The noble screed

Amid the rate shock debate, there’s a barely hidden meta discussion about how to engage on policy in the blogosphere and its environs. The fundamental question is, can polite discourse cut through the noise and, yes, BS? Or, does one have to get a bit rude?

Tyler Cowen urges calm:

That all said, I find the screeds of most but not all of Roy’s critics to be inappropriate or in some cases beyond inappropriate. It is disturbing how much space and emotional energy is devoted to attacking Roy, and to attacking conservative policy wonkery, relative to trying to calculate the actual extent of rate shock or possible lack thereof. That is not how good policy wonks go about their job.

Paul Krugman sees a role for sharper confrontation:

I fairly often receive mail pleading with me to take a more even tone, to have a respectful discussion with people on the other side rather than calling them fools and knaves. And you know, I do when I can. But the truth is that on most of the big issues confronting us, there just isn’t anyone to have a serious discussion with. […]

I know that a lot of people wish we lived in a country where debates about things like health care policy were serious, honest discussions of debatable points. I like to hope that by the time I retire I’ll actually live in a country like that. But right now, and surely for years to come, it’s basically facts versus fraud.

They both have a point. I’d guess that for most people, this comes down to personal style. I don’t like confrontation. I like evidence and logic. That’s the kind of wonk I am. However, maybe if I framed my point as a screed it’d get more attention and make more of a difference. But it’d also change how I am perceived and how I view myself.

By the way, contrarianism serves a similar role as rudeness. It gets attention by appearing to be a little bit wrong. There’s a temptation to say contrarianism is more clever than rudeness. But I’m not so sure. I’ve read some awfully creative takedowns. Also, with contrarianism, one can be too clever by half. The line between it and BS is thin. Some can’t see it, and there’s a risk of massive deception. At least rudeness is overt.

In any case, for those who can take it, I forgive the occasional screed. I recognize that Mr. Nice Guy isn’t going to cut through the noise. Sometimes one needs to be heard. Yes, feathers get ruffled. That’s the point. And, yes, one can take things too far. A balance must be struck. Still, some screeds are noble screeds.

UPDATE: A related issue is misrepresentation. Someone can be polite and not a contrarian, but still get attention (and be wrong!) because (s)he’s misrepresented an issue or some evidence. Misrepresentation often turns on language and emphasis. As such, it can be subtle,  subjective, and carry plausible deniability. (It was just an honest oversight, I swear!) Is this OK? If so, when and why?


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