I hereby declare war on all polemics. The kind of person who writes aggressive, sarcastic, negative pieces about other people is so odious to me that I find their presence nauseating. Hit pieces, exposés, hell-fire preaching, complaining blog posts, most existentialism, songs of the rebellious youth, letters sent by Susan to the HOA, all reveal a wicked character. We must vilify such people and all their works in no uncertain terms lest their moral contagion spread to the beautiful and the good (you and me, my dear reader).
The central problem of all polemics is their utter ineffectiveness. The polemical writer hopes to get through to his audience with a barbed wit. The target, one hopes, will realize that he has erred, and one further hopes that the sting of the insult will give the target the kick in the pants he needs to change. The trouble is that people are generally too stupid to realize that they have been insulted in love.
Really, the target audience of such writing is not the target of the insult but the bystanders cheering the author on, the jeering youth surrounding Socrates in the agora. The young men do not fully understand what the conversation is about, but they enjoy the spectacle of humiliation nonetheless. Such young men, I believe, are the ones who need a kick in the pants.
This has become the standard mode of political discourse because analysts have realized that galvanizing those who already agree and thereby motivating them to go out and vote is much more effective (in the short term) than persuading those who disagree. Such tactics win close elections. They also cultivate, over time, a mood of escalating barbarism. The galvanized base becomes, slowly at first but rapidly in the end, a mass of self-righteous, hooting imbeciles, mouths distended in loutish, vulgar ridicule.
We see a similar dynamic in religion. Theological writers become so confirmed in their own dogmatic stance that all who disagree must be demonized. The intention is not to convert the wayward but to confirm the prejudices of those who already belong to the author’s tribe. Such demonization keeps the sheep from straying for fear that they too will fall under such shameful opprobrium. Such fear-driven thinking, however, only results in a pathological narrow-mindedness, incapable of critically examining its own foundations.
The polemical writer, confirmed by the louder and louder hoots of the grinning buffoons around him, has a strong incentive to double down on whatever position he has taken. Backing off, adding nuance, conceding something to the opponent are all antithetical to the polemical mindset and become increasingly unlikely as the din of his echo chamber becomes an unmitigated cacophony. This is the hell that he has made for himself. This is the hell that he must continue to build.
I say that we ostracize such people. One can’t very well write a polemical piece against them, since that only pours more fuel on the fire. Instead, the only way to combat the growing anti-culture of vitriol is to choke the fire with a lack of air. Stop giving such discussions your attention. Don’t feed the trolls, as they say. Log off. Go read about ducks.