Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else
A Brief Follow-up on the Tragedy of the Hitler Commons
04/02/2014Posted by on
I generally hate columns. The format and genre encourages short, definitive, statements; brusque, poorly-constructed, arguments; and overreaching conclusions; none of which is particularly useful for the typical audience member. I feel like yesterday’s post was very much within that mold, and for that I am sorry. The last thing I want to do as a writer is to waste your time, and I should have spent more time sanding down the sharp corners and rough edges of the essay.
That all having been said, I stand by the basic thrust of the argument. Classifying persons, ideas or groups into class nouns of “bad people” is a poor rhetorical technique and is very nearly always asking for trouble. Not always, but cautiously avoiding those words will generally get you farther There is also an importance difference between talking about a class of problems as a force in the world and fingering someone or something as part of it. It is almost always more useful to talk about homophobia than homophobes, climate change instead of climate changers, greed instead of the greedy.
Relying on class nouns comes from the same place in arguments that all ad hominem attacks do. It is a place of frustration. Whether the motivating desire to hurt, to manipulate, or simply to save face, it stems from failure of imagination on the part of the writer. Let me put it another way, can you really not describe the wrong of what a person does without using this class words like a bludgeon? Why not describe in detail what is wrong, and why it is wrong instead of tossing it in a bucket? It isn’t that these class words should never be used, it is that we should use them rarely cognizant of the gravity and power. In the words of my favorite fictional President of the United States “[e]very once in a while, every once in a while, there’s a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong, but those days almost always include body counts.” For the writer, proper nuance can be a trap yes, but it is also a sacred responsibility that came with the power of the pen.