There is a type of person in this world who will grate on my nerves long before he ever speaks, and will only exacerbate the problem when he does open his mouth. Over time, I’ve come to recognize this almost visceral reaction to some people as a some kind of basic human instinct. Now, I’m not one to speak on my personal feelings very often. Truly, most of the time folks would be understandably bored by such. And if SJWs are lurking about, ready to pounce on admissions of racism/sexism/whatever, you are likely to be disappointed, as most (but not all) of such individuals are actually white guys.
Yeah. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, SJWs.
If I can describe the feeling with a metaphor, it would be like that moment you walk into a car dealership, and the salesmen lurking near entrance are circling, like a pack of vultures waiting to pounce upon hapless, vulnerable prey should it show any sign of fatigue or weakness. They have lemons, and you’re a mark. You get a feeling in the pit of your stomach, your gut telling you that these people are wrong, somehow. That they are not to be trusted, and indeed, their every action much be carefully watched and calculated against.
Over the years, I’ve recognized that some folks engender this automatic response outside of car dealerships. You don’t want to deal with them in any way, but circumstances may be such that you feel the need. Perhaps that are gatekeepers, and you must get through the gate. Or perhaps they control personal fiefs that intrude on yours in some fashion. Whatever. The point is, you have to deal with them.
I’m sure most people have felt this one way or another. What I’m about to explain is why. Many of my readers, often wiser folks than I, may already know this. But for some, this may be new.
The type of person I’m talking about is the one who thinks he is better than you. No, not better in some specific capacity. The pilot may justly say “I’m a better pilot than you.” Sure. I don’t know how to fly, at least not outside of a simulator, anyway. The pilot flies better than I do, because I do not fly at all. Nor am I talking about the person who has a higher IQ, or can bench press more weight, or is a better basketball player. Again, folks in each circumstance can justly say they are better than me at those things. Whatever. The specifics are immaterial here.
I’m talking about the man who thinks he is better than you in general.
The reason this is so insidious, is that every action by such an individual is designed to elevate himself above you in general. Your opinions are irrelevant to him, because he considers himself better in all things. So if you talk to him, the response invariably becomes an exercise in establishing his authority over you. After all, if you are better than another, should you not rule over him? This has been the excuse of tyrants since the dawn of time.
Folks may remember an old troll here named Merkur. And while I don’t want to delve too much into him, since he is no longer here to defend himself, he did demonstrate this sort of air. At one point, he explained that I should read a book called You Are Not So Smart. Now, normally a book recommendation wouldn’t be untoward. But this “recommendation” occurred during a debate in which Merkur was attempting to convince me that I was biased (something I never denied — all humans are biased, I am human, QED), while taking a position of authority on the matter of cognitive biases.
In simple terms, rather than address the central point of my arguments about Islam and Weaponized Empathy, he would nitpick minor points, then accuse me of being biased, more biased, in fact, than him. Then he chose to recommend said book. Do you see it? His implication was I am smarter than you. Not “I know more about psychology than you” which I would have likely accepted. Not even “I know more about specific cognitive biases than you,” which again would have specificity and plausibility. It’s not my field of education, for sure.
The implication was you are biased, I am smarter than you, therefore I can disregard your conclusions. It’s a slippery form of Ad Hominem, because it distracts from the original conclusions. At that point, we were no longer talking about Weaponized Empathy, or the role of Islam in terror attacks. We were, instead, talking about how biased one Dystopic was (hint: I’m sure I’m pretty damned biased – whether I’m wrong, however, is a different matter altogether).
Of course, when pressed, Merkur denied this. He just wanted to educate me about specific cognitive biases, you see. It wasn’t a personal attack. He just happened to do this in a thread about Islam, and it just happened to derail the original topic, and he just happened to avoid the original point, except to call attention to minor nitpicks.
Folks may wonder why I brought up Merkur again, since he has kept to his word and not returned. The reason is that I encountered the same behavior from Tom Nichols today. He posted a link to the following article: Working-class whites can’t handle their status as ‘the new minority’. The article is full of some rather pointed dreck about Trump supporters, blue collar white folks, and racism. Nothing we haven’t seen before from a dozen other outlets since Trump became a political force.
Now, Tom has spent a lot of time since beginning the writing and promoting of his book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters more or less insulting common folks. In our last Twitter flame war, he indicated that most Americans shouldn’t be informed by the government about the non-classified details surrounding terrorist attacks, even after the fact, because he thought most Americans were too stupid to read maps.
He then compared trust in the alphabet agencies to trusting pilots who fly airliners. Why, he thought, if people trust airline pilots do they not trust government intelligence agencies? This was evidence that the common man was an idiot. The fallacy in this line of thinking should be pretty obvious to most of my readers. It is rather easy for a man to know whether or not airline pilots are generally reliable. Despite big crashes hitting the airwaves, from time-to-time, you are generally safer in an airliner, than in your own car. The general reliability of airline pilots is data that is readily available to us. Not so much with the alphabet agencies. Indeed, we catch them in egregious lies and screw ups with frightening regularity. Consequences from their geopolitical screw ups can certainly dwarf a mere airline accident.
But my beef with Tom wasn’t just over this issue. It’s an issue that folks might reasonably sit down and chat about, because God knows there are some dumb voters out there (just look at all this Antifa business right now). What bothered me was the original tweet to him was respectful and reasoned, and his response was basically you and everyone like you is stupid, and I’m smart! This is a variation of I’m better than you. No, not “I’m more educated than most on foreign policy matters”. It was I’m better than a sizable fraction of America.
At the time, this attitude was mildly irritating, but I ignored it. We got into it again, and then again today. Now, today, I was definitely not respectful and gracious to him. My patience with him has worn thin. I was downright hostile, and that came through well enough in my tweet to him. I was fully expecting another I’m smarter than everybody else tactic from him. What I got was arguably worse. Instead, he accused me of not reading the article I was responding to, or even knowing who the author was.
This is about as dishonest and cowardly a tactic as a man might use. On the internet, his statement was unfalsifiable. There was no way I could prove to him that his statement was wrong. But we also both knew it was a total lie, invented for precisely this purpose. He debates exactly like a Progressive would. This I recognized immediately as an Ad Hominem, similar to what Merkur did, but without the modicum of decency that Merkur at least attempted to display. He didn’t want to talk about the article in question, he wanted to shift the argument away from it. And meanwhile, he chose to use an exceptionally ridiculous version of I’m better than you. The implication being that other people don’t read articles, or understand them, and so he doesn’t have to defend his posting of this drivel on his own Twitter feed.
Then, when challenged on that, he explained that it wasn’t an Ad Hominem, because he was just innocently trying to teach me about the importance of reading articles. Cue a back and forth discussion with some of his followers about the definition of Ad Hominem, and why I should have posted links to the definition in my reply to Tom (does anybody on Twitter even do that?).
Yeah, pull the other one.
This is a form of passive-aggressive behavior, hidden behind airs of self-righteousness and some kind of superiority complex. Tom is invested in himself as the smartest guy in the room, but his argument essentially boils down to I’m smarter than everybody else, so I’m automatically right. No defense of his positions are necessary, unless you prove yourself worthy (and nobody is worthy, unless they agree with him).
And what I’ve come to realize, is that these individuals produce a natural desire in most humans to punch the smug asshole in the face. Perhaps this is nature’s way of informing the individual that, like Merkur’s book recommendation, You Are Not So Smart. A punch in the face can do that well enough sometimes. Maybe the book is good (and I may very well read it – I am morbidly curious), but cold, hard reality is often better. God knows it’s happened to me more than once.
That feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when these folks are around? That’s your body saying “this guy is an ass, and it might be better if you just punched him in the face, but if that isn’t an option for whatever, well just be careful.” After all, he could be a salesman trying to sell you a lemon, or Tom Nichols trying to establish himself as the wisest technocrat in the universe. As far as we have come from the elementary playground, the argument still essentially boils down to the same thing a pair of first graders might say to one another: I’m better than you! Neener Neener!
Socrates would know him for the fool.
As an aside, I’d really like to see a debate between Nicholas Taleb and Tom Nichols. For Taleb has warned us repeatedly about intellectual idiocy, and Tom is a proponent of why the intellectuals must be trusted. The two positions are diametrically opposed. Of course, there might be a worldwide shortage of popcorn should such an event come to pass.
In the meantime, Merkur might say it’s bias, and he’s really not wrong, but sometimes, biased or not, your gut knows exactly what kind of person you’re dealing with. God, and countless generations of natural selection, have granted us a finely-honed sense for people who are trying to bullshit us. Often times, it’s worth listening to.