Sophistication comes from Greek ‘Sophistry’. Sophistry comes from the Latin ‘Sophist’. Sophist comes from English ‘Jackass’.
Sophistry is a style of argumentation where the interlocutors partake in eloquent banter that sounds smooth and sophisticated but makes no fuggin sense. Think group discussion for motivational speakers.
The comments section.
Thanks to my ordinariness, I have never had to deal with sophists on this site, although someone will occasionally write a short shorty about how swearing as a primary goal for the blog is a bad idea and how swearing is uncreative and how the greatest writers never swore. Moby, dick.
Many places on the Internet have to deal with a congregation of sophists on a regular basis. And I am not even including social media. I am talking sites for people who still have a functioning brain.
Sophistry is a style of knowledge and naturally, a number of sophists hang out where knowledge proliferates. The problem is, and I say this despite all the envy I can muster, some of these sophists are exceptionally good writers.
They are just shitty people.
Last week, I read a cogent, thought-provoking article. Then for some reason, I started reading the comments section. And I fell into the spiral. It started with this one literary genius of a comment. It was at the scale of Kafka reading one of my essays and telling me what he thought. The more I re-read the comments though, the less sense they made.
While objectively fantastic, the comments were less about the article and more about how much attention the comment itself could garner. It got mine and I even considered not wasting time on Kafka and instead spend time reading just comments from hereon. But it’s when I tried to make sense of the comments, my head went into a tail-spin.
Behind the sophistication, I found the vapidest assertions. These were not criticisms exactly. They were pompous pointless well-written outbursts in the name of scholarly intellect, profundity, and freedom of speech while they mostly served as a distraction from actually understanding a deeply thought-through essay.
The comments were a punch in the author’s already-hungry-due-to-starvation-that comes-with-being-a-writer stomach. Worse, these sophists suck the world dry of whatever little focus is left in it. I don’t remember what the article was about anymore.
Sophists were thought to be amongst the intelligentsia because everything they said sounded intelligent. But soon people figured out what was going on. They called bullshit on the sophists but by this time the sophists had convinced themselves they were badasses and everyone was just jealous of their glib spectacularness. Obviously, they didn’t last long.
The once bankrupt school of philosophy is flourishing again because there’s a large enough crowd sitting on the porch that is the comment section. And unlike earlier, they can all talk at the same time. Basically, sophistry on steroids.
When a mass of people confuses faux intellect with real understanding, laziness with activity and self-absorption with self-realization, you end up with a sociopathic machinery. What we call Trolls.
Their business model is simple. They make a living by fooling everyone. The Internet has regular meltdowns because a moment comes when these people realize they have been fooling themselves. They mostly go berserk and double-down on their assolery. A few get off the machine and make space for those waiting.
What we misunderstand about the troll psyche is that we think it’s about us. It’s not. It’s about them. They haven’t done anything meaningful or creative themselves. Because, ironically, they are afraid they may be trolled. They have lived without any meaning for so long, their only salvation is labeling everything as meaninglessness.
The call for safe spaces is getting louder because sophistry is penetrating every porch. Back in the days, you had to physically get together to have a discourse. Ideas flourished for this reason alone. Because when you see a real person, there’s a good chance you are going to be kind and listen to him and not be a Moby dick that you are back in the privacy of your home. The Internet changed all that. For the better. For a while.
Now, we bring the Internet to whatever little is left of getting together over a discourse. It’s why our conversations with each other sound more like debates than dialogues. There’s more fact-checking and less self-discovery.
The goal of a debate is never winning or losing. It never was. It was about the willingness to listen and change your mind about something. That’s how we made progress.
You may read this and go all head-noddy. But the thing is we all have some version of the sophist in us. If we will at all have a healthy discourse, it’s important to transcend your need for attention and replace it with your capacity to pay attention. All my life, it’s the critique that has come from the latter that has helped me improve.
Dawn comes upon everyone who wakes up in the morning.