It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Under the Top

It's pathetic. Economic activity has slowed down a little, but we're still an insanely wealthy civilzation by historical standards.

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.

5 comments:

Ben Vandergugten said...

I agree. I try avoid reading that stuff. I would much rather wade through technical scientific articles. It is tough for me, as I have no formal science training, but it is far more enriching. (BTW, in your Appel quote two sentences are repeated.)

Dan Olner said...

"Your most important reader is the most reasonable person who disagrees with you."

Brilliant. Stole that for my quotes block. Is it your sentence?

Alexander Ac said...

"Economic activity has slowed down a little" -

I will a lot more in the near future (as well as CO2 emissions) - "growth index" is going down, so will economic growth in the USA.

Obama is already suggesting 2nd stimulus package.

Check Gerald Celente -

http://ac.blog.sme.sk/c/240070/Gerald-Celente-you-aint-seen-nothing-yet.html

- there is also mention of global warming by the way, but thole video is worth looking!

Next thing is that unempoyment in USA and elsewhere is rising and gap between rich and poor is already huge and widening - not a sustainable degrowth scenario!

Consumption in Chindia is rising and in (post) peak oil era this will mean permanent economic recession in developed countries and increasingly also social unrest - already starting to happen.

and during recessions and depressions people are even less concerned about environment, if it is even possible...

Alex

frank -- Decoding SwiftHack said...

Appel's advice is all very nice, but I think the main problem is to getting enough reasonable people -- or even the correct bunch of reasonable people -- to read my writing in the first place!

I'll be really happy if the problem stated by Appel is the main problem with my writing.

Michael Tobis said...

Dan, yes, it's me, and yes, you can quote me. Thanks!