The Doubter’s Dictionary: Criticism, Political

“Criticism, Political: Favorite reply of those in authority to those who question their actions: ‘It’s easy to criticize.’ Alternate reply: ‘Anyone can criticize.” This is often followed by: “And what would you have done in my place?’ by which is meant ‘if you’re so smart.’ A move complex variation is: You have to be tough to do the right thing. Leadership isn’t a popularity contest.’

These denigrations of criticism have become such a generalized chorus that we often feel embarrassed, even guilty, when the need arises to say something negative.

Yet those we criticize chose freely to seek positions of authority. We are the raison d’etre of the entire system. We are also the employers of those in public office and in the public service. Why should we accept from them a discourse which suggests contempt for us and for the democratic system?

What’s more, it is note easy to criticize. It is extremely difficult. We have to question experts and insiders in areas in which we are not expert. This involves constantly out-guessing them, because they keep back much of the information we need in order to decide what we think. The problem is that any facile idiot with a bit of power can avoid giving an honest reply by putting on an important air and protesting that criticism is easy.”

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

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