I have recently noticed that people who are supposed to be academics, people who are supposed to be representing an intellectual position, are becoming increasingly snarky towards those who disagree with them. I am especially noticing this in the intelligent design/evolution debate that seems to be gearing up again. It’s interesting to me that many on both sides of the debate start, continue, and end with name calling. They refer to one another in demeaning tones. I see this happening in the political debate too. Where ever an issue has two sides with strong feelings it seems that emotion takes precedence over reasoned intellect.
I think the reason for this is found in a comment by Wendell Berry in his essay, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey”. He is discussing Abbey’s tendency to tip sacred cows. Berry’s says, “Any human product or activity that humans defend as a category becomes, by the very fact, a sacred cow — in need, by the same fact, of an occasional goosing (Berry, 42).” In our current cultural milieu we struggle for meaning and for finger holds. Therefore, we tend to categorize everything and everyone. This categorizing leads to the development of multiple “consecrated bovines (Berry, 42).” As these cows begin to fill our world we are constantly bumping up against someone’s deeply personal category and they defend it with passion. When sacred cows are engaged the one protecting them flares the nostril and becomes a raging bull.
This kind of debate and conversation is wholly unhelpful. If we are to engage with meaning and purpose with those of other perspectives and worldviews there must be a willingness on both parties to discuss rationally and with grace. What is the purpose of just being snarky? What is the point of just making fun of someone you believe to be wrong on an important issue? Can you not bring to the table more than one liners designed to gain the smiling head nod of your supporters?
Berry, Wendell. What are People For? North Point Press: San Francisco, 1990.