I really can’t stand it when an author arrogantly presumes that he’s smarter than I am.
This sort of thing occurs more often in nonfiction than in fiction, really. The closest thing that exists in fiction is when the writer makes some snide, pseudo-sneaky jab at a group of people who hold a particular belief, when the comment has absolutely nothing to do with the overall plot or purpose of the story. That’s not quite what I’m getting at, though.
What I’m referring to is when a nonfiction author, in an attempt to make his own opinion seem valid, begins his argument by cutting down the intelligence of anyone who holds an opposing belief that happens to be more popular than his own. When I was in college and my nonfiction reading consisted of literary criticism and scholarly analysis of great literature, it didn’t bother me as much. Sure, it existed, but I really couldn’t get myself worked up when someone proclaimed that Symbol A, which is widely accepted as meaning Idea B, really means Idea C, and anyone who still believes it means Idea B must lack the literary genius to see otherwise. Eh, fine, whatever. Even if I think Idea B does make more sense, I don’t really care about it enough to bother feeling insulted.
When I read a nonfiction book on a topic of my choosing, however, things change. It’s a topic that I’m already invested in and, therefore, already have some opinions on. When an author implies that I’m stupid for having those opinions, I’m less inclined to really give his own opinions any honest consideration. It’s fine, of course, if the author disagrees with my opinion or holds a different point of view. Odds are, I gathered that much by their title, book summary, etc., and simply decided to read their book in hopes of gaining a better understanding of their beliefs. That doesn’t mean said author needs to insult my intelligence in the process of validating his own. Setting that tone tells me that, really, cheap blows is the best that author is capable of. And if that’s the impression the author gives me by his own words, then why should I bother to finish reading his book?
Example time. I recently started reading a book about the relationship between science and ethics. Basically, the book is supposed to show that people can use science to form a moral code. I’m a Christian, so my own code of morality comes from my faith, and I tend to believe that morality overall depends on a divine source. But I also know that atheists/agnostics/etc. are perfectly capable of holding themselves to a moral standard. I also know that some use science to justify their beliefs. So, I decided that I wanted to read how that worked. I had no intention of changing my own beliefs, but I was still genuinely curious. Within the first few pages of the introduction, however, the writer essentially said that anyone who turns to faith/religion as the foundation of moral truth is backwards, dangerous, incapable of rational thought, and would ultimate doom us all. (Not his exact words…but close.) Oh? Is that so, Mr. Author? Well, I guess you’re just too smart for all of us, then. Too smart for me, too. Guess there’s no point in reading the rest of your book…
This begs the question: why do people — authors, in this case — who think they’re so smart feel the need to insult a group of people who don’t see things their way? I mean, are they that insecure in their own opinions that they need to clarify, before they do anything else, that anyone who disagrees with them lacks intellectual capability? Because I’m pretty sure that if you insult anyone who disagrees with you, you probably won’t convert any of them to your opinion. Which means that, basically, an author who relies on that method will only be making points to an audience who already agrees with him. That’s fine for what it’s worth, but then, said author probably shouldn’t be framing his book as though it’s meant to turn minds and stimulate thought among people who think differently. Just sayin’.
Sheesh. And I thought I was supposed to be the stupid one…