Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

a word of exhortation

This morning, for the first time in a few weeks, I checked Twitter. I thought I should see if anyone had sent me a direct message, or if there was some reply I should be aware of. No and no, thanks be to God. But I took a look around while I was there, and saw that a friend of mine had written a post that was getting a good deal of comment, almost all of it hostile. What struck me about the commentary was how plainly and evidently off-base it was: almost every critic had accused the writer of saying things that he didn't say, didn't even hint.

Some of the commenters were stupid people, of course, but a number of them weren't. However, they were trying to be. That is, they couldn't possibly have been dumb enough, or sufficiently incompetent at reading, to believe that the post's author had said the things they were claiming he said. But making those ridiculous and insupportable claims gave them the opportunity to score political points. Or, at least, they believed, and rightly, that people who shared their politics would think points had been scored.

I left Twitter and picked up a book — P. D. James's Death in Holy Orders, which I had read (and loved) when it first appeared but which has receded far enough in the rear-view mirror of memory that I can now enjoy it a second time. And what struck me about the book, as I immersed myself in it, was simply this: that it was written by a very intelligent person who valued intelligence, not least in her readers. Imagine that, I thought; believing that intelligence matters, that the exercise of it is good, that it is good for us all if we pursue it together.

I think I have been away from Twitter long enough now to see what it has become: a venue for people who don't just preen themselves on their righteous anger, but who also work diligently to suppress their intelligence so that that that righteous anger may be put before the world in a condition of laboratory purity. Let not mind thwart spleen — that is the unofficial motto, now, of Twitter.

Let me exhort you, people: close Twitter and read a book. Take delight in something well-made, well-made because the author loved her task and sought to bring her best intellectual resources to bear on her work. Take delight in words crafted to increase the world's store of intelligence, to share what the author knows and bring forth knowledge in readers. It's a better way for us to live that to spend even a few minutes a day in the company of people who have made the cultivation of stupidity into a virtue.

10 comments:

  • I just canceled my Twitter account. I only needed a nudge, so thanks for providing it.

  • I AM MAKING A DIFFERENCE!

  • I recently cancelled my FB account. Am seriously considering doing the same with Twitter. I have been reading (books) more voraciously these past few months.

  • This is why I have, more or less, abandoned writing online, deleted all my tweets and shuttered my blog. Not because I couldn't stand the invective - I've taken a lot of abuse for a long time and I'm pretty immune to it at this point - but because I got tired of endlessly defending myself about points I didn't make. That's what makes it a truly losing proposition, at this point, for me; I don't have time in my life to constantly say "I never said that," and in recent years that has become a very large majority of what's a necessary defense.

  • Freddie, I have to say that I think you may be the world's champion at this. A conversation I have either seen or participated in many times over the years: "Freddie deBoer thinks X." "Wait, where does he say X?" "Well, maybe he doesn't say it in so many words, but it's obvious that's what he means." And to that there is no answer. When people start claiming that they have looked into your soul and know what you really think in abstraction from and in some cases in opposition to what you have actually said, genuine discourse is impossible.

  • I'll assume it was Michael BD's sports piece - never seen such passions inflamed from a sports article, and I've read many more Guardian comments sections than I'd care to admit

  • "they couldn't possibly have been dumb enough, or sufficiently incompetent at reading"

    You underestimate the power of ideology, but your point is good.

  • Huh. Michael BD's sports piece? I have no idea. I thought this might've been about the Michael Tracey thing. Well, I suppose we'll all interpret it through the lens of our own personal Twitter circles.

  • I'm another one who has moved towards disconnecting, thanks in large part to your example. I've been off FB for nearly a year and have never once regretted that decision. I'm not quite off off Twitter, but I have drastically cut down on usage and have taken several months long breaks in the past year (like you, the election was a big push factor).

    By coincidence, I too have been enjoying P.D. James. I just started listening to audiobooks as I ride my bike, and one of the first I got was a Dalgliesh mystery (The Private Patient, which I'm almost through). It's been awhile since I've read a James mystery - I too have fond memories of Death in Holy Orders - but I'm also noticing what you bring up. What intelligent writing, and more: even indirectly, she shows an avid interest in and knowledge of the theological implications of crime. Very refreshing.

  • I understand this, and hard to argue with the reasoning here. And Twitter is a terrible conversation medium.

    But it feels like abandoning the common spaces just means idiocy wins another round.

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