Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Monday, February 20, 2006

My "Negativity"

Okay, this is an informal li'l post for which I would like some feedback.

I just got a couple of backchannel communications from good friends who had apparently been tasked to let me know that my aggressive style of argumentation hereabouts and on certain discussion lists I participate in is too "negative" and "off-putting" for some folks -- all of whom, they are quick to add, otherwise enjoy my ideas and my provocative style and etc etc etc etc etc.

These sorts of comments do seem to come up from time to time and I'll admit that they annoy me to no end. I mean, I get it that online fora are social spaces and as such are maintained in large part through the observance of social niceties. I get it that people with whom one disagrees are more likely to come around to one's way of seeing things when they feel respected and welcome. I have no problem with all that.

Nevertheless, it seems to me there is usually no small amount of passive-aggressivity and ugly thought-policing oozing just under the surface of these dewey demands for "positivity." And I guess I find it a wee bit surreal that folks presumably devoted to the redress of global developmental injustice or the possibly now-inevitable prospect of devastating climate change or whatever imagine that there is some reason or even some way we should try to keep conversations on these topics from "going negative."

Look, criticism is a negative dialectic in significant measure, by, you know, definition. People who claim to value brains and the work of brains simply need to get over their frustration and discomfort with the fact that this work won't always help them in their ongoing projects to feel good about themselves.

My patience for this is low. Bad things happen and exposing them in their badness is important. People who think they should only be confronted with "solutions" and "new experiences" and "expressions of hope and joy" (all of which I love as much as the next guy, obviously) are speaking from a position of entitlement and privilege. Believe me, there are plenty of people for whom such a demand is unintelligible, simply because they haven't been coddled all their lives.

There is no way to convey the state of the world in all its irrational suffering and exploitation and violence and then convey the real costs that must be borne in struggling to improve it without making plenty of privileged people feel bad about themselves occasionally. Frankly, I couldn't care less if they're not happy about this.

And of course I shouldn't be so quick with that "they," either. I admit I like to be complimented and petted and enchanted and inspired as much as anybody. Also, I'm a square jawed white guy with a fancy degree and a full head of hair, and I'm plenty privileged, plenty lucky, plenty pampered -- who knows why things stupidly turned out this way and not some other way? Believe me, I understand all that craziness. But, honestly, how thin-skinned do you have to be that you're gonna parachute out of any conversation that doesn't suck your dick every damn minute of the day and tell you how marvellous you are to care when you don't have to and how everything is surely gonna be all right when all is said and done? Gimme a break.


n8o said...

While I understand some of the criticism, I have say I enjoy every minute of your "negativity". There are many times where I miss a lot of background to your arguments, but this is all advertised up front. This isn't to say that I read you all for style and not substance, but that the latter wouldn't be neraly so compelling without the former.

Dont' change a thing.

George said...

Dale, even your "negativity" piece is negative ;-) -- kidding, I enjoy your writing and insight tremendously.

Doctor Logic said...

Dale, I don't think there's anything wrong with the negativity, but sometimes your sentences are just too darned long for me to understand! :)

Take this sentence from your previous post:

On the one hand, there appears to be an ongoing failure to take seriously the vast resources and breathtaking organizational discipline that can be mobilized by the real desperation of religious and market fundamentalist elites panic-stricken by global secularization and its threats to the traditional, parochial, and "natural" vocabularies that have legitimized hitherto their otherwise unearned privileges and authority.

By the time I'm done reading the list of adjectives, I've forgotten what they were supposed to be modifying. If I read it a couple of times, I can put it together, but that's no fun.

This may be normal-speak in more rarified circles. Then again, maybe I have ADHD. Either way, I submit that my reaction might not be atypical of people in your target audience.

Think Newsweek or Scientific American.

No offense intended. And sorry for the negativity.

Eric said...

By the time I'm done reading the list of adjectives, I've forgotten what they were supposed to be modifying.

I tell him his epic sentences are too long and confusing all the time.

Thankfully, he doesn't speak like that or I'd go even crazier than I already am.