Skip to content

I’ll take truth over civility anytime

Daniel Drezner wonders: is civility an endangered species in the blogosphere? The post is about the problems of rude, sloppy, inflammatory writing (and visitor comments) on blogs with significant traffic. It seems that popular blogs attract trolls who force out good commenters, and some of the bloggers themselves succumb to the temptation to post nasty and poorly-reasoned and -researched screeds in an effort to generate controversy and its byproduct, traffic.
Drezner quotes Matt Yglesias:

The trouble is that when you write something really good, in the sense of being sober, on-point, factual, and tightly argued, your targets would do well to simply ignore you. And so they do. Maybe a person or two will recommend the story to their friends, but basically it vanished into the HTML ether. Something sloppy, offensive, over-the-top, or in some minor way inaccurate, by contrast, will provoke a flood of responses. If you’re lucky, those responses will, themselves, be someone sloppy, and folks start defending you. Then you find yourself in the midst of a minor contretemps, and everyone gets more readers.

Drezner offers five reasons he’s still optimistic about blogs staying above the tide of trashiness, but I won’t repeat them here. Go read them for yourself. Charles at LGF objects to Yglesias’ “finger-wagging” and offers examples of his hypocrisy. Kevin at Wizbang is keeping comments open for now. Michele at A Small Victory sees the problem as a reflection of our whole society’s cultural “civil war.” Or would that be “uncivil war”?
I’ve been thinking about it along Michele’s lines too, since hearing Edwin Feulner deliver the commencement address awhile back at Hillsdale (brother #3 just graduated). Feulner lamented the similarity between the ugliness of today’s political discourse and the famous “Broken Window Effect” that explains previously nice communities’ slide into crime-ridden chaos.
My take? Yes, ugliness sucks and ideas have consequences. Clashing worldviews can make a mess in the process of identifying a winner. But I’m not a pessimist either. This isn’t 1861, nor is it 1968. Free speech is uncomfortable but it’s worked for us so far, and we face a critical choice on how best (or even whether) to fight against an evil ideology bent on our destruction. I am still convinced that sunlight is the best disinfectant for putrid thought, and we need to lance our cultural boil so we can get busy either fighting or surrendering.
Don’t misunderstand Michele and worry about an actual civil war. The regional divide over slavery that made the Civil War possible is not at all like the divide we see today. Our culture’s too mobile and well-informed to repeat the catastrophe of 1861. And if the Democrats touch off a 1968-style rioting redux in Boston, I think the vast majority of the public will recoil so profoundly that we’ll witness the death of the Democratic Party.
So, no … I’m not that worried yet. Bring on the trolls.