This article consists of an exchange I had on Twitter with a fellow named “Jar Jar” (whether the surname is “Binks” is TBD). Here’s my initial offending tweet:
Remember when Trump said he hires only the best people? The sheer ignorance of #BenCarson is deeply distressing. #KatiePorter, on the other hand, is amazing. Once again, she puts a buffoon in his place.https://t.co/VpcA4u46FH
— Tentative Apologist (@RandalRauser) May 21, 2019
As an aside, if you are unfamiliar with Katie Porter, you need to change that. She is a former law professor who was elected in 2018 to the American House of Representatives where she serves for California’s 45th congressional district. And time and again, she has sliced-and-diced powerful people on cross-examination on behalf of the people of her district. This is what draining the swamp actually looks like. (Here’s another example of Katie Porter in action.)
Anyway, back to the story. I first had a couple of interactions with a fellow named Anthony before Jar Jar took over. The exchange is worth recounting, I think, because it illustrates different ways to construe a healthy public square. As I state in my final tweet, Jar Jar seems to maximize the value of being inoffensive while I believe that value must be balanced against the value to speak truth which may, at times, involve offense. (One final note: I correct a typo in one of my tweets.)
Anthony: Should he be secretary of housing and urban development? Maybe not? Calling a neurosurgeon a buffoon idk about that one
Randal: We’re not talking about a neurosurgeon. We’re talking about a former neurosurgeon who now serves as the head of HUD and yet confuses an REO with Oreo cookies.
Anthony: So once you leave a line of work the intelligence that line of work required vanished when he quit? In all fairness wow that hearing was..um..interesting
Randal: Apparently, skills in brain surgery don’t automatically transfer to Housing and Urban Development. Who knew?
Jar Jar: Calling someone a buffoon contributes to improving the quality of public discourse how?
Randal: Your question is based on a faulty premise.
Jar Jar: what faulty premise?
Randal: The premise that a term like “buffoon” (cf.”clown,” “fool,” etc.) is *intrinsically* harmful to public discourse. It isn’t.
Jar Jar: I have a hard time seeing how calling someone a buffoon does anything but make them and their supporters feel insulted…you don’t agree?
Randal: I’m not dialoguing with Ben Carson. Nor am I attempting to win over supporters of Ben Carson. I’m using a correct term to describe what he is in his current role and pointing out what a tragedy that is for the millions in public housing.
Jar Jar: That type of reasoning can be used to justify much of the caustic language on both the left and the right. both sides think they are correct and have given up dialoguing/attempting to win each other Over. Why not use a less insulting term?
Randal: Um, the *point* of using a term like “buffoon” or “fool” is used precisely because it carries the negative social stigma that accurately describes the person in question. Carson *should* be stigmatized. And somebody is *always* going to be offended. I’ve also often said that I believe Donald Trump is a clinical psychopath. Will his followers be offended? Sure, but that doesn’t change the fact that his public conduct matches onto the psychopathy checklist to a disturbing degree and I’d be dishonest if I didn’t call it out.
Jar Jar: so you’re arguing failure to Insult someone even if other, less inflammatory language is available makes you dishonest? It would seem to me the gentler responses would be more prudent if we want to improve public discourse
Randal: Presumably, you think Jesus was wrong to call his opponents whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, and a brood of vipers?
Jar Jar: jesus wasn’t trying to improve public discourse
Randal: Indeed, if what you have said is correct then you believe Jesus was “harming” public discourse. Correct?
Jar Jar: Indeed. I don’t think Jesus had much interest in the quality of public discourse. I’d argue that Suggesting He did is anachronistic
Randal: Are you a Christian?
Jar Jar: I’m agnostic
Randal: Okay. Regarding public discourse, you seem to value the maximization of inoffensive expression as an unqualified good. By contrast, I believe that the health of public discourse must also value truth-telling that may offend/alienate some parties, like Carson and his supporters.