August 23, 2014

Avoid politeness, be constructively blunt

Henry Louis Mencken at work
There is a difference between being irreverent and offensive. Criticism and confrontation is a cleansing act that helps people and argument to refine and streamline. Just as destruction is not opposite to birth, reform and creation, so impoliteness can be constructive and politeness can be destructive. Don't be destructively polite, be constructively blunt. As Edward Land said"politeness is the poison of collaboration." Maria Popova echoed this when she said:
"[Refuse] to infest the garden of honest human communication with the Victorian-seeded, American-sprouted weed of pointless politeness."
Thomas Sowell said:
"When you want to help people, you tell the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell people what they want to hear."
Daniel Dennett said that being impolite is the lesson Christopher Hitchens taught him:
"What Christopher Hitchens showed me — and I keep it in mind now wherever I speak — is that there is a time for politeness and there is a time when you are obliged to be rude, as rude as you have to be to stop such pollution of young minds in its tracks with a quick, unignorable shock."
H. L. Mencken's obituary for William Jennings Bryan embodies the Land constructive impoliteness and Hitchens' iconoclasm, he wrote:
"There stood the man who had been thrice a candidate for the Presidency of the Republic — and once, I believe, elected — there he stood in the glare of the world, uttering stuff that a boy of eight would laugh at! The artful Darrow led him on: he repeated it, ranted for it, bellowed it in his cracked voice. A tragedy, indeed! He came into life a hero, a Galahad, in bright and shining armor. Now he was passing out a pathetic fool… 
William James Bryan was a vulgar and common man, a cad undiluted. He was ignorant, bigoted, self-seeking, blatant and dishonest. His career brought him into contact with the first men of his time; he preferred the company of rustic ignoramuses. It was hard to believe, watching him at Dayton, that he had traveled, that he had been received in civilized societies, that he had been a high officer of state. He seemed only a poor clod like those around him, deluded by a childish theology, full of an almost pathological hatred of all learning, all human dignity, all beauty, all fine and noble things. He was a peasant come home to the dung-pile. Imagine a gentleman, and you have imagined everything that he was not."
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