This is a co-blogging effort with a couple of friends in response to negative feedback some of us received on our recent posts. Check out Patrick Ip and Ted Gonder‘s response to the following question, phrased so eloquently by Ted:
As young guns rise to the archetypal “top”, they are often discouraged, doubted, and “hated on” by naysayers, pessimists, and…well…H8RZ. What are some ways that young, ambitious people can a) avoid being discouraged by such naysaying, b) extract constructive takeaways from intentionally destructive criticisms, and c) deal practically with the critics themselves?
I’ll break this down into its a, b, and c answers and follow up with a general overview or “takeaway,” as Ted is so fond of finding.
A) How do young, ambitious individuals avoid being discouraged by such naysaying?
Ultimately, it boils down to self-confidence, or, to use a more buzz-word-y term, “conviction” in one’s team, goals, and belief system is crucial to avoiding discouragement. When facing negative sentiment, which more often than not boils down to a superficial, rhetorically invalid ad hominem attack. If Adolf Hitler comes into a room soaking wet and says it is raining, it’s somewhat of a logical non sequitur to disbelieve him solely on the grounds that it is Hitler who claims it is raining. (Note: I acknowledge that mention of Adolf is a sure way to lose any argument. Just lettin’ you know…) Similarly, just because I’m a bit of a verbose, convoluted writer who takes stylistic cues from D. F. W. and W. T. V. and R. P. (congrats, if you get the references), and that my slavish devotion to what ought to be often puts me at variance with those dreadfully pragmatic realists who decide to deflate my romanticized notions of the world… &c. Just because I am all of this and more doesn’t automatically mean that what I’m saying is wrong: it means that I am the one who’s saying it, and that, if you disagree with me, I’d highly recommend peeling back the layers of verbosity and romanticism and all the rest and take the kernel of my argument with a grain of salt. Don’t criticize me for my style, or Ted for the fact that his writing implements many buzzwords, or Patrick for seeing the world through rose colored glasses which render him overly optimistic and bleary-eyed to the logistical difficulties of some of his ideas; don’t criticize me for being a hater of the insipid, or Ted for his constant drive toward optimization of all levels of his existence, or Patrick for dreaming dreams potentially too big for his proverbial britches; instead, feel free to lacerate my argument, their arguments, not our style. I invite you to do so.
Takeaway from the above paragraph: Know that most criticism levied is ad hominem, and that such criticism holds no argumentative water.
B) How does one extract constructive takeaways from intentionally destructive criticism?
First of all, I’m not a big fan of needing to find “takeaways” (or, more precisely, “the personal, subjectively applicable salient points” of things) in every thing I experience or encounter. It is, for me, too much effort to bother with, and runs the risk of distilling ersatz meaning from where there was none. Even when done correctly, what one gains in simplicity one loses in nuance. Nuance matters; it is the stuff of life.
Once one winnows the critical field of the ad hominem chaff–and there is a lot of chaff, as a general rule–one is left with usable, consumable grain. (It’s nice how agricultural terminology and metaphor works here) This grain is what one is after, for it is from this raw criticism that one can grow.
I don’t believe there exists anything positive contained in intentionally destructive attacks. Such attacks masquerade as criticism. One can only chuckle smugly because, if only privately, one knows that the attacker has made an ass of himself, and that ad hominem aggression is in innumerable and nuanced ways beneath the deportment of the chuckler: he (i.e. the chuckler) knows better than to pass aggression off as criticism.
What one is looking for is the really good criticism, the little point that gets under the skin and engenders the little niggling fear that the critic might be more correct than his target. This feeling of anxiety, of unease, that the world has been rendered skewed in some way, is what leads to improvement of argumentation and, if exceptionally powerful, a shift in perspective entirely. One wrestles with this fear internally, and one must have the self-possession to admit error when this fear is faced and resolved not in one’s favor. Even when “proven wrong” (or, because we are all [Post- ?]Post-Modern relativists at heart, “less right”) we “grow.” Whether we change our views to reflect a corrected misperception or become further convicted in our previously held beliefs because we are forced to argue for them, “personal growth and development” occurs.
Takeaway from the above paragraphs: Ad hominem attacks do not equal criticism and should not be treated as such, and that once one separates the criticism from the aggression, as one does wheat from chaff, one finds what is usable. By volume, there is always more chaff than wheat, both within this metaphor and on the farm.
C) How does one, in practice, deal with these critics?
I believe that this nested question was to be applied specifically to blogging, so I’ll answer to this interpretation.
Not coincidentally, most aggressors make their attacks under the shield of anonymity. The internet provides a safe space for them to go about their actions without being held accountable. Because finding their location via IP is often hit-or-miss, it isn’t worth looking.
When someone posts a comment to a blog post of mine, I have to give it the go-ahead. I have the option to edit a comment before it is posted, although I never do unless someone made an egregious orthographic or grammatical error that might hinder comprehensibility to outside viewers. I am ruthless in not approving baseless, uncritical attacks, or those that are too obscene to be read aloud to a group of worldly sixth-graders (my favorite litmus test for appropriateness). If it isn’t civil, it doesn’t go public.
No, I don’t really care about censorship. I’m socially conservative in this way. Although I believe that taking offense is a choice, if one whose execution is so quick it is difficult to intercept, there are things that are objectively offensive; whether one becomes offended, and I use “becomes” very intentionally here, is beside the point.
In the event of a really good critical comment, I not only post it but feel in some way obligated to answer to it. This is the basis for my earlier posts On Thinking Critically and On Reading Critically.
Takeaway from the previous paragraphs: Always remember that “haters gonna hate,” and learn to assiduously, guiltlessly strike down comments that, chaff-like, take up space and do nothing but act like black holes of moral turpitude and instigators of intellectual degeneracy via the logically and linguistically flaccid thought processes characteristic of so many who troll the internet looking to rain on one’s parade.