Not long ago, we at NAS added a comment feature on our website. It’s the latest evolutionary step of interactive journalism and the democratization of the press. We write an article or briefly note some item of interest, and we invite you to respond. What would you do if you ran the Dr. Seussical Universatile Zoo? Do you have another theory on why under-40 grown-ups are playing Candyland and Twister without a child in sight?
We think that this comment feature has the potential to foster a careful and reflective correspondence. You write us a neat and polite criticism, and we neatly and politely respond. True afternoon-tea civility.
Otherwise, it could be more like an informal game of tennis. Back and forth, back and forth. You may point out a foot fault, and we’ll say “point’s to you.” A rally to show it’s all in good fun, and then a carefully calculated overhead smash. Good game, buddy.
A third way is a blog site brawl, the staple of blogs and news sites frequented by moonbats, wing nuts, and other denizens of the Land of Derision. This includes the folks who detect “racism” in almost anything; who delight in composing eloquently cruel epithets; and who sport at berating public figures. Comments by people who know what they are talking about can get lost in the sea of offense-taking.
Often it seems that the people with the courage to air their opinions and convictions are humor-impaired. They embarrass themselves without realizing it. Sincere but misguided, they plunge heedlessly ahead and we can be embarrassed on their behalf—in the sense that it’s painful to watch a co-worker make a fool of herself dancing at the office Christmas party. But you can’t not watch. And so you can’t not read. If nothing else, you are reminded to thank the heavens that you don’t dance like that and you didn’t write that comment.
I sometimes wonder if there is an underground internet blog league (IBL?) that gives points to blog commentators for ad hominems, straw men, red herrings, slippery slopes, and sheer verbosity. A couple naysayers disagree with the poster, and it’s as though the blogger’s cronies are poised with keyboard and refresh key to rhetorically assault the naysayer. Each side rallies supporters, and soon—a RUMBLE! Exhibit A is extracted from an actual post on a Townhall blog. Exhibit B is that post expanded into standard English.
Exhibit A: “Well gee, insufferably stupid LMAO hal, why would it be do different?”
Exhibit B: “Well, gee, insufferably stupid ‘Laughing-My-Ass-Off Hal,’ why would it be so different?”
I know--it’s hard to say which is less civil. But every blog-reader has to sift through the straw of the insufferably stupid in search of the needle of good sense. It’s just a hazard of the trade.
Yet, the comment feature should not be completely discounted. Replies can be thoughtful and informative. For example, at Insider Higher Ed comments of all ilk are submitted, but there are always a handful of well-thought-out responses legitimized with a first and last name and sometimes even the credentials of a professor or administrator.
“At my institution…”
“As chairman of the Political Science Department, I can attest that…”
And those comments are genuinely helpful. They revive hope that it is possible to recreate the real-life (as opposed to virtual life) forum or panel discussion or debate. And those few posts fulfill the ideal purpose of the comment. Of course, nowadays many sites use the comment feature as a market tool to build a reader base. But in this we are idealists, and we value thoughtful discussion and regular readers.
Now that we’ve established that legitimate and insightful comments exist, we have to admit that they are only helpful if one can focus long enough to read them. The post above the one you are reading may be throwing around accusations of sexism too nonsensical to ignore. And the post below it distracts because it is written partly in webbreviations, such as ROFL, IDK, RUS and TMA. (For explication, try the netlingo dictionary of chat acronyms. Parental discretion advised.)
While it can be amusing or angering to read the comments of people you disagree with, I cringe most when I read comments made by people who fit into my niche of the population. When any combination of age, sex, race, religion, politics, and hometown align with mine, I am very conscious that this person has undertaken the task to speak on my behalf. Long ago, that person may have felt a responsibility to carefully represent his party or religion to the outside world. Now, it’s careless, faceless, and nameless.
We in the multiculturalist generation have a strange understanding of ourselves. On the one hand, we think in terms of group identities—or teams. You can be on the Puerto Rican team, the Atheist Team, and the Libertarian Team at the same time. You can bat for them all at once or one at a time. But make no mistake, you are on a team. Yet, we know that a person has a longing to be understood as an individual distinct from the crowd. So the multiculturalist powers-that-be throw individuals the bone of moral relativism. This way a person can think that the individuality of his personality, family, and culture is protected. He can live by a morality that is different from the next person’s, giving him freedom and uniqueness in his beliefs. But in reality, it binds his beliefs by annulling the power of persuasion. Under the aegis of moral relativism, nobody can prove that you are wrong; but neither can you prove that you are right.
The democratization of information and the press has the effect of giving a microphone to every member of every team, but multiculturalism robs every person of his speaking voice. No one can hear anyone if everyone is talking (or screaming) at the same time.
The comments on blogs and editorials expose the individual’s identity crisis as he tries to reconcile the unique self with group membership. On the one hand, to comment on a New York Times op-ed feels like a stage from which to speak to the whole world, or at least millions of people. But a person who has been raised by multiculturalism has nothing to say—or at least nothing to say that he can reasonably ask people to listen to since every opinion is as valid as the next. All that is left are the staples of diversity doctrine, and groups are even more polarized than they had been before multiculturalism.
Thus there is a blandness of over-familiarity in most of these identity-asserting blogs, and aggravation besets the bloggers themselves because of their dim apprehension that they are, more or less, saying the same thing, even when they disagree. I suspect that explains much of their vehemence. When you have nothing much to say, say it loudly and insist on the folly of everyone else. Blog site brawls really do become a source of guilty-pleasure-entertainment which we read to see which of the disreputable combatants comes off most battered or least bowed.
In our brief period so far of welcoming comments, NAS has not yet become an arena for gladiatorial combat. Dear reader, shall we begin a correspondence? Or maybe a game of tennis would tempt you?
Or are we YY4U? INBD.