in which David Sessions and I keep talking

David Sessions has patiently answered my questions, so let me offer a few replies in turn.

First, I don’t think that “writing on the internet, arguing on the internet” is one thing, any more than writing per se and arguing per se are one thing. There are many ways to write and argue, for many different audiences, and we don’t all have to play the same “game.” More on this later.

Second, David writes, “What I’m trying to demonstrate here is that substantive argument can be combined with an appropriate degree of meanness when the target legitimates it.” I very much agree with that as a general principle, but I don’t think he lives up to it in his original post — in fact, I think he explicitly disavows it. He says that it’s “obvious” what Walsh is, and “To try to demonstrate that Matt Walsh is a douchebag would be pointless, as well as an insult to anyone who sacrifices their sanity and financial well-being to master difficult knowledge, like how to write.” So instead David calls him a douchebag, over and over again. Relatedly …

In that original post, David writes,

What Walsh shares with mainstream hot-takers and evangelical emotibloggers alike is that he writes largely without the intention of trying to stake a position, reject or argue with any position, or persuade any reader. His position is presumed from the start, and he adds nothing beyond scare-quoting and free-association. This feminism post, for example, seems to be an extended attempt to arrive at the most exalted metaphorical epithet to bestow upon that obviously Satanic movement. The whole “analysis,” which takes off from a viral video of little girls saying the F-word, depends on you already thinking it is an indication of deep moral corruption that a society could produce, much less laugh at, a video of little girls saying the F-word. (We all know kids saying the F-word, with or without political intent, is hilarious.)

It was this part of the post that made think that this might be intentional self-parody, because in the same paragraph that he complains about Walsh simply assuming the rightness of his position, he writes, “We all know kids saying the F-word, with or without political intent, is hilarious.” (“We all know.”) And in the same paragraph that he complains about Walsh using scare-quotes in place of argument, he scare-quotes “analysis.”

I don’t know whether Sessions is right about Walsh or not, and as I explained in my previous post I don’t intend to find out, but it seems to me quite clear that he is doing pretty much exactly what he accuses Walsh of doing. Rather than arguing, he says that his target is not worthy of an actual argument, and chooses instead to score easy points for an audience that he confidently presumes already agrees with him. (“We all know.”)

So insofar as David’s original post was an argument about a lamentable rhetorical style — and I took that to be his main point, with Walsh as an exemplar of it rather than a unique figure — I think it’s really unfortunate how fully he participates in that very style. If he really does care about having reasoned and charitable and substantive debate online, shouldn’t he take particular care to play a different game than Matt Walsh is playing?