One of the unappreciated benefits of the Internet is the way that bloggers and commenters are constantly proving your points. If I critique an argument, and one commenter pops up to say "nobody argues that," another commenter will inevitably show up and prove, quite loudly, that people do in fact argue that. It's helpful and clarifying.
Nowhere is this more perfectly realized than in my complaints about Twitter. Whenever I make my standard critique of Twitter, someone goes on Twitter, says I'm wrong, and basks in the glow of the self-selected echo chamber which reaffirms every thought. It's as regular as clockwork and as self-defeating as possible.
So: they republished a revised version of my essay on the resentment machine in the New Inquiry, for which I'm quite grateful. Ryan Avent, economics guru and reliably "reasonable" correspondent, was apparently stung by it. Unfortunately, he didn't think to articulate an argument. He merely took to Twitter.
Now, I actually think this might be the platonic Tweet. It disparages without content. It dismisses without effort. It denounces without understanding. Its totally artificial length constraints shield it from having to actually express an argument. It is broadcast in an ostensibly public way, but its creator only receives and replies to those who he chooses, and he will only choose those who flatter and support him. And it produced exactly what Twitter is meant to produce, some random figure that emerges only to gently stroke the ego of the user.
I am angry, because Avent didn't just dismiss my essay without argument. He instead decided to attack my field. I'm not interested in defending it; the scholars who are producing knowledge in my discipline, and their work, can stand on their own. I will merely say that Avent has no idea what my field is, couldn't name three people working within it, doesn't have a clue what kind of research comes from it, doesn't even have a context for understanding what he is offhandedly dismissing. He has no idea, and he has the arrogance that can only come from ignorance and a medium that privileges it. This is what Twitter is for, and this is indicative of the entire operation of prominent bloggers: socially and professionally connected people who defend each other no matter what, excluding and marginalizing dissent, ignoring unpalatable arguments that they can't answer, and in every way undermining as illegitimate criticisms that don't operate from a position of privilege and social authority. You know why our media sucks? Why blogging sucks? This is why. Because bad behavior will never be corrected, thanks to the endless corruption of professional patronage.
This, above all else: I'm right here. Everyone who wants to rebut me has only to take to a blog and rebut me, or come into my comments section to argue with me, or send me an email. I fight a lot. I win some. I lose many. But I am willing to fight, and to lose, as long as my critics are willing to fight. But they never do. They take their whinges behind closed doors, or they back channel grief to me through mutual social circles, or they utilize the fake public forum of Twitter to dismiss in 140 characters what they couldn't rebut in 1,000 words. They do everything but have it out. So here is Ryan Avent, without an argument, without any knowledge whatsoever of the field he's critiquing, with nothing but the reliable certainty that some follower would soothe his ego, flatter his pretensions, and indicate assent. This is what Twitter is for: for those too weak to engage in actual antagonistic discourse. And did Avent retweet his useful pal? Oh, of course.
Unlike Avent, I lack the protections of working for establishment media, or institutional authority, or the pleasant cocoon of neoliberal mutual admiration. I don't have a host of paid-up members of the establishment blogosphere using their levers of control to defend me. It's just me, on this free blogging platform, and nobody else. Not a think tank, not a big media magazine, not a foundation or a set of fellow travelers. I have no institution and I ask for no supporters. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Ryan Avent can continue to hide in a coward's medium. I, meanwhile, will remain here, ready to fight. It's a small grace for a poor and tired grad student, one lacking all the amenities that Avent has accumulated in the world of privilege that establishment media represents, but in comparison to people who spend their whole lives hiding in a bubble of pleasant assent, I feel like a king.