The truth does not need me: A response to a commenter

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This post is a specific response to a specific comment, but its meaning is broader than that. Frequently, people who disagree with bloggers like me play the “niceness” card — they object to the tone and rhetoric of a post, rather than tackling its arguments head-on. They urge me to be calmer. They ask me to be less vindictive. They assure me that the “injured” party on the other side has good intentions. They counsel moderation. 

In one sense, these exhortations are a waste of the commenter’s time, and — what is infinitely worse — a waste of mine. After all, the essays I publish here are public responses to public figures. They are designed to attract attention and provoke debate. Making tepid, compromised statements would bore me and my readers. It would also deprive me of the small measure of authenticity I still enjoy, considering that I’m blogging under my own name, and already have to be careful.

However, starting today, I would like to try something new. I want to propose an approach to such comments that I hope will prove to be a common road, one all of us can take together. This new approach begins now, at the bottom of my responses (see below) to one “Bergen.”

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Dr. Kugelmass, after having read your blog post and comments multiple times, this is what I have to say. I find your style to be irritating because you bring the wordsmithing skills of a writer and an English doctorate to a philosophical, political, and theological argument.

Bergen is frustrated with me personally. This is the important point. I will return to it below.

Of course, English and the crafting of words is an important part of any argument, no matter what the field, but you seem to craft your arguments in such a way that you often seem to build a semantic escape hatch i.e. You thought my words meant this when I really meant this because I was speaking figuratively.

(This is untrue. I’ve made no retractions whatsoever.)

You are an English doctorate wrestling with philosophy. I see that to be akin to comparing World Wrestling Entertainment to Olympic wrestling… At the end of the day, I am unable to take the WWE superstar seriously as a serious athlete because he conducts himself with such flair that you wonder how much of the supposed athletic spectacle is simply figurative smoke and mirrors, especially when compared to someone who has a mastery of the true, pure sport of wrestling.

Now Bergen urges me to use less smoke and fewer mirrors.

I would like you to know that your writing style and attitude has stripped away the prestige of high-level academia and your snobbery of a respectable institution has earned you disdain among myself and seemingly among others that would otherwise agree with your argument.

Here he accuses me of arrogance and elitism.

The end is interesting, though, is it not? According to Bergen, others — perhaps not Bergen himself, but somebody – would agree with my argument if it was expressed differently.

I’m aware that Bergen is using these mythical “others” as a (not very appetizing) form of bait, to try to get me to castrate my own writing. But suppose he’s right — suppose, for example, that Bergen himself can see the value of certain arguments against Henrik van der Breggen’s position. Furthermore, suppose every criticism he’s making of my writing is valid.

In that case, here is my plea. Write this argument the way you need it to be written, Bergen. Where I have been elitist, be democratic. Where I have been arrogant, show humility. Where I have been florid, speak plainly. I do not personally decide what is true and what is false. All I ask is that you make your humble, plain-spoken, populist argument on behalf of people who cannot live within heterosexual, patriarchal norms. Hate me if you like, on stylistic grounds, but stay faithful to the truth, and to those whom it protects. Bear a finer kind of witness to it than I have done — than I, perhaps, am able to do.

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