Early in the year, I decided that not everything that looked interesting was actually worth reading. Instead of stubbornly sticking with an article or a book or a story to its miserable conclusion, I figured that aggressive skimming and bailing early was a decent strategy to reclaim some lost time.
One technique I’ve adapted is to look for loaded terms or overly biased tones. They tend to present an extreme perspective that presupposes controversial viewpoints or worse, are just littered with pseudo-intellectual babble. It’s one thing to exaggerate a loaded term for effect, but another to rest the entire premise on an extreme idea and take it even further down the rabbit hole.
I was reminded from listening a podcast about conspiracy theories. The hosts had repeatedly admitted to avoiding the actual term “conspiracy theory” because the word is so loaded with negative connotations that it shuts down any kind of meaningful discussion. Moreso than questioning the character of the people involved, calling something “conspiracy” poisons the entire argumentative well.
Upon reflection, I have definitely committed the crime myself in the past, most recently by invoking the now-loaded-term “privilege” in an opinion about whether work can be universally meaningful. That word has been so overused and caricature-ized that even in the right context and with the proper definition and usage, it sends the wrong signals and carries all the baggage that only serves to weaken other points.
Which make long diatribes that dish out “neoliberal”s like candy or a priori assign immorality to an entire industry hard to read. It’s not so much that the commentary is terrible; in fact, much of it is well-written and carries a coherent argument. It’s just that the author starts out with a number of contentious assumptions, and without agreeing to start from that frame of reference, nothing else sounds compelling and becomes simply a house of cards.
To be fair, it may be that the author had intended to preach to the choir and win over an audience that already agrees with the initial premise, but I find that hard to believe given how often these writings come up across Twitter and through news sites. If these authors are truly engrained in their controversial mindset then I can respect the intellectual honesty of sticking to one’s principles and beliefs. That said, too many articles read like people being edgy and contrarian for attention, that they sound perfectly capable of empathizing on more moderate grounds but choose to write in the extreme to sauce up their viewpoint.
Which just means I’m avoiding inauthenticity.