We’re so addicted to our shallow toys that the slightest disruption in the ever-increasing plethora of production causes us to fall into a state of woe, paranoia, and disruption. Things continue to get more disgustingly out of control every day. Our prospects of solving ever more complex and intricate problems with ever more clumsy and unreliable tools of study, discourse, and decision making look grimmer every day, even though solutions are technically within reach.
For evidence of the decline, look at the amount of over-the-top rhetoric we see. Here’s Patrick Appel on Daily Dish:
After wading though political opinion online for a couple years, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t ever really “win” an argument online. No matter how sound your logic or forceful your writing someone, somewhere will continue to disagree. But you can arm your fellow travelers and opponents with better or worse argumentative ammunition. When Mark Levin calls all progressives “statists” or Kos labels conservatives “Taliban” they not merely pummeling straw-men, they are doing their readers and listeners a disservice. If someone wants to actually engage with the opposing side and try to change minds, blunt, hyperbolic labels are the among the flimsiest of rhetorical weapon.
And our corner of the world of discourse has similar blow-ups. I have one in mind but I guess I’m better off not even mentioning it. Tremendous amounts of ill-will are habitually revealed in these blow-ups, as if they had heretofore been hidden away.
Appel makes an excellent case for avoiding such language as much as possible.
I understand the financial incentives that cause authors and publishing houses to choose these kinds of titles. But I don’t know why anyone thinking strategically about political impact cheers them. It’s a marketing strategy that basically guarantees a book will never be read by anyone who disagrees with it. The emotional satisfaction some people get from extreme vitriol is an astonishingly powerful driver of counterproductive political behavior.
In short, going over the top is easy and fun, and it energises the troops, and it’s generally a losing proposition. Remember that your most important reader is the most reasonable person who disagrees with you.
In particular, if something shouldn’t be dignified with a response, it should also not be dignified with a “that shouldn’t be dignified with a response” until absolutely necessary. We need to step back from over-the-top rhetoric, not because our most fanatical opponents deserve it, but because the casual reader does.
But what does all this lunacy under the modest provocations we have seen so far have to say for our resilience once real problems come our way? I’m afraid that somehow we have gotten ourselves into a cultural state that is ill-prepared for the real problems that are lurking in the wings and the scale of the various things that will happen in response to them.