"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Civility and polarization -- which side are you on boys, which side are you on

CC has issued a call for more serious civil discussion of the issues in the Canadian blogosphere, while, of course, reserving the right to snark and heap abuse on boneheads when appropriate.
This got me to thinking about the polarized nature of the blogosphere and the tone and tenor of most of the debate. Pour yourself a drink, this is going to be a long one.

The vast majority of the popular political sites tend to be echo chambers to some degree with most of the debate being among people who are in fundamental agreement.

If you are commenting on major lefty blogs such as Eschaton or Firedoglake or even humorous site identified with the liberal side such as Tbogg you are likely a liberal prochoice Democrat who opposes the war and dislikes George Bush or you're a knuckledragging troll who is there to bait such people. Moderate conservatives who oppose the war don't comment there - though I'll concede they might lurk. If you are regularly reading and commenting on Powerline, Michelle Malkin, Little Green Footballs or Free Republic you are likely among the minority who still back George W. Bush, favored the invasion of Iraq and think that God, guns and guts made America great - or you're a liberal blogger looking for material.

Wingnuts stick with wingnuts, moonbats stick with moonbats and when we are talking amongst ourselves about the other side the rhetoric can and does run pretty high -- though I would argue you hear lot less eliminationist rhetoric and accusations that people who believe X are traitors who hate America/Canada/Western civilization in Left Blogistan. Most of it is preaching to the converted, rallying the troops and pointing out the mistakes of the other side. Which is all fine and good up to a point, but even if three quarters of us think Bush is a moron who ought to be in prison, we still have to live next door to the quarter who think otherwise. We need to get along a bit better with people who don't agree with us.

I think the effect of the political blog wars and the ratcheting up of the rhetoric has done little more than polarize the general public. The coverage of elections as if they were horseraces and media emphasis on red state vs. blue state divides has contributed greatly to this. People are being told they must choose a side in the blogosphere, in the culture war, in politics. The idea of a "swing voter" choosing the party who will work for the greater good is being replaced with an us vs. them "you're either for us or against us"mentality that insists on ideological purity and encourages extremism.

There are left/liberal sites where the rhetoric is more restrained and the emphasis is more on information and discussion of policy. There is still a partisan agenda, but slapping the other side around for laughs tends to be pushed to the back burner and the writing is more of the sort one might expect to see on the op-ed page. I'm thinking of sites like Crooked Timber, Juan Cole, Glenn Greenwald, TPM Cafe and to a lesser extent the Huffington Post. You'll find thoughtful factual, researched posts there that deal with the opposition is more or less civil terms. These kind of sites seem to embrace the sort of civility that CC is calling for and one would think that oppositional comments from Republicans and conservatives would be treated according to the golden rule -- if the comment is polite, the response tends to be polite, and trolls get flamed.

I'm not sure such sites exist in Right Blogsilvania. Is there a conservative version of TPM Cafe? If there is, I would like to see it.Does the right have its reasoned, thoughtful online pundits that mirror intelligent, liberal bloggers like Juan Cole, Glen Greenwald and Josh Marshall? (And please don't suggest Instapundit or the Townhall gang present anything like reasoned, civil discussion. There is a reason an entire swath of the liberal-left blogging community has evolved into a group who do little more than document the atrocities against logic, good taste and decency committed by these radicals in sheeps clothing --because it is damn near a full time job.)

I'm all for civil discourse, and I'm willing to discuss any issue in a reasonable manner. People of good will can disagree and democracy lies in working out a way to overcome such disagreements and work for the common good. It is those who seek partisan advantage and try to score political points instead of seeking to understand the facts and find a solution to the problems of the day that are destroying civility and threatening democracy. The echo chamber blogs have their role to play,--we all need a place to let off steam, bitch and poke fun-- but more constructive discussions between liberals and conservatives really need to happen and soon or we are all in lot more trouble than we realize.

Leaving the mess in Iraq to fester so it can be blamed on someone else gets people killed. Ignoring science for ideological or political reasons or simply to placate the people who donated money to your campaign is going to ruin the environment. Letting problems with education, immigration, trade and infrastructure get worse because no one wants to admit a mistake or give ground is only going to make those problems harder to solve in the long run.

When Jon Stewart bitchslapped Tucker Carlson and Paul Beglala and the whole Crossfire forced dichotomy view of politics, he had it right ---stop it, you're not helping. The trash talking just isn't getting us anywhere.

I'm as guilty as anyone of making fun of the opposition and deriding the opinion of those I disagree with. And it is okay to do that, as long as we accept the fact that people have a right to disagree with us and have a right to make fun of us for disagreeing with them. But the feces-flinging and calls for physical intimidation and outright violence really need to stop.

Having said that, I also think it should be a two-way street. I promise to stop calling Jonah Goldberg Doughy Pantload just as soon as he criticizes Ann Coulter for calling for the New York Times building to be blown up. I'll stop insisting that the posters on Free Republic are knuckle-dragging bloodthirsty brownshirts when they stop saying that the solution to the problem is Iraq is "nuking the cameljockeys" and the solution to immigration issues is sealing the borders and shooting latinos on sight.

I'm all for civil discourse, but if you want to be a jerk, be prepared to take it as well as dish it out. Troll should be flamed, and hypocrites mocked and the dishonest and the petty and the small-minded called on their bullshit. For the rest of us wellmeaning people who disagree, lets put the knives away and talk without the table-pounding, flag-waving and histrionics.


thwap said...

I used to hang out at an American right-wing blog where all the hateful, murderous, delusional policy stancees (and debate about 'em) was kept to a profane-free, backed-up-claims, kinda tone.

But it's gone now.


A small part of me misses it.

jj said...

"or you're a liberal blogger looking for material."

Busted! *blush* I can't tell you how much material I've gotten from Free Dominion. (Civility, see? I didn't say "FREAK" Dominion.)