About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Peace breaks out

I'm slow getting to this, but I welcome the apology that Massimo Pigliucci has extended to Jerry Coyne over here - and Jerry's gracious response over here. There's a lot to be said for civility - which doesn't mean that there's no place for satire and mockery. But it's better, as I see it, to aim satire and mockery at absurd and destructive ideas and at people who exercise power in ways that do harm. There's no sharp dividing line between good targets for satire and mockery and not-so-good targets, but it's generally better if we can engage in a civil way with people who are basically on our side and merely disagree about specifics, at least up to a point when it's reasonable for patience to run out.

And it's all-too-easy to get exasperated and to set the bar low for when patience has reasonably run out. In my case, I try to remain patient with people whom I see as basically on my side and disagreeing with me in good faith about something specific. I know I don't always succeed (though I don't think I'm worse than most).

I'm sure there'll be times when I get fed up with somebody who seems like a pest and/or to be obtuse or rude or to be making disagreements too personal, but who - from his or her viewpoint - is merely trying to explain something to me persistently but in good faith and with due civility. These things happen, perceptions can vary, and sometimes, to be frank, getting fed up seems justifiable. I don't promise to be saintly in discussion and argument, but I do think that a bit of patience and civility is a good thing when dealing with interlocutors who are at least being courteous. I usually aim for that, and it's something that I encourage in others who comment here.


Charles Sullivan said...

I guess an uncivil, mocking, rude, satirical comment would not be in order.

Eamon Knight said...


Yes, there's a time for mockery and abuse, but it's waaay too easy and tempting to decide that *now* is that time, because lets face it: firing off some well-crafted invective can be *fun*.

Owen said...

I don't want to come over all fanboy, but in my opinion you're exemplary in this regard.

I'm a big fan of Coyne, Benson and Myers. But you're the one I come to for the more reasoned, measured and civil opinions. And you do that while still managing to disagree with people quite strongly and clearly.

If I were to venture into internet discussion threads, it's your style I'd be trying to emulate.

Russell Blackford said...

Damn, now I have something to live up to. Actually, that's a good thing. Thanks.