Paul Muller describes the frustrations of being a grown-up who enjoys online gaming and thus having to put up with rude teenagers. He then observes,
But this isn’t solely limited to video games, where the young form the majority. Now that I’ve been involved in the blogging community for a few months, I’ve realized that it’s just as prevalent here. People with blind opinions, following a certain train of thought with no consideration for forming a 3-dimensional argument are just as content to tear another person down because of his or her political or personal beliefs. Just labeling yourself as a Democrat or Republican is enough to start a vicious attack. It happens every day – look at Ted Rall and Anne Coulter – they do it on a national scale!
I try to post balanced arguments here – showing that neither side is entirely innocent in a story in the majority of my opinions. In my comments I leave on here or other weblogs, I usually try to get people to examine their broad generalizations and look further into the issue. What if the situation was reversed? Do you have the expertise in the subject matter to be making these bold claims? More often than not I immediately get labeled as a dissenter, and then earn such gems as “moron, conservative, idiot, asshat, etc”. Deserved? I think if any one of these people met me in real life, we’d probably get along fine. But again, the faceless internet dragon strikes!
What strikes me most about this syndrome is that political or social blogs, I feel, are supposed to be run by the more intelligent, logical, and thinking of the people on the internet. But again, they let their base emotions control them once their opinions are challenged. I’ve been guilty of it myself, I will admit. Sometimes it’s difficult to ignore such a blatant blow to the ego. But it’s ironic to look at the state of politics today, where the two parties have left behind any sort of national agenda for the interest of the nation and are more interested in smearing each others’ reputations around the toilet than in improving the state of things, and I see it mirrored exactly on the weblogs I visit.
Now, not all the weblogs are guilty of this. Some state the facts that they know and allow people to draw their own conclusions, and I respect that. I even respect the ones that spin the information to work within their own machinations, or provide only part of the story. That’s well within their perogative and the people that visit the sites can make their own call. But when the best argument you can make is calling our President a “simian, chimp-faced idiot” or berate a commenter for his “utter stupidity” you’ve invalidated your right to be heard. Base attacks on someone that you’ve never met automatically devalue your own thoughts and opinions, in my mind.
As I note in his comments section, I pretty much avoid blogs, including a handful of the “biggies,” that are mostly diatribes rather than reasoned discussions. I don’t mind a bit of profanity here and there, but have little interest in blogs consisting primarily of virtriol, name calling, and intellectually dishonest argumentation. There are more blogs that avoid those than I have time to read, so that’s not a problem.
What astounds me is that, even on many of the very good blogs with high traffic, the comments sections are often populated by people like Paul’s teenage gamers. For example, although I don’t agree with their takes very often, I find Calpundit and Atrios worth reading. But their comments sections are often rather bile-filled, especially on posts that get more than a handful of comments.
So far, there has been relatively little of that on OTB. I presume this is largely just a function of comparatively low traffic and seldom getting more than single-digit comments on my posts. It may also be that many of the things I blog, including somewhat archane issues of political theory and constitutional law, about are either of little interest to the type of people who go around calling everyone who takes a mildly conservative position “wingnuts” or something more colorful, or the fact that the academics who seem to be mainly interested in those things are more highly trained in argumentation. I do notice that a goodly number of the most prominent blogs eschew comments features altogether; there may be a reason for that.