The anger! The fury! The wrath!
I shouldn’t have let it get to me. After all, the rule in the newsletter biz is that if you don’t get a little bit of hate mail from time to time, you aren’t doing it right.
No ruffled feathers means you are playing it too safe. Ostensibly this means that we have to stick out our necks a little to make sure folks are paying attention. Are we questioning the status quo? Are we making people think? Or are we just pissing them off?
It may be the latter…
The reader mail poured in.
“You lost me by recirculating letters praising Trump as a great leader vs the globalist agenda etc… that’s not history, it’s criminal collusion. Therefore, I must unsubscribe.”
“Is this the real philosophy of this publication? Trump is going to save us from dictatorship? The man who has professed his love and admiration for them over and over?”
“Please. One more look at crap like this, and I’m through with you. I am thoroughly insulted and disgusted.”
Excellent, I thought. Clearly, readers are engaged! Participating! But it did get under my skin a little… I took the bait. I responded.
First, I had to remind them that reader mail has never reflected the views of the publication. The entire point is to show a wide diversity of opinions, including those that will be opposing to some readers (and of course, vice versa).
We don’t believe in censorship nor publishing according to our own biases. Instead, the idea is to encourage thoughtful debate and provoke conversation. It’s also to show that the love of history, philosophy and the classics doesn’t follow partisan politics.
I then proposed the following:
“If you are thoroughly insulted and disgusted, I highly suggest you respond to the reader. Take the content of their ideas (and I request the conversation to steer away from ad hominem attacks which are never fruitful nor valuable), and address the points that you disagree with in a clear and compelling fashion.”
Only one responded.
It’s clear hearing opinions that you don’t share, or even like, causes one pain and frustration. I get that. I don’t love it either…
In fact, one of the readers asked the very question: What good is it to read these opinions? Can we find truth in disagreement?
This is an excellent question – and one I promised I’d bring to the crowd – but I also think it is part of an even larger debate…that of controversy itself.
Alcibiades vs. Pleasure

Jean-Baptiste Regnault: Socrates dragging Alcibiades from the Embrace of Sensual Pleasure (1791)

Ancient history is replete with examples. Socrates, no doubt, being the first to come to mind. Of course, we love that he asked difficult questions and forced a new level of philosophical inquiry… but let’s be honest, he also went out of his way to piss people off. A LOT. He clearly took his job as Athen’s gadfly very seriously.
Other philosophers did the same. Our recent article on Xenophanes, for instance, illustrates man with ‘irreverent’ thoughts, who even went so far as to diss Homer and Hesiod! The nerve!
And there is always the crazy, controversial, but hugely influential Pythagoras, who was run out of town, wore trousers like a Persian, and made his cult followers abstain from Beans, among other things..

Artist Illustration of Pythagoras

They all claimed to be seeking the truth – and perhaps they were (that’s not the point at this moment) – but either way, they certainly made sure to annoy everyone in the process.
This brings us to this week’s mailbag question:
Do we need controversy??? Does it have any value? Does it depend on the content of the ideas… or can the process, in and of itself, be constructive?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].