I do enjoy embarking aboard USS Clueless every once in a while. The good captain Den Beste has insanely long posts, and occasionally outstanding analysis. He’s an engineer by trade, and the worldview this experience affords him is useful in taking apart many situations.
However, he’s grumpy today, and perhaps it’s a fundamental disagreement with, or misunderstanding of, how people operate.
If you read the post you’ll see that he’s groaning under the heavy load of readership; and is annoyed when eighteen people write him to correct some pedantic speling eror or other some such. He really gets tweaked. He’s already compared it to water torture (although the “water cure” might be a better analogy).
As for me, I get one email a week about this website, usually because I’ve commented somewhere else in the blogosphere, not because of the writing. So I don’t have that problem. However, perhaps I could offer a solution.
Moving parts in rubbing contact require lubrication to avoid excessive wear. Honorifics and formal politeness provide lubrication where people rub together. Often the very young, the untraveled, the naive, the unsophisticated deplore these formalities as “empty,” “meaningless,” or “dishonest,” and scorn to use them. No matter how “pure” their motive, they thereby throw sand into machinery that does not work too well at best.
Den Beste sees no moving parts because he just writes and allows people to see what he did. Heinlein saw that the lonely writing process is still a form of social intercourse. What to do when he got so popular that he got letters nonstop, in a pre-form letter age? He could answer the letters, but would not get any writing done otherwise!
Heinlein settled on an elegant solution. He and his wife printed index cards regretting his inability to individually respond, but thanking the writer for the time. Sometimes he’d respond more directly if the writer was more interesting.
The result? A large number of people who to this day remember their interaction with the Master fondly and with warmth.
So here’s the point that Den Beste, to my thinking, misses. One reason a person writes is to have influence on how others think or act. By ensuring that enemies were not made unnecessarily, Heinlein improved and deepened his influence by maintaining some semblance of politeness in a difficult situation. (A rule I try to live by: Make your enemies only on purpose. You’ll get enough of them as it is.) Den Beste could have a piece of form email stationery on his computer, a bin different from the Bozo Bin to put pedants and helpfulx1000 emails, and then send all his correction squad a nice note that acknowledges the other’s existence with negligible effort on Den Beste’s part. The emailer isn’t turned off (and never to read again and learn something) due to Den Beste’s insistence on playing exclusively by his own rules. Den Beste doesn’t get the return email and thus gets less annoyance.
Perhaps I should email Den Beste, pointing out this potential solution!
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