Interesting few days at Wimbledon, the US Supreme Court, and the humble blog. It all started when I criticized “Mr. Money Mustache” in his comment section for ripping into one of his readers. As I explained in the previous post, MMM is a wildly successful blogger who writes about personal finance and early retirement.
He provides excellent details on how he’s managed to retire early and offers no-nonsense advice on how to replicate his success. Understandably, his legion of readers dig him for the tangible help he’s provided them. He typically responds to every tenth or twentieth reader comment, and because nearly every one is in essence an “amen to that” I thought he’d return serve following my critique. But he didn’t. That is, until his next post, in which he not only referred to my criticism, but linked to my previous post titled “What Engineers Get Wrong”.
As a result, on Monday and Tuesday, I had a month’s worth of page views. An unintended part of my fifteen minutes of fame. Most of the mass of visitors just quietly poked around, some engineers however, took the time to rip into me for my criticism of them. If the thought of me being ripped into brings even a small smile to your face go back and read their comments. Or at least Allison’s who it doesn’t seem likes me very much. All I have to say to Allison is I’m much more charming in person. Ask my mom.
I’ve dared to disagree with MMM before and felt some of his readers’ wrath, so now I know what to expect. It’s an interesting phenomenon. It’s almost like he’s a cult leader whose followers refuse to question him. He’s even charismatic, but unlike most cult leaders, he’s not selling his personality or whacked out made up ideas, the vast majority of his content makes excellent sense. What I now realize is hIs readers so appreciate his writing that they don’t take kindly to anyone disagreeing with him. Which of course threatens to make his readers’ comment section a sleep inducing echo chamber.
But then again, you might argue the internet writ large, just like the media more generally, is an echo chamber. The sad truth is civic discourse, in which reasonable people disagree about topics that matter, is a lost art. One reason for that is no one likes to be criticized. We’re all defensive, to varying degrees. So much so we struggle to process contending viewpoints.
For example, MMM wrote that I “criticized his blog’s approach,” but my criticism was of a specific aspect of his thinking. The truth of the matter is I’m down with 90% of what he writes and if we had the chance, I have no doubt we’d enjoy cycling together, drinking a craft beer afterwards, and talking personal finance. I’m not lifting weights with him though.
Especially initially, I struggled to process all the engineers’ criticisms of me too. I’d zero in on one particular sentence that I believed to be especially wrongheaded and slight everything else. Just as my criticism was somewhat muddled in MMM’s head, their messages were muddled in mine.
The youngest daughter got a kick out of these events. “You’ve gone viral!” After she read Allison’s lengthy criticism of my last post, she asked, “So did what she write change your thinking?” That’s the all important question. After the first reading, I would have had to answer no, not at all, because I read it defensively. But thinking aloud, I said to youngest daughter, “It would be awfully hypocritical of me to blow her off when my whole point is to promote critical inquiry.”
Then I considered the criticisms more carefully and realized they had one thing in common—that I had unfairly overgeneralized about one group of professionals. Even though it was a literary device of sorts, I understand why it was upsetting. Because they showed the courage of their convictions and took the time to disagree with me, my thinking was challenged and deepened, and hopefully, that of new and old readers’ as well.
And as a result, my little slice of the internet, for at least a brief moment in time, was anything but an echo chamber.