It has become a commonplace among civilized people to renounce the personal attack when discussing ideas, whether scientific, aesthetic or political. This bad habit from the past persists, however. I remember once during an event on the critique of the plastic arts, in the middle of a discussion about the value of a work that was being defended and attacked with equal vehemence by two experts, one of them, having already exhausted his arsenal of debating points, said to the other: “With that squint of yours better you should dedicate yourself to studying music.”
The personal attack is the remedy chosen by those who do not have strong arguments. At the end of the day, to disqualify an opponent through mudslinging intended to demoralize him is to somehow recognize that he is right. We have heard many times, “So-and-so doesn’t have the moral standing to talk about this because he has this-or-that defect.” Wouldn’t it be better to dedicate oneself to proving that the underlying thesis lacks logic?
The most damaging thing about the use of personal attack occurs when the victim fights back, creating a vicious circle. That’s when our ancestral culture of “wooden shoes and dirt floor” starts to take over! There is the rancor that almost always comes from envy; the base passion that ignores restraint, much less mercy; the shamelessness to exaggerate and the sordidness to lie; the sadism with which a person without virtue tramples the virtue of another into the mud; and libel, which is where it always ends! Finally, nobody remembers what was being discussed but all are suspected of insult.
The best way to confront a personal attack is to have the superiority to ignore it, behaving as if it had not occurred. Of course this is my subjective personal impression, because I must confess that I have no experience in these matters; I realize I have never been the victim of this type of abuse.