It’s not going to stop, so just give up

18 02 2009

At what point does one give up? And what reasons for such up-giving?

This is (for this post) a political and intellectual question, rather than an existential one: At what point does one give up engaging across the political spectrum?

Hm, actually, it’s even narrower than that: At what point do I stop reading someone with whom I often disagree?

And what if the reason is that I don’t think this blogger is as thoughtful as I thought s/he was? What if I think s/he’s not as smart as I thought she was?

I’m a snob—that’s not the issue. No, huh, I guess one more refinement: How do I figure out if my weariness/irritation with a blogger is due to political differences or intellectual ones?

There are all kinds of blogs and books and magazines I don’t read because I think they’re stupid, and I’m not bothered by that. (See snob comment, above.) I’m interested in argument, and if all a blogger can do is impugn, malign, sputter, and/or channel the Party Line, then I won’t be interested—I’ll be bored. It’s not about agreement or disagreement, but engagement.

But what of those cases in which disagreement and a suspicion of thoughtlessness are tangled? Giving up on a leftist blogger doesn’t bother me, because the reason for such abandonment is clear: this person bores me. If I stop reading a rightist, however, I have to wonder if it’s because I’m too close-minded to deal with the argument.

I think it’s important to read outside of my political zone, not only to keep myself sharp, but to remind myself that those on the other side are smart, have good arguments, and are almost certainly not allies of Satan. Yes, I might get irritated or even yell at the post as I’m scrolling through or responding to it, but as long as I’m challenged, such irritation strikes me as reasonable—we do disagree, after all.

What if, however, the argument in the post is unreasonable, such that no reasonable response is possible? I get that that’s going to happen on occasion or with certain issues (the blogging equivalent of ‘oh, that Harry, you know how he gets’), but there are times I wonder if  the blogger doesn’t get that s/he’s posting a shitty argument.

Such as, the blogger sets Standard A for her side, Standard B for all those not on her side—and refuses to recognize the double standard. When he refers to evidence in support of his position, but ignores counter-evidence. When she deliberately distorts the positions of the other side, and complains when her own words are pulled out of shape. When he throws a bomb into the argument, then points at others for fanning the flames. Or, as she’s tossing that bomb, sighs that she’s soooo tired of dealing with explosions.

I’m only occasi0nally bothered by such strategies among political actors and campaigners—the point is to win, not to persuade. And while there’s a hell of a lot of unfairness in politics, mainly having to do with unequal access, there’s no such thing as (legal) unfairness among candidates. If you can’t handle the other side’s (mis)representations of your views, then get out. Strife and campaigns go together, so prepare not only to be bloodied, but to bloody. That’s how you deal with unfairness: You fight back.

But at the level of argumentation, where the point (arguably!) is to persuade, you can’t fuck with the rhetoric. Or, you can, but only at risk of being called a fuck-er.

Okay, so where does all this lead, vis-a-vis the not-so-thoughtful opposition? How do decide if the problem is with the thoughtlessness or the oppositional-ness?

I guess I provided myself with my own answer: when the person is fucking with the rhetoric. But even that doesn’t always help, not least because there are also fundamental differences at play. I might think she’s skewing the grid, but from her perspective, the lines are all straight. She’s not cheating—I just don’t get it. And I want to get it.

Dammit. I don’t know my way around this.

I’ll keep reading, I guess, until I can’t. How’s that for a set standard?


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2 responses

24 02 2009
lucretia

Cognitive dissonance is how you know you’re reading a conservative blogger these days, it seems. 😉

26 02 2009
absurdbeats

Yeah, but I usually like it!

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