Book Reference Condescension

Today, I’d like to talk about an annoying conversational mechanism. Often, someone’s contribution to a conversation about a controversial topic will come in the form of stating or implying that some views are plainly wrong and citing a book that they should read to correct themselves, typically with the connotation that if only they read the book, they’d understand why their viewpoint is wrong.

Since it appears there exist quite a substantial quantity people who think this is a helpful and effective way to present an argument, I think this needs to be addressed seriously, so I’ll take some time to point out some problematic aspects of this approach.

First off, given that the topic is controversial (evidence: this discussion was happening), chances are, while this book exists for this point of view, there probably is another book out there defending the other point of view. Just citing one’s book makes no attempt at convincing the listener why the mentioned book should take precedence in consideration over other potential books with conflicting conclusions.

Second, this is clearly a choice over simply explaining the point to be made from the book. Certainly, a person citing the book themselves understands the ideas brought forth from the book, otherwise we have larger issues here. If it really takes so long to explain the position being posited such that one does not have the patience to do so in the moment, maybe the citing person should grant that it is not so obvious that there is a clear correct viewpoint to the issue. This point expands in relevance if the citing person expressed shock or amazement at the actual viewpoints brought forward.

Third, it is simply absolutely not reasonable to demand that someone read a book to understand another’s viewpoint. Reading a book is a substantial commitment of time, and I’d postulate most people consider it not a leisurely thing to read a book even in their area of interest. This means of argument discounts consideration for other present parties in a discussion.

In reality, what such a manner of conveying one’s viewpoint is likely to effect in an audience is really a feeling of being condescended to (that is, that certain aspects of one’s resources mentioned above need not come into consideration for an issue, and that one believes that the self is necessarily exposed to the superior forms of media), and to distance themselves from people who argue in this fashion. In all, this causes conversations to either reach an awkward halt or progress forward from a previous point, and does not effect an edification of the difference in viewpoint involved among discussing parties.


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