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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Monday, October 27, 2003

 

Civility in the blogosphere
I don't do a lot of blogging about blogging, but I'm going to for the moment. Instapundit links to this lengthy City Journal piece about the strides that conservatives have made in getting their message out to the world despite the recalcitrance of major media. It's quite good, actually, and should certainly be read.

In the section on liberal objections to the various ways in which conservatives have done this, he references the legendary (in some parts of the blogosphere) Alex Beam dismissal of weblogs (which, interestingly enough, I can no longer find on the web, but here's the Lileks smackdown):
“Welcome to Blogistan, the Internet-based journalistic medium where no thought goes unpublished, no long-out-of-print book goes unhawked, and no fellow ‘blogger,’ no matter how outré, goes unpraised.”
This "mutual admiration society" thing is often criticized whenever blogs are criticized, but I can't understand why. Encouragement is a positive thing. Encouragement should be, well, encouraged. I've always been taught that we ought to build each other up, rather than tear each other down. But according to some, we shouldonly reference other people if we're going to bash them. Maybe this is a holdover from pay-for-print journalism. If I compliment, say Orrin Judd, for example, you may well say, "well, then why am I not reading him instead of you?" And, if you were paying me for my writing, and stopped doing so to go pay Orrin, which would make me sad. The nice thing about the blogosphere is that I have no fear of losing out on a paycheck, and so can make positive comments about whoever I please. And they can do the same for me. So, I'm a big fan of the encouraging nature of the blogosphere.

But Pejman has recently pointed out a seedier side of blog relations. He references this angry side in relation to hatred of Instapundit, but you can also see it from and in reference to all sorts of people--typically commenters more than bloggers, but certainly both. Where does this come from?

I've got two suggestions. One, bloggers often talk about fairly weighty subjects. Take the Israel-Palestine conflict--one one side, you have those who loathe the terrorists, and considers everyone who does not condemn them and everyone who supports them to be countenancing a great evil. And on the other, you have those who consider the Israelis to be oppressors, imperialists and murderers, and their supporters to be accomplices. Neither of these sides are going to be predisposed to speak to each other civilly. The same goes for abortion, Iraq and any other subject where lives are literally on the line.

Second, the anonymity of the Internet allows us to indulge our baser nature. This is as old as the Internet itself, and it's why "flaming" is one of the oldest web pasttimes. People say things on the Internet that they would never, ever say to someone face to face. Can you imagine a group of adults getting together at a restaurant, and watching the discourse devolve into some of the "flame wars" that you can see on almost any web messageboard? It's just easier to be vulgar, insulting or both when no one is around to disapprove.

As a firm believer in the depravity of humanity, I think the latter is the norm, and the former the exception. The civility of the majority of the blogosphere is both a credit to the general decency of many of its high-profile members--and many of its high-profile members owe a great deal of their high profile to their general decency. I know that there are many blogs I will not read because of their less civil nature.

So, it is on one hand tenuous--the civility of the blogosphere could be demolished by a few too many generally amiable people reacting poorly and insisting on having the last word (imagine how quickly things could have gotten out of hand if this post had been reacted to poorly). On the other hand, there is a market for civility, and as long as this market exists, there will be at least some civility--and for that, I, at least, am thankful.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!
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