Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Keeping an eye on the lunatic fringe

Thersites does this much better than me, but then, he changed blogs because of one stupid altercation with a very petty person. Still, this is my one (and probably only) contribution to the subject of civility on blogs. A great deal of hay has been made lately (largely by TNR, but many blogs have jumped on the bandwagon, and David Brooks took a swipe at Kos over the weekend) about the use of, shall we say, strong language on blogs. Digby had a pretty good round up of it, for those out of this particular loop (you aren't missing much, by the way). Now, granted, the frequent use of terms like "wanker" and "asshole" do degrade the level of discourse common to blogs; but I've never read anything on a blog (maybe I just don't get out enough) like this letter to the editor:

Why have those who have continually howled at our treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo met the recent kidnapping and sadistic and brutal murders of our two young soldiers with deafening silence?" the letter began. "Where is your outrage now?" It then stated that the U.S. "should" behead 100 prisoners in retaliation, as well as " editors, commentators, college professors and left-wing congressmen who would suddenly break their silence to come out in support of these enemy jihadists. We need to stop listening to these sanctimonious hypocrites who apply the rules of war only to our side."
I've never seen a call for such violence on a blog, either as a post or in comments. And if I did, I expect it would be shouted down by the other commenters, or the blog post argued with, loudly (well, as loud as blogs get). Is this civil? No, but the editor of the Denver Post, which ran this letter, explains:

The decision was that there are extreme opinions out there and censuring them or pretending they don't exist wouldn't reasonably add to the debate.
Well, yes, as a matter of fact, there are. And many more of them are "out there" in blogistan, if only because access to the forum is much more certain than access to the letters page of a newspaper. Maybe it's the easier acess which makes blogs seem less civil. But when I read a rant like that, I also realize blogs are much better regulated; by the patrons.

Maybe there are blogs like this letter out there. If so, I'm glad I don't know about them. And it's really hard to say that "asshole" and "wanker" are more inciting, or disturbing, terms than the call for vengeance in this letter. As Mr. Wolman says:

"If a person takes from that a step back and says, 'Holy cow, let's bring this down to Earth' that would be a good thing."
Yes, it would. And I wouldn't mind that sentiment being applied a bit more liberally in left blogistan. But it is nice to know the blogs aren't quite as extreme as the letter writers to newspapers. That's something, anyway.

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