I have to admit it. I do love a good verbal battle. A vigorous crossing of word-swords. Where you can hear the virtual cling! and clang! of the blows being meted out by intellectual pugilists locked in combat. Somehow this stirs the sporting part of me — gets my blood up. I’m raring to go. Especially if the topic at hand is something I feel I’ve got some sort of stake in, whether the argument directly involves me or not. I’m whipping out the épée and joining the melee. And if there are old enemies afoot — people I’ve fought before — so much the better. I know the strengths and weaknesses of the foe, and can better plan my attacks and my defense.
What almost never occurs to me, though, is to be silent. Just… not say anything. Don’t attack, but also don’t defend. Don’t even recognize that a verbal joust of any sort is taking place. Proceed as if the field is clear, only the chirping of birds can be heard in the far-off trees.
When I went down to California earlier this year, I had some very nice people pull me aside and say, “Look Brad, you really have to stop rushing into these on-line fights. It’s going to be bad for your career and it’s going to earn you a bad reputation.”
I can’t say I thought any of that advice to be wrong. I just don’t have very good control over my poorer instincts — the want to scrap when the scrapping is good. Not scrap for its own sake, no, but when there seems to be principle at stake, or when someone does seem truly out of line — or more usually, firing with both barrels on someone else who doesn’t seem to deserve it — I’m all in. Guns out, hammers cocked. Bring it.
During WisconFail — because really, it’s not about Elizabeth Moon any more, but rather the con’s responses to Moon and Moon’s detractors — I observed something very remarkable. While verbal fists were flying and I and many others were leaping about, the chief target in all this remained quiet. Just sort of… stood there and didn’t make a move, nor say much of anything. The bar fight was in high gear all around her, but while all of us were headpunching and gouging out eyes, Elizabeth Moon just seemed to sigh and let it all pass over and through her.
Only once did she ever publicly acknowledge what was happening — and then, only in the mildest of terms, with a fairly clear coda: there will be no further discussion on this issue in my space.
When I look at what Moon has done — how her silence in the midst of the storm has actually been the most powerful statement of all — I have to skid to a halt and think about it. In fact, very hard. Have been thinking about it all afternoon, since my last post. How come all of us are blasting away, and the person with the most to lose/gain is just kind of ignoring the entire operation? I don’t know Moon and I don’t know her mind, but I am guessing that she’s got experience and years here which I don’t have. Enough for her to have learned that sometimes scrapping isn’t everything. Especially the internet kind, where nobody ever admits they’re wrong, nobody ever really changes their mind, and nothing productive ever seems to be accomplished.
Me, what was my stake in it? Well, I’ve got some old grudges against some of the loudest instigators of Moon’s disinvitation from Wiscon. People I consider corrosive and damaging on several levels. But is it worthy of me to borrow WisconFail for my own use? Am I denaturing the value of my own argument by hijacking the “fight” just to get in some good kicks at some people I think deserve it, or for making a point I think deserves making? If I think the other “side” in the fight is being predictable by always chiming in and volleying — regardless of the issue at hand — what am I doing, and am I any better than they are when I do it?
Back to Moon — silent Moon — I kind of stop and stare. And ponder. There seems to be a rather deep lesson here. Something I’m not smart or experienced enough to have picked up on. Before now. I’ve sort of had signs about it — people saying things — but my instinct for the scrap has still been too strong for me to ignore.
But perhaps the most powerful statement of all — the one that trumps all wit, snark and cleverly-attempted word grenades — is the statement that doesn’t need to be made at all?
The absence of words.
This deserves further thought….