Personal attacks

Today, dogpossum posted what is, so far, the most antagonistic comment related to my site that I’ve yet received. Her blog doesn’t have permalinks, so you’ll just have to search for 17 March 2005. Currently, though, it’s at or near the top of the blog.

I don’t mind antagonism. In fact, I know that just by putting forward my opinions on some issues, I’m going to bait people. Possibly everyone. My post on Australia Day baits jingoists: but being mostly acquainted with people of the university set, I don’t expect many jingoists to be reading. My post on arts funding has attracted a lot of comments, most disagreeing with me forcefully. I knew it would bait those kind of responses. That’s not why I write things like that, though: I hope I do so because I have good reasons for my views, and I want to express them, to open up debate. So they have. I enjoy this. So, I hope, do you, my readers and correspondents, most of whom (and possibly all) are of the university set. “University set” isn’t meant to be an insult, by the way: I’m a member of the same cultural milieu, and though it irritates me some times, I still feel at home in it.

Dogpossum’s post seems to be a fairly visceral reaction to my politics, and except where she points out that I don’t know much about Australian cinema (touché), it’s not a good example of a contribution to debate. It shows a common tendency of writers who identify with a leftist politics, and who imagine those who disagree with them are all contemptible rightists. Its response to me is almost entirely to attack my person: to call me a “fool” and an “imbecile,” to ridicule my recording, in my resumé, of my intelligence percentile, determined by a psychologist-administered test, and to “mock” my “turn of phrase”. It objects to my politics without specifying grounds for objection, and without even identifying what my politics are.

For the record, I’ve met dogpossum at least once in RL, where our disagreements were not apparent, and where I found her very likeable. I enjoyed meeting her.

Dogpossum, you owe yourself better than to be so uncivil in writing. I don’t expect you to disagree any less forcefully: but if you can’t say anything nice about my person, you maintain your honour better by not saying anything at all.

Dogpossum’s personal attacks are symptomatic of a tendency that I’ve noticed in my interactions with Cultural Studies academics generally, particularly where political matters are involved. There’s a set of people and beliefs that they assume everyone agrees or disagrees with (i.e. we are all ‘left’; capitalism is immoral; everyone who disagrees with you is a right-wing bastard, especially people who criticise identity politics or French pseudo-philosophy; logic is a tool of oppression; and so on). If you challenge one of these, you get hammered with personal attacks. For an example of what I’m talking about, have a look at the threads resulting from my recent intervention on the CSAA email forum. (Note that the thread goes on into subsequent weeks). Here it’s not me who’s the subject of the attacks (in the main), but rather so-called “right wing jocks” who dare (often very unskillfully) to criticise Cultural Studies. The sad thing is that Cultural Studies practitioners attack these people personally when they could have targeted the gaping holes in their opponents’ arguments, which end up going unmentioned.

I believe this kind of behaviour (and it seems to come from multiple sides) is extremely damaging to the intellectual climate wherever it occurs. Intellectuals should be debating each other’s ideas, not calling each other fools and imbeciles. We can leave that to those who don’t know any better.

Dogpossum, I believe you do know better.

In a comment on dogpossum’s post, I’ve invited her to discuss her objections with me. I hope she’ll take up my invitation, hopefully here, because of the lack of permalinks on her site. I would expect our words to make for interesting reading.

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.