[OPE-L:2164] Re: Insults and Characterisations

JERRY LEVY (jlevy@sescva.esc.edu)
Sat, 11 May 1996 07:02:58 -0700

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Alan wrote in [OPE-L:2161]:

> ... personally I think insults can be quite productive ....

Insult: "to treat insolently or with contemptuous rudeness; affront."

Characterization: "portrayal; description."

(both definitions from _The Random House Dictionary of the English


(1) *Insults* can indeed be "quite productive" when, under certain
circumstances, they are ***directed against our class enemies***.
For instance, the act of insulting management by a wage-earner can
be a challenge to the authority of capital and an object lesson to
fellow workers, i.e. they need not be afraid of management. In many
situations (most notably, while working in an auto plant) I have
used insults for this purpose.

(2) *Insults*, though, if taken alone, i.e. if divorced from a critique,
are frequently an attempt to evade discussion and are a sign of
intellectual weakness.

(3) Although we may have different theoretical and political perspectives,
we are not class enemies. Nor are we defenders of bourgeois rule or
class collaboration. There is, consequently, ***no need for insults
among us***. It is, given *who* we are, entirely *counter-productive*.

(4) *Characterizations* are legitimate ***if*** the characterizations
themselves are accurate, i.e. if they are not MIScharacterizations.
Nothing is easier than to mischaracterize someone's position and argue
with what they are *not* saying. Such MIScharacterizations and
argument by hyperbole are not intellectually honest.

(5) A presupposition for characterization is *understanding*. Until we
understand a position we can not accurately characterize that position.

(6) It is true that it is "more reprehensible to abuse a person ...."
However, the process of eith insulting a person's positions or
purposely MIScharacterizing someone's position is *also* reprehensible.

(7) Marx said somewhere that we must submit all existing ideas to a
ruthless critique. I take this to mean that we should *critically*
examine all perspectives in a thorough-going manner. This process,
though, is not one of either insult or mischaracterization. MarxISTS
have a "grand" history for polemics in which insults and
mischaracterizations frequently play a prominent role. This is a
tradition which, I believe, we need to break from and has done great
harm towards the advancement of both theory and praxis.

(8) Chill.

In OPE-L Solidarity,