America, as observed through reader letters

After a few days during which my children had a monopsony on my attention, I am now browsing through the Reader Letters I got in response to my two articles in the Christmas Issue of The Economist. There were a lot!

I want to respond at length to some of the more thoughtful ones, because there is a theme. But in this post, I simply want to share with you a cavalier smirk at … the tone of those letters.

I’ve been getting and reading Reader Letters throughout the more than twelve years I’ve been writing for The Economist. Because I’ve changed beats and location, the demography of the writers has changed during that time. I used to get a lot of ‘Asian’ letters, for instance, then a lot of ‘techie-geekie’ letters, and now a lot of ‘American’ letters.

Speaking only of the latter category, I might generalize that 60% of my mail now serves only one purpose: to inform me that I am:

  • stupid,
  • malicious, and
  • ignorant.

Furthermore, that I (as well as The Economist generally, along with all ‘the media’) pursue an insidious ‘agenda’. That agenda is usually

  • pinko-Commie-gay-activist, although quite often it is
  • Fascist-rightist-capitalist.

Every now and then a letter writer manages to accuse me of both excesses simultaneously (on top of ignorance, see above, which is a constant).

For example, one New Yorker has taken the trouble this week to write separate letters in response to each of my articles (I have linked to those pieces elsewhere. They’re not the point here.)

In one letter he informs me that

… Minorities have more than enough protection. I have ben practicing law for 40 plus years and am amazed that a magazine of the Economist’s stature would allow the drivel contained in “The Tyranny of the Majority” to be spread on its pages. Is the Economist afraid to print a dissenting opinion from its gay activist orthodoxy?

In his other letter, he suggests that

The author of this Socratic exegesis should have his head examined. He does not define “values.” He is untruthful, ignorant. … The author of ARGUING TO DEATH, like the Economist itself, owes readers facts, not legal-sounding fabrications and unelucidated jibberish [sic] gussied up as “values.”

And thusly, a Happy New Year to all of you. More gibberish anon from your favorite ignoramus. Check in often in 2010 so you miss none of the drivel.

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36 thoughts on “America, as observed through reader letters

  1. “monopsony” – a word I hadn’t before encountered, and which I now can’t wait to trot out at the next opportunity I have to impress someone.

    Is there no end to what one learns on the Hannibal Blog?

  2. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, but don’t his rants sort of validate what you are saying in your articles?

    Also, one of these days, we should do a semiotic/discourse analysis of the wonderful term “have your head examined.” It would also be interesting to develop criteria for evaluating gibberish as elucidated vs. unelucidated.

  3. Always interesting that when someone is gibbering they’ll write “jibberish.” The rage will always out in a glitch. Even if someone has 40 years of practising law under their belt. What produces this rage in 60% of a population sample? Anyways, Andreas, I think I remember you blogging about courage in writing. You’ve got oodles. Sgx

  4. I apollogize for the “jibberish” but my spell check was out that day.

    On a positive nose, I actually find your beknighted baldermash and your adderplated cliptrap rather entertainmenting. Why didn’t you mention my third letter where I exposed your lobstersided dingoism?

    Anyway, new hard fillings, and Happy New Ear from New York!

  5. I found that the comment by A Ladybug Named Dinah was insightful, accurate, and teacherish. Ironic that Andreas Kluth commented right after she did.

    Screw the uninformed.

    Where is a Twain quotation when I need one???

  6. Injustice is hard to bear, Andreas. Too often it arises from preconception and a consideration of form rather than substance. How would you relate your piece on the “Veil of Ignorance” to this post?

    • What! These puny hands crank that mighty engine?

      I’ll give a tug at the propeller and jump smartly to one side:

      As logic is to reason, so The Veil of Ignorance is to justice.

  7. Thank you for sharing Andreas! I’m smiling beyond repair.

    On the other hand, left? no! right? no! So it must be left …to the amusing fact of perspectivism.

    This one, trying to define the beast, is lying below the elephant and has been there for some time looking up its… Oh, shit! in the eye of the beholder.

    Delightful lessons on the Hannibal Blog, including some very insightful comments from its readers.

    A happy new year to all,

    and thanks again for all the laughs and the depth.

  8. PS. America was never the same after they shot Kennedy, and Martin and John and Kahlil* and …

    *Kahlil was some kid in Baghdad.
    His death was backed up by some ‘legal-sounding fabrications and unelucidated jibberish [sic] gussied up as “values.” ‘

    • well, easy for me to say/write – but perhaps insulting letters that motivate exuvia to post on your blog and so many others that also gave me smiles beyond repair, might be worth blows? what a sad reflection on america, however.

      happy new ear!

      and tanks fer starting mine off with a laugh.

  9. The righteous (self righteous?) is unattractive, whether he’s a bicycle commuter, vegetarian, hawk, dog owner or pundit. A self righteous athlete might be an exception (if he’s hunky and eloquent). What are the characteristics of the self-righteous letter?

    Someone (a highly intelligent someone who can use big words correctly) told me she recently ended her subscription to the Economist because the content is unsatisfactory and it sounds smug.

    (you smell bad, too).

    • I often agree with your highly-intelligent-someone friend in finding The Economist smug. I try not to sound smug but I’m sure sometimes I do.

      That gets into that devilish subject of “tone”….

  10. I’ve seen that bicycle commuting vegetarian with his smug smile driving around the park with his vegetarian dog. Yes! vegetarian dog. I know for sure that he writes for a newspaper and I have a mind not to bye it. He is a smeller is he! He should be flaccid with all his lettuce. But look at him, no don’t! He might think he is admired.


    Have a wonderful new years eve.

  11. Perhaps your lawyer correspondent should try Samuel Johnson’s Prayer before the study of the Law:

    Almighty God, the giver of wisdom,
    Without whose help study is ineffectual,
    Without whose blessing resolutions are vain,
    Grant that I may attain such knowledge as may qualify me
    To guide the doubtful and instruct the ignorant,
    Prevent wrong and terminate contention,
    And grant that I may use that knowledge which I shall attain
    To thy glory and my own salvation.

  12. Consider your alleged lawyer a “fan”. I say “alleged” because he didn’t identify himself as one, just implied it by saying he “practiced law for 40 years.” And how are we to know that was in the courts or while watching various TV shows? I don’t take issue with his misspellings or any poor grammar (was there much of that?) because it is fairly easy to misspell gibberish when one is so angry that they fail to consider using a spellchecker. Well, assuming he was not using lined paper and crayon, that is.

    The fact that you moved him to actually dash off a number of letters adds to your ability to make people think. How they think is up to them.

    Or would you rather you just received praise?

    • I think Andreas was merely reporting on a trend in his reader mail, not expressing, either explicitly nor implicitly, a preference one way or the other. He may, of course, have a preference one way or the other, but I can only speculate as to what it may be based on the assumption that most of us, in general, tend to prefer a preponderance of praise over criticism.

      All praise, however, would make for scant material to write about. Therefore, I have a hunch that Andreas does not want all praise. If everything were perfect, what’s would a writer be doing all day?

      It’s nice to be loved, but professions of love and unconditional agreement leave little to be said in return except “I love you, too” and “thanks everybody.” If the affirmations of affection one receives weren’t interspersed with at least a few dissents and attacks here and there, there’d be little room for creative rebuttle, and that’s the fun part of receiving feedback.

      So no, he doesn’t want all praise.

    • I’m always amazed at my inability to post anything anywhere without including at least one typo. Some mistakes only become visible once it’s too late to correct them. Just like in real life.

    • 🙂 yes, well if everyone simply said, “i love you all” we certainly would miss out on a lot of great literature. This response “CORDELIA: Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty According to my bond; nor more nor less.” leads to a so much more satisfying read!

    • Douglas and Peter: Of course I’m actually quite thrilled to receive mail at all. Good or bad.

      to paraphrase Oscar Wilde: the only thing worse than getting reader letters is not getting reader letters.

      And I learn a lot from these letters, even the angry ones.

      And I read each and every one.

  13. …what surprised me was not his (andreas’) reaction, but that while all these wonderfully intelligent bloggers rose in support of andreas not one seemed to realize the same insults from the letter writers would “apply” to the hannibal blog because the posts are ephemeral and esoteric and even border on poetic – the great majority of people finding these posts incomprehensible might lash out with name calling!

    i would not necessarily include myself (dafna) in that category of writers…

    • oops… would not include myself in the “wonderfully intelligent bloggers” category of writer, um. nor the ones who would lash out

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