My Apologies to Malcolm


I posted a Monday column this week entitled “Down, I say, Down with Malcolm Gladwell.” I was having a little fun with the invective. I started out calling him a fraud and ended with the question of whether he is salvageable as a human being. As one of our readers, Pete Chapman, noted in the comments section, the post was not in my usual style. Chapman mentioned that he appreciated in my essays “trying to balance out your judgements and show your reader that you’re also aware of the counterpoints to whatever position you take.” That is generally my approach. Sometimes I flub it and sometimes it works but mostly I think of criticism as a process of getting inside other positions, cherry picking through the world of infinite subjectivities. I’m a Pyrrhonian pragmatist, or something like that. No position feels entirely satisfying to me and thus I try to keep moving.

All this is a preface to saying that I’ve had an email exchange with Malcolm Gladwell and he’s a decent guy. I like him. And now I feel bad that I went directly for the ad hominem. I think my substantive critique of Blink is basically right, by the way, but there was no need for the gratuitous meanness. I did it, I suppose, to generate a little buzz for the piece and that’s not a particularly honorable way to go about it. My real point about Blink, without all the bells and whistles, would be the following: the relationship between judgment and knowledge is a mysterious and fascinating thing. Specifically, the way that judgments can be seen to precede and to ‘ground’ knowledge is both an important and unsettling thought. Blink is a work in this tradition but one that falls apart and gets tangled up in its desire to provide practical advice, to give people access to the “magic” of judgment.

So, since I am an editor here at 3QD, I’m taking up one posting today to say, publicly, sorry, Malcolm, you’re not a fraud and I was pushing the boundaries of jerkitude to wonder whether you are salvageable as a human being. I look forward to your next book, which I hereby pledge to review in these pages and without all the personal nastiness. I just hope it’s a lot better than Blink 🙂

morgan meis