This comment made by “Ralph” has been driving me crazy for days now:
I am not certain whether your failure in this regard is a result of a congenitally weak intellect, habitual cognitive laziness, adherence to some ideology or another that stunts systematic thinking, or a willingness to misrepresent reality when it serves the needs of your current rhetorical project.
The comment was made by a liberal to someone defending a conservative website, but it’s so classic and covers so many bases it could be applied almost anywhere.
It’s sort of like the classic insult when Bilbo Baggins gives his fiftieth birthday farewell speech in The Hobbit, “I know less than half of you less than half as well as I should, and I like less than half of you less than half as well as you deserve.” As the guests are still trying to work out whether or not this is a compliment to them, Bilbo flaunts his disdain of custom even more by using the Ring of Doom to disappear.
So why is Ralph’s comment so outrageously funny, and why do I feel so bad laughing at it?
Does everyone discover insults as entertainment at some point in their lives? For me the discovery came in the back of the debate bus sophomore year. That was the year our high school debate team took the state “A” championship. The insults were predictably “sophomoric” and mostly ad libbed. The only one I remember now was the standard “I’d have a battle of wits with you but never fight an unarmed man.” Sensing that the comments were not helping team morale, we quickly tired of the game.
For some reason, since that day in the back of the bus, I just can’t bring myself to put anyone down. Oh, I can think of insults all right. Sarcastic comments spring constantly to the tip of my tongue, but they never seem to be able to get past the teeth. I’m just unwilling to say anything hurtful, even if I know the other person has no similar qualms. It’s almost as if I am unwilling to regard anyone as an adversary. There is always the possibility that they could be led to see the light, if only they weren’t approached in an antagonistic style. Can anyone be truly beyond redemption?
But where I have held back, Ralph has gone on, probably in his junior year, senior year, and more, to finely hone both his style and his analysis of remarks worth insulting. He unfailingly chooses people who are so disgusting that no one really minds when he shreds them. And the shredding is done in such meta language that who can be sure what is really being said about them?
Ralph isn’t funny just because of schadenfreude, though that is one component. The other component is truth.
I remember being in some group or another and being given the following exercise. Describe a person who really irritates you. We instantly all thought of the same person. Then you have to change the description so that it contains your original assessment of the situation, but is emotionally neutral. That is, it gives information diplomatically without expressing a value judgment. We ended up saying that the person, an obnoxious, overbearing control freak whose uncle just happened to be a senator, had a “strong personality”. Mustn’t upset Senator’s dear nephew. A few months later, I added the word “difficult” to my repertoire.
What Ralph does is like what Bilbo did–express an undiplomatic sentiment in such diplomatic language that by the time you work out whether it’s an insult or not–if you can–you have gotten a glimpse of the situation from a different and rather complex angle. If you said the same thing in the simplest language possible, for instance “You are either stupid, an airhead, a Marxist, or getting paid to write lies”, it would sound childish and petulant, and would probably not ring true.
So does Ralph’s gift for insults get him in trouble? Is it the one sticking point that prevents glorious success or holds him back from promotions and positions of trust? Or is it the trait that inspires respect based on fear, or maybe it puts him in a position of authority as one able to handle difficult people? Probably none of the above. Although I no longer have his blog address, I remember seeing his blog once, and it was pretty academically dull, sorry Ralph. He’s not the only one. Funny how people’s academic writing is so different from their leisure writing.
“Misrepresent reality”. Has kind of a nice ring to it. “Serves the needs of your current rhetorical project.” Hee, hee, hee. Thanks, Ralph.
The guy who wrote the original paragraph Ralph was responding to is an English teacher’s nightmare. He started out with a nice enough topic sentence about why we should ignore a particular conservative website that advocates assault and battery against liberals. But then, instead of developing the idea or defending it with reasons and examples, he quickly degenerated into non sequitors and vague generalities impossible to decipher. Finally he ended with the statement to “clean up your backyard”. Ah. At last something a tree-hugger can sink their teeth into. It turns out that Ralph’s backyard has complex problem involving a shedding magnolia tree, too much shade, and no ground cover.
Well, for Ralph or any other liberals with a magnolia and/or ground cover problem in their back yards, may I suggest stone paving blocks? In areas with such deep shade that grass, traditional groundcovers like ivy, hosta, daylily, sweet woodruff, lamia, or even moss won’t grow, I have had quite a bit of success with both stone and brick, although I have to add that my maple tree–and maples do have a reputation for both dense shade and shallow roots–is not too shady, nor are the roots too shallow to support lawn from a good shade seed mix. As far as the leaf problem, raking will give you blisters, plus it takes a lot of time, and then you still have to deal with the leaves. I would wait until no liberals who might comment about your carbon footprint are watching, then take a lawnmower with a bag attachment, chew up the leaves with the lawnmower, google magnolia leaves to make sure they can be composted (I think it’s sycamore you can’t compost), then bury the leaves somewhere. A half hour (and not really that much gasoline) and you’re done. Trust me, the guy who has so much to say (or not say) about ignoring conservative websites will not tell you this.