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Meanwhile Back at the Ranch: Rural Civic Ethos from the Rhapsodes to Water Rights
AuthorKmetz, Marcia L.
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The general definition of ethos as moral character, as an indication of acute or contextual morality, treats the appeal as an individual endeavor, as a strategy that applies solely to or is constructed solely by an individual rhetor. That individualistic understanding is a modern interpretation according to S. Michael Halloran who notes that "the most concrete meaning given for the term in the Greek lexicon is `a habitual gathering place,'" suggesting that ethos represents a way that the community comes together and performs a collective identity. I argue that understanding ethos as a performance of communal identity rightly locates ethos back in the community and rightly acknowledges the role of place in that community. "A habitual gathering place" indicates that place is a central component of character, that the physical location of the rhetorical act contains a character of its own that shapes communal values and the rhetor's performance of those values.This text works to demonstrate the ways rural rhetors perform communal values shaped by physical location as they navigate rhetorical debates. In order to make more clear the ways a particularly rural character is utilized within significant rhetorical debates, I have termed this form of ethos <italic>rural civic ethos</italic>. As defined in this text, <italic>rural civic ethos</italic> is a character fitted with a morality that is tied to communal values, particularly the value of work, and shaped in a particular landscape. This examination begins with the rhapsodes, specifically Hesiod, and the ways in which his ethic of work developed in and defined the rural community of Boeotia. Following that analysis, I focus on the rural elements of Cicero, specifically his work to value his homeland of Arpinum as a place in order to value the citizens who inhabited it. In a move to more modern times, I then analyze the efforts of Jeannette Rankin to value the labor and production of the rural citizens in Butte as a way to value the citizens themselves. I focus then on Libby, Montana, and on the ways that the asbestos crises brought two rural rhetors to the national stage and helped define specific elements of rural civic ethos for a national audience; in this case, a distinct vision of right and wrong and a well-developed ethos found in the rural working man. Finally, I focus on the water rights debate in the Wind River Valley, and specifically on the ways that this debate has challenged each group's ability to argue successfully for their local expertise grounded in the knowledge of their landscape and their communities.