I’ve recently come across a number of examples of people objecting to the manner in which some people engage in public criticism. There is a podcast with Sam Harris and Ezra Klein. It relates to a situation in which a number of Vox articles (at which Ezra Klein was editor) were highly critical of a Sam Harris interview. Sam Harris regarded the articles as a unfair and as misrepresenting what he had presented, and his motives. Similarly, I came across an article complaining those who have criticised Jordan Peterson, and Roger Pielke Jr has a recent post about science communication as intellectual hospitality.
All of these seem to have an underlying suggestion that those who are doing the criticising are getting things wrong, misrepresenting what was being presented, and are either engaging in bad faith, or are ideologically biased. The suggestion seems to be that the onus is on the critics to engage suitably with what is being presented, so as to enable constructive dialogue/discourse. The problem I have is that this should really apply to all, not just to those doing the criticism.
In many cases, I can’t actually see what one achieves by complaining about one’s critics. If they’re operating in bad faith, then no amount of complaining will make much difference. Just ignore them and carry on. If they’re operating in good faith, then it may be worth considering why they’ve decided to criticise what you’ve said. Is there an actual disagreement? If so, maybe just accept it and move on. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with disagreeing with other people. Have they interpreted what you’ve said in a way you didn’t intend? Maybe consider if there is a way to avoid/minimise this in future. Have they highlighted some actual errors? If so, maybe acknowledge them and be more careful.
My impression, unfortunately, is that some of this criticism of critics is actually tactical. If you can find some way to focus on potential issues with the criticism, then you can avoid engaging with your critics and can avoid acknowledging potential issues with your own presentation. If it happens regularly, you can start to promote the idea that there is some kind of vendetta against you. If you’re really lucky, your critics will get so frustrated by your lack of constructive engagement that their criticism will become openly vitriolic. Then you can paint yourself as the poor victim who is trying to engage constructively, but who is facing some kind of orchestrated campaign aimed at delegitimising you and what you’re saying.
I should make clear that I’m not suggesting that there is no occasion when it would be worth defending oneself against criticism. I mostly, however, think that if you’re confident in what you’re saying, then the criticism should often not matter. If you’re interested in engaging constructively, and the criticism has merit, consider it. Essentially, if some think that there is merit in improving public discourse, then the only person they can influence is themselves. Complaining about one’s critics is unlikely to achieve much.