking. For instance, when scholarship of European origins constructs a theory, imposes it on socio-cultural phenomena universally, such practice embraces a cultural chauvinism on their part and is likely driven by the Omphalos Syndrome of their own. By the same token, when Asian scholars proclaim that Euro-born theories are just “local knowledge” thus they need to be “informed and enriched by Asiacentric versions” (Miike, 2007, p.273), they are expressing the universality and superiority of their own culture. As Tong (2000) rightly states of the Omphalos Syndrome in China, a country in Asia: The “distinction between the Chinese and the barbarians” was considered to be a distinction between the civilized or cultured and the uncivilized or uncultured. That is to say, it was seen as impossible for any foreign culture to coexist with Chinese culture as its equal counterpart. The best symbolization of the universality of Chinese culture was the tradition to relate China with the idea of “[all] under Heaven” (tianxia). i.e., “the world.” (p.262) Why are they doing all this? How relevant is the claim for centricity to the study of communication in our time? What is it that drives good scholars of communication and culture in East and West to the act of self-centering when others, particularly those who work in the field of critical studies, are talking about "decentering" (self)? Despite Gouldner’s (1979) observation about the rise of a new intellectual class whose critical discourse can transcend national and cultural boundaries, are solidarity and rapprochement between East and West an impossible dream when it comes to the study of communication? As I am not specializing the study of intercultural communication, I do not know what is really going on inside that particularly discipline. I have been trained as a student of communication in general and I have been taught that communication, not culture, is what we are supposed to be centric to. And if we take it that intercultural

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communication is one branch of communication studies, communication, not culture, should be central to the study of intercultural communication, should it not? Or what about the study of intercultural “parallelism” that many scholars inside and outside communication studies have engaged? We know, for instance, there are a host of substantive and discursive parallels between quantum physics and eastern philosophy (Zukav, 1983), between Buddhist preaching and Roman rhetorical education (Ishii, 1992), and between Socrates (Plato) and Confucius on liberal arts (Ess, 2003). And it is Hasse’s (2008) contention that the history of intercultural communication is just like that of the “parallel world”: No one culture has the exclusive property right to the knowledge of communication because it has developed locally and parallely all across this planet. A long time ago in a Greek city-state called Athens, there was a wise man who made his living by teaching rhetoric. Careerwise, he was a businessman-teacher, running his school successfully and teaching his disciples, many of whom were would-be citizen-leaders and litigants, how to be good speakers. And for him, the sign of good man was one’s ability to speak well; it is a good language that should nurture a man to be wise: [T]he power to speak well is taken as the surest index of a sound understanding, and discourse which is true and lawful and just is the outward image of a good and faithful soul. . . . And if there is need to speak in brief summary of this power, we shall find that none of the things which are done with intelligence takes place without the help of speech, but that in all our actions as well as in all our thoughts speech is our guide, and is most employed by those who have the most wisdom. (Isocrates, Nicocles, sec.8-9). Later in his career, the man turned a social “activist,” as he saw his state (and the culture he loved) fall apart. The community of Hellas was in crisis: people in democratic Athens turned egocentric and never acted for the good of polis; Greeks were losing wars against barbarians of Asiatic Minors. He wrote speeches after speeches calling for the Greek unity or Pan-Hellenism in vain. In his desperation, the man turned to King and Prince of Cyprus, hoping that they could become the leaders to save the Hellenic world. And he taught them how to become good men by way of discourse, just as he did to his disciples in Athens. Keep watch always on your words and actions, that you may fall into as few mistakes as possible. For while it is best to grasp your opportunities at exactly the right moment, yet, since they are difficult to discern, choose to fall short rather than to overreach them; for the happy mean is to be found in defect rather than in excess. (Isocrates, To Nicocles, sec. 33-34)

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And the name of that man is Isocrates. Elsewhere in the world just before Isocrates’ time, there was another wise man whose profession was to teach virtues. Just like Isocrates, he trained his disciples to be good “public servants” by way of discourse. The time was when his land was in deep trouble. States were run by warlords constantly engaging in civil wars and state officials who served these warlords were abusing their power. And just like Isocrates, he brought his teaching of virtues outside his lecture circles by traveling around, as he could not stand injustice, corruption, and most important, unreason and irrationality he saw everyday. 「微生畝謂孔子曰、丘、何爲是栖栖者與。無乃爲侫乎。孔子曰、非敢爲侫也。疾 固也。」(Wei-sheng Mou said to Master K’ung, “Ch’iu, what is your object in going round perching now here, now there? Is it not simply to show off the fact that you are a clever talker?” Master K’ung said, “I have no desire to be thought a clever talker; but I do not approve of obstinacy.” (The Analects, Book XIV, sec. 34)) The man found the rhetoric of officials particularly lamenting: Instead of working for the public good, these public servants abused their language to deceive the public. Thus he taught his disciples, 「子曰、辞達而已矣。」(“The Master said, ‘In official speeches all that matters is to get one’s meaning through.’” (The Analects, Book XV, sec. 40)) And the name of this man is 孔子 or Confucius. There is a host of remarkable parallels between these two episodes. First, Isocrates and Confucius believed in the power of language. For Isocrates, good speech is not only a sign of a good man; it is also a guide that leads us to becoming better and wiser. Confucius exercised “clever talking” in order to address and remedy “obstinacy”; he knew that a language is persuasive hence it should be used wisely and with good intention. Second, both emphasized the importance of “rhetorical minimalism” in official discourse. Isocrates instructed the Prince of Cyprus not to “overuse” discourse, for “the happy mean is to be found in defect rather than in excess.” Similarly, Confucius criticized the rhetoric of excess in official discourse; for him, “talking straight to the point” is the only way to go. Finally, by way of discourse, both were responding to the crisis of community they lived in and loved. In a sense, Isocrates and Confucius were “sophists” in that they both were intellectuals selling their knowledge to make living. At the same time, they also were intellectuals engaged in public affairs, not as state officials but as members of what we now call the civil society in their time. All of these pose interesting problematics to the centricity scholarship in intercultural

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communication, particularly those who are engaged in critique of communication theory from a standpoint of what they take to be an Asiacentric perspective. According to Miike (2007), for instance, traditional communication theory is Eurocentric, for it “underscores reason and rationality couple with the speaker’s clarity and credibility. . . The ability to speak clearly and convincingly with reason and rationality is cherished in Western societies” (p. 274). Yet, the above parallel reading shows that, in his teaching of virtue and social critique, Confucius, a leading Asian intellectual, did emphasize the significance of discursive clarity and of speaking convincingly. Confucius also engaged in “clever talking” (although he did not intend to be doing so) in order to correct what he saw as wrongdoings (and “wrongsayings”) prevalent in his time. This may run counter to Miike’s characterization that “[t]o be communicatively active in the Asian sense. . . is to be perceptive, receptive, and introspective to ‘feel together’ with fellow humans” (p.275). The parallel reading of Conficius and Isocrates not only confirms and underscores the existence of parallel development between East and West in terms of rhetoric and communication. It should also encourage us to reconsider the way we approach ancient texts and use them for our theorizing of rhetoric and communication. In the discipline of intercultural/international communication research, says Starosta (2006), the majority of researchers claim to “comprehend that all knowledge is connected to history and that, without accurately locating one’s history, one can hold no genuine cultural knowledge. Surprisingly,” however, “few of these researchers distinguish past from present. . . They tend to leave open questions of the degree to which ancient. . . traditions continue to influence modern cultural communication” (p. 66). When it comes to the reading of Confucius in particular, the following words of caution by Oliver (1971), a pioneer in the study of intercultural rhetoric, are worth noting: There was Confucius, and there was Confucianism. The latter imposed its rigidities upon China for many centuries. Confucius himself had a message for his own time that remains ever fresh…. The man Confucius resolutely kept his attention devoted to the practical problems of the world as he observed it. The Confucian tradition that developed was partly an explication of his views, partly a system devised to serve those who promulgated it. (p. 121) Tong (2000) also suggests that we make distinction between the teaching of Confucius and that of neo-Confucianism when he states: The contemporary neo-Confucians constitute the major force of cultural nationalism. . . . [T]hey regarded Chinese culture as evidence of the Chinese people’s equality with, even with superiority to, their Western counterparts. Liang Shuming. . . argued that Chinese

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culture held a higher position than Western culture in his “developmental logic” of culture. Chinese culture has not been successful in developing science and democracy, in his view, not because it is less developed than Western culture, but because it is too developed, or rather, because it had developed too early. . . . Until his death in the late 1980s, Liang Shuming remained firm in his conviction about the future of Chinese Culture: “The future of the world, as I believe and see, will be the revival of Chinese culture.” (Tong, 2000, p.263-264) At this rare occasion where students of communication across the planet gather and meet face to face, let me conclude this essay with the following bold yet sincere wishes on my part. First, whatever culture you are from, the Omphalos Syndrome or 中華思想 is a pathology that we all need to engage critically. To those who want to position themselves at the center of the world and claim their own cultural superiority, the fact that the knowledge of communication has developed locally and parallely all across this planet may not be a good news. Yet, without eradicating this pathology, promoting a culture of critical discourse across borders and fostering rapprochement between East and West would be impossible. In the words of Habermas (1989), “[o]nce the individual has made the existential decision who [s/]he wants to be, [s/]he assumes responsibility for deciding what will henceforthe be considered essential in the life history [s/]he has taken on morally—and what will not. . . . In the public process of transmitting a culture we decide which of our tradition we want to continue and which we do not” (p.263). Second, “it is. . . an essentialist claim to assume that the West is by nature or definition monolithically imperialistic, and therefore has subjugated all non-Western cultures throughout all historical periods. Of course, it would be just as mistaken to assume that ‘Oriental’ cultures have never been imperialistic, or that they have only learned their ‘imperialism’ from the West” (Chen, 1995/2002, p. 9). We should all stop being engaged in academic (re)conquista, (re)centering ourselves (and marginalizing others) and (re)claiming our exclusive right to knowledge, culture and property, as if we were dictated by the logic of monopoly capitalism. Finally (and this is particularly important to those non-USAmerican and non-European-born and -raised academicians residing and working in the West), One must candidly admit… that there is always the danger of theoretically recolonizing the Third World with Western-invented and theoretically motivated languages of “anti-colonialism.”. . . The native’s voices in non-Western countries should not have been “discovered” to promote the agendas of political “correctness” in the West. Western theoreticians—especially those “Third World born” critics residing in the West—who

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speak for the need of liberating the “Third World” from the West’s economic and political power—need to be much more cautious in their claims, lest they unwittingly and unintentionally themselves become neocolonizers who exploit the cultural capital of the colonized in a process in which those voices are appropriated for reinvestment in those “banks of the West” that currently offer the highest rate of return to speculators in trendy academic market. For one who lives in the West and speaks from the center about marginal cultures, it is extremely difficult and problematic to represent the Other. As one such critic myself, I have felt the need to constantly ask myself, “Who are we?” “Whose voice is it when we speak?” “Are we also the beneficiaries of the very system we are decrying?” One needs to persistently ask the question, “Does my study mean anything to people back home?” (Chen, 1995/2002, p. 14)

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References The analects of Confucius. (1989). (A. Waley, Trans. and annot.). New York: Vintage. Chen, X. (1995). Occidentalism: A theory of counter-discourse in post-Mao China. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Davis, K. C. (1993/2004). Don’t know much about geography. New York: Avon Books. Ess, C. (2003). Liberal arts and distance education: Can Socratic virtue (αρετε) and Confucius’ exemplary person (junzi) be taught online? Keynote address delivered at the international conference on information technology and university in Asia (ITUA), Bangkok, Thailand. Gouldner, A. W. (1979). The future of intellectuals and the rise of the new class: A frame of reference, theses, conjectures, arguments, and an historical perspective on the role of intellectuals and intelligentsia in the international class contest of the modern era. New York: Seabury Press. Habermas, J. (1989). Historical consciousness and post-traditional identity: The federal republic's orientation to the west (S. W. Nicholsen, Trans.). In S. W. Nicholsen (Ed.), New conservatism: Cultural criticism and the historians' debate (pp. 249-268). Cambridge: MIT Press. Hasse, A. F. (2008). “Parallel worlds”: Clusters for a theory of concepts of communications. Historical intercultural and cultural comparative studies in perspectives of national and transnational constitutions, values, concepts, and terms of “communication” – “orality” – “literacy” – “rhetoric”—“media.” Avaiable at, Isocrates. (1928). Nicocles (G. Norlin, Trans.). In Isocrates I (pp.73-114). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Isocrates. (1928). To Nicocles (G. Norlin, Trans.). In Isocrates I (pp.37-72). Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Ishii, S. (1992). Buddhist preaching: The persistent main undercurrent of Japanese traditional rhetorical communication. Communication Quarterly 40, pp.391-397. Miike, Y. (2007). An Asiacentric reflection on Eurocentric bias in communication theory. Communication Monographs 74, pp.272-278. Oliver, R. T. (1971). Communication and culture in ancient India and China. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. Starosta, W. J. (2006). Rhetoric and culture: An integrative view. China Media Research 2. pp.65-74.

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Tong, J. (2000). Dialectics of modernization: Habermas and the Chinese discourse of modernization. Camberra: Wild Peory. Zukav, G. (1983). Dancing wu li Masters: An overview of the new physics. New York: Harper.