Wednesday, November 10, 2010


William F. Buckley vs. Noam Chomsky, 1969

Ego. It's the greatest word of our time. We fight to defend it and no one can back down. If asked to name the greatest fights of the century you might name Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, or Max Baer vs. Joe Louis, or Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Rocky Graziano--great fights by professional boxers--but few would come up with these intellectual pugilists throwing the verbal equivalent of punches, jabs and hooks, crosses and uppercuts. Sometimes they fall back against the ropes and take a pummeling. Some are fast on their feet, and some plod like flatfooted drunks in the late rounds. Some fights are won by decision, others by knockout. Here are a few classic matches by two-fisted intellectuals.

William F. Buckley vs. Gore Vidal, August 1968

They call boxing the "sweet science," and the pros make it a sport but some nut in a bar has no science whatsoever--and the same is so with these intellectuals. They have style in abundance, they drip style, but too easily they lose their cool and start telegraphing punches and swinging for the rafters. Or playing to the crowd. Ego again. A boxing coach might tell you to cut the fancy stuff and use a straight punch against an unskilled opponent, some barroom brawler throwing haymakers. Avoid the fancy footwork and the short-range punches like hooks and uppercuts, and most of all don't start hurling insults which only make matters worse. If you must fight, win the argument with as little force as necessary, relying on facts not ad hominem attacks. Better yet, don't fight. After all, most people won't change their opinions because of your wonderful skills. Besides, it's like wrestling with a pig--you end up covered in muck and the pig likes it.

Gore Vidal vs. Norman Mailer, 1971

No comments: