Saintly Thoughts

On Just Criticism

If there is one underlying intuition absolutely essential to my methodology it is this: no criticism that has ever been levied is unjust in and of itself.  Obviously there is such a thing as slander: the blatant and willful lie concerning a person, a belief tradition, or a group.  While slander may often be more pervasive than we sometimes would wish to think (both within our own thoughts and in the zeitgeist in general), I submit that it is rare that explicit slander is effectuated.  What is more common is the absurd straw-man claim which is made by a partisan in the sincere belief that the position he is denigrating is actually held by real people.  But even in such cases, a straw-man is not usually simply false; it is instead usually an unjust extrapolation from a position or behavior that actually is held by some portion of the group in question.  So, even in the case of outright slander, if we assume (on some level at least) the truth of the critique asserted, what we must guard against is the sense that it is being applied in a melodramatic or over-emphasized fashion, rather than being wrong simply.  When we look at groups who believe that their fundamental positions are being attacked, it is a natural human response to immediately go on the defensive and to not consider the actual criticism levied since it is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be levied by an enemy.  This is true for all groups (less so for specific individuals within said groups), so we should not be surprised that we see such behavior coming from all ends of the political/ideological structure.  This is also why, in part, criticism coming from within a group is so much more powerful than criticism levied from without.  So the key is to take all criticism seriously, assume it contains some aspect of truth, but to pay far less attention to suggested solutions levied by outsiders.  For real solutions may arise only if offered in a spirit of charity, and it is unlikely (though not impossible) that an outsider will be so charitable.