Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The Rhetoric Of Scorn
Jonathan Swift, H.L. Mencken, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson -- the writers who use words as weapons have always held a powerful fascination for me. As a child, I read the original Gulliver's Travels, and the book's obsessive fixation on the horrid nature of mankind seemed perfectly reasonable to me.
I have learned from them, and from talking trash back in Richmond, and from the languages of criticism and scientific analysis. I know how to use words to strike out, and I relish the opportunity to do so.
This is a situation I regard with some unease.
Yesterday's post on Ken Ham and his book Dinosaurs Of Eden has been overwhelmingly the single most popular post I have ever put up on this site. It was also a total razor job, with any respect or mercy being shown to Mr. Ham used purely for the sake of keeping a firm grip on him while I cut.
I believe I was fair and reasonable, and that he merited what I said.
But I mistrust the pleasure I took in that rebuke, and I'm wary of the attention that post is getting.
I believe that all the writers above suffered as a result of the world-view that made them such remarkable masters of invective. The type of judgment I display in my post on Mr. Ham is the type of judgment I turn on myself continuously, and on those around me, and those I read of, and hear about, and imagine.
This pattern of judgment is one I'm trying to break.
But on the other hand, there genuinely are times when fools and scoundrels are in need of a drubbing, and my suspicion of my own cruelty need not imply ignoble pleasure to the delivery of a well-deserved blow.
Do I feel bad about what I said about Ken Ham?
No. My only regret is that I forgot to include my, 'someone needs to give James Gurney a hug,' joke.
Do I feel bad about being the kind of person who says things like that?
Well, that's more complicated. Here is the thing. If I find something that bothers me, and I can't let go of it without saying something? I find that acceptable. That's what happened here.
But if I had heard about Mr. Ham -- and I heard about him a long time before his idiot book dropped in my lap -- and sought out his book in order to make fun of it?
That might not have been cool. It might have been, it might not.
I don't want to encourage myself to seek out things I hate in order to vent my spleen on them. If some magazine were to want to pay me to, say, sit in on a Goldman-Sachs power breakfast and then spray bile, I'd be tempted.
And I like seeing numbers on my blog, I like getting readers. If I were to put up more posts attacking religious figures, I suppose I could get more readers. I did okay with my Pope slam.
But how much of that do I want to do? How much do I want to reinforce the pattern of resentment and attack?
Okay, if someone wants to pay me money to spit acid, I'll do it. And if something comes up that I can't get out of my head, I'll use the rhetoric of scorn as a scouring pad. (There's that space whale rape story. I can't stop thinking about it.)
But aside from that, I think I'll be avoiding the intentional pursuit of prey. Yeah, it would be fun to spend all my time thinking of horrible things to say about people I imagine I dislike, but you know?
I may be a foul-natured brute with a tongue like a file, but that don't mean I've got to be evangelical about it.