15 votes

It’s not enough to be right—you also have to be kind

5 comments

  1. [3]
    kfwyre
    Link
    This is an interesting article, especially coming from Ryan Holiday. For those unfamiliar with him, his first book was called Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. The book made...
    • Exemplary

    This is an interesting article, especially coming from Ryan Holiday. For those unfamiliar with him, his first book was called Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

    The book made my end-of-year favorites list for the year that I read it, though it was a somewhat dubious honor. While I found the contents of the book to be substantial and important, I also outright hated Holiday -- not as an author, but as a person. I would probably conduct myself differently and change my wording were I to write about the book now, but I'll let my past self speak candidly from several years ago in my review to a friend:

    I like to emphasize the good in people, and it’s rare that I refer to someone with a slur, but I’m just going to go ahead and get this out of the way: the author is a dick. I do not like him. His character comment is that he is a good friend of Tucker Max.

    That said, it's nice to hear that someone is at least willing to admit to the openly dickish things they do. This book is about Holiday’s use of social media to spin, misinform, and otherwise manipulate people for the benefit of businesses. It was published in 2012 and has only grown in relevance as now you cannot step online without dozens of companies and individuals all trying to influence you with deliberate misinformation.

    A lot of the information is pretty basic and common knowledge by now, but it was nice to get some of the inside info he had, as well as have some of my suspicions validated. For example, he talks about the efficacy of outrage and how he used this principle to drum up buzz for Tucker Max’s movie. He would put out deliberately inflammatory ads, and then he would call in (fake) complaints on behalf of concerned citizens and women’s groups. He played both sides of the outrage field as a publicity stunt--a technique that is now all too common. Consider how common it is to see someone getting outraged about something or, equally often, people getting outraged about the source of someone else’s outrage. It’s equal opportunity bait for both sides of the political spectrum. And it’s effective.

    Despite Holiday’s candidness, he never reaches full awareness of his dickishness. He walks away from the book happy, wealthy, and almost pathologically uncaring. It’s this aspect that I think is actually the book’s most unintentionally powerful commentary. There are powerful people out there who have turned off their empathy, and they make their living off of exploiting others’ feelings. People like this have always existed, but with the internet they now wield enormous power. And many out there are taking that right to the bank.

    I haven't really followed Holiday since reading this, other than that I'm mildly aware that he's published some modern philosophical stuff that I haven't looked into. He does walk back some of what he wrote (and how he wrote it) here, which is nice to see and helps me give him the benefit of the doubt, though I'm still hesitant to do so for fear of being taken for a sucker. Making a career of deliberate misinformation is a hard thing to turn around from, even when you're as allegedly honest about it as Holiday has been.

    Regardless of how I feel about him, I actually agree with the main thrust of his argument. I think kindness is essential, and convincing others of anything requires reaching and teaching.

    But, with that said, this article also has some curious blind spots. For someone who pioneered the use of internet outrage as a tool, he does little to address the idea that much of the political discourse he's chastizing as callous and insensitive is never meant to be convincing in the first place. That was the whole point of his book -- by drumming up outrage and spreading misinformation, you can monetize culture wars. So, when he cites that a meaningful Joe Rogan clip "undoubtedly has changed more minds [...] than the squabbles and fights on CNN, than the endless op-eds and think-tank reports", he seems strangely ignorant of the very tactics he himself has admitted to and utilized. How many of those squabbles, op-eds, and think-tank reports were done not as meaningful attempts at change but with ulterior motives, whether monetary or social?

    His argument seems aimed at the idea that everyone's out there acting in good faith, trying to convince the other side to see things their way, when really it's quite the opposite. There are plenty of people who don't give a shit about the other side and who in fact revel in their hatred for them and the conflict it produces. There are plenty of people out there who deliberately stoke these fires because of some personal satisfaction or gain that it brings to them. And all of this happens on media platforms that benefit more from the worst outcomes (outrage) rather than the best ones (harmony).

    Can we use more kindness and civility in the world? Absolutely. It's why I'm here on Tildes and why I believe in this place. I'll advocate for kindness over and over, again and again, because I think it's valuable and transformative. But I don't think kindness itself is enough. There are whole companies, arguably whole industries, that have a vested financial interest in sowing and spreading unkindness. There are people who use unkindness as their form of social connection and personal identification. And these people and companies exist in a toxic, symbiotic relationship. Someone who traffics in unkindness loves having a digital audience for it, and companies who traffic in digital audiences love the activity that unkindness brings.

    Holiday is someone who knows all about this but, for some strange reason, leaves it out of his commentary. It makes his message ring hollow to me -- like getting a lecture on the ills of gambling from my blackjack dealer. Berate me all you want for how I'm spending my money irresponsibly -- and know that there's certainly some element of truth in it -- but also maybe give some thought to the casino that we're sitting in? The one you're working in and helped design?

    14 votes
    1. dotsforeyes
      Link Parent
      After reading both the article and your comment, I'm willing to give the author benefit of the doubt but you bring up valid points. The thought I'm left with is after this comment is that I'd read...

      After reading both the article and your comment, I'm willing to give the author benefit of the doubt but you bring up valid points. The thought I'm left with is after this comment is that I'd read any book on the topic written by you. Well caught and well said.

      4 votes
    2. sublime_aenima
      Link Parent
      Most of what you rightfully call out and what his precious work is base on is reinforcing our own ideas or simply just generating clicks. Drumming up drama will get attention, but you’re rarely if...

      Most of what you rightfully call out and what his precious work is base on is reinforcing our own ideas or simply just generating clicks. Drumming up drama will get attention, but you’re rarely if ever going to get someone to change their opinion. It’s similar to how most “discussions” on the internet and even in person are really just understanding enough of what the other says in order to submit your rebuttal. To truly change an opinion we must empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. Understanding how to drum up attention is not mutually exclusive to understanding how to bring about change although they are usually opposite in their practice.

      3 votes
  2. teaearlgraycold
    Link
    I agree with the thesis but can't say I often practice empathy as a tool in argumentation. After reading the title I had hopes that the article would be self-supporting, in that it would somehow...

    I agree with the thesis but can't say I often practice empathy as a tool in argumentation.

    After reading the title I had hopes that the article would be self-supporting, in that it would somehow empathize with me to prove its point. Holiday seems to have gone with traditional rhetorical techniques instead. Maybe empathy is too tall of an order when you don't know who you're speaking to.

    2 votes
  3. mrbig
    Link
    Or maybe he thought empathy was not as required for the target audience of the article. When you're talking to cold, overly rational speaker, talking in a cold rational way might prove efective.

    Holiday seems to have gone with traditional rhetorical techniques instead

    Or maybe he thought empathy was not as required for the target audience of the article. When you're talking to cold, overly rational speaker, talking in a cold rational way might prove efective.