Dumb quote of the day: masturbating intellectual nihilist edition

>> Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Regular readers of my blog know that the goal of my writing is to be interesting and nothing else. I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion, largely because I don't believe humans can be influenced by exposure to better arguments, even if I had some. But I do think people benefit by exposure to ideas that are different from whatever they are hearing, even when the ideas are worse. That's my niche: something different. That approach springs from my observation that brains are like investment portfolios, where diversification is generally a good strategy. I'm not trying to move you to my point of view; I'm trying to add diversity to your portfolio of thoughts. In the short term, I hope it's stimulating enough to be entertaining. Long term, the best ideas probably come from people who have the broadest exposure to different views.

[emph. added].


I'm not sure whether anybody around here was following or even much cares about the hoopla that blew up recently over Dilbert artist Scott Adams recent douchebaggery. You can read the link to Salon in the previous sentence or Adams' own blog post linked in the above quote if you're unfamiliar with what's going on, or skip this post, or here's a summary: Adams wrote a post on the "men's rights" movement wherein he suggested that men who are in that movement ought to stop whining and start treating women the way Adams evidently thinks the mentally retarded ought to be treated, or something.

I mean, if you want, go read his original comments: they're really fucking stupid.

And then he went and wrote a non-apology-apology, one of these "I'm sorry you took offense at my offensive comments" numbers where he pretty much suggests that anybody who doesn't agree with him isn't smart enough to be one of his regular readers. 'Kaaaaaaaaaaaay....

Me, I'm mostly detachedly amused by the whole thing. Well. I'm amused in part that Dilbert still exists now that the tech boom of the '90s is pretty much dead and the cutting-edge IT world Dilbert once represented has sort of become less a matter of absurd humor and more a matter of everyday life; as far as I'm concerned, at least, Dilbert is much like Peanuts or Ziggy--a daily cartoon that was edgy, irreverent and relevant once-upon-a-time that has turned into a repetitive, irrelevant shadow-strip, except it only took fifteen years because of the high speed at which changes now occur in the environment Dilbert mapped (as opposed to the decades it took Peanuts to become a sad, stale shadow of itself). Oh, and of course it's likely my indifference to Dilbert these days is further shaped by the Garfield-like saturation of the strip: there were, or probably still are, Dilbert calendars, mugs, dolls, pillows, condoms and spittoons--if there is a kind of object that has a surface area upon which an image may be affixed, it's surely had Dilbert or Dogbert or the pointy-haired manager guy on it.

But let's talk about that dumb quote. Much of it isn't all that objectionable. It's that sentence that I bolded that holds my attention, I just included the entirety so I couldn't be accused of removing context. I don't have a problem with a blogger just trying to be interesting--been there, done that, probably failed most of the time. I don't disagree that a variety of ideas is healthy and helpful. But this:

I'm not trying to change anyone's opinion, largely because I don't believe humans can be influenced by exposure to better arguments, even if I had some.


Where to begin with that?

I mean, first there's the cynical intellectual nihilism of the premise of the thing: "I don't think people can be persuaded", is pretty much what he's saying there. To which the obvious response is, "So why don't you crawl in a hole and die, then?" Seriously. I mean, suppose better arguments fail nine times out of ten... no, suppose they fail ninety-nine times in a hundred? If you don't think that one percent is worth a shit, why bother? Just shut the fuck up then, if that's how you feel about it. I state a case not because I have high hopes I could change somebody's mind on a matter I consider important but because I do believe that I might every now and again, because I believe people are capable of using these clumps of nervous tissue encased at the tops of their bodies to not be stupid, even if they so hardly ever do it.

And then there's that second thing, the bullshit self-effacing, "even if I had some [better arguments]. Basically, what Adams is saying right there is that nobody should care what he's writing at all, so there's no point in him writing it at all, so why is he writing it. Allow me to translate what he's saying there, in case he stuttered: "I am wasting your time," is what Adams is saying. "I have nothing worth saying, but I'm saying it anyway, so what's your problem that you're reading it?"

Which brings up the third thing, and that is that Scott Adams is full of shit. No, I'm not talking about his ridiculous "women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone," asshattery; I'm talking about the fact that the paragraph I quoted at the top of this post is a lie. Adams doesn't believe that what he says isn't worth listening to. He doesn't believe that his words can't affect how people think about him or how they think about an issue. If he believed that, he wouldn't waste his time with a fucking blog, would he? Hell, he wouldn't even have started scribbling that cartoon in the days before it was picked up by a syndicate and became lucrative (and you can imagine for yourself what kind of cynical, soulless douchebag he'd be if he really spent his whole life drawing a cartoon he thought had zero affecting merit solely because he was a whore who doodled in exchange for Universal Features paychecks). No, he isn't saying he thinks his words are meaningless because he believes his words are meaningless--he's saying that because he doesn't want to accept responsibility for what he did say; it's your fault if you took him seriously, he was just prattling.

And there, dear readers, is our object lesson for the day, and the point in my writing this post: Adams may be a silly man who said a stupid thing and then couldn't bury it deep enough to cover the smell of it, and it might not be that worthwhile to kick him for it, but it's a useful example, isn't it, for the kind of assholery any of us might avoid. Gosh knows it's tempting as hell when I put my foot in my mouth to dodge, duck and weave and pretend my words don't carry any power at all to anyone; sometimes, when I've pissed somebody off, it would be damn nice if that were true. But the fact is that my words are capable of having an effect, even an unintended one, just as anybody's words are. And instead of being, to use Adams' choice word in his original posting on men's rights, a pussy about it, I need to be a mensch, don't I? Even when it hurts.

And this applies to you, too, Scott Adams. You fucked up. And you're an asshat for not simply acknowledging that if you had a point, you had a lousy way of putting it, aside from maybe that your point was horseshit to start with.

And the horse you rode in on, Adams.




3 comments:

timb111 Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 10:50:00 AM EDT  

I stopped reading Scott Adams a long time ago, but in reading his original essay I'm surprised at what a bad writer he his (his opinions aside). It makes me appreciate the blog I do read daily a lot more.

I disagree with you. From the small bits I've read by and about Adams leads me to believe the whole Dilbert thing was always about money (and sometimes spite & revenge). I've thought for a long time that the guy is totally cynical and this, in part, is what destroyed my enjoyment of Dilbert.

Eric Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 1:14:00 PM EDT  

I wonder if part of the reason I stopped reading Dilbert was picking up on that cynicism you observed, then. It's quite possible.

John the Scientist Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 2:36:00 PM EDT  

I made the mistake of picking up "The Dilbert Future" a long, long time ago, discovered what Timb discovered just now - he's a horrible writer. His thoughts were confused, his logic fuzzy and his facts selective. What seems perspicacious in a one liner is often based on a rather banal observation of human behavior. I nevr erally rad the strip again after that.

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