A recent article by Mehdi Hasan about being pro-life has been widely, and rightly, criticised. Here’s one good example of that.
Rather than go over again the various problems with Hasan’s attempts to reconcile an anti-abortion stance with his “lefty” politics, I was given pause by one particular observation, about his style of engaging with opponents:
Hasan employs an undermining tactic that he uses to subtle, although powerful effect, throughout his piece. His opponents are emotional rather than logical: they are “provoked” to “howls of anguish” by Hitchens’s “solid” “reasoning”; they “fetishize” their position in opposition to pro-lifers who “talk”. He accuses pro-choicers of “smearing” him; he asks them not to “throw [his] faith in [his] face”. And yet in the same article he repeatedly “smears” them with oppositional language that positions him on the side of logic and social progressiveness, relegating pro-choicers to the illogical side of the raging ego of neoliberalism.
Part of the reason this struck me as much as it did is because I’m certain I must have done this quite a bit myself.
It’s an easy trap to fall into. It takes some deliberate thought to remember why it’s a bad idea, when you’re trying to write something evocative and convincing. It’s easy to slide into some forms of intellectual laziness when you’re focusing on trying to craft some clever sentences.
And it’s not like the terms in the scare quotes have no value whatever in discourse. Reasoning can be more or less solid; the tone of an argument can make it seem emotionally fuelled, or unreasonably angry.
But not everyone who disagrees with you is a shrill, screeching harpy. Even if they disagree with you about something really important. They might well be trying to make their point, trying to make themselves understood, standing up against what they see as their opponents’ frustrating failure to get the point, and sometimes lapsing into unfair characterisations or snark. Much like yourself.
I’m going to try to bear this in mind more in future.