Tom says that I sometimes make claims in bad faith. He intends this as a compliment, and I take it as one. But this raises a paradox. Whilst bad faith is ubiquitous in some fields - pretty much every corporate statement is, I hope, insincere - there is too little of it in writing and in intellectual life.
This creates a space for bad faith. Most things that are incontrovertibly true are dull: 2 + 2 = 4; genocide is wrong. But many ideas that are interesting are not so obviously true; this might be because they are new and untested, or because - as is the case for almost every claim in the social sciences - there are exceptions to them.
If I am to say something interesting therefore - and for me the sole purpose of writing is to say something interesting - then there must be a distance between what I believe to be true and what I write.
This is not to say that I write in bad faith. It's more often that I just don't know what I believe. And I don't care; things are true or not whether I believe them or not. Not only do I not give a damn about your opinion, dear reader, I don't give a damn about my own.
What I'm expressing here is the notion of liberal irony. Though most closely associated with Richard Rorty, it is a characteristic of traditional Oxbridge dons, who would often provoke their students or high table interlocuters with outrageous statements which they might or might not believe, simply in order to get people thinking.
I fear that in both blogging and MSM writing, this approach is lacking. Writing is about the revelation of character, of ego, of "judgment". I have four objections to this:
1. It's dull. If you want to show that you're a good person who believes in the right things, then you naturally stick to ideas which are familiar to your readers, and confine yourself to facts they find comfortable; I'm thinking here of Peter Hitchens as much as Polly Toynbee.
2. It's anti-intellectual. We are invited to judge ideas not upon their merits, but upon whether they are held by the right people.
3. It breeds fanaticism and tribalism. If we confuse who we are with what we believe then we fall prey to the confirmation bias - the tendency to look for things that corroborate our beliefs to protect our ego. This gives us fanaticism. It also gives us the sort of silly tribalism that leads people to defend Julian Assange - they cannot distinguish between the merit of his ideas and the content of his character.
4. It has a class bias. If writing is about the revelation of character rather than the analysis of ideas, then nice middle-class people have an advantage over awkward technocrats from the wrong side of the tracks.
Now, readers might object that I sometimes (often) fall short of the ideal of liberal irony. No doubt. But the point is that I regard it as an ideal. I aspire to insincerity.