Sam Kriss, over at his brilliant blog Idiot Joy Showland, has this to say about the need for personal insults and invective in writing:
The world we live in is not populated by ideas, it’s populated by people, and people die – millions of them, constantly, for no good reason other than the avarice and cruelty of other people. This is a central Marxist insight: ideas do not exist in their own glittering sphere; they emerge from concrete relations of production and power. Henry Kissinger is not a collection of texts and concepts, but a profoundly evil man. It’s important to rebut his ideas, because they are dangerous. But if you also attack him in the face – or, preferably, in his dick and balls – it’s harder for these ideas to escape into their weightless world where any concept is as good as any other. Kissinger as a set of abstract notions is incommensurable with anything in material reality; a sad, naked, doughy Kissinger with a pale and shrivelled penis is a human body, far harder to divorce from the millions of human bodies he destroyed in south-east Asia. Gratuitous personal insults are essential. A grotesque satirical fantasy, Kissinger cranking off in a Phnom Penh hotel room to napalm videos, whatever, belongs to reality; the vision of him as a big fleshy book does not.
Debate club rules are not universally applicable. When people demand that discourse only take place on the level of ideas, rather than ugly reality, it’s often because there is something in reality that they’d rather not face. The people who really object on principle to being mocked or insulted, the ones who decry it as violence, tend to be far less critical of actual, physical, deadly violence. Blood is fine. Dick jokes are not.
Read the rest. Really. He presents a solid case for personal insults in philosophical debate.
There are no abstractions that aren’t embodied, or felt and lived, in the lives of real people. That aren’t, when it comes down to it, flesh and blood. This sits in an unresolvable tension with the fact that there is no power (or aspiration to power) that doesn’t think and plan and act on the basis of abstractions, whether it seeks revolution or eternal status quo. Still, this is why I bristle at someone who, defending some kind of revolutionary change in a polity and the suffering it imposes, says that “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Except that omelets aren’t being made, and those eggs being broken are actually human beings. You might not have much or any sympathy with who they are or what they may be suffering — after all, those human beings are standing in the way of a bright, shiny new tomorrow — but at least consider that they are human beings.
(I realize that using this notion against revolutionary politics is probably not what Kriss had in mind.)