The Talking Down Epidemic

The Philosopher Developer

October 22, 2016

Whenever I see someone talk down to someone else, I think, “What was the point of that?”

Don’t get me wrong: I do it too. But even when I’m the one doing it, I still ask myself that question, usually a few minutes later after the buzz has worn off. What was I trying to accomplish there?

Being talked down to has never caused anyone to think critically about a position. It’s never prompted earnest soul-searching or opened anyone’s eyes to anything. Talking down to people just makes them furious, as well it should, because the only real reason to talk down to someone is to make them feel bad, while making yourself feel better.

It’s basically stealing: you’re taking from someone else and giving to yourself. It’s just that instead of taking someone’s money you’re hurting them emotionally. Instead of profiting financially you’re getting a temporary emotional high at the other person’s expense.

I kind of think talking down to each other is an epidemic in this country. I say this as someone who enjoys watching The Daily Show, and Samantha Bee, and John Oliver. Gosh do these shows like to make fun of conservatives. I tell myself they’re educational–and they are to an extent–but at what cost?

Meanwhile conservatives have The O'Reilly Factor1 and Breitbart, which are not really so different. The left views conservatives as ignorant and bigoted. The right views liberals as gullible and out of touch.

When we talk about each other this way, the question of who’s “right” is sort of irrelevant. If someone comes charging at you, you don’t think “I should seek to understand why this person is charging at me”; you automatically defend yourself. That’s what humans do when we’re attacked. And yet we laugh at each other–another kind of attack–constantly, and then we wonder why our country’s so divided.

Maybe it’s a chicken-or-egg thing. Maybe the non-stop two-way condescension is a result of our division, not the cause of it. Even if so, it certainly doesn’t make it any better. I fear it’s making it worse, and the only way we can turn things around is if we stop making fun of each other. But for that to happen both sides would need to lay down their arms, and I’m not sure who’s going to negotiate that ceasefire.


  1. To be honest, I also enjoy Bill O'Reilly from time to time. Apparently my ability to be entertained by someone making fun of somebody else isn’t very discriminating!