Losing me in a single sentence

A minor post on a major offense.

I was browsing through various books during the ALA Midwinter exhibits–specifically (but not exclusively) books related to librarianship and my areas of interest.

At one booth, I ran into a book that I’d heard about when it was being written but hadn’t seen “in the binding.” It’s not new. The author and title aren’t terribly relevant; neither is the publisher.

I opened it to a discussion of a social topic that I do care about (involving the breadth of intellectual freedom and freedom of speech in the U.S.). And there, at the beginning of a paragraph, was a sentence that begin (possibly paraphrased):

“No sane person could believe X”

where “X” is something I firmly believe.

I closed the book, offered the author–who I’ve been acquainted with, knowing our opinions don’t always match but thinking he (of course it was a he) had interesting perspectives–a one-fingered salute in absentia, and walked away.

I did read just enough context to be sure the author wasn’t quoting someone else or setting up a strawman. Nope–the author called me insane. Not to my face, not by name, but the author explicitly called me insane.

Call me irritable if you wish, but I don’t see any reason to continue reading something like that. If the author was actually trying to change any minds through reasoned argument, he lost his chance. I suspect that sort of thing happens a fair amount. I find it puzzling, but what do I know? (I know that I now consider this person a former acquaintance.)

5 Responses to “Losing me in a single sentence”

  1. Steve Lawson says:

    Insane *and* irritable? Potent combination.

  2. Carl Grant says:

    That author obviously needs to learn the difference between taking a controversial position and taking an offensive position. You did the right thing.


  3. walt says:

    I have no doubt I did the right thing. Learning when to give up on books and articles: An ongoing process, but getting better at it. (AKA “why I don’t fisk articles from certain authors any more”–life really is too short.)

    Oh, and Steve? Get off my lawn, or I’ll smite you with my heat-ray vision!

  4. Hi Walt,

    I can certainly understand your annoyance at reading such a line–especially a line written by a professional acquaintance. And certainly it’s your choice to read no further after the author’s suggestion that you and those who think like you are nuts. And yet…

    There *is* a difference between being called insane to your face, and reading a provocative, hyperbolic, categorical statement. Whether or not you feel insulted by reading such a categorical statement is your choice, and one you are free to make. But where does that feeling of being insulted take you? What value does that have? What if instead you chose to respond, after your initial annoyance, with curiosity? i.e. “Isn’t it interesting that someone can feel so differently and so strongly–how could he think that, or feel that way?? What unique journey of thought or experience led him to this strong conclusion?”

    The author has clearly shut his intellectual door with with his black/white absolutist judgmental thinking, thereby barring himself from learning anything from you and those who share your outlook. But you could still choose to read on and learn something from him. After all, don’t we tend to learn not from those who see the world as we do and agree with us, but from those who see things differently–maybe radically differently?

    Maybe there was something to learn from the author if you had turned that page, maybe not. Ad hominem attacks are always faulty–and also no fun to be on the receiving end of– but they don’t necessarily preclude the possibility of the pages following the ad hominem attack being filled with insight and reasoned thought. I wonder if there wasn’t a bit of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in this case.

    My 2 cents. (keep the change)

    PS, there’s another 2 cents in it for you if you tell me who the author is!

  5. walt says:

    An excellent comment, and you may be right.

    Yes, there’s always something to learn. And, given infinite time for reading, it might make sense to go beyond the offensive sentence.

    But in this world, there are simply too many alternatives. I try to avoid reading stuff that does nothing more than tell me things I already know–but I also expect to have less than four decades to read whatever I choose to read, and that argues against wasting choices on things like this.

    I responded to your last sentence via email.