Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Elsewhere we’ve discussed the world of Gotcha!, in which everyone is a critic and every public figure a target.
Inherent to the Gotcha! game is the assumption that the target is ignorant/incompetent/ill-intentioned, so that her opponent may take a shoot-from-the-hip potshot on the basis of superficial reads and thirdhand accounts and assume that his gut reaction is correct, not to mention the acceptable equivalent of a fully formed, rationally explored, articulately expressed thesis.
From the attacks on Rabbi Lookstein at the start of 2009 for his participation in the National Day of Prayer, to the attacks at the close of 2009 on Rabbi Riskin for his comments on Christianity, the chattering critics spent little time analyzing, let alone researching, and instead launched their salvos immediately. [Note: I am defending neither of them, only pointing out the unwise haste of people who leap to criticize.]
This came to mind when I read the following disclaimer by Rabbi Yosef Albo, from his introduction to Part Two of his Sefer haIkkarim:
What should not escape the attention of this book’s reader is that the text includes many statements of hypothetical ideas rather than the truth itself. In other sections, the opposite idea may appear as an expression of the actual truth.
Alternatively, in one place an idea may be expressed with one meaning and in another place with a different meaning, as the Rambam did in many places in the Moreh haNevuchim…
Therefore, it would be appropriate for one who would examine a chapter from any author’s work not to leap to respond before he knows the styles employed in that work, and until he has surveyed the related material that appears in other parts of that work.
Sometimes a text will omit an introduction in one spot because it is independently understood or clarified elsewhere, or because the author wishes to conceal it, and the reader will think that this is an error of the author and will rush to respond and to think him a fool…
Therefore, one who examines a text should not leap to reply based upon his initial reaction, but he should think in his heart that the author is not an intellectual lightweight who fails to grasp the depths perceived by the reader and the thoughts the reader developed at his first read. It would be more appropriate to suspect one’s own wisdom and understanding, and to say that it is not possible for the author to err in an obvious matter. The reader should attribute the error to his own analysis, and extend the depth of his analysis until the author’s true intent becomes clear. Because of the great breadth of his analysis of deep matters, the author will sometimes give short shrift to clarification, and so analysis will be difficult for the reader.
I particularly like his point, “He should think in his heart that the author is not an intellectual lightweight who fails to grasp the depths perceived by the reader and the thoughts the reader developed at his first read. It would be more appropriate to suspect one’s own wisdom and understanding, and to say that it is not possible for the author to err in an obvious matter. ישיב אל לבו כי המחבר ההוא לא היה מקלי הדעת שלא השיג בעומק עיונו מה שיעלה על לב המעיין בתחלת הדעת, ויותר ראוי לכל אדם לחשוד שכלו והבנתו ולומר כי אי אפשר שיטעה המחבר ההוא בדבר נגלה הטעות.”
A little credit, a little care, a little benefit of the doubt and presumption of competence, would go a long way toward defusing pointless and baseless Gotcha!ism.