If it hurts when you read this, don't read this

March 23, 2013|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

A few weeks ago I received a plaintive letter from a reader, not for publication, who expressed disappointment that I sometimes stray from grammar and usage to write about politics. The reader finds The Sun befouled by liberalism and painful to read. The letter is a plea for me to stay away from political subjects altogether. 

It does not come as news that some of my readers are conservative. Gary Kirchherr, a fellow editor, has never been shy about filing sharp comments on my woolly-headed views. Chris Harper, a professor journalism at Temple with whom I had a grand time working in a summer program in Italy a few years back, and whose autobiographical book I was privileged to give some preliminary editing, made plain during the recent election that he is no Obamaphile. Neither is Dale Parry, with whom I worked in Cincinnati. Yet we are all interested in language and journalism, and we all agree on many things apart from politics and exercise a mutual respect.

Mind you, there's no some-of-my-best-friends-are-conservatives argument here. Most of my best friends are woolly-headed libruls just like me, undoubtedly following the orders of their Kremlin paymasters and probably in receipt of the Kaiser's gold.

Anyhow, it's my blog, and I get to write about things that interest me. Politics interests me, particularly the political language that has become so pervasive, coloring nearly every subject. That's the short answer to the reader's question.

What troubles me is the idea that people find it painful to read things that they do not agree with and feel that they should properly insulate themselves from contrary opinions.

I don't try to wall myself off from conservative views. Some I indeed find irritating, others amusing, and some worth serious consideration. There's a good bit of nonsense, of course, but nonsense knows no political allegiance.

Milton, writing in the Areopagitica for freedom of the press, argues that we learn and grow wiser standing up to differing ideas, learning them, weighing them. "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue," he says, "unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat."

"That which purifies us is trial," he says, "and trial is by what is contrary."

The views I bring here, whether on language and writing or politics or recipes for cocktails, have no more weight than whatever evidence and wit I can bring to them. You may not agree, and chose to go away. You may not agree, and stay to argue the contrary. The latter course might benefit us both.

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