How to Stop Undermining Your Writing with Faux Humility


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How Faux Humility Harms Your Writing & Reinforces Ignorance

The Writer’s Job

Literary Humility

Two literature teachers formed diametrical instruction poles. One exhausted the imagination with collaborative class discussions interpreting metaphor and symbolism in a quest for meaning. The other, a berserk barbarian, sarcastically hacked and arrogantly slashed thoughtless literary opinion. Students lauded the first professor and dreaded the second, seeming to prove the adage, “you gather more flies with honey than vinegar,” but gathering is not learning, and just as many students opting for the first professor received failing marks as those who chose the second.

Absent from my allegorized experience is the first professor’s impressive knowledge that commanded discussions and made theory comprehensible to the novice writer, and more importantly, his demand for the class to know the material or fail. Absent from my allegory is the second professor’s impressive logic that forced the student’s mind to swing reason’s hammer while raising the evidentiary shield in defense of fallacies and irrational assumptions. The illusion of the “nice” and “mean” teachers dispelled in their topic mastery and lack of humility that never once softened arguments with opinion disclaimers or empathized with unsubstantiated conclusions, revealing, at least amongst authors, self-effacing’s fakeness for opposing literature and authorship’s nature.

Consider the act of publishing an article: an ego function inferred by the reader as, “This idea holds such importance it needed to be read by everyone.” Writing’s nature clarifies as a claim of importance for an idea, thesis, thing, argument, or story: why else write it?

This, my fellow authors, is your fucking job.

To prove something’s importance, using subject mastery, rationality, and appropriate rhetoric recalcitrant to liars, the misinformed, and other spreaders of nonsense to evoke inclusive discourse — forms the writer’s quest for verity.

The Faux Humility’s Danger

Whether you self-publish, go through a house, or obtain agent representation, these acts declare the scribing’s primacy. No matter what you write, the mission to present a subject with importance remains the same. Understanding this purpose elucidates the phony humility to avoid:

  • I am not an expert at marriage, but in my opinion…
  • Though I am not a professional athlete, I believe…
  • Not to insinuate we hold expertise in communications, but… 

These statements, and many variations of them, commonly appear in articles, serving as faux humility contradicting the article’s importance, but more importantly, as a gross negation of everything the writer discusses next. Each statement essentially says, “I don’t know what I am talking about,” making the reader infer the unimportance of the article.

How Faux Humility Harms Your Writing & Reinforces Ignorance

Self-effacing rhetoric undermines the writer’s purpose with abundance in books, news, and other media but crystallizes in social journalism’s supportive writer community that forms instead of critical thought exchange. That supportive writer community, in the majority, consists of unskilled authors, evidenced by their misunderstanding that makes them applaud undeserving articles and write humbly in obedience to the politeness standard undermining everything said. Thousands of examples of moronic, incorrect, and downright dishonest writing exist but pointing to them violates the community guidelines, thus highlighting how modern publishing proliferates policy-driven faux humility that reinforces ignorance.

Reinforced Ignorance

Every area of publishing yields the reinforcement of ignorance but not with the bounty of countless absurd articles, social journalism’s fertile ground grows, such as self-help claiming everything from weight loss solutions to career advice, most less than useless. The Secret ranks as one the most memorable, profitable, senseless self-help books exemplifying social writing’s ability to promulgate ignorance. The magical thinking required to believe the universe delivers something when asked reveals in Mark Manson’s article, The Staggering Bullshit of ‘The Secret’:

If you think you are fat and unhealthy and will never be in good health, then you’ll never get slim and fit because The Universe will keep providing you with experiences that keep you fat and unhealthy. If you believe that you are thin and beautiful, then The Universe will magically deliver healthy, skinny goodness — like raw carrots and three hours on the treadmill — every morning, right to your front door.

Many less abrasive arguments about The Secret have not diminished the marketing or faith in this ridiculous pseudoscientific book, evidenced by book sales and articles promoting this nonsense. Manson’s harsh, pragmatic argument strikes believers due to being harsh and pragmatic. Contrarily, social journalism reinforces ignorance worse than The Secret with derivative articles praising or explaining the law of attraction: the book’s foundation.

Contentious subjects challenge authors to prove their position. If you argue the validity of racism, you must evidence that claim, yet social writing often spawns misinformed and dishonest writers who provide no evidence or veil their ignorance in misstated facts and concepts. When presented with counterarguments, these authors and their readers typically fail to change perspective. Whether meaning to or not, social journalism’s faux humility provides undeserving viewpoints equal merit — seen best in articles presenting religiously-driven ideas.

Religious arguments best exemplify the challenge authors face because most believe religion has merit and benefits many areas of society: so much so that law enshrines religious belief as a right. Disagreeing with religious beliefs in any form carries a heavier burden than rational refutation since authors face publishing standards, online and off, formed from the importance given religion. Opposing religion risks violating publication guidelines when needing to overcome religious bias.

Faith underpins most religious people, exacerbating religious bias since, by nature, faith begins with a position or conclusion requiring no objective evidence to believe. As such, most religious people arguing from faith receive belief reinforcement because law and policies provide the illusion of their faith-based ideas holding equality with science, philosophy, and other disciplines. In reality, much of what the faith-filled say is ridiculous.

Intelligent design arguments profoundly exemplify this problem.

Intelligent design lacks plausibility and biases so heavily with faith that public schools refuse to teach these ideas beyond a philosophy or religious history class. Yet this “theory” holds such importance to millions of people they created a political issue demanding ID’s teaching alongside evolution. Controversy over this absurd viewpoint with no valid theoretical framework earns ID space in the publishing world, and opponents, obeying policy-driven faux humility, gift ID empathy and equal consideration, thus reinforcing this religious ignorance by making the theory appear valid — which it is not.

Centuries-old ID arguments have actually remained mostly static across the last 37 years with about half of America believing these unprovable, uncompelling, unscientific ideas.

Policies meant to inspire community and fruitful discussion serve as a shield that keeps people fixed in magical thinking, pseudoscience, spirituality, and many other irrational beliefs, inferring, “My belief is equal to your belief.” Faux humility’s ignorance reinforcement spurred on by publishing etiquette and standards allows believers and proponents of ridiculous, harmful, often false ideas to remain trapped in self-proving solipsisms and echo chambers.

The Writer’s Challenge

Challenged to conform to publishing standards, authors still must persuade readers of the subject’s importance. This balancing act presents little difficulty if you write about noncontroversial topics such as motivational articles. More challenging are contentious beliefs that require rhetoric that skirts the line of publishing policies. Let’s be clear; I am not advocating ad hominem attacks because this fallacy ignores the argument, but proving an idea stupid and why the person is stupid for believing and promoting that stupidity identifies precisely the problem. Logical, truth-clubbing rhetoric leaves little margin for doubt in readers seeking truth. More importantly, the clubbed author now has the onus of changing beliefs or performing mental gymnastics to persist in arguing — both desirable outcomes.

To penetrate pervasive, reinforced ignorance, SOME arguments require sarcasm and satire that is often offensive, angry, abrasive, and perhaps even vicious — providing it withstands criticism.

William Faulkner, the winner of two Pulitzer prizes, exemplified this need during a time of legally enforced segregation in America when supporting equality for Blacks offended many people. Arthur F. Kinney describes Faulkner’s perseverance in overcoming racism,

Faulkner struggled with this culture, and this heritage, all his life. In his last years, he spoke up in newspaper letters against the punishment of blacks which he thought excessive. He lost the friendships he had and the recognition of his own brother and much of his family. Still he wrote publicly about the need to integrate local schools.

Faulkner was far from a model for racial equality, with many of his ideas, such as integration gradualism, now viewed as discriminatory. Despite flaws, his willingness to advocate desegregation, when such a suggestion enraged and vexed many Americans, elucidates literature’s purpose and the writer’s job. At some point in Faulkner’s writing career, he realized the problem of racial inequality and perhaps even racism to some degree. Upon uncovering that nugget of truth, he had no choice but to reveal the meaning to the world.

Having performed his job, Faulkner earns remembrance while books like The Turner Diaries fade into oblivion.

Beliefs have practical meaning since they govern ethics, rationality, decision-making, and behavior. When assuming something true or correct, we risk becoming victims and villains of that belief. Writers arguing against global warming imperil society wagering the world’s leading scientists will eventually prove mistaken. Conversely, writers fearing this controversy gift objectivity to the undeserving position as they inoffensively transcribe environmental arguments and issues, offering no justification when logically, global warming either exists or does not exist. Many more topics, like healthcare and other applied ethics, hold no median having more nuanced perspectives than right and wrong, demanding deeper analysis and more complex discussions — not middling viewpoints. As writers, we mine these topics with fiction, nonfiction, and content articles seeking truth, and like Faulkner, we are products of an era and socialization, indicating we will likely fall short but hope to at least advance literature toward verity. If this goal is not your writing purpose, you might write something profitable but nothing of substantive value.

Trendy diet books and productivity articles are doomed to be forgotten.

Accepting the writer’s job compels authors to present and defend the truth they reveal absent of readership worry. This effort applies to the scientists and creationists the same, making clear the need for your belief’s critical examination and fortitude to avarice as reflected by the now shamed researchers who launched the worldwide anti-vaccination fear, which resulted in,

…the longest ever UK General Medical Council fitness to practise hearing, and forcing the Lancet to retract the paper, last May it led to Wakefield and Walker-Smith being struck off the medical register.

Wakefield, now 54, who called no witnesses, was branded “dishonest,” “unethical,” and “callous.” Walker-Smith, now 74, the senior clinician in the project, was found to have presided over “high risk” research without clinical indication or ethical approval. The developmentally challenged children of often vulnerable parents were discovered to have been treated like the doctors’ guinea pigs.

If you are a racist, evangelical Christian who thinks God willed into existence the earth a few thousand years ago so his son could die for your sins to allow you to subjugate peoples based on skin color, then you need to justify and defend this thinking with the resolve that people a thousand years from now will hold dear your religion’s profoundness.

Good luck with that.

The same offense felt over the scientist who endangers millions of lives should arise for the person spewing lies of creationism, pseudoscience, nonsensical spirituality, politics, and misinformation damaging to society. Yet more often than not, authors take neutral positions to avoid controversy, not wanting to offend readers (yet they write about the subject desiring the audience), which empowers the dishonest and the misinformed authors and their believers.

Faced with such resistance, often protected by policy, the author’s job requires satire, sarcasm, and even downright belligerent attacks to break the socially reinforced ignorance and faux humility promoting ludicrous, harmful ideas. Anger, sarcasm, sadness, arrogance, and other negatively viewed rhetoric form the honest writer’s sword sundering dishonesty, hacking ignorance, and upholding truth’s importance.

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Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash