Saturday, December 16, 2006

Civil Discourse

The level of insult in blog discussions is quite alarming. People write things they would never say face-to-face, or even over the phone. That is perhaps not very different from pamphleteering and broadsides in earlier eras, which certainly were vicious and vulgar at times. As online posting is closer to actual conversation, the deterioration is more noticeable, I suppose.

Different categories of insult strike me differently. It is unsavory on many levels to call someone a moron, or idiotic, or stupid. But that sort of attack, though directed against the person instead of the idea, is less objectionable than other insults. It would be better, of course, for disputants to say "that idea is foolish" instead of "you are a fool." But the criticism is at least in category. An idea is being discussed, and questions of stupidity and cleverness are to the point. Even such characterizations as "paranoid" or "smug" can at least be derived from word-choices, tone, and reasoning within the discussion.

It is a greater deterioration to level attacks such as fascist, coward, warmonger, thieves, and the like. These are frequently applied to a group that advocates a particular idea or course of action. While it may at times be justified - there are actual human beings who fit those descriptors - I can't think of a recent use in the public discourse that was reasonable. These hyperbolic statements are generally drawn from no data, and are used merely to show how really, really upset the writer is at these others who are really, really bad'uns. It is a method of exaggerating to attract attention, a verbal screaming. It is rather like those folks who write in ALL CAPS BECAUSE YOU JUST DON'T GET IT!

In my post "Not Their Tribe," I suggested there was some alternative motive which partly explains why the A & H Tribe is not supporting OIF. They might be loyal only to their own tribe, and not America as a whole, perhaps. I don't leap from this to say that they are traitors, or cowards, or selfish. Each of those, while possible, would require high levels of evidence. An actual traitor might well hide behind the principle of freedom to criticize the government. A real coward might adopt religious pacifism as a cover. But this does not mean that all who criticize the government are traitors, nor that all religious pacifists are cowards.

Note: the opposite argument (or is it the contrapositive?), that all accusations of disloyalty are just covers to suppress dissent, has become equally common, and I think from the same people. That is, those who are first to call others "fascist" are also those who are first to claim that whatever they say can't possibly be treasonous, because that's just a ploy to suppress dissent. I do wonder why such people need to make their enemies so large and vile, beyond all reason.


Anonymous said...

"I do wonder why such people need to make their enemies so large and vile, beyond all reason."

Allow me to illustrate:

Me: "I'm in favor of the deregulation of cane-pole fishing. I think it's an unnecessary government intrusion that exists solely to raise revenue, in the form of license fees."

Some You-Know-Who: "You facist!"

Me: "Your reponse does not address my statement. Rather, it is an attack against me personally. I can only conclude that you have no rebuttal for my argument."

SYKY: "You can't criticize me! That's restricting my freedom of speech, you facist!"

AVO, I'm sure you know that delusions of grandeur and paranoia often go hand-in-hand. SYKY and his ilk find it necessary to demonize their opponents because when one is both that self-centered and that insecure, the existence of other opinions is an intolerable imposition on one's self-worth. Only by demonizing their opponents can these sort get their own identities re-centered.

Mark said...

Anytime one challenges ideas and positions it's taken as an attack. I've been accused of incivility on both ends of the political spectrum for doing this sans any actual personal attacks. No names, slurs and so on, only challenging counter ideas. I was blogswarmed in all cases both by conservatives and far left liberals whoever the group happened to be. This is epidemic in the global cyber village and I have no solution.

copithorne said...

The US State Department, the CIA and a large majority of the American people believe that the war in Iraq has made America less safe.

So, by the reasoning here, we would ask, why do supporters of the OIF want to kill, maim and endanger Americans? I don't have enough evidence to present a hypothesis about how these people came to hate America. Perhaps they hate us for our freedoms.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

copithorne - oversimplified, as usual. Those are not the opinions of those agencies or of large majorities of the American people. So right off the bat, it's going to be hard to discuss this. The Executive Intelligence Review used quite temperate and hesitant language.

mark, I might suggest that calling people wingnuts is regarded as a personal insult by most folks. I'm not sure you have a clear handle on what things are attacking ideas and what are personal attacks. Still, I agree with your general premise.