Don’t Even Ask Me to Play Nice


I’m not sure there’s anything that frustrates me more than people using ‘niceness’ as an excuse to silence others. If there’s an illegitimate argument, fine, point it out.

But to say that someone shouldn’t speak out—whatever the issue, be it racism or the color of a website—because they didn’t make their point ‘nicely’ enough…

…it pisses me off.

Notice how ‘nice’ always has quotations around it? Because it’s effectively meaningless. Unless it’s used in the sense of ‘precision, which is never the case in these arguments. Furthermore, ‘nice’ came through from Middle English as foolish all the way back to its Latin root for “to be ignorant”. Good reason to never be nice.

People just can’t stand any challenge to their internal belief system, or anything that they feel defines them: which is to say, anything they like, because no one examines who they are beyond these things anymore. Have they ever? It’s certainly not taught in schools. Test scores and rote memorization are the key words of the day, and thought doesn’t come anywhere into it.

“Thought” is the only thing, in my opinion that everyone needs to know.

They push college educations on everyone as the answer to societies ills. But college is just continues the high school philosophy—another four or more years of refined job training. Teaching something as abstract as ‘how to think’ simply isn’t a factor.

Beware of the anti-anti-intellectualist (

So people define themselves by their shoes, and you get Sex in the City. They define themselves by their money and cars, and you John Goodman, the millionaire who killed a kid and abandoned the scene of the crime and who also ‘adopted’ his girlfriend. Then there are the people who wish they could define themselves by all of these things and you get Twilight and its offshoots, all emblematic of the exceedingly problematic way we treat young people, and especially women, and the glorification of rape culture.

Bestselling books (in the example I know most about) appeal most to the common denominator. I’m the last person to think this is necessarily a bad thing. But without readers who are capable of self-examination, who understand they can like something without thinking it’s the best thing ever, all these problems just get worse.

For example, back to GR. Many of the highly intelligent (intellectual) reviews bring in their life experiences, other books they’ve read, and if necessary to their response to the book, maybe author behavior. Often, when they’re responding to a book they don’t like, they respond to real-world events, real-life problems that are left unexamined by the text. Intellectuals don’t read in a vacuum.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
― Socrates

Fans of the criticized work, however, often come again and again to such negative reviews just to post that the reviewer is wrong. A rare few will be willing to understand the reviewer’s point, whether they agree with the conclusion or not. Most seem to take it as a personal attack. If the reviewer dislikes the book, they dislike the reader.

Frankly this is insane.

Sometimes these reviews are hidden because they’re flagged by fans as ‘inappropriate’. Back to what this does to conversations in our culture, you end up with sites like STGRB (which I will neither link nor specify further) which has stalked and harassed reviewers and even authors who object. All you need to know is that the site believes if someone goes on the record as not liking a book, it is bullying, and therefore should be attacked.

Few forums (in the larger sense of the word) are this actively anti-intellectual or anti-intelligence, and it’s an especially rare example for the book world. Even in the larger cultural discussion, it’s skeevy behavior— and yet is still something that people seem to enjoy talking about in a ‘titillating’ kind of way: like Huffington Post space given to STGRB apparently without apparently ever realizing thoughtful people found that behavior horrifically offense.

Thoughtful people enjoy conversations, playing with words, real discussions. Many others don’t realize what they love isn’t what they are, and can’t justify it to themselves any other way. Any difference is an attack on who they are, and they fear not having an answer to that challenge. And they do everything they can to silence it.

So if you come across someone just ripping apart something you love…Well, I hate to say it, but the best response is silence—at first. I hope you can think about their opinion, and their reasons. If they don’t have any? It’s not worth your time. If they’re all invalid? Same thing. But maybe, much as you hate to admit it, maybe they have a point. Start there, and you can have a real conversation.

Even on the internet.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s