Saturday, July 11, 2009

A new competence standard for pundits

Pundits are generally lazy people, and amateur online pundits are no better. They'll settle for the least amount of thinking and learning necessary to make a point.

A common way to be lazy is to say: This is so obvious I'm not even going to argue with people who think otherwise, I'll just make jokes about them. This works because your readers, viewers or listeners don't want to hear that argument no more than you want to make it. But they love jokes.

I want to propose a new rule for pundits: It's okay to say "this is too stupid, I'm not taking this argument seriously", but only if you have, at least once, entered into an actual discussion with someone who holds this stupid opinion. Exchanges of sarcasm don't count. It must be a real debate.

This is not a waste of time. It's proof of basic competence. If something is obvious, you should be able to explain why. And unless you've tried, how do you know you're able to? How do you know you're not just parroting common sense?

Yes you should be able to explain why we know the earth isn't flat. You should be able to counter the arguments of Holocaust deniers. Not every day, the nuts will believe what they want no matter what you say. But - at least once, if you get the opportunity.

That done, seek out more difficult opponents, for instance a smart representative of an ideology you disagree with. Repeat forever.



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