I’ve written about the everlasting problem of blog comments before, as have many bloggers, and now I see that Virginia Heffernan has weighed in at the NYT. Why do we keep doing this? After all, it’s well-established that Americans in general are poorly-informed about just about everything, and that levels of hostility on the internet often reach pathological levels. So what more is there to say? Anger and stupidity are the order of the day, every day. I think we keep writing about these matters because we don't know what’s going on in any given case, in any given mind. When you get to know a particular blog well you're likely to come across a regular commentator who is just astonishing in his ignorance — but wait: how do we know he’s not just jerking our chain? Can someone really be that clueless? Or must there be malice involved? We ask questions like this because we have a natural, and apparently quite intense, interest in what makes other people tick. (Insert your favorite sociobiological explanation here.) But nothing is harder to understand than human motives, as a few minutes of self-examination would reveal to any of us. And none of these people who clog the internet with their anger and/or ignorance are interesting. So it’s curious that so many of us keep worrying over this issue.
I have been, for the last week, and for the next several weeks am conducting an experiment.
Everything I read on blogs I am reading as if it was written by my best friend who knows me very well and has my best interests at heart, and then, as I am able I am responding in kind.
What I notice so far is that I have less to say.
I thought the Heffernan piece was disingenuous at best–it was yet another example of people in the mainstream press trying to explain to those who don't go online except maybe for respectable outlets like Slate that you shouldn't bother, Because Everyone There Is Crazy. Best you stick to reputable commentators who are awarded Pulitzers.
I read a lot of comment sections and of course there's a lot of ignorance on display, and hostility, often juvenile, but not all the hostility is irrational and juvenile and that's what Heffernan doesn't want people to know. Most of the best political commentary nowadays comes from bloggers and sometimes even commenters who don't have gigs at Slate or the NYT–in fact, some of the silliest commentary is at the latter location. (I can't speak about Slate or Applebaum or Heffernan, since I don't usually read them).
Back in 2002-2003, the best place for finding rational objections for going to war in Iraq were online. The Serious People were above all that. The fiercest and most accurate accounts of Bush's torture policies were online–Jane Mayer's research assistant was a regular contributor to one blog I read back then and if you wanted to see fierce, that person could be fierce. (And sometimes unfair in her fierceness, as I could attest as one of her targets once or twice.)
From my pov, the real question is why anyone bothers with most of what passes for political commentary in the mainstream press and from the days when I did bother reading them, that would include Slate.
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