In Dr. Brantner’s WCT class, rhetorical techniques revolving around logos, ethos, and pathos are taught in the context of persuading others. In an attempt to illustrate the usage of various techniques in a more relatable manner, I selected a contemporary parliament speech by NMP Siew, who petitioned for the repeal of Section 377A during a period of public clashes between conservative and liberal views. In this essay, I focused on exploring the role of “others” in the speaker-audience relationship, and worked on explicating the influence of the audience on the speaker’s choice of rhetorical techniques. I hope this article will encourage readers to give greater consideration to the traits of their audience when crafting any persuasive argument.
In developing this essay, I first considered the audiences NMP Siew would be addressing in his Parliament speech, before proceeding to analyse the effectiveness of his rhetorical techniques. The immediate and primary audience would doubtlessly be Ministers in Parliament. During any Parliamentary debate, there appears to be an expectation by ministers for a sound argument based on facts and logical reasoning. Given these expectations, it is perhaps unsurprising for NMP Siew to begin his speech with logos, and in order to establish the credibility of his arguments, he would also have to use rhetorical techniques increasing his ethos. Having established his speech’s appeal to the ministers, I felt that these techniques may not be as appealing to his indirect and secondary audience, the wider Singaporean community. Rather, I initially believed that they would be more persuaded by the emotional appeals of pathos while the former (the MPs) would be more convinced by arguments centered on logos and ethos.
This was one of the mistakes I made during the development of my essay. As I moved on, I realized it was reductive to assume audiences can be segmented into distinct groups, with different traits and expectations. Considering the multiple personas and identities we adopt, overlaps in audience traits must be factored in – an MP is not just a political figure, he or she may also be a parent, a student, and most definitely a Singaporean. As such, it would perhaps be more accurate to suggest that some of his arguments appeal largely to the MP identity that Parliament adopts, while other techniques may appeal more to the majority of the publics’ identity as Singaporeans.
Another revision I had to make was based on the content of the speech itself! I was overly focused on the speaker-audience relationship, and did not consider the contest of values that Section 377A appears to invoke so readily. On an emotional and values-centred topic of homosexuality, arguments based on logos and ethos would perhaps be insufficient. Looking back, perhaps it was my own stance that blindsided me – as a proponent of NMP Siew’s arguments, I believed his logical reasoning to be sound and sufficient, and failed to consider the perspective of the opponents, who despite all logic, may be resistant to the repeal of Section 377A. Thus, it may be prudent to also consider the values you adopt and the influence it may inadvertently have on your writing.