Such a mean old man

28 02 2013

Outside of electoral politics, I have an ambivalent relationship to nastiness.

I’m mostly opposed to it, but sometimes find it apropos as a form of self-defense. I am mostly not nasty, and as for the times when I have indulged, be it for self-defense or not, I generally don’t feel great about it afterwards.

It’s just low; I try not to be low.

Critical, however, being critical isn’t low or nasty. The best criticism requires engagement, and the best engagement requires empathy, and it’s tough to be simultaneously nasty and empathic. And criticism can be devastating without being nasty.

I have been and will almost certainly in the future be critical of Rod Dreher, and I’ve gotten to the point where there are some posts of his that I won’t bother reading, if only to spare myself the exasperation. And yeah, there have been times when I’ve thought he’s been nasty and low.

Still, I don’t think he deserves this.

The post, by Elon Green, goes after Dreher for (what he would dispute, but could nonetheless fairly be described as) his homophobia, and while I think Green offers the least-generous reading possible of Dreher’s writing, it’s not an unfair reading. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is, as Zoe would say, “a kindness”, but it is not required for fairness.

The commenters, on the other hand, are going after Dreher personally because they loathe his politics, and speculating about him in ways that both suit their own view and justify the attacks.

I know, I know—enter a comments section at one’s peril—and it’s not as if ad hominen attacks are anything new under the sun, but I wonder why, outside of a tavern and after having a few, anyone would bother taking the effort to be nasty to some stranger online.

Go after his arguments, annihilate his presuppositions, rail against the damage those who share his point of view have inflicted and continue to inflict on queer folk, but jeez, leave his personal life, and his chickens, out of it.