Right Thinking From The Left Coast
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How To Talk Dirty and Influence People
by Lee

I’m going to do something in this post that I never thought I would do, and that’s disagree with Eugene Volokh.  Before you continue, read this post, and then this one regarding the usefulness of invective in blog posts.  Volokh’s central premise is thus: 

But I don’t think undermines my original point, which is that invective (at least on Web logs) is likely to lead to “ideological cocooning”—likely to “increase people’s predisposition to talk to and listen to only those views that they generally agree with, and to simply ignore other views.” My main assertion was that most people have a particularly strong tendency to ignore views that they disagree with and that are presented rudely. That means they might well go to an insult-filled blog that insults people they think deserve insult; and thus an insult-filled blog may be effective at communicating to those who already mostly agree with it (again, I’m not sure that it will be, but it’s possible). But it won’t be effective at persuading people who are in the middle or on the other side.

I’m going to have to disagree with the prof here—politely, of course. :)

I think it goes without saying that my site would fit the description of an “insult-filled blog,” at least in terms of the point Volokh is making.  While his central premise is correct I do, however, think he is missing an important distinction.

Insults can be devastatingly effective when used creatively, and I believe the ultimate creative use of an insult is when it adds humor to an otherwise serious subject.  History is full of examples proving this true.  A political cartoon is nothing but a humorous insult.  Michael Moore, even though I think the guy is a total numb-nuts, is incredibly adept at presenting his agenda in an humorous manner, which makes him a more effective communicator than if he was simply writing dry prose.  Dennis Miller is another example of a person who uses humorous, insulting speech to make a political point. Bill Maher does the same thing. 

What distinguishes someone like Dennis Miller from the average moron you can find in any neighborhood bar is that Miller presents a factual, intelligent argument which is then augmented by his particular style of invective.  Without this underlying argument Miller would be indistinguishable from any drunk spouting off against the government or Jews or liberals or anyone else.  His style of presentation has huge mass appeal—you can get an intelligent argument, but you can also get a laugh at the same time.  While this may be anathema to those used to the “civilized” world of organized debate, most people (like me) who write blogs are simple working stiffs who hold strong opinions, and are taking advantage of a new medium in which we can express them.  As such, we tend to make our blogs extensions of our own personalities.  Anyone reading my blog can get a pretty reasonable idea of what I am like in person, and I imagine that this is true for most other blogs as well.  Those of us who use profanity on our blogs probably do so in real life.  Those of us who use humor probably have a pretty good sense of one.

I disagree with Volokh’s assertion that invective is inherently ineffective.  While it may indeed turn some people off a particular blog it will undoubtedly attract others who are more interested in a good street fight than they are in a Marquis of Queensbury bout.  I tend to gravitate to blogs that have a little bit of an edge to them, even if they are left-wing blogs.  (See my blogroll for examples.) I am reminded of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine, where Bill Cosby allegedly told him that he shouldn’t curse while telling his jokes.  Murphy replied to the effect of, “You know, there are jokes between the curses.  It’s not like I just come out on stage and do an all-curse show.” Blogs like mine are the same.  I try to make an intelligent, factually-cohesive argument every time I write something. 

But, if I can make fun of someone like Michael Moore while doing it, all the better.

Posted by Lee on 11/28/02 at 11:36 PM (Discuss this in the forums)


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