In Internet and other debates a distinction is often drawn between attacking a person’s ideas and attacking the person themselves. The first is seen as healthy, objective criticism, while the second is merely an ad hominem attack designed to rouse tempers rather than provoke discussion.
But can the distinction be so easily made? Can we draw a line between a person and the ideas they hold? I don’t think we can.
Consider the following: “It’s not you I’m calling hideous, just the clothes you wear!” Or, closer to home for a lot of us here: “I didn’t insult you, I just called your blog a mess of infantile, badly-written drivel!”
Both would be perceived as attacks on us by association: I choose the clothes I wear, I write my blog, etc. The same can be said for more ideological matters: Can we really separate criticising a religion from criticising those who believe in it?
Our ideas often have an emotional investment simply because they are our ideas. They reflect who we are and our ability to think. Suggesting that someone’s political views are misguided, for example, is inevitably to suggest that they themselves stupid enough to hold such views.
If we were purely rational beings, selecting ideas purely on a cost-benefit type basis, then we’d have no trouble adopting or abandoning them in light of new information. But we’re often more emotional/instinctive beings. The ability to rationally determine which political/economic system is best for 60 million odd fellow-citizens living in an increasingly connected world is beyond most of us, so we rely on gut-instinct and the emotional impact of certain events to guide us in what’s hopefully the right direction: a simple distrust of government, or experience of poverty can have more influence over our political thinking then the works of Smith, Marx, Keynes and Milton combined a lot of the time. Rational arguments are then drawn up after the fact to support our own beliefs and attack those which are different.
Human beings crave certainty: we like to think that our ideas are correct and that the life we’ve chosen is the right one. To this end, we wrap ideas and concepts around us like a protective cloak. To have someone start pulling on a loose thread can be an uncomfortable experience.
I look into the world and i think that we live a great time, where, in a click you can talk to people all around the world. Interested in being a member (click here) or if you just want to leave a short message (click here)