by Dr Malcolm Kendrick.
I am particularly interested in the whole concept of being ‘anti-‘ or a ‘denier’, or a sceptic. I think in great part this is due to constant attacks I have had to put up with because of my views of cholesterol and statins. I am often called a statin ‘denier’. I have also been referred to as a professional contrarian, a sceptic, a zealot and suchlike. The best general insult was from Steven Nissen, perhaps the world’s most influential cardiologist:
‘A leading cardiologist has unleashed a blistering attack on “statin denial,” which he calls “an internet-driven cult with deadly consequences 1.”’
What a result! I am now, officially, a cult member. That is, in addition to all my other, myriad flaws. Or maybe it is my cult he was referring to, and other people have joined it. Who knows? The truth is that if I did actually manage to join a cult, or start a cult, I wasn’t aware of it. But then, that’s how they do it, they sneakily pull you in these invisible people with no obvious organisation.
‘It is the very fact that they don’t even exist that makes them so dangerous, my friend. Yes, they truly are that sneaky.’
A closely related insult is that I am part of a ‘sect’. People who read my blog are sometimes insultingly referred to as my ‘acolytes’, or ‘followers’, and so on and so forth. In truth, one thing I don’t think I have ever been called is ‘anti-statinator’, but it could have slipped by without me noticing.
I am often, though, called a cholesterol sceptic. Which is fair enough. I did join a loose alliance of doctors and researchers called The International Network of Cholesterol Sceptics (THINCS), so I can hardly object to being called one.
However, I am not actually a cholesterol sceptic, nor a denier. I am not denying cholesterol exists. I just happen to believe it is not harmful – probably beneficial. To be accurate, it is the other side who attack cholesterol and who should be called cholesterol sceptics. I am really an anti-anti-cholesterol sceptic. This must make me twice as bad. I am not just anti. I am anti-anti.
Do I object to all these attacks? Well, you know, to be perfectly honest, if you can’t take the heat you should stay out of the kitchen. In addition, I don’t think I would be doing things right if people were not hurling insults at me on a regular basis.
It also encourages me to carry on. Because, as Gandhi once said:
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’
You may prefer Schopenhauer’s take:
‘First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.’
Once you have reached the violent, ridiculing, insulting, stage you know you are pretty much directly over the target:
‘Bombs away! We will crack that bloody dam one way or another chaps – just don’t refer to my bloody dog by name, or we will never fly another mission.
Anyway, because of my personal history I have taken a particular interest in the matter of personal insults used as a debating technique. Rather than relying on the use of terribly boring tactics like facts, and data. Why debate when you can achieve the same result with a pinpoint laser guided insult?
It is something that has been around for a long time. Schopenhauer in his essay ‘The art of being right’ discussed thirty-eight ways to win an argument. It includes a few techniques that I see used regularly. ‘Appeal to authority rather than reason’ and ‘bewilder your opponent by mere bombast’. At number thirty-eight ‘Become personal, insulting, rude…argumentum ad personam.’
The sad fact is that number thirty-eight works brilliantly. Always has, and it seems that it always will. Find something, anything, a person has said at some point in the past. Use that to relentlessly attack them. Once you have destroyed their character and motivations that is, pretty much, that. It is not really an argument, of course, it is simply a way of stating, about someone else, that ‘you are a disgusting person, and no-one should listen to anything you say, ever again.’
This has echoes with the argument that Wagner was a Nazi (before there were Nazis), so no-one should ever listen to his music. I rather like his stuff, actually. Maybe a bit right wing in parts, a bit loud and brash, but there you go. Clearly not as acceptably left-wing as Debussy. Light and fluffy, wanders about, never really gets anywhere.
Nowadays, things have become far worse. You can spend your entire life building up a spotless reputation. Never do a single thing wrong, ever. But, if you dare to make one mistake, that can be the end of you, forever. This, the obliteration by personal insult, seems to have become more and more popular since the internet took over the world.
I recently read the book ‘So you’ve been publicly shamed’ by John Ronson. It describes people who, in some instances, said one thing, and one thing only, and their entire lives were shredded on-line – then off-line too. In several cases they hadn’t really said anything ‘wrong’. Although they had been rather clumsy in their use of words.
However, someone else had decided to interpret what they said in a certain way and then decided to become insulted. There was no judge, no jury, at work here. They were guilty – and gone. Dragged off by the baying mob for a metaphorical lynching.
The medical and scientific world are, sadly, no different, and never have been. If you hold views that the mainstream finds… finds… I am not sure what the exact word here is. Wrong, misguided, unacceptable, dangerous? Perhaps a combination of all four, and more, you are attacked with exactly the same level of implacable hatred.