January 5, 2010

I posted an article by David Brooks on my facebook page recently, the topic being the country’s inability to have honest conversations with itself about anything. Brooks’ specific topic was terrorism, and the reaction of the country, the intelligentsia, and the public to the underwear bomber. A salient quote:

Much of the criticism has been contemptuous and hysterical. Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future.

People are calling for Janet Napolitano’s throat, accusing the President of wanting the United States to be attacked, alleging that the government actually wants citizens of the country to be unsafe.


This is the level of national discourse in the country?

There’s an ugly undercurrent of recrimination and hostility to our interactions nowadays, and it bothers me a lot. It starts with our leaders. Here’s Newt Gingrich in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing attempt. He says the government favors terrorists rights over American safety. Tell me, please, what this does other than score quick political points with people who already agree?

But don’t think it’s just the public faces who are part and parcel to this rancor. Maybe its people following the leader of their leaders, but check out some of these quotes from the comment section of the article:

Maybe when the next 24 terrorists with bombs bring down planes and killing THOUSANDS you liberal buffoons will get the point!

Because we didn’t interrogate this PRISONER OF WAR and gain valuable intelligence that might have led us to other bombers or enablers, WE ARE IN GREATER DANGER!

But better to lawyer the terrorist up and let hundreds or thousands of innocent people get killed…

The name-calling isn’t restricted to conservatives, though. So liberals, hold your smugness.

Looks like Newt Gingrich is competing with Dick Cheney for the empty minds of the Republican right. After all, they’re the same people who watch Fox News and who anoint GOP candidates via the primaries. Newt is a flawed candidate, given his philandering, ugly divorces and wretched treatment of his wives, and so he is now reduced to endearing himself to the same people who would reject him for his past sexual escapades by turning into a shrill wingnut. One wonders if there are any adults left within the GOP today.

Really? You’re going to bring up Newt’s infidelity? What on earth does that have to do with these comments? Empty minded Republicans?

With rhetoric like that, is it any surprise at all that dialogue in this country is basically at a standstill? But it’s not just political discourse. Extend it into any sphere; it holds true. I used to participate on several online message boards about topics I was interested in. Music, film, motorsport, public policy, architecture. A pretty broad swath of topics, and each time I have walked away because of the ridiculous amount of rancor demonstrated by participants. I got tired of mediating conflicts between other posters, and I got tired of personal attacks directed against me for having the temerity to disagree with people.

Luckily for me, my blog doesn’t get near enough traffic for me to have to put up with crappy discourse in my comments section, and rest assured were it ever to start I would moderate with extreme prejudice. There are several websites I frequent that don’t allow commenting on articles anymore, something that flies in the face of Web 2.0.

Thank Goodness.

This whole interactivity thing is overrated. Most people– myself included– don’t really have anything worth adding to an article, and it is a slap in the face to a writer who has spent time meticulously crafting an argument for an internet random to be able to take a decontextualized passage and savage it in the comments section.

Some want to blame this on the anonymity of internet culture, but remember Newt’s words above. This isn’t restricted to faceless trolls anymore. If the internet is contributing to the breakdown in discourse in the modern world, it is taking advantage of already existing cracks in our veneer. Sometimes it is enough to make me want to withdraw into a shell and stop reading anything about anything anymore.


2 Responses to “Discourse/Discord”

  1. Evan said

    hmmm I might just have to post something inflammatory on your site now, you know just to shake things up.

  2. Mom said

    I’m pretty sure that it’s an impossibility for you not to read anything — remember how they tried that as a disciplinary measure in 4th grade?

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