January 06, 2004

The Idiotarian's Manifesto: One of the depressing things about the blogosphere is that you can receive just about any insult and not take it personally. In the real world, being called a "racist", an "anti-Semite", a "fifth columnist", an "objective pro-fascist", or a liar would be considered fighting words; there are even some terms that have no meaning outside the internet, like "idiotarian", "the Pissy Brigade", "media whore" and "fisking", that at one time were meant to be devastating takedowns of your adversary, but are now worn like battlefield scars, with a certain amount of pride and machismo. If you run a blog, and/or if you actively troll in another blogger's comments section, such slurs become par for the course.

Blogs seem to have a special connection to a very angry sort of person, not necessarily an extremist, but someone who has a certain comfort level at disparaging others from the safety of a computer monitor. Bouncing from site to site, it amazes me what sort of rhetoric passes for political insight (and by no means am I excusing myself). People who disagree with you aren't simply mistaken, they are selfish, despicable people who hate America. Be nasty enough, throw in enough shabby and low accusations against the other side, and your unique visitors will multiply geometrically this month !! Never mind that you convince no one of the righteousness of your cause.

The heated rhetoric is in direct contrast to what I know about other bloggers on a personal level. I have probably met, at least on a social level, close to fifty people who have their own blogs, and to date the only person who rubbed me the wrong way was a blogger whose politics I share and whose writing I admire. At some point, I begin to feel like a hypocrite; how many of the people I've called "dixiecrats", "disingenuous", or an "Uncle Tom Democrat" on this site am I going to meet that turn out to be really sweet, decent people? Isn't there someone out there that I can attack who also happens to be a complete a**hole?

Keeping in mind the fervent hope that Lenny Bruce once had, that if the word "n*****" became such a ubiquitous part of our daily conversation that it would cease to have any impact as a derogatory term, I think something is being lost. Some words shouldn't lose their impact. I've been called "anti-Semitic" or a "racist" a couple of times in my life, but before I started this site, I always took it as the type of slam that required some soul-searching on my part (I'm the type of person who subconsciously believes that any time I'm attacked, it must be justified, no matter how baseless). Now, it just means that I oppose Sharon, or that I disagree with Paul Wolfowitz. When I wear my civilian clothes, and especially in the context of my job as an attorney, being called a "liar" is tantamount to being challenged to a dual; it is really the only time I get angry. In the blogosphere, it's just shorthand for saying that I'm factually mistaken about a point.

Unfortunately, this has become a standard part of the political rhetoric in this country. Blogs are just another form of talk radio, for those who are shy and insecure. So I propose the following: never use a word to describe someone (or someone's opinion) that you could not easily repeat to his face. If you disagree with someone else's analysis of an issue, assume it's because he doesn't understand the issue with the same clarity you do, and respond accordingly, rather than assume he's deliberately presenting false arguments. And try to remember that what you read on this blog and elsewhere is just a microscopic part of the whole person who is authoring it. The internet is no substitute for therapy.

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