Yesterday I saw this tweet:
Trash a person, an idea, an institution – how easy, how lazy. Nothing genius about being obnoxious, nor cool about bullying. Nothing gained except attention, a sport for truculents, a frenzy for trolls. All diminished. Hollow, shallow and nothing whatsoever to do with leadership.
— Paul Gilbert (@LBCWiseCounsel) February 18, 2020
I’ll now proceed to TRASH IT! No, relax, I’m joking. Instead, I wish to get a little more specific.
If by trashing something Paul means consigning it to the dustbin, that would be too broad. Public discourse is enhanced when we cull bad ideas from the herd—let’s call that “legitimate trashing.” But legitimate trashing requires that you meet three requirements.
First, you have to pick your target. When considering whether to take something on in a blog post, I consider various factors. Is the trash in question noxious or just laughable? How big a soapbox does the trash purveyor possess? Does the trash in question take liberties with my work? More often than not I end up ignoring trash.
Second, you have to be in the right, and you have to demonstrate to reasonable and open-minded readers that you’re in the right. No trashing if you’re dealing with shades of gray.
And third, you have to get the tone right. You don’t have to be dry-as-dust, at least for purposes of social media: the first responsibility of the blogger is to be interesting. Depending on the target, I might permit myself some levity. Or a measure of indignation. But for academic articles, I do my best to avoid anything resembling invective.
I don’t take any of this lightly. It’s a necessary part of doing what I do.