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Response to HuffPo

  • Posted on October 30, 2009 at 8:22 AM

Perhaps it’s just that I am politically conservative…  Which means that I believe the government should practice fiscal responsibility, that our troops deserve our emotional as well as fiscal support, that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion, and that abortion is murder—which is to say I’m conservative not Republican.

Perhaps it’s just that I am politically conservative, but I rarely read the Huffington Post.  This particular periodical seems outrageously biased and logically lax to me.  Imagine how surprised I was when I found an opinion piece advocating neurodiversity published in the Huffington Post!  Perhaps my surprise has nothing to do with my political leanings and everything to do with the consistent ravings about the vaccine-autism link seen at HuffPo.  I just didn’t think these two positions could fit together in the same paper.

Over all, I’d have to say I support what Anthony Collins has to say in this piece:

  • He applies neurodiversity to a broad sub-set of human characteristics.
  • He acknowledges that neurodiversity is beneficial to people with severe disabilities.
  • He highlights examples of prejudice that can’t hold up to scrutiny but are rarely scrutinized.
  • He highlights the place that language has in shaping our culture and the way we interact.
  • He highlights the power and importance of genuine acceptance and equality.
  • He points out flaws with our medicinal-solution strategies.
  • He addresses the inadequacies of governmental responses to inequalities.

So, why does the piece turn me off?  It could be this description of the author:  “While managing the newspaper at a Florida university, Anthony was a major proponent for Barack Obama’s election campaign, stem cell research, right-to-die laws, ethical euthanasia, medical marijuana and self-autonomy.”  (Self-autonomy is the only one of those causes I can agree with.)  But that’s probably not it, since I didn’t read that until later.

No, it’s not what he said, but how he said it that bothers me.  I try to stay away from the more caustic tones in my writing.  Even as a fellow supporter of neurodiversity I found Anthony Collins’ tone a bit grating.  Then again, I tend to write essays, otherwise known as literary nonfiction, not opinion pieces.  According to Susan Shapiro’s article in Writer’s Digest, an opinion piece is the supposed to be very opinionated—or, to put it another way, to get published one should “avoid being mild-mannered, tactful or diplomatic.”  So, this tone was definitely publishable.  But is that caustic, grating tone really beneficial?

If you’re goal is to get published, then I suppose so.  If your goal is to be persuasive, then I suspect not.  Most people are swayed by a mix of emotional and logical triggers—alienation is not one of these triggers and the caustic, grating tone often alienates readers, even while it entertains them.

You can get others who already agree with you riled up by grating on raw nerves, but anyone sitting on the fence is either going to stay on the fence—or worse, they’re going to turn away because the behavior is too untoward for them to want to associate themselves with or too offensive to generate empathy and support.

Perhaps a HuffPo reader wouldn’t find this piece so grating.  Perhaps they’re so used to this grating tone it slides right off of them.  They’re almost certainly amused and entertained by the tone, which is why they’re HuffPo readers.  But, that doesn’t mean they’re convinced or will even seriously consider the topic passed the last paragraph.  Effective communication requires so much more than just hot words shot off in quick, biting fashion.