About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Rhetorics of progress (III): Arrogance and condescension

Arrogance, and to a larger extent condescension, make people not want to listen to what you have to say. It might be tempting to tell someone off who clearly has no clue what they are going on about, but if you're honestly interested in changing that person's mind, being smug about it isn't going to help you. This a problem that most often occurs between people of different social classes.


It's easy to forget, for a sizable portion of an audience that has pursued higher education, that some people are not as educated and will react with hostility to words and concepts that they cannot understand. To these people, that might as well be abracadabra designed to pull wool over their eyes (and it some cases, it is!).

It's also true that some people are anti-intellectual in general, but that doesn't usually mean that they hate on smart individuals - they hate the strawman of the sanctimonious intellectual - per se.

Les extrèmes se touchent

In an effort to be heard and understood, some highly educated people bend over backwards to break down stuff in a simpler way, or adopt the style of the social class background of the person they're debating with. That is an even more terrible choice because it is inauthentic.

What's worse, except to really gullible people, it comes off as paternalistic and condescending: "watch me stoop to your petty level". It's one of the ultimate own-goals that an intellectual can make. By desperately not wanting to seem like an intellectual, they seem like a phony instead.

Can we do no good, then?

But what to do then? Is it not possible at all to strike the right balance if you're in a debate with someone not as educated / up to speed / at another level? Of course it is possible to do it right! Here are a few things that I consider to be good debate hygiene:
  1. Check what you say or write for unnecessary jargon. Nobody likes that, even if they are the right terms.
  2. It isn't arrogant to call someone out on a factual error, but only if it actually matters to the core debate.
  3. It's relevant to call someone out on arrogance or condescension, but don't make the same mistake while doing so.
  4. Use the voice you would normally use when debating with acquaintances.
  5. If you believe you're the more intelligent / mature person, act like it, don't point it out to them.