A couple of years ago, after receiving a particularly nasty (unsigned) letter presumably triggered by one of my columns in the Indianapolis Star, I posted a rebuttal of sorts. In it, I noted my frustration with people who respond to ideas with which they disagree by calling names rather than specifying the nature of the disagreement.
Today, I received the following message from the IPhone of one Steve Hunsicker:
It’s a crime to think people like you are at our university’s teaching. Look in the mirror, it’s professors like yourself that are dangerous to our kids.
I have no idea what set this person off. Since the email came to me through the IBJ, I assume he found my most recent column for that publication objectionable; of course, from the message, it is impossible to know what he disagreed with or why.
This is the sort of behavior that baffles and depresses me. I understand disagreeing with someone’s opinion. I understand getting angry about it. What I don’t understand is firing off an insult rather than initiating a conversation–or even an argument–about the substance of the disagreement.
When I read or hear something I find ridiculous, mendacious or just plain wrong, I consider the source. If the author is someone who seems amenable to reason, I may engage that person through correspondence or conversation. If, however, the author of the statement is one of the ideologues or yahoos that increasingly populate our political universe, I turn off the television or leave the website. It would never occur to me to respond with an ad hominem attack–why bother? What possible good would it do? And who has the time to tilt at the ever-proliferating windmills?
I guess that’s what I find so puzzling. What did Mr. Hunsicker think he was accomplishing? Did he think a hateful message bereft of any substance would make me reconsider my policy positions? I have much the same question about all those people who spend hours posting angry, incoherent diatribes on newspaper websites. (Where do they get the time?? Don’t they have lives? Maybe not.)
Oh, well. As Kingsley Amis once said, “If you can’t annoy somebody, there is little point in writing.”