The Blogosphere Is Full Of Jerks

On Friday I had a bad day. Over at my blog a commenter whose opinion I had valued left a comment in sharp disagreement with something I’d posted that included a personal attack that I found very hurtful. And it ruined my day. However, later that very same day I heard a program on the radio that put the experience into a little perspective and also cast some light on things I’ve seen around the political blogosphere.

On last week’s This American Life program, in one of the segments they interviewed a scholar who’s studying group dynamics and has found and demonstrated experimentally that the old adage “one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel” is correct from a group dynamics perspective. Even when people have strong motivations to succeed a single counter-productive member can prevent the group from being as productive as they might be. The behavior of a single individual can be so damaging to the group that the group can’t succeed at its objectives.

He identified three distinctly different styles among such individuals. First, there was the depressive individual, the negative and pessimistic person who’s continually complaining that the work is unpleasant or that the task too difficult.

Then there’s the slacker, the individual who doesn’t pull his or her own weight, or even does nothing.

Finally, there’s the jerk, the individual who contributes nothing positive to the common objective but is always ready with a put-down for those who are trying to accomplish something.

And that’s when it struck me: the blogosphere is full of jerks.

We all have our off days, all of us can be jerks from time to time. But some of us take special delight in it. Some of us seem to want nothing more than to ensure that everybody else has a bad day. That happy few will never make a positive suggestion, never contribute a considered opinion, or do much more than hurl insults and question the unknowable motives of other people.

You can’t remonstrate with a jerk: the jerk can always respond with more of the same. The only alternatives are to become a jerk yourself or to shut up and take it in silence.

The political blogosphere has the potential to become the greatest venue for discourse since the agora or the coffee-houses of 17th century London. However, anyone who has spent much time in the comments threads of many if not most blogs can certainly recognize a common dynamics: what starts out as a worthwhile conversation inevitably becomes dominated by the loudest, rudest, and angriest voices, by the jerks. Every comments thread descends into a shouting match and frequently the blog itself becomes an echo chamber in which only those who already agree dare converse.

OTB is certainly much better than most blogs in this respect and I think that James deserves a lot of the credit for that. I continue to see some meaningful discourse going on although even here many of the comments threads have a dreary sameness to them.

Here’s what I suggest: rather than using the comments threads of blogs as a place to vent, vent on your own blog. Don’t exploit the anonymity of comments. Never write anything in a comments thread other than on your own blog that you wouldn’t want your mother, spouse, or significant other to read. Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.

That might take the fun out of it for you but it will preserve the fun for everybody. And perhaps you’ll see a new sort of fun in it yourself.

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FILED UNDER: Blogosphere
Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.

Comments

  1. We have all encountered these blogging jerks. http://tinyurl.com/85ua8b

  2. RT @lyndiWP We have all encountered these blogging jerks. http://tinyurl.com/85ua8b

  3. jabberwock says:

    The fact that no one has responded speaks volumes. I always enjoy your posts, even when I disagree with them.
    Merry Christmas

  4. Bithead says:

    Finally, there’s the jerk, the individual who contributes nothing positive to the common objective but is always ready with a put-down for those who are trying to accomplish something.

    I shudder at the phrases “Common objective”, and “Doing something’, in this context. Sounds rather strangely reminiscent of totalitarian labeling we see so often opn the left, particularly when attached to union movements. I know full well that’s not your intent, but there is certainly that reading of the phrase to set one’s heart and heat on edge.

    Clearly, in the case I presume you’re mentioning, you’re not in lockstep with the ‘common cause’ of he and his… in other words, you dared to question a union position… Unions being the cradle of the ultimate “Us vs Them” mentality.

    The implications here are many, but chief among them, I think, is that your opposition has declared it’s own purpose the ‘common purpose’, even though it’s opposite of yours.

    There’s a larger point buried in this reply, that I’m not sure I have the words for. See if you see the larger point I’m driving at, Oh, heck I’ll take a stab at it;

    It is always and forever the battle against the individual, Dave. Only when you factor that in, does any of the rest of it make any sense at all.

  5. Dave Schuler says:

    The objective is discourse and furthering discourse. If the objective is solely the individual, why aren’t you just talking to yourself?

    Human beings are social animals and require society in order to live happy, healthy lives. The good and just society promotes the freedom of individuals; in its absence you have, well, Somalia.

  6. Brian says:

    The political blogosphere has the potential to become the greatest venue for discourse since the agora or the coffee-houses of 17th century London.

    I think that you’ve hit on half of the symptoms of the root problem that will limit the value of such discourse. The web bestows a sense of anonymity that leads people to abandon the judgment and self-editing that they would ordinarily exercise when communicating in other forums. And yes, we are most familiar with the negative manifestation of this, but it is also present in communications that would seem to be “positive.” Web users say things that are just as ridiculous when agreeing with or supporting the topic of discussion, but are not noticed or called on it because they aren’t upsetting the herd. If we value credibility then we really need to call out all irresponsible chatter, not just that which rubs the wrong way.

    That said, another great post and good topic! I’ve always enjoyed your work and am sorry someone who doesn’t got ahold of you. Even when I may disagree on a point, I can respect the maturity and care with which you’ve thought through and expressed what you have to say.

  7. Bithead says:

    The objective is discourse and furthering discourse.

    So, the problem you have is your point was rejected with some forceful words? Discourse, I submit, is not a proper goal unto itself, unless the goal is to be a debate society. If the discourse is to become anything more than that, at some point, someone’s argument is going to be rejected, very likely with prejudice, and some forceful words.

    Human beings are social animals and require society in order to live happy, healthy lives. The good and just society promotes the freedom of individuals; in its absence you have, well, Somalia

    Let’s pick up a couple definitions, shall we?

    Freedom:exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.
    The power to determine action without restraint.

    Society: A highly structured system of human organization for large-scale community living that normally furnishes protection, continuity, security, and a national identity for its members: American society.

    Your use and concept of the word ‘Freedom” seems out of place to the context. Structured freedom, after all, is akin to freeze dried water, about as messed up as a football bat.

    I imagine it to be part of the cause of the friction.

  8. carpeicthus says:

    God I love bithead’s ideological defense of being a jerk. You could use it as the hook for a master’s thesis in political science.

  9. Bithead says:

    God I love bithead’s ideological defense of being a jerk.

    That’s hardly the point, and was I defending ‘being a jerk’, per se’, I’d be far less respectful than I am being. In the end, I’m doing nothing more than engaging in ‘discourse’.

  10. ggjr says:

    Your use and concept of the word ‘Freedom” seems out of place to the context. Structured freedom, after all, is akin to freeze dried water, about as messed up as a football bat.

    Isn’t any society with laws an example of structured freedom? Unless you’re speaking of the pure social freedom favored by anarchists – and even most of them reluctantly admit the need for some restrictions.

  11. anjin-san says:

    So bit, you are saying that freedom is a good thing, as long as people don’t use it to form unions?

  12. Triumph says:

    Never write anything in a comments thread other than on your own blog that you wouldn’t want your mother, spouse, or significant other to read. Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.

    Great post–that’s exactly what we need to be doing.

  13. tom p says:

    as one of the “jerks” (from time to time),

    Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.

    I have noticed that this is the hardest part. After one has had a few discussions, I(we) have a preconception of what others positions are going to be. Then when they post something even slightly ambiguous, I tend to assume… And others have done the same to me. I try not to do it (and have deleted a # of posts upon reflection) but sometimes I fail.

    It is the human condition. As is so often the case, it is not what you say, but how you say it.

  14. jabberwock says:

    Triumph,
    From your past history, I assume your tongue is planted firmly in cheek

    Bitsy, That was the point.

    Cheers!

  15. Bithead says:

    So bit, you are saying that freedom is a good thing, as long as people don’t use it to form unions?

    Perhaps if you were to go and read the exchange in question…

  16. Anonymity is the great enabler.

  17. dutchmarbel says:

    Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.

    Only when it’s a guy? :p

  18. Michael says:

    The political blogosphere has the potential to become the greatest venue for discourse since the agora or the coffee-houses of 17th century London. However, anyone who has spent much time in the comments threads of many if not most blogs can certainly recognize a common dynamics: what starts out as a worthwhile conversation inevitably becomes dominated by the loudest, rudest, and angriest voices, by the jerks.

    What makes you think that the agropa and coffee houses didn’t suffer from the same ailment? Maybe in the distant future, people will think that these threads were the location of the greatest discourses of our age, and that we did it all wearing capes and goggles, while blogging from high altitude balloons.

  19. Triumph says:

    Triumph,
    From your past history, I assume your tongue is planted firmly in cheek

    My dear sir! I am turning a new leaf. Dave’s right. There is no sense in being mean or counterproductive.

    In the spirit of the season, God Bless you all!

    Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Haunakah, Pleasant Kwanzaa, and a Glorious Eid!

  20. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps if you were to go and read the exchange in question…

    That is hardly a road that leads to clarity in your case. The more closely one pays attention to your words, the less sense they make…

  21. Bithead says:

    I think I’ll just leave your comments stand on their own, Anjin. In light of the content of the post, I think they speak volumes.

  22. FireWolf says:

    You can’t remonstrate with a jerk: the jerk can always respond with more of the same. The only alternatives are to become a jerk yourself or to shut up and take it in silence.

    Dave you forgot option #3: Ban the offenders IP!

    Sure, silencing critics and jerks may be counter productive (especially if you are drawing readership) but damn it feels good too LOL

    Good luck Dave 🙂

  23. steve s says:

    I help moderate a website (click on my name for more) and the general rule we use is, “Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say in a college discussion”. What really makes it work is, instead of deleting offensive comments, we kick them to a thread called “The Bathroom Wall”. That way we don’t have to censor people, but we can get problematic comments out of the other threads.

  24. steve s says:

    Try to be a good listener and understand the other guy’s point of view.

    Only when it’s a guy? :p
    Posted by dutchmarbel | December 21, 2008 | 09:08 pm | Permalink

    Having lived the last 12 years in 3 college towns (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill) I can tell you that among the young, ‘guys’ is now gender neutral. Countless are the times I heard a girl say to a group of girls, “What are you guys up to?” etc.

  25. Richard B says:

    ignore the trolls, ban the trolls, and/or grow a thicker skin. kumbaya on internet comment logs is not likely to happen.

  26. caj says:

    I think the point of blogging on here or other sites are so you can make your own comments on whatever the topic of the day may be.
    We may all have different views of course, but I think we can all relay that without being offensive to anyone who does not agree with us.
    Honest disagreement is fine but down right rudeness is not acceptable.
    That being said, I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  27. anjin-san says:

    I think I’ll just leave your comments stand on their own, Anjin. In light of the content of the post, I think they speak volumes.

    Gosh bit, you really showed me there. After all, your anti-union rant that has nothing whatsoever to do with the thread is the model of decorum and civility 🙂

  28. John Cole says:
  29. […] Also at OTB, this post by Dave Schuler, in which he comes to the following conclusion: […]

  30. RAM says:

    And that’s when it struck me: the blogosphere is full of jerks.

    News flash: Life is full of jerks, the blogosphere just sort of distills them into a sort of mass.

  31. Aristides says:

    Indeed, the blogosphere is full of jerks. That’s why you take someone’s jerkish-ness as an opportunity to humiliate them with your wit and intelligence. Or failing that, ban them, delete their comments, and then make fun of them. Honestly I’m all in favor of robust discourse on blog comment threads, but when someone crosses a line…well, then you just have a little fun.

  32. Frank J says:

    This is why we call it public domain. You need to avoid showing your feelings, and staying the course. As writer myself, I also experience the not-so-pleasantries in post comments, but that comes with blogging.

    Stay strong!

  33. rodney dill says:

    Have a Merry Christmas, Happy Haunakah, Pleasant Kwanzaa, and a Glorious Eid!

    You forgot Festivus…. Jerk.

  34. Bithead says:

    Gosh bit, you really showed me there. After all, your anti-union rant that has nothing whatsoever to do with the thread is the model of decorum and civility 🙂

    Anin, have you ever seen someone trying to cross a picket line?

  35. anjin-san says:

    Anin, have you ever seen someone trying to cross a picket line?

    True that can get ugly. But not necessarily so. I have crossed picket lines when I did not agree with what the union was asking for and received nothing harsher than a dirty look. And I suspect that if folks on a picket line injure someone trying to cross they will end up cuffed in the back of a squad car.

    Do you wish for a return to the good old days when Pinkerton men came in and split the skulls of workers who dared to ask for better wages and conditions with impunity?

    Unions are quite imperfect, but they do provide some balance in the power equation between average workers and large employers. What we need to do is attempt to address excesses by both sides, not simply render one side completely powerless and hope the bosses will do the right thing.

  36. tom p says:

    To wade into an argument I have heretofore avoided:

    There is a big misconception about the supposedly “adversarial relationship” that occurs between management and labor. For starters, (in construction, in Missouri)(as a Union Carpenter, I only speak for what I know and can attest to) it ain’t there.

    In construction, there is much more of a “partnership” between the contractors and labor than an “adversarial relationship” (not total, but it is there). For instance: Drug testing. We are all subject to drug testing, by the Union as well as the companies. This allows the company to get a break on their Workman’s Comp rates. Also we have mandatory safety training (8 hrs/yr) which also helps them get a break on WC rates. And WC is a BIG expense.

    As to the drug testing… it gripes me. Because even tho I don’t smoke dope, or do anything else for that matter, I still got tested 6 times last year(which cost me money)(as a buddy pointed out, I probably got tested so much because they knew I was clean)… And I am far more worried about the crane operator who shows up with a hang over (or still drunk from the previous eve) than I am about the guy who shared a joint 2 wks ago. Drunks kill more people on construction sites per year than the occasional dope smoker ever will. (and drug tests have very limited capabilities in catching the drunks)

    We also have “Journeyman Upgrade Training” which teaches us the latest in technology and techniques, and helps us to be even more efficient. (thereby giving the contractor a more efficient work force)

    We are encouraged to report the “slackers” to our Bussiness Reps in order to weed them out.
    (sometimes uncomfortable, as I can attest to)(charges, counter charges)

    Also, the “non-union” vs “Union” is way over played. We work and play together quite often without incident… Tho I have to mention that my own personal preference is Union. If for no other reason than that I am far less likely to be harmed by a Union worker than by a non-union worker. (I have almost died twice, almost lost limbs 3’ce and been injured a time or 2 by non-union workers(or their mistakes), Union? Once…)(I have to say it is merely a matter of the safety training, it is drilled into our heads… They don’t get it)(and some of the things I have seen….)

    Lastly: The biggest problem is the lack of “regulation” on the non-union side. More than a few are not even classified as “employees”, which means no tax liability, no WC, no etc. When you throw into the mix, the “illegal immigrant” part of the occasion it gets even worse (and for the record, yes, I have had to work along side of people who could not speak a word of english)(and yes, this company got busted… Did they get put out of bussiness for breaking the labor laws of the United States of America? HAH!!!)(how much did they cost the GC? Beyond belief, I doubt the law suits have been settled yet)

    And Bit,

    Anjin, have you ever seen someone trying to cross a picket line?

    I have been in this bussiness for almost 30 yrs, and in at least the last 20, I have faced that dilemma only once (and for the record, no I did not cross). Due to what I call “Ronnie’s Rules” it is quite easy for a contractor to get a around the “picket line” dilemma. All they have to do is have 2 seperate gates: 1 Union, 1 non-union. The picketers have to picket the non-union gate. We then, (under threat of a “Non-Performance” law suit) are forced to work anyway.

    This has the added “benefit” of pitting the Unions against each other. This may very well suit you just fine, but I happen to think it doesn’t help the working man who sweats and bleeds (yes, bleeds)(and sometimes dies)(how many co-workers have you had die on a job? Me? 2) at all.

    And I have several non-union carpenter friends who agree with me to one extent or another.

  37. […] David Schuler writes over at “Outside the Beltway” that the Blogsophere is full of jerks! […]

  38. Bithead says:

    Do you wish for a return to the good old days when Pinkerton men came in and split the skulls of workers who dared to ask for better wages and conditions with impunity?

    And that is different from Union people doing the same, how?

    I suspect you’re beginning to get the point I was making.

    We then, (under threat of a “Non-Performance” law suit) are forced to work anyway.

    (Chuckle) Remember, how I’ve been pointing out the use of government in support of Unions? Case in point.