Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Butt-Ugly Political Discourse – Par for the 21st Century

At present, the political discourse in my home state of New Jersey is butt-ugly. There’s no more apropos way to say it. Just look at the replies to newspaper blogs and web-posted articles. Look at the political forums on Craigslist, or on the Usenet newsgroups. Look at many of the writers of political blogs and the commenters posting there. (Letters to the editor at newspapers are less venomous, but that’s because there’s an editorial filter there that the Internet doesn’t tend to have.) Is this butt-ugliness confined merely to the Web, where anyone with a computer and an alias can sling mud without personal repercussion? Just imagine if this kind of language was what you could expect when you went to the grocery store, the mall, or work? Not to slander middle-school students unnecessarily, but the communication being displayed is really grade-school/middle-school level communication. Nothing more.

Hmm…it’s not just New Jersey where the discussion lacks decorum. I get that. Pretty much all of the U.S. has the same problem. We’ve all seen it on Facebook. And it’s not just the Internet either. Media personalities engage in mud-slinging too. Bill Maher does it, Michael Moore does it, Keith Olberman and Ed Schultz do it, Mark Levin does it too (though he consistently discusses policy in a high-level manner as well).

So Why? Why does the discussion devolve to middle-school personal attacks, instead of arguments for or against a policy? Sarah Palin is dumb. Joe Biden is a clown. Chris Christie is fat. So-and-so has big ears.

It could be because the easiest attacks to hurl at someone are the ones you don’t have to think about. Or the ones you make up. Look at the person and the first thing that comes to mind is the source of your disparagement. Easy. For Maher’s recent sexist slur, that was Sarah Palin’s gender. Sometimes it’s race, sometimes it’s the size of someone’s nose, sometimes it’s someone’s weight or even age. And many times the personal attacks are just baseless jabs using generalized, well-worn insults.

I have this theory that serious people don’t ever read the comments on blogs, or the comments to online articles because they know that a bunch of uneducated yahoos and uncivilized lurkers are the progenitors of the insults and vitriol that are usually found there. And it is part of the same theory that serious people rarely comment on blogs or online articles for the same reason.

For instance, it’s really disgusting to me to read blog comments like the following:
  • “I’d love to see Christie’s response if his food allowance was cut. When you are fat, dumb and happy (and well off your whole life) you cannot connect with working people...”
  • “Just another fat cop that thinks he is above the law”
  • “She is, as I have said before, hyper-partisan, painfully ignorant, pathologically dishonest, chronically unethical, intellectually unconscious, and jaw-droppingly stupid. And those are her better qualities.”
The person who wrote this last blog comment at the DailyKos blog could not prove or support one of the hate-filled statements that flow with ease through his slanderous blog post. In fact, “painfully ignorant”, “intellectually unconscious”, and “jaw-droppingly stupid” all mean the same thing, so his list is unnecessarily padded, perhaps to bolster the word count for his “editor”, or just to express more completely his hate for a successful woman.  I feel sorry for mal-educated people like him and Bill Maher, and for the fact that they want to exist in this gaseous fog of venom, or as Sean Hannity has put it Palin-derangement syndrome.

All this being said, I have seen useful, thoughtful comments, replies, and blogs all over the Internet, so there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but sometimes it’s no inviting bath either. I think it will take a major rejiggering of our society to expect any change on this front, however. When we learn to respect each other more as human beings, each of us struggling to survive as individuals and providers for family members, maybe then we’ll see improvement. When we begin to treat each other with some measure of honor, as is still done in some societies, perhaps then we’ll see more respect. But I’m not holding my breath.

It is indeed hard for me to feel that sort of compassion for a weasel-punk like Bill Maher when he says something like he did about Sarah Palin. I am not a saint after all.
(Comments excerpted from an Asbury Park Press weblog, and the DailyKos)