All Writers Should Expect to be Attacked

Walter Rhein
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Most people prefer to avoid controversy. When somebody says or writes something that they disagree with, they remain silent rather than risk the fallout from offering a gentle counter position. After a time, this inclination becomes a habit, and most people find themselves remaining silent even when it’s in their better interest to speak out.

This is not the case with writers.

Writers inherently offer their opinions on a wide range of topics. There is a certain clarity that can be achieved through the act of composition, and writing an essay is a means of processing and understanding a topic. If your essay collapses under its own weight, you might discover that your position on the issue is flawed.

Stumbling into controversy

There are writers who intentionally try to provoke with everything they produce. Provocation leads to engagement and widespread readership. It is a very effective tactic, and it’s possible to use provocation as the foundation of a lucrative career. Obviously, it’s important for an antagonistic writer to develop a thick skin.

But even if you aren’t an antagonistic writer, it’s still possible to stumble into controversy. No matter what side of the argument you take, there are always going to be people on the other side who object to your position. Some of them will become very hostile at your efforts to spread information they feel is contrary to their objectives.

Every time you publish something, you risk becoming the target of an attack. Some of these attacks might be motivated by the strength of your work. You might be attacked for your word choice or your basic grammar. You might be attacked for the strength of your argument. However, even if you write a very eloquent article that details a valid position, you might find yourself under attack because you have dared to challenge one of the many active narratives of oppression.

Consider Facebook attacks

Everyone’s had the experience of getting into some petty Facebook battle. Somebody writes a comment on one of your posts, and it leaves you fuming with anger, unable to think of anything else until you respond with a scathing retort. It’s important to take a step back, examine what is happening in that scenario, and see how it applies to a larger career in writing.

If you decide to use your Facebook account to actively denounce racism or white supremacy, you might be blindsided by the amount of hostility you encounter. Before working as a writer, you might have thought that it would be safe to denounce groups that oppress and torment your fellow human beings, but these groups have an active presence on virtually every platform.

At the sight of your post, certain individuals will try to silence and discredit you. They’ll make an effort to turn your argument back on you, or hijack the narrative to make the thread about something else. Above all, they’ll engage in various forms of interference to prevent any meaningful dialogue on the topic you wished to discuss.

Attacking through misinterpretation

When individuals find the content of your articles objectionable, they will sometimes attack you based on an intentional misreading of your position. This is intended to draw you into a debate where you are put in a position of defending yourself. Once you are on the defensive, your opponent can keep you off balance by continuously applying pressure until your overall position is weakened.

Watch out, too, for opponents who paraphrase your work and then attack the new phrasing. They’ll say something like, “so, what you’re saying is…” and then produce a completely absurd reading of your position which they attribute to you. Keep in mind that all of these tactics are used with the intention of discrediting and silencing you. They aren’t doing this because you’re wrong, they’re doing it because they’re afraid of what you have to say.

Attacks based on resistance to the idea

Sometimes you encounter resistance because the establishment is not evolved enough to hear your proposal. A good example of this can be seen in the tragic story of Ignaz Semmelweis.

In 1847, Semmelweis noticed that the infant mortality rate was higher in hospitals than it was in midwives’ wards. He suggested that if doctors washed their hands between procedures, the death rate could be drastically reduced. Although doctors are supposed to be adherents of the scientific method, and Semmelweis’s proposal entailed minimal effort, he encountered a stubborn resistance to his idea.

The medical community was so disgusted by the concept of “hand washing” that Semmelweis’s reputation was destroyed, and he ended up getting committed to an insane asylum where he was later beaten to death. If a man can get beaten to death for asking doctors to wash their hands, what do you really expect is going to happen to you if you take up your pen as a weapon against racism and other forms of oppression?

Although the story of Ignaz Semmelweis might seem like an extreme scenario, all writers will find that any new idea will encounter immediate dismissal from establishment thinkers. All individuals who are experts in their field, develop an unhealthy attachment to long serving models and become unreasonably hostile when you suggest nuances in fundamental concepts. If you try to bring these arguments into intellectual debate, you will be insulted and denounced without ever having your position heard.

Writers are born, not made

The unique, psychological make up of a writer is perhaps not something to be admired. A writer is curious about the world and delights in finding inherent flaws in commonly accepted ideas. Writers aspire to have their work recognized and admired, but an inherent component of being a writer involves a certain amount of treading on the beliefs of those around you.

It’s important to keep a cool head and always understand that a hostile response might indicate that you need to rethink your own argument. However, you must also never forget that even if your argument is perfect, there is likely to be hostility from a variety of sources.

Persist

There is no injustice in the world that does not serve to benefit various powerful organizations and groups of individuals. Writers must speak out against injustice, but it’s important to keep in mind that this action will inherently draw the attention and incite the hostility of those groups. As a writer, you can expect to be attacked. These attacks will be frequent, often unfair, and they can be both personally and professionally destructive. There’s no way to change this, it’s just inherent to the profession.

It’s terrible.

All you can do is develop a thick skin, steel yourself against the inevitable body blows, and steadfastly stand up for what you know to be right. Never, ever, succumb to the assumption that just because powerful people are against you, you must be wrong. Speaking truth to power is the highest aspiration of this calling.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI
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