How to Look Really Stupid

I get a lot of comments on my articles at the time they are published as well as years after they have been made available. This blog entry is about the comments I receive and why so many of them are supposed to make me look stupid, while they are really making the commenter look stupid.

There are many things one could discuss with respect to the people commenting on my articles (I do appreciate all comments, by the way), for instance that some seem to think they don’t have to mention which article they are commenting on. And it seems to not matter if the article was recently published or was published five or six years ago. I am no mind reader and thus I cannot understand the comments and even less rebuff the criticism (which makes me think that sometimes it is a conscious choice to not tell me, only to not have me respond).

But I would like to focus on a couple of general comments that so obviously miss the target that they make the commenter look really stupid. I realize the comment is itself a rather lame attempt to talk down the article without having to discuss the contents: the details in its reasoning or the arguments supplied. To some extent the comments are definitely made only to make the author of the article commented upon look bad, while in other cases it isn’t as obvious. Let’s have a look at two of the most common comments.

“The article is too black and white”

This could mean almost anything, but the point is probably to say that the article is unrealistic and shouldn’t be taken seriously because it exaggerates the positives and negatives. However, when trying to make a point most authors and debaters exaggerate to make the point clear. After all, the point of the article isn’t the exactness in which it describes details of reality – there is an underlying point that is made, and which is made clear through consciously distorting reality somewhat.

This is not a conscious attempt to deceive the reader, even though this is what the commenter seems to suggest.

“The article doesn’t cover all the arguments”

This is possibly a favorite of mine. It is simply too dumb to take seriously. What does it mean to “cover all the arguments”? And even more importantly: is it possible to ever cover them all? In an article?

Pointing out that there are better arguments is clearly a better approach, even though it too misses the target. The purpose of an article can very well be to present one argument for something so that the argument can be discussed in itself; it might not be an attempt to actually argue at the best of one’s ability for something. But this point is obviously way too advanced for most commenters, since most of they seem to believe an article can only deliver the best of arguments – and if it doesn’t, the article simply isn’t good enough.

But even if “the best” argument is covered in the article, it is still possible to say there is one more argument that can be made and that the article doesn’t discuss. I don’t see how this kind of comment could ever be considered valid criticism. The author of an article is most likely trying to make a point, but he or she might not choose to cover all possible arguments – it might even be better (as in more efficient or convincing) to make a nice point using one argument than covering a whole list of arguments.

Also, there are books written to provide arguments for a certain point that fail to cover “all” arguments simply because adding one argument at the margin does not make the totality of the argument more convincing. And even if one would like to cover all arguments, it wouldn’t be possible simply because there are only so many pages one can write in a book.

Now apply this on an article. If all arguments cannot be covered in a book, can they be covered in an article? It should be obvious that “it doesn’t cover all the arguments” is no real criticism; it is, at best, a poor attempt to talk down the article without wanting to take on its content.

I have commented on this issue of criticism before but it seems the people eager to comment on my articles do not read this blog. Or, at least, they don’t understand what I am saying, which is another point that is pretty clearly communicated through this kind of comments.

I do enjoy feedback. But please spare me the cheap remark; there are more productive uses of my time.