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How to Choose Which Critics to Respond To

Written by Gary North on June 20, 2012

Everyone has critics. The better known you are, and the more public your positions are, the more critics you have.

It takes judgment to decide which critics to respond to, which critics to ignore, and why. Anyone who attempts to respond to all critics is asking for trouble. He is short of time and long on critics.

There are critics who I describe as tar babies. All they want to do is interact with someone more famous than they are. They want to convince themselves that they are better informed than you are. No one has ever paid any attention to them before, so if you respond, you will be slamming your hand into the tar baby. You cannot persuade him, and even if you could, there would be no benefit in doing so. Tar babies have no influence, they are unlikely to have any influence, and they will probably change their minds back anyway. Why bother?

Then there are the crazies. There are lots and lots of crazies with Internet connections. They seek me out. Some will find you, too. I generally regard them as amusements, but I do not spend time refuting them. They usually contact me by e-mail. I have some canned responses that I send back to them. If they continue to contact me, I put them on the Block Sender list. That stops it at my end.

Then there are critics who do have influence. Maybe they have influence in an area where you have influence. This kind of critic deserves a public response to his public challenge, assuming he has in some way undermined your reputation. On the other hand, if he has influence in circles that are irrelevant to your work, your calling, and your interests, you can safely ignore him. You can respond if and when people with influence in your circles contact you, and I recommend that you respond publicly to an attack.

Then there are cogent criticisms that require a lot of thought and effort to respond to. These can usually be postponed for a time. Not all criticisms are equally time-sensitive. If the criticism requires a chapter in a book, then wait until you have time to write the chapter and the book. If it requires a detailed video, wait until you have the time to post. Do not pretend it does not exist, but if there is no pressing need to respond to it, postpone your response until you can get some mileage out of it. If you put your response in a book, then the response has value both as a stand-alone response and is a chapter in a book. I have done this on occasion.

You can apply these principles to whatever line of work that you do. The point is this: pick and choose your responses. All challenges are not created equal. Most are best ignored.


Maybe some critic has not attacked you, but he has attacked something you believe in. You don’t want to respond, but you want a representative to respond.

Recently, one of my site’s subscribers posted a link to an article written by someone who thinks he has refuted me on the question of tariffs. The man believes that sales taxes on imported goods are a way to increase national wealth. But he is special. He is not a tax-loving conservative. He is a tax-loving Austrian school economist. Anyway, he says he is an Austrian school economist.

The subscriber wanted me to respond. I try to pay attention to questions from my subscribers, since my website is called Specific Answers. They pay for answers, and I feel obligated to provide them.

So, I posted a forum question in response to the site member. I asked him which arguments in the article he regarded as substantial. I also asked him not to look back at the article to review which arguments seemed substantial.

Here is my advice. If you cannot remember an argument five minutes after you have read it, then the argument is not crucial for you. Don’t worry about it.

If you believe deeply in something, and you read an article against what you believe, a good test of whether or not you need to locate a response from somebody you trust in order to refute this new argument, is to be sure you understand it. This means that you understand it well enough to summarize it, including its relevance, to somebody with no background in the field. If you cannot remember the details of the argument, or if you cannot summarize it, you would be wise not to worry about it. Just ignore it.

Here is the inescapable reality: if you do not understand the argument, you probably will not understand the refutation. You will not really know if the refutation effectively refutes the original argument. You are not really concerned about the logic of the argument. You are concerned about the fact that somebody you have never heard of thinks you are wrong, but you do not know why you are wrong. So, you want to find somebody you trust who will prove to you, merely by saying “this argument is wrong,” that this argument is wrong. This is a lose-lose position. You lose because you do not understand the original argument, and you lose because you do not understand the refutation either. It is best to ignore the argument. Anyway, it certainly is cheaper.

(For the full story, click the link.)

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3 thoughts on “How to Choose Which Critics to Respond To

  1. Good Advice. For 25 years I served as a pastor in an evangelical church. I learned that there are always some who disagree or oppose you on a variety of issues. Much of the time the difference is one preference rather than substantive, objective truth. Like the advice given here, I learned (by trial and error not in seminary) to not comment or respond to most of my on critics.

  2. Gary, my mother used to say: “Never argue politics or religion . . . not because it’s boorish but because it’s futile.” She was a smart lady.

  3. This article has some practical wisdom for me as a younger man. Thanks Gary, so much of your writing has pushed me to think things through more carefully and wisely.