June 15, 2004


Amritas writes briefly about what's been going on in my comments section. He writes about how trolling is wrong, no matter if it's from the Left or Right. His last line hit me like a ton of bricks:

If we can't get along, let's just avoid each other.

I've worried in the past about the growing divide between Left and Right. I'm sure it's always been that way, but before the internet, the only people you could talk to about politics were people you actually knew. The internet has allowed us to meet scores of people who think like we do...but has also brought us in contact with scores of people on the opposite side. Before the internet, calling someone who disagreed with you a clueless fucktard was probably a bad idea, because you'd most likely have to keep working with that person or attending social events together. But on the internet, whoo boy. Fake email address, fake name, and the insults just flow. Why not, it's not like you ever have to see this person.

I keep coming back to February. And I can't get that graph of book purchases out of my head. We obviously can't get along anymore (as the wave of insults in my comments show), so we will only get better at avoiding each other.

We're a country with two political parties, but we may as well be from different planets.

Posted by: Sarah at 03:27 AM | Comments (6) | Add Comment
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1 Nah, you worry too much. What's more, you take things said on the internet personal, which is kind of cute in a very naive sort of way. Internet is just not comparable to everyday life, it's more anonymous, sharper and sometimes uglier. No one in the comments would ever call you clueless fucktard dumb to your face, even more so if they have any personal knowledge of you, but on the internet discussion often end with rude ad hominems. On the other hand, by dispensing with courteousness the arguments are more direct and perhaps more honest. It may be scary at first, but you get used to it, after realizing they're not talking to you personally, but some anonymous schmoe saying silly things. Live and learn. On polarization: Yes, I believe the US has polarized over the past couple of years, but not nearly as much as to bar wonky discussion from the public life, at least no more than as it has always been. The internet, as I said is different, so if you have a public blog, you'll eventually encounter raw, unpersonal shoutfests. If you can't stomach that, this is not your domain. Anyway, I'm rambling a bit, so I'll stop now.

Posted by: Sander at June 15, 2004 08:49 AM (9v8mw)

2 Sander - your point about the rudeness on the 'net is exactly what bothers me. It betrays a lack of character. If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would would you say it when you're anonymous? It's just plain rude. And this phenomenon doesn't just show itself on the Internet - it spills over into regular dialogue. Have you tried to have a face-to-face debate with anyone recently? It usually turns personal and namecalling pretty quickly. Not exactly a way to foster understanding of differing perspectives.

Posted by: Lyana at June 15, 2004 10:56 AM (laelg)

3 The topic of how divided we are, or more specifically, is there not a clear majority came up for me yesterday. I keep coming back to that the real majority doesn't even vote. The net and blogosphere just seems to make things seem more polarized than they are. It takes big egos and big ideas to jump into these discussions. As for the vile comments, I'm with you, there's just no excuse for personal attacks.

Posted by: Beth at June 15, 2004 01:19 PM (Y/dYM)

4 I think we are seeing two totally different political processes at work. One, pluralistic, depends on building majorities by inclusion. In this view, minorities can gain adherents and thereby become majorities. This view of politics as rational persuasion is the essence, not of liberalism, but of pluralistic centrism ala Arthur Schlessinger’s The Vital Center. The other, essentially monistic or totalistic, seeks to build majorities by excluding opposing views. It is the “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” view of conservative politics as conflict. It is couched in language that ranges from the forced exclusion of opposition to the utter destruction of opponents. There are clearly other processes at work, but these two are crucial to the conflict between "conservative and liberal" or "red and blue." The pluralists are deeply worried that the political process has been so corrupted by totalistic methods that it is becoming unstable. Some of them are beginning to adopt totalistic methods. In other words, they have been repeatedly shown that persuasion is no longer working and that political negotiation is impossible. The trigger point for this has been the progress of the war in Iraq. Many of the people opposed the war because they saw that the war aims were being chosen more for the purpose of consolidating political power rather than clearly stating the national interests. The "you're with us or you're with the terrorists" rhetoric between 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan is one example. The false claims of Iraq threatening the US national security by stockpiling strategic weapons of mass destruction able to attack the continental US and the equally false claims of Iraqi collaboration with Al Qaida in the 9/11 attacks also powerfully undermined belief in the usefulness of pluralistic politics based on persuasion. The torture scandal, followed by the installation of an interim Iraqi government of exiles without a political base were the straws that broke the camel’s back. So what you are seeing in the “invasion” of your comments section is the leading edge of people who have been persuaded by events that they must fight for their beliefs and that persuasion no longer works. They have been continuously attacked for several years by the sort of conduct you find so appalling. They would be perfectly happy if the people who disagreed with them left them alone. But instead, they have been continuously assaulted. And now they are losing patience. So it's not about polls or media bias or absolute truth or objectivity. It's a new development and a painful one.

Posted by: Warbaby at June 15, 2004 08:39 PM (c+VCW)

5 Give me a break. You talk as if you're an innocent bystandard standing on the sidewalk and that you have been innocently gunned down by a drive-by shooting. Such is not the case in the blog-world, and to believe such is mere delusion. It is provocation which inspires people to respond with angry and argumentative retorts, and basing claims on misinformed knowledge of statistical analysis, and a preordained notion of policies. Please, just try writing about flowers and butterflies everyday and see how many comments or hits you receive--then you'll realize how truly unrandom it is.

Posted by: Neil at June 16, 2004 01:36 AM (q/4gY)

6 Healthy debate=good. Read John Leo's latest here: http://www.townhall.com/columnists/johnleo/jl20040614.shtml But I agree that the anonymity of the Internet seems to give some people license to speak and act in ways they would not even think of doing in public or with aquaintances.

Posted by: PalmettoGrimmerReaper ™ at June 16, 2004 09:16 PM (UOPEp)

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