Are you a patronizing fuckwit? (a post wherein the author combines personal sentiments with some potentially worthwhile reading recommendations from the classical canon)

Intrinsic to the patronizing impulse is the notion that no true meeting of minds can ever be had: the distance is too great.  Your interlocutor is a lost cause, in other words.  Therefore, what is the point of that little temporary step down into the lower realms? What does it accomplish for anyone? A patronizing statement is not an educating statement.  It seeks to enhance and point out disparity rather than close the gap.

You just dumb down the universe by dumbing down the intellectual product you release into it.  Enjoy expressing yourself as you normally would and in the off chance you should have been wrong in diagnosing your interlocutor as a lost cause, the world is a richer, more interesting place for your efforts in not rendering yourself stupid.

I think it’s the pointless excessiveness of the patronizing putdown that really irks, though.  Fur coats seem analogous to me in this sense: I’m very much not a vegetarian and I don’t avoid leather shoes and so forth; nevertheless, there’s something about a coat made out of the clobbered bodies of numerous tiny animals that crosses the line into the offensively pointless-yet-bloodthirsty.  And the more one buys into the patronizer’s point of view, the worse the patronizing impulse becomes in this regard: if the worthless interlocutor is really so utterly incapable, what could possibly be the point of engaging at all?

Here’s one classical approach that is sadly rather more time and effort intensive than the patronizing put-down. Nevertheless, it’s an alternative path to to consider.  Just one of many citable examples, of course, but…

Do I understand you, I said; and is your meaning that you teach the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?

That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make.

Then, I said, you do indeed possess a noble art, if there is no mistake about this; for I will freely confess to you, Protagoras, that I have a doubt whether this art is capable of being taught, and yet I know not how to disbelieve your assertion. And I ought to tell you why I am of opinion that this art cannot be taught or communicated by man to man…

But of course that’s just my entry into the the discussion; do get back to me if you have something to add to the dialogue.

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Posted in history, literature
2 comments on “Are you a patronizing fuckwit? (a post wherein the author combines personal sentiments with some potentially worthwhile reading recommendations from the classical canon)
  1. jacksundance says:

    The Socrates quote is a nice example of not being a dick, but still being skeptical and yet keeping the conversation going. Yes it’s far better to engage the person than put them down. When I was younger I would debate until blue in the face: and condescension was part of the strategy for sure. Now I find it infinitely more interesting to find out why someone believes something that I consider completely erroneous…you know something theoretically worthy of a patronizing quip. And once you know why they believe a thing you can approach them more constructively to get your own point across. And sometimes you may even change your mind about what you believed to be erroneous before. If not completely change your point of view, you might see a gray area where before it was black and white…

    And I remember when e-readers started becoming popular I went to Barnes and Noble to try one of their Nooks out. I hadn’t researched the technology yet so I ask the guy demonstrating them if they have a back light? He gets all huffy and explains, in a most condescending manner, that the nature of e-ink displays makes that impossible. So I guess he convinced the cute girl standing next to me that he had superior knowledge of this relatively new technology, but he looked like a dick and lost a sale…

    Your blog post reminds me of this: http://mises.org/daily/6075/

    Not exactly what you are talking about, but on the subject of conversation…

    • jinpr says:

      Fun little article! I happened not to be in the mood for rehashing early 20th debates on sound monetary policy this fine Sunday, so I clicked on the mises.org link with a bit of trepidation but thanks. Be warned, though, that from now on I am now starting all my statements with the phrase “Speaking as Bishop Pontoppidan did about the owls in Iceland…” As you said, it’s not exactly the same thing, but the notion conversation vs. quips is totally relevant. I’ll just note here that my own choice of positive conversational role model has a few problems unless you like hemlock’s zesty aftertaste.

      But, speaking as Bishop Pontoppidan did about the owls in Iceland, if you want to learn more about being a dick, here are some ideas for you…In response to my post, an acquaintance mentioned
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Potter#Gamesmanship_and_freelance_writing
      and the cinematic adaptation http://youtu.be/D3r5-JHRU-w

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