I’ve posted a few times here at NS about how to think of various functions of ad hominem abusive argument, how to see them as in the service of airing greivances, expressing exasperation, or even sometimes as being relevant. And then there are non-argumentative versions of abuse — that it’s just there for the sake of making the exchange unpleasant. (And thereby, upping the costs for critical dialogue, and consequently, providing motivation to avoid argument in the future.)
President Trump has been the target for a number of abuses for his purportedly small hands and his hair.
And there are the Mitch McConnell is a turtle memes.
Oh! And Ann Coulter is ugly memes, too.
It’s a little fun, for sure. But then there are the Hillary is ugly/shrill/horrible line of thought, which (given my political bent) seems objectionable.
As John noted, sometimes, our communicative-argumentative exchanges are less in the service of inquiry, but for the sake of airing of the grievances. But they can have a chilling effect on speech, and I think that taking too much pleasure in them (and spending a great deal of time thinking about them and making them) is bad for us. It’s like spending too much time fantasizing about giving people you hate some comeuppance, or focusing on what a terrible person someone is. It’s natural, but impedes solving the problem or getting on with the rest of your life.
Now there is the focus on the appearance of Rob Goldstone, the Trump contact and publicist who made the introduction between Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya. He’s a heafy guy. Huffington Post’s hook for the story is titled, “From Russia with Schlub.” They lead with the fact that Goldstone declared himself “in a serious relationship with bread.” NYT’s story is that Goldstone “Likes silly hats and Facebook.”
Why does everyone involved with Trump look like a scene-stealer in a Coen brothers movie? pic.twitter.com/BOoJx0DOL4
— Jason Sinclair (@jlsinc) July 11, 2017
The difference between the political cases and Goldstone is that with the latter, his appearance and his name on an email is all we seem to know about him. And, again, isn’t focusing on his appearance a misuse of our time and an encouragement of our worst inclinations? John and I have been thinking quite a bit lately about the drawbacks of the adversariality of argument — seeing those you argue with as enemies or opponents. For sure, that’s a good way to see disagreements, especially if you, by hypothesis, think someone’s wrong. But this adversariality can start to get in the way of good argument, conviviality, and even minimal civility for just living together. And so, in the same way that we cringe at the Festivus airing of greivances, we should cringe when we see others give in to the temptation of making fun of or taking pleasure in the opposition’s imperfect appearance. Contempt breeds contempt.