Intellectual Grouchiness

From at least 7th grade, I’ve had a strong streak of intellectual grouchiness (to use what is perhaps a slightly too benign term). Over my live I tend to be…vigorous…in my criticism (both positive and negative) and…creative…with the language I use to express that criticism.

I trace this to 7th grade because there was a notable shift there. I had been tracked “dumb” for sixth grade so was in the “section” with all the kids with scholastic and behavioural problem. (Several of the other kids were 1-3 years older than me because they’d been held back.) There was considerable stigma being in that section and intrasection stigma for being interested in classes. (I made friends but a lot of it was fraught.)

I was retracked in 7th grade which was helpful, but it was like transferring to a different school. Nigh everyone had settled circles of friends. So I ended up with the lone outsider who was frightfully bright but angry all the time, to say the least. I assimilated and in a few months was called into the counsellor’s office to discuss why in a couple of months I’d gone from sweet and polite to wildly sarcastic.

I pointed out the obvious and, well, nothing happened.

(Note that this was probably a hugely destructive relationship. The verbal abuse I was picking up was substantially directed at me. For years. My best friend was routinely mean to me esp about my intellectual capabilities.)

In addition to that I’ve a taste for the polemic. Being right is cool. Destroying bad arguments is a rush. Bad arguments are painful. Etc.

(I will at some point discuss my exposure to the Sellarsian school of intellectual meanness.)

This preface to reflecting on two recent posts, on Zombie Economics and on Federalism and the ACA. Both these posts are critical, the latter more than the former. John Quiggan came into the comments to complain about my lack of charity and the fact that I “don’t explain what I don’t like about” his book. (I think I am reasonably charitable and I think I do explain what I don’t like. But go read the comments.) The meanest word I use is “howler”. You could read that I thought John was hiding unfavourable data but that was not intended.

For the latter, well, I degenerate toward the end. I was commenting while reading and got ticked off. I don’t think it’s wildly inaccurate, but it wouldn’t be fun to read as an author and challenging to take away a useful message though I think my criticism is good. Of course, even phrased nicely, the message “rewrite this from scratch; stop making wild claims; show your work” isn’t going to be easy to take.

It’s easier to blog about things I don’t like when I let myself go. Actually a lot of things would be easier if I could let my acid tongue wag freely. (It wouldn’t always be going but having that available helps.)

But it’s not good, I’m pretty sure. It can be useful to people sometimes, but I don’t think of it as a generally ok move. The problem is that I’m still not as un self conscious otherwise which makes things harder.

But I will strive!

That federalism paper is still pretty bad.


4 thoughts on “Intellectual Grouchiness

  1. I love the phrase “intellectual grouchiness” to describe a rational reaction to the disappointing discovery of how much the rest of the world does not meet one’s own standards. As an only-quasi academic i have learnt to suppress this trait, but wish you well in the continuing fight to expect others to use their brains even when they would rather be playing candy crush.

    • Alas, being grouchy often is counterproductive in getting people to do better (though not always!). The challenging thing is to produce better effects.

      Cf Quiggan’s comments. I’m pretty sure that the word “howler” really got under his skin and wasn’t necessary.

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