A culture of throwing stones

I read the piece in Eater, by Matt Buchanan, titled “Maybe Just Don’t Drink Coffee” because quite a few people were joyfully sharing it on twitter. My reaction is perhaps different to most people’s.

I’m not saying that it is a badly written piece, quite the opposite. It’s very well written, and I like Mr Buchanan’s writing a lot. He’s a valuable writer to coffee because he’s knowledgeable and honest. It’s a great piece of satire and commentary. It just wares on a part of me that is deeply frustrated with the online and offline culture of the coffee industry (though it is common in so many other industries).

I’m not against satire, but at this point I’m struggling to be amused because every single point he makes isn’t new to me or anyone else in coffee. Yes, coffee is fussy. Yes, coffee people can be pretentious and make you feel bad. Yes, coffee is expensive. Yes, there are lots of problems, lots of reasons to say no to the work involved, or to give up and drink the Diet Coke. I know. You know. We get it. What’s more – we’re the first to say it (though rarely this well…)

The reason for my annoyance is that it perpetuates a part of culture I don’t like or want: The rewarding of the stone-thrower. The back slapping of the complainer. Championing derision, negging, and pretending there is some value in just pointing out problems.

I’m not saying coffee doesn’t need criticism. It does, absolutely. I’m not saying criticism isn’t valuable – because that would be a stupid thing to say. (Especially in the middle of a piece of criticism.) However, not all criticism is created equal.

It’s a game of making oneself look smart by making someone else look stupid. I’m bored to tears of complaints dressed up as critique. I’m very, very interested in people who are constantly looking for, and sharing, solutions. This means listening to people who will often be proven completely wrong, time and time again. I’m good with that. They’re learning, and those sitting back and throwing stones are not. They’re not vetting ideas, they’re just letting others figure it out and then suddenly changing their tune when it’s time to co-opt a successful idea. It’s frustrating to have watched people like Glanville and Babinski go from constantly defending their ideas and innovations, to now being copied (sometimes as an homage, sometimes as a blatant rip-off).

You can dismiss this as overreaction. You can say that this is normal and healthy, the way we throw these stones. I disagree. If there’s insight into your criticism, if it leads to solutions or new ideas: great. If it’s just a complaint, dressed in a costume of authority, then it’s a waste of my time and yours.