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Scorn as Strategy

Bitter clingers.
Fat pigs.
Underwater walrus.
Extremists. Unpatriotic. Dangerous.  Crazy.  Menacing.  Scary. 

We label such epithets scorn:  i.e., contempt or disdain felt toward a person or object considered despicable or unworthy.  To express such an attitude in behavior or speech.  Derision.  To speak or treat someone with contempt.   William Congreve’s pithy statement (dare we call it immortal?) certainly surpassed its author in notoriety: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” 

The question, then, is this:  What is the surest way to manipulate public opinion and amass a tidal wave of support for a cause or against an opponent?  Dialogue?  Reasoned argument?  Coldly and deliberately laying out all the facts on the table until the opposition withers under the preponderance of evidence? 

Are you kidding me? 

Decrepit old techniques like these involve way too much risk.  Dialogue?  Why, the other side might have better talkers than you!  They—God forbid—might advance superior argumentation that could sink your case.  And laying out the evidence?  No way!  First, it takes way too much time.  ADD people off their Ritalin would get lost before you get to number two in the pile.  Second, what if all the evidence stacks up against you?  I mean you can’t trust in any of these weak methods. 

Scorn is the weapon of choice.  Scorn means skipping the dialogue, shortshrifting legitimate debate and skimming the evidence.  Bypass the hard work.  Get right to the heart of the matter.  That’s where people want you to go anyway.  Don’t bother with the boring details.  They already know the answers.  Just get on with the execution. 

Philosophers know about this strategy.  “Let me submit that to mock is essentially to devalue something, and this may consist of little more than conveying to one’s interlocutor a low estimate of its value.  “Indefatigable” literally means something like not easily tired and thus ought to be something good, but a mocker uses the phrase as a means of devaluing it.  “Inevitable,” a value-neutral word in itself, is if anything value-positive to an arguer, to say that B follows inevitably from A is (provided that we believe A) as much as to say that B is true.  Yet Nietzsche manages to suggest that the very inevitability of English utilitarians somehow devalues them.  Nietzsche gives “respectable” a negative connotation by coupling it with ponderous, and he uses “dangerous” with a positive connotation.  The mocker devalues the holy and the good, and thus spares the ungodly and the sinners from any pangs of conscience they might have.  No arguments are needed.”  (The Free Thinker). 

Scorn is the preferred strategy of politicos today.  How did we sink to this level?  It could be an inevitable outgrowth of a public educational system that advocates rather than teaches.  Maybe it signals the triumph of sociology in its long battle with psychology.  It does seem to represent a backsliding from civil discourse to raw streetfighting; a departure from the clash of ideas to the clash of fists.  Scorn, admittedly, has always existed.  Now, however, it is not just tolerated.  It is the first resort of political combatants. 

Targets of scorn know that they are seen as pond scum without any redeeming quality. Any hope they have of sitting down with their adversaries and calmly explaining their positions evaporates with the first wave of insults.  

The Free Thinker continues in its criticism of Nietzsche:  “Mockery can be an effective form of persuasion because it makes people want to be on the side of the mocker rather than the mocked.  In sixth grade, I found myself in an environment in which mockery was the dominant mode of social competition.  Kids were always “making fun of” each other, often in new, sexual ways which they were just becoming old enough to know about.  Those who were best at it rose to the top of the cool hierarchy, because others were intimidated.  Losers and pariahs had a role to play because they were the objects on which others practiced, and demonstrated, their skills of insulting others.  One could, of course, present evidence that one is not, say, a “———-,” but in that climate of discourse, one would only be laughed at all the more.  

“Nietzsche relies heavily on these schoolyard-bully tactics.  Those tempted to agree with the English utilitarians are threatened with being called “unenraptured, never jesting,” “mediocre,” “ponderous” and “inevitable,” guilty of “cant” and “tartuffism,” ethnocentric and narrow-minded “herding animals.”  Those who agree with Nietzsche are enticed with the promise of being classified as “higher men,” “distinguished by rank” from the “mediocre;” they are addressed elsewhere as “ye free spirits” and “philosophers of the future.”  To snobs, this incentive is hard to resist.  (Might this explain why Nietzsche is overrated by academic philosophers?) 

We need to recognize scorn whenever and wherever it is used.  Scorn represents the antithesis of human decency.  No scorner can claim the high road whenever scorn gets incorporated so easily into his or her conversation.  Scorn does not say “I disagree.”  Scorn says “I disrespect you.  You are an imbecile.  You don’t even have a right to exist.”  Listen for the trigger words.  

  • Bigot.
  • Extremist.
  • Homophobe.
  • Racist.
  • Uncle Tom.
  • Oreo, etc.  

It’s too easy.  It doesn’t take a lot of work or time.  You can commandeer the emotions of stadiums full of people by spitting out a few scornful bombshells.  You can incite crowds to screaming, raising their fists in the air and jumping up and down by a few, well-chosen words of scorn for avowed enemies of the audience.  Spare them the cerebral monologues.  It’s the crass, the crude and brutal that resonates. 

What is most shocking to me is that scorn has been elevated to an art form by the very people who sit atop the intellectually elite class in this society.  While they purportedly teach logic, inductive reasoning and cognitive processes in the confines of their classrooms, they resort to clubs, sledgehammers and daggers in their conduct of political warfare.   For many of them, it does not come down to mental acumen or superior argument.  The bottom line is still brute force. 

Scorn is verbal thuggery.  Scorners bluff and bully because their position is weak and maybe even sinister.  Strong arguments do not need scorn to prove a point.  If I disagree with the argument of my enemy, I must dismantle it piece by piece until the error is obvious. 

Scorn must not be tolerated.  That’s the pronouncement of the wise writer of Proverbs.  “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.”  Proverbs 22:10. 

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