How To Be Right: The Art of Being Persuasively Correct (2015)

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BREAK THE SCOLD MOLD

The left finds it therapeutic to scold you for the silliest things—from improper use of pronouns, to wearing the wrong shirt to work. (For more on this topic, turn on the TV.)

The left created the fine art of complaint in the 1960s and 1970s, perfected the shrill drill during their activist politics of the 1980s, and made political correctness commonplace in the 1990s. As conservatives learned to fight the rise of PC politics, some of us adopted our adversaries’ gritty strategies, but also their unseemly habits. We started turning into the scolds, exploding with outrage every time a leftist said something stupid. (Again, turn on the TV.) Perhaps because we had kept our anger bottled up for so long while having to listen to the whiners of the world leak their rage all over us, it was our turn to vent. That we did. And do.

WHAT IS THE PERSUASIVELY INCORRECT?

Not too long ago, we saw the rise of the politically correct, in which behavior that was perceived as mean-spirited in any way, shape, or form was deemed unacceptable and shamed. It was not about your actions, but about your words. It wasn’t about guilt, but about perceived intent.

While there is no doubt that the advent of the politically correct helped shame authentic bigots and assholes, it overstepped in such a manner as to threaten free speech and the casual civility of a normal, well-intentioned, and engaged society.

Then came the welcome blowback: the emergence of the “politically incorrect.” It’s not so much a movement as a boisterous correction: a desire to champion thinking over feeling. It’s a frame of mind: identifying the “politically incorrect” is saying that you aren’t trafficking in identity politics, or you’re not one of the thought or language police. You’re calling it straight and blunt.

However, then came idiots who used that opportunity to revert to idiotic behaviors. An overcorrection. Calling someone a fat bitch isn’t being politically incorrect; it’s still being a dick.

What’s the next step? Something I like to call being “persuasively incorrect.” That means sticking to the commonsense values that progressives and academics despise, but being able to articulate them in a manner that wins converts, rather than confirmations from like-minded people.

As I write this, a rocket scientist responsible for landing a fax machine (I’m guessing) on a comet perhaps a zillion miles away had to apologize for the shirt he wore as his accomplishments unfolded. To recap:

During the live-stream of the European Space Agency’s landing of a probe on a comet 300 million miles from Earth, scientist Matt Taylor happened to be wearing a shirt featuring the artwork of women in sexy poses brandishing weapons (it was all very sci-fi, not so much sexy as it was dorky). On Twitter, scolds went mad, with idle women and men accusing him of “casual misogyny” (the name of Bill Clinton’s boat). He ended up changing the shirt (thankfully, not on air), but that wasn’t enough for the outrage brigade, who clearly had nothing better to do than harass someone who just chucked something onto a comet. (Another example of the curse of being employed—you have a job that keeps you busy. Those who attack you don’t have such obstacles.)

The poor guy ended up apologizing—in tears. It was painful to watch, unless of course you’re an unemployed blogger and get off on this sort of thing. You’d think when someone puts in enough effort to become a rocket scientist, he should get to wear any shirt he wants (as long as it’s not Ed Hardy). Sure, the guy knew he was going to be on camera and probably could have picked something else—but he’s a rocket scientist—not a fashionista. He dresses badly because he’s a supersmart scientist who devotes his life to solving life’s riddles, not trying to find leather chaps at Barneys (second floor, near the dressing room).

The fact that sad feminists on Twitter focused on his clothing and not his achievements made them more sexist than Archie Bunker watching female wrestling.

Worse, the fact that this fellow accomplished the unfathomable, and the next moment was crying over his shirt because of Twitter, tells you how this scold scourge has turned that online world into a bully chamber. In one universe, a man achieves greatness that no other has, and in another, the Twitterverse—a petty grotesque flattening ball of hell—he is stripped of his manliness, humiliated in front of the world. The fact that he didn’t tell them all to go fuck themselves shows you how removed he is from our current cultural B.S. This guy actually thought he had done something wrong.

Was the shirt sexist? Hell no. It was tacky. Awful. Garish. Grotesque, even. It was adolescent (and sort of great, really). It only showed the world a man who needed help buying clothes. It revealed that scientists are not metrosexuals (thank God), because their priorities are different. And by different, I mean “better.” He’d rather figure out space than socks. But feminists got their scalp—a weeping man—and amazing progress took a backseat to a pathetic charade of “social justice.” Seriously, why send a rocket to a comet if this is what you get for it? The world doesn’t deserve scientists. All it deserves are assholes on Twitter who wallow in 140 characters to make up for lacking their own (character, that is, not assholes).

During this same week, by the way, conservatives were doing some scolding of their own. For Veterans Day, a concert was held in Washington, DC, and Bruce Springsteen performed the Creedence Clearwater classic “Fortunate Son.”

Just as there are hacks on the left ripe to blow any out rage whistle, we have scolds, too, and they jumped on this one, claiming that Springsteen had insulted the troops with his “antimilitary” song choice.

Cable show opinion-flippers bellowed about his insulting the men who defend our country—without ever actually understanding that the song might be about people rich enough to evade the draft, not those who evaded fighting a war. It didn’t matter: it just felt good to scold a celebrity! Never mind the fact that everyone enjoyed the song—including the troops.

But the scolds still scolded. Cool. Whatever. But you’re really helping no one, especially yourself. I speak as a guilty party.

FOUR REASONS WHY YOU DON’T SCOLD

•You’re an adult with other stuff to do.

•Whoever you’re scolding doesn’t care.

•You expend your energy on garbage that dissipates in forty-eight hours.

•By scolding, you become a scold. Which is somebody nobody likes. You just succeed in turning conservatives into the town elders in Footloose.

Scolding is nitpicking, by definition. Springsteen didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t steal anything. He didn’t encourage violent revolution or bully a scientist over a lousy shirt. He performed, and if his song choice bugs you, swallow the bug and move on. Or—here’s a revelation—change the channel!

“But it pisses me off, Greg. That song was a slap in the face to my dad, who served!”

Okay, hypothetical guy—if it does upset you, how do you respond to it without falling into the trap of manufactured stridency, where the condemnation of a pop star over a song is on par with the emotion you might normally reserve for ISIS? How do you expose a legitimate error without coming off like a TV screamer trying to cash in on easy emotion? (The first way to do this: don’t go on TV. I have enough competition.)

If Springsteen really bugs you, if Lena Dunham really bugs you, if Bill Maher really bugs you, then pursue their perspective to its absurd conclusion. Absurdity always ends up servicing your point better (at least among the intelligent) than if you were to voice sincere, even appropriate anger.

Example: Recently a woman panhandler was seen leaving her normal spot where she begs for change, in a Mercedes-Benz. Apparently this woman hangs out at a San Diego shopping mall, sometimes with a dude, begging for cash—and is seen, according to one report, driving “off laughing in a Mercedes-Benz.” Sounds suspiciously like Nancy Pelosi, but anyway.

This is fodder for reflexive outrage—an indictment of the lazy freeloader who pretends to be down on her luck but really isn’t. So rather than condemn…do the opposite: applaud. She should serve as an inspirational model for other panhandlers. By begging, and driving off in a Mercedes, she’s saying to others, “See, if you work hard enough at panhandling, one day you can have all this, too!” In fact, we should set up a federal job training program for people who beg for money. (Oh, that’s right, we have one already—it’s called “public television.” My mistake.) Most people appreciate a break from the predictable rage.

Why Are Liberals Angry About This…and Not That?

THIS

THAT

incorrect pronouns for the transgendered

gays flung from rooftops

not enough gender-neutral bathrooms

women’s hands chopped off for cellphone use

Barbie dolls creating unrealistic body types

women beaten for driving

men clumsily flirting at work

twelve-year-old girls forced to marry

There. You make your point, and you make it without sounding like a dickhead. That’s the point of this book, really. (“Making Your Point, Without Being a Dickhead”—a title my narrow-minded publisher rejected, by the way.)

A final point on scolding: as a conservative, you will always have the disadvantage in the outrage wars. Kyle Smith said as much in the New York Post last November: when a Republican opens himself to attack, it doesn’t matter if the flaw has little or no impact on policy. Still, the outrage bell rings loud and long. But if a liberal is exposed for lying—or rather actually confesses deception—it’s explained away, even if the corrupt act had a massive impact on the American population (“If you like your doctor, you can keep…”). You have a complicit media playing silent, because in this bank robbery they drove the getaway car. And they willingly excuse a lie for the greater good, even when the greater good kills. Sometimes that’s the point.

The media, however, sees it in reverse—salivating over the right’s marginal transgressions, avoiding huge malfeasance on the left. It’s something we have to adjust for, which means letting go of problem candidates who can’t stop saying dumb stuff. And we have them. Does a belief in limited government and states’ rights somehow cause Tourette’s? Because we have candidates saying more dumb shit than Ted Turner and Mel Gibson on a three-day bender. Together. In Vegas. With Michael Richards driving.

POLITICAL TOURETTE’S

Red meat you can avoid saying, because everyone else already says it too many times:

★ phrases like “Obummer”

★ blaming the “lame stream media”—just call them assholes

★ bringing up impeachment every time Obama farts

★ suggesting Obama is a Muslim because he might be one

★ George Soros is behind everything (although, he is)