I often find that people object to the tone of what I write. I am sometimes called ‘snide’ or something of that sort. This is revealing.
If you have never read it, may I point you towards Graham’s How to Disagree. It is a decade old this year but as relevant as ever, accurately describing many, if not most, of the disagreements that take place on Twitter and in the comment threads of blogs. For Graham, responding to the tone of an argument is only one step above launching a personal attack. As Graham explains:
“So if the worst thing you can say about something is to criticize its tone, you’re not saying much. Is the author flippant, but correct? Better that than grave and wrong. And if the author is incorrect somewhere, say where.”
This is a key point. I am not claiming that my writing has no tone. My blog does not pretend to be academic writing and so I often use hyperbole or strong metaphors to make my arguments. I even write satirical posts that I can well imagine are not to everybody’s taste.
However, if this is all that someone who disagrees with me can point at, then it means that they have nothing to throw at the actual argument I am making. If a critic is able to refute the idea that critical thinking is domain specific then I imagine that he or she would, rather than proceed on the far weaker premise of attacking my tone.
I do not doubt that such comments are a genuine reflection of how some people feel when they read my writing. Tone is heavily subjective and many of the ideas that I criticise have lacked criticism in the past. There are a lot of academics and consultants out there who are used to making unchallenged assertions and so to see me be dismissive of those same assertions must seem uncivil and even rude.
This is one of the ways that you know you are on to something. The established people in the field do not like your arguments, but all they can manage to criticise is the way that you make them.