Tuesday, October 04, 2005

On Moonbats and Wingnuts

   Something has been bothering me for the last couple of weeks about the state of discourse on the blogosphere. About a week ago, things reached a point compelling me to get the hell away from my computer.

   This is a collection of thoughts on moonbats and wingnuts, or rather the level of disrespect embodied in those two words.

   They are words I have never used, and they are words that I intend never to use against specific individuals. Of course, I -- like everyone else -- have read things on the Internet that have led me to question the author's sanity. Usually, I will give an argument a full and fair chance, but sometimes things are just too incredible to pass the giggle test. That's the way the world is, and so goes the blogosphere. I accept that, and you have to do so to stave off misanthropic tendencies. That said, I generally consider it a defeat to resort to name-calling.

   About a week and a half ago, something happened. I don't know if there was a full moon out, but it seemed that people -- otherwise consistently reasonable people -- had lost all sense of themselves. Several of my usual reads -- I won't link to them here because my intent is not to point fingers, but rather to work some things out for myself -- had reached an unprecedented level of shrillness in defense of their positions. So convinced of the rightness of their statements, these writers expressed their views with such vehemence that the force would have caused even an omniscient god to blink and second-guess itself. One side does so, and the other ups the ante. Rinse. Repeat.

   It seems that this phenomenon extended to other parts of the blogosphere, and it was not merely limited to simple stubbornness. Joe Gandelman was the recipient of a thoughtless statement -- if not an outright personal attack -- that I will not quote here as to avoid people stumbling upon my site in search of pictures of boy-boy action. This caused a rift among a number of bloggers when the statement in question was dismissed as part of a long-running joke on the blog hosting the offending comment, a defense that strikes me as absurd, but what do I know?

   I'm apparently not the only person who has noticed bloggers' recently feverish intensity. Jack Grant at Random Fate had some similar thoughts over the weekend in this regard, and took some time off as well:

I wonder, after the near universal expression of high emotions during the assault of the hurricanes, coupled with the recent political developments involving the decline and then stabilization of poll numbers for President George W. Bush, along with the indictment of Representative Tom DeLay and his consequent stepping-down as House Majority Leader, if all these factors and perhaps more have combined to create a collective exhaustion in blogworld.

Do we all need a moment to take a breath?

I hope that most are taking some time to gain a bit of perspective.
* * *

Blogworld needs to gain some perspective. I have some thoughts on this that I am striving to coalesce together into a coherent whole, but it’s not working tonight. Perhaps tomorrow.

In the mean time, let’s all catch our breath, and try to think instead of react.

Too true. Last week, I saw too little thought and too much reaction, as evidenced by an endless stream of poorly substantiated statements, regurgitated talking points, and unrestrained refusal to listen. Heavy on the reaction, light on the response.

   It was Moonbatism and Wingnutry of the highest order: people talking past each other, each looking to deliver the coup de grace while missing the opponent completely. A duel in which no one's honor is defended, deeply disappointing all around.

   (Yes, I know what I said above. In my defense, this is more like calling a person's action "stupid," instead of calling an individual the same.)

   The blogging phenomenon (if it can rightly be called that) has done, and can continue to do, wondrous things for the free exchange of ideas in our society. What we have is a "marketplace of ideas" on a scale grander than Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. could have imagined, with elements of the old New England town meeting mixed in. The information is out there: some good, some bad. Regardless, it is there for the reader to examine, to weigh, to evaluate, and to decide.

   In order for this system not to burn itself out, however, those who participate in it -- I think -- need to be mindful of overarching consideration: blogging is an implicitly egotistical exercise. Not that there is anything inherently wrong with it, but if we did not think we had something of value to offer, we would confine ourselves to our diaries and journals. In too many cases to count, the broader society would be poorer as a result. Without Instapundits and Kossacks alike, ideas among concerned citizens would take far longer to germinate, and might never even sprout and yield fruit at all. The trend is something, on balance, that we should embrace rather than shun.

   But unchecked egoism places the author ahead of even the worthiest message, eclipsing the source of the greater social benefit. I think we all have succumbed to this at one time or another. I have certainly been guilty of it myself. It's the nature of things. That said, maybe it's time for a shot of humility in the blogosphere, or more accurately, several million individual shots.

   Bottom line: if you are human, then you are fallible. If you are fallible, then you are wrong about something, likely about many things. Lose sight of that, and lose your reader and, perhaps in really egregious cases, his respect.

   Upon further reflection, that little dose of humility, too, may be rooted in egoism, creating an apparent paradox. After all, who doesn't want to grow his readership. But, that's another matter for another time.

UPDATE: Welcome to readers clicking through from The Moderate Voice. Thanks, Joe!

7 Comments:

Anonymous ks said...

Excellent commentary about an insidious problem. The disrespect and venom has been increasing considerably, and it's one of the reasons I hesitate to start my own blog. I don't have the stomach to deal with it, and I'm convinced people who post that type of drivel only care about the shock value their words impart.

What or who do you think is responsible for this? I've often voiced the opinion that our political leaders set the tone in this country, and the examples they've been setting are pretty ugly. It's no wonder so many people get turned off by politics and don't bother to vote.

In the meantime (since we're stuck with our present leadership), it's up to the rest of us to set the tone. I try to do my part by being as polite as possible when posting (even with those I disagree with) and I also avoid visiting blogs that pander to that type of behavior. The way I see it, blogs are kind of like newspapers. We can read the Washington Post or the LA Times, or we can go slumming and pick up a copy of the Enquirer. I prefer to get my information from a more reputable source - like your blog!

2:50 PM  
Blogger G said...

I don't know ... you're reaching into a can of worms of this one.

Blogs are nothing more than personal journals, available for public viewing if the public so chooses. Your argument presupposes that somehow bloggers have a role to play, or are responsible to something, the way, say, the press is. And that's absurd.

If it's a personal journal, then freedom of expression overrides. Sure, plenty of inflammatory things will get written, and I am not about to defend any of them, other than to say you know, one can always choose not to read it. And no, this is not the flipping-channels-on-TV argument either - TV is corporately owned, and the FCC gives it a role, hence its censorship. With blogs/journals that is not the case.

Besides, the inflammatory nature can sometimes speak its own truth - some writers want to express their frustration. If that's the thought in their head, hey, it's their site, they should be able to write it. It's a sad view on censorship of personal freedom when one cannot even keep a journal of personal thoughts without getting ripped for its content.

In other words, get over with it. Go read something else. Most others offended by such content simply do the same - the good writers still get the majority of the readers, which is what matters most.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

G,

I don't know where you got the impression that I was advocating censorship. I don't believe that I mentioned the government once, so censorship is off the table. I fully endorse freedom of expression, and I acknowledge that people have the right to post what they want on their blogs. I see from your blog that you have an interest in safeguarding free expression, and I think in many cases on that issue we would be largely in agreement.

But, just because you have a right to do something doesn't mean its a good idea. Resorting to name-calling or citing questionably sound sources in support of logically suspect arguments, while rightful actions, don't make for good discourse.

The blogs I read -- generally speaking -- are political in nature and seek to persuade large audiences of regular visitors, usually with a healthy amount of interaction. I don't typically read personal journals, as you call them, since they don't interest me. That's fine, since I suspect a lot of people are not into political blogs of the sort I enjoy. To each his own.

Further, this is not about my having been offended. It takes quite a lot to offend me and not much shocks me anymore. It's about a sharp decline in argumentative skill manifested itself in a rather sorry display of irrationality.

My basic point was that somewhere, for a short period of time, civility was lost. For that reason, I felt the need to examine the issue just a little bit.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The political blogs tend to have an inflated sense of their importance and to attract a certain kind of individual.

Other bloghs ranging from venture capital to economics to discussions of Syria to detailed discussions of legal issues touch on elements of politics, but tend to attract more stable people. That is where the "establishment" is. Indeed it seems that many are unaware of how much of our system is mantained by such "communities." Most judges make decisions in referance to the public opinion of lawyers not the populist or pundit community, cororations watch the reactions of the investment community and others, a huge number of assumptions on which our system rests are made in these kind of places.

These are the blogs which are important and they extend into other forms of net publication.

Politics as practiced by the bloggers with big followings, eg. the new form of mass media tends to take on aspects of talk radio or partisan magazines.

This isn't all bad. Except of course a considerable number have never learned "we are all bozos on this bus." Ogften when that happens one goes on to deeper discussions as a mainstay.

Basically people all say ridiculous things in the heat of the moment. And the coming moments are going to be hot for the next few years.

We have a disruptive war which looks to be developing into big time problems, a stock market at 1929 valuations, inflated real estate in many markets, record public, private and foreign debt and oil increases like the seventies.

The Republican party has held itself together by rallying around the president despite big differences on issues, a big part of this has been Limbaighina mobs and smear machines which have made enemies within the party. The Democrats are equally raveled and a significant minority seek to emulate Limbaugh in their methods. The old order is in a mess and in need of reforming.

Which will happen, but not necessarily in a positive way.

In the context of this the "middle" is disturbed by the circus. But I feel the technique is to let the existing players make fools of themselves and to start to articulate issues.

I wonder why we don't see much discussion of schemes like Grameen bank which has grown to a billion dollars and takes no donations. It provides microloans to millions, believes that credit is a human right and that THOSE WITH THE LEAST DESERVE CREDIT THE MOST. And it has a 99% repayment rate.

Or other "leftist" approaches sch as that exemplified by ebay, arguing for purer markets with entry for all. Potentials extend to all realms and indeed in England a company has been started which will attempt to replace banks for medium sized loans. Investors loan directly to borrowers (every investment is divided among at least a hundred borrowers and credit ratins are made) with a very low overhead. Lower payments for borrowers and higher returns for savers are a potential result.

This is the kind of radical reformation of markets that is being attempted.

Yes it is "leftist." But it is also conistent with capitalism and indeed extends it towards the theories.

Similarly the system of "pen source" development which essentially built the net is being extended into all areas of software. It offers the potential to greatly reduce costs and improve quality.

Wikipedia despite it's flaws shows that it can be applied to all knowledge. Ftrom a point of government reform we can speed up an ending of the ologopoly of textbooks.

And the VA system widely lauded as an example of government success and reform has put out some of their software as open source. Health systems in other countries have adapted it. Why do "moderates" shrug when county hospitals and others pay software contractors for shoddy systems when we have taxpayer systems being offered for free, systems which could be extended?

I feel your plea is "let's keep things within existing paradigms and let's be nice so we don't alienate people."

But I rather think the "middle" should take up the concepts of serious thinkers, to say a "plague on both your houses" to those who left and right who try to mantain the status quo by defining issues and attracting attention,let the overly partisan make fools of each other and themselves.

They are bozos, we are bozos, they and we need to get perspective, we need to stop judging as though we were perfect. But we also have to see that the game as currently played is destructive. Even if done politely.

We face serious times. Neither party is prepared for them. Bith have valid points. Both however ignore the vast majority of good ideas and facts. And this is what needs to be introduced.

It is actually being done, but not on a mass level, but the places it happens are the influential blogs. So I would suggest that rather than dwelling all the time on the smoke that people spend an hour or 2 perusing the archives of for example

http://timbuktuchronicles.blogspot.com/

to get some radical ideas for redevelopment in Africa and also amazingly here.

It might be wise to look at what is offered rather than what you are told is important.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Mr. Snitch said...

Wish you had trackback, but (anyway) I linked you here.

2:49 AM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

KS,

In response to your question, I think the best answer is "I don't know, exactly." While tensions have been heightened in recent years, I think that the case can be made that they didn't start with this administration, or the last one. Also, you make a good point that the "leaders set the tone." That may be true, but I think it is equally plausible that leaders merely reflect the tone already present among the electorate. Alternatively, the relationship may be less causal and more symbiotic, with one side feeding off of the other, and vice versa.

I may return to this point in a later post, but for now any answer I attempt to give will be inadequate at best.

10:13 AM  
Blogger Bostonian Exile said...

Mister Snitch,

Given the very kind review on your site, I wish I had trackbacks, too. I'll put that on my to-do list for the future.

Thanks!

10:14 AM  

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