Sunday, May 2, 2010

Responding to Matt Yglesias' response

I'm a bit late on this, but I was absolutely thrilled to see Matt Yglesias respond to my query. It's short, so I'll paste it all here:

Here’s a query I got recently and thought was worth responding to:

Mr. Yglesias:

I’d like to make a suggestion: You have a lot of insightful and important things to say. Do you think it’s constructive to engage in as much snark as you do? It seems to me like it serves to rile up people who are on your ideological side, and I suppose I could see some constructive purpose in doing that. But I would suggest we’d all be better off if political discourse was based more on humane and rational conversation and a shared commitment to building consensus about justice and finding the truth. I see your point that the right often represents entrenched power, and it may be necessary to struggle against that. But what about people like me, basically of liberal sympathies but not allied to the left per se, who are turned off by this tone of discourse? What about thoughtful and humane conservatives that might actually be convinced to change their policy positions? I guess it seems to me like your considerable talents and moral decency might be better served in a more consensus building, persuading, and a less base-riling, partisan role. I’ll keep reading your blog, but the bitterness will often leave me a bit sad, and thinking you could be doing better.

For one thing, I think this message reflects a widespread confusion about what it is to be “partisan.” Find me someone who thinks Olympia Snowe is history’s greatest monster but Ben Nelson is a great man and I’ll show you a partisan. I’m just someone with political views that are more liberal than the views of most Americans.

As for the rest, I think humane and rational conversation is important and I like to think that plenty of the posts on this blog are dedicated to it. But there are also a lot of liars and idiots in the world and subjecting them to

scorn and mockery is part of what you’ve got to do in life.

I responded in the comments, but I don't think that (mine) was a very good response, so I'll try it again here.

Yglesias is certainly right that he's not a partisan in the sense that he describes, and 'partisan' was probably the wrong word to use. He regularly criticizes other lefties and democratic politicians. Indeed, the only reason I sent him that message was because basically not a partisan, but a highly intelligent and morally decent person who seems to be concerned with the truth.

But he does often take a fairly harsh- one might even say smug- tone when speaking of many conservatives. It was this tone I was objecting to. I think it doesn't have a purpose other than fueling the sense of self-superiority of many of his reader.

In an earlier post I
gave some arguments for snark, and ended up kind of agnostic. But, as is often the case with my writing, my point is not to argue for positions that I'm really confident in, but rather to bring up points that strike me as reasonable but overlooked. In this case, I think Yglesias is probably overvaluing snark because it serves his interests to do so. This may sound like a serious accusation, but everyone has such blind spots. Part of the reason dialogue with those of differing opinions is so valuable is that it makes us more likely to find our own blind spots.

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