One of the more peculiar aspects of the social media age is that random people feel compelled to inform you of their sensibilities. Sometimes they will let you know that they agree, or disagree, with you. Sometimes they will tell you that they think you went too hard or too easy on an issue. Oftentimes, they will tell you that you’ve violated their flavor of a social norm.
I received a twit yesterday from a law professor telling me that she felt I was gratuitously rude in a characterization that appeared here. Who and what isn’t important, as this post has nothing to do with the target of the twit. There were no reasons proffered, not that such matters are susceptible to reasoning; they’re just a matter of one’s feelings, like one’s preferred flavor of ice cream.
Your sensibilities differ from mine? Okay. That’s nice. You agree with me? That nice too. Both are allowed, as if I had anything to say about how you feel. But do you suspect that registering your disapproval on the official channel of twitter would somehow change my rationale?
You: I disapprove of what you wrote.
Me: Oh crap. Really? Then I now reverse my opinion so that you will approve of me.
Does anyone imagine this will happen? Whether to me or anyone else? On some occasions, the disapproval will come from someone I know and respect, and I am inclined (like most people) to ponder why someone I respect would find my view unacceptable. It doesn’t mean I’ll change it, but the respect I have for another person will give rise to my reconsideration.
On most occasions, the negative reaction will come from someone I don’t know, often a ‘nym such that I couldn’t even assess the merit of that person’s opinion if I wanted to. Granted, in their mind, they recognize their own brilliance and so it never dawns on them that anyone else, me for instance, wouldn’t bend to their will.
And on yet other occasions, someone who I know, whose bona fides are openly stated, will express their disagreement. This presents a more difficult situation in the sense that they obviously believe their openly-stated credibility warrants my taking their disapproval seriously. This is particularly troublesome when the other person holds a position of dubious merit in my world, like an academic.
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the fact that many, though not all, academics are smart people. Well, at least smart in the sense that they did well in school, even if they’re entirely untested in the real world. But they eschew the harshness and vulgarity of the real world for the more moderated world of the Academy. And this is where so much of this disapproval arises.
They are loathe to speak clearly, to state a view without caveats and footnotes, equivocating and a human sacrifice to Gertrude. They are, as Josh Blackman says, “interesting.” One of the recurring complaints I hear from lawprofs is that my rhetoric is too strident, offensive in its bluntness. Hell, just plain offensive.
Yeah? So? What in the world would make you think I would rather be an incomprehensible, verbose equivocator like you?
If you have a reason why you think me wrong, then tell me. Tell me clearly. Do not tell me it’s based on your personal experience. I have my own personal experience, and have no plans to substitute yours for mine. Give me reasons.
And even with reasons, I may not be persuaded to change my position, or lower my volume, or be nicer to people you like because you like them, and oh, jeez, please. But then, maybe you will have a strong argument, sound reasons and enlighten me. I can, and have, been wrong. And I can, and have, admitted it when I’m persuaded I’m wrong. But persuading me isn’t going to happen because you announce your disagreement, inform me that your feelings differ from my feelings.
If I write something, it’s because that’s what I think is appropriate. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t write it. That’s how writing works. So you disagree? That’s cool. But the only reason you would believe your feelings to matter is that you’re the center of your universe. You’re not the center of mine.
Don’t tell me you think I’m wrong, or you feel my words are too harsh. If you want to do something constructive, tell me why. Who knows, you might actually change my mind. It could happen. But don’t count on it.