A Response To Michael Hawkins (Guest Michael Hartwell)
Posted on behalf of a Young, Hip Conservative. I’m not in the middle of this though, so don’t take it that way, I’m just an innocent bystander, albeit one facilitating a dispute. (Rather than put the whole thing in a block quote, I just italicized it, thought it would look better)
I wasn’t sure if I should respond to a critical post (1) Michael Hawkins wrote at Forthesakeofscience about me. I loathe having online discussions with him because of his tone, long-windedness and unwillingness to consider counter evidence. I didn’t want to leave a reply in his realm of control (I doubt he’d edit a reply in the comments, but I didn’t want to take a chance) and I avoid writing about personal issues on my blog. That’s what this is. Nate is a mutual friend of both of us and was kind enough to host a reply here. This post is mostly written for my friends, and I hope to hear from them.
Hawkins made three major accusations: I make an unacceptable number of typos, I am a poor writer and I don’t research the subjects I blog about thoroughly.
A lot of this spilled out on Facebook, where he proceeded to troll me by asking if I have a reading disability over and over. I do not, of course, and he asked it in a manner that would make it degrading to answer him directly.
As for his first point about typos, I absolutely agree with him. I started my blog following a newspaper layoff, but I now work full time and have increased my rate of posts to at least once every other day. That’s an explanation, not an excuse, because it’s still unacceptable. For what it’s worth, I am inspired by this to concentrate more on proofreading.
His second point about my writing style I flat out deny. Writing style can not be quantified, but I think this comes from different preferences. Of course, I find my stance to be superior and consider myself a good writer.
I take my writing philosophy from Orwell, Strunk and White (3) and believe in using sharp, simple sentences that are easy to comprehend. This gives my writing more power, in my opinion, and I reject cumbersome academic writing that makes the reader slow down to interpret obscure words. Curbing ones vocabulary takes a lot of effort, but that is my preference.
I am also a journalist (outside of my blog) and have to write in that style a lot, which makes it habitual. Hawkins repeats the cliche that journalism is written for a junior high reading level. This is nonsense. Writing clearly is not a vice, and more writers should strive to make their prose digestible.
He also linked the blogger profile I filled out three years ago and says I lied when I put “science” as my industry. I don’t remember filling it out three years ago, no one maintains or looks at blogger profiles, and I assume I wrote that because I was out of work and was starting a science blog and wanted it in that category.
What seems to be the crux of his post was an accusation that I use false facts. This is a big accusation which I completely deny. I use the scientific worldview as a mindset for writing about issues, including political issues. That is what makes my blog stand out.
I regularly say things that could get my head on a stick, (4)(5)(6) and have to back them up. I also carve out a niche using economic lessons in things like desserts (7) and video games. (8) These are original ideas that require hard work.
Going back to my days as a right-wing columnist in a liberal school, I always enjoyed hearing students (and occasionally professors) tell me that they disagree with my politics, but enjoy reading my work because my arguments rely on facts, not rumors, myths or emotions.
One column I wrote in college, however, was factually wrong and I still regret it. I was sympathetic to intelligent design and said it should be dismissed with studies, not written off. I had spent hours and hours reading about it, but I missed some key facts. I even wrote about it on my blog years later to show that people can learn, and we should be willing to say we were wrong.
This is what people who love science do, but for some reason, Hawkins used that to criticize me. What a bunch of hogwash. He wrote:
“He’s almost proud of the learning experience, in fact. It was certainly needed, but I’m not so sure touting one’s former ignorance is the way to go – at least not for a journalist.”
I am certainly proud of myself for letting evidence switch a position, even one I had stated publicly. I do not think we should blindly grip the positions we have, but constantly question and evaluate them, and if needed, change them. That’s the kind of reputation I want to have; not one of pretending to be born wise and unmoved by experience.
What’s interesting here is that Hawkins and I are writing for the same people,. I’ve always said I write a conservative blog with a liberal target audience. As such, I go out of my way to be respectful to them so they will consider my points. I keep in mind that I have political opponents, not enemies. I’m also secular and that world view shines through a lot of what I write. I have written things insulting groups before, such as Marxists, but generally I find it more satisfying to write respectfully. Also, insulting someone is a good way to get them to stop reading, and how can you change minds if your opposition won’t read what you write?
Hawkins is a left-wing atheist and writes for the same audience. However, he’s not an outsider and as such feels free to pepper his pieces with insults to a common foe. He doesn’t have to worry about turning conservative readers away because he never intends them to visit his blog.
Hawkins often comes off as an angry Internet forum poster who intends to derail discussions, even when he has a point to make. He also sees everything in black and white. “Bigot” is a word he throws around casually. There is no distinction between a young person who violently attacks gays, or an old woman who votes against gay marriage out of ignorance simply because she was born in unenlightened times.(9) Everything must be one extreme or the other.
If you tell someone they are stupid, and then make an argument against their position, you have sealed them off from agreeing with you. To admit your argument was correct would would imply that they were right when they called you stupid as well.
He also had a habit of writing sprawling replies in the comment section. I will admit that I spend more time on posts then I do writing a comment, but I honestly don’t enjoy any exchanges I’ve had with him. He makes it a point to be vulgar and rude. He also gets upset if you don’t respond to each and every point sprinkled among his replies. I don’t believe he’s willing to reverse any of his positions in a comment section. With the combination of these elements, I don’t respond to a lot of his comments. They are a chore to deal with.
For example, here’s a tidbit from a recent issue that got him upset this week. During a reply,(10) he wrote:
“For fuck’s sake. Do you read? Do you reading a fucking thing, Michael? I make the point that the President supported gay marriage nearly two decades ago, only switching his stance when he ran for higher office. Your counter? “Nuh-uh! Look! He supported marriage in 1996 but not when he ran for higher office!” Good job. Why are you a journalist? You’re fucking terrible at reading. Just terrible.”
In this case, the facts are that candidate Obama was distancing himself from what his office wrote in a GLBT-focused local newspaper two years later when he ran for the same office. During the exchange with Hawkins, I interpreted a news story as saying his aides denied his support for gay marriage in 1996, and I quoted it as such. In fact, the quote was unclear and Hawkins (correctly) interpreted it as saying his aides in later years denied the position.
This is an incredibly nuanced disagreement, but Hawkins lives in a world of black and white and was only able to respond in a childish manner. The evidence here is weak. Obama’s office filled out this survey, but wrote Undecided in the 1998 version of the survey. There are no direct statements from the president I am aware of, and Hawkins has not provided any. It’s possible he legitimately held that belief, it’s also possible this was an error from a state senatorial campaign. Reasonable people can disagree, but he is unwilling to consider he could be wrong.
When you factor in that he believes the president is also a secret atheist, its easy to see that emotionally, Hawkins HAS to believe the president agrees with him. He’s emotionally invested and sees this as a sacred fact that can never be questioned. Otherwise, with his black and white worldview, he would have to believe the president has been a bigot.
That’s all I have to say about this. I only met Hawkins in person twice, and he was pleasant to be around, if a little shy. Even though I dislike his extremes on commenting, for someone reason I liked having him as a friend. I’ll remember him for the time around Thanksgiving after we visited the Occupy Maine protest camp with Nate. Hawkins and I were shoveling the snow that fell off his roof onto his driveway and I asked when did we go from Internet rivals to friends. We didn’t know.
I wish him well with his blog and life.