The author of the novel quoted below is the Scotsman Alexander McCall Smith. The book #10 in a series of “44 Scotland Street” novels is The Revolving Door of Life published by Anchor Books in Feb. 2016. A portion of Chapter 44 The Decline of the Dinner Party.
“…Wilde himself would have been proud. But, no, one probably doesn’t want a backhanded remark in a good conversation. It’s nasty, and it destroys the courtesy that good conversation requires. You shouldn’t insult the person with whom you’re exchanging ideas. You just shouldn’t. Did you ever see William F. Buckley in action?’
Angus was unsure. He thought he might have seen him discussing something or other on television, but the memory was vague.
“He was famous for his television conversations,” Domenica continued. “And although there was an exchange of views, he actually seemed to sneer. There was something about his mouth, his teeth, that gave one the impression of sneering at the people with whom he spoke.”
“I can’t stand sneering,” said Angus.
Domenica was of the same view. “He met his match in Noam Chomsky, though. Chomsky was very courteous and just refuted Buckley’s points, one by one. You can disagree in a conversation–You can disagree very strongly–but you must be courteous.”
Angus thought about this. She was right. That was why our national conversation [this novel is set in Scotland] was so bad. Courtesy had been abandoned in favour of the put-down, the attack, the calculated sound bite. What sort of national conversation was that? The answer came to him immediately: none…”