I don't like to think of myself an an angry person. Certainly, I get angry from time to time. That's just part of having emotion and being human. But there is a huge difference between short-term, controlled, constructive anger and the kind of scorched-earth fury that sometimes passes for commenting on blogs these days. Unfortunately, recent posts here on Bilerico have highlighted this unfortunate phenomenon to a point where it cannot be dismissed. I don't know if the issue is about anger so much as it is about control. Either way - it has gotten way out of hand.
It's not often that I agree with Conservative columnist George Will, but I have learned from experience to never say never. In early 2007 he wrote an Op/Ed for the Washington Post titled "Anger is All the Rage". In it he says:
Today's anger is a coping device for everyday life. It also is the defining attribute of an increasingly common personality type: the person who "unless he is angry, feels he is nothing at all." That type, infatuated with anger, uses it to express identity. Anger as an expression of selfhood is its own vindication.
I'm not here to point fingers. You know who you are. People who read what you write know who you are. Those who turn comments on blogs into a mugging are little better than internet street-thugs bent on control, fear, and intimidation. These antics pollute, indeed they infect, blogs and otherwise healthy, vibrant discourse to the point that nothing healthy can live there any more. None of us can allow that to happen here.
The blogosphere is the Wild West of the internet. There are no laws. There are no credentials. There is nothing preventing anyone from saying anything they want and others accepting it as fact. It is a perfect outlet for expressing anger and, in fact, one blogger refers to it as "an electronic primal scream". That is the very reason why it exists.
However there a difference between constructively explaining an opinion that might be different from someone who has taken the time and energy to articulate their thoughts in a blog and personally attacking anyone who disagrees with you. These hoodlums hijack the conversation to wherever it is they want to take it, whether they have a clue about what they're talking about or not, leaving others exhasperated and frustrated at the mayhem it causes. Eventually the very voices that should be heard - the voices of reason, with fresh ideas, and different perspectives - refuse to share anymore for fear of being the next victim. That's more than a shame. It's tragic.
It is not coincidental that many of the posts inviting the most flame lately are those dealing with transgender issues or with ENDA. Both are very topical right now. Both are emotion-laden topics that invite strong and widely disparate opinions. Certainly, these are not the only hot-buttons but somehow to write on these topics is to invite the crazies to eat you alive. Unfortunately, this kind of irrational, angry, unnecessary trash-talk is an unfortunate reflection not only on a few individuals, but on an entire community. It's a mess.
It's unfortunate to have to write entries like this because of a few bad apples who continually feel the need to control the conversation with vitriol and fire. In fact, it just invites more of it. But just as the lawless nature of the blogosphere is what makes it such a powerful force these days, so too is the self-policing nature that must necessarily exist in order to keep some sort of balance. Nobody can stop people from saying anything they want. But if the broader community identifies these transgressors and holds them accountable, at least there is some way to re-take control.
My father told me never to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed opponent. From a young age I learned that if you don't have anything constructive to say, don't say anything. How many of us escape grade school without learning "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."? How is it that these fundamental concepts of treating one another with dignity, respect, and civility somehow get forgotten as soon as someone begins to type a comment on a blog?
It seems that something is missing in the process of seeing something you perhaps disagree with, typing a crazy response, and pressing "Enter". That something is taking a brief moment to not only think about what you're saying, but whether or not what you have to say even needs to be said. It seems that some people simply need to see their words in print to feel they have value.
Bilerico is not the only place infected by this disease. Anger is pandemic - it happens everywhere. However that doesn't make it right. And if not addressed, it can and will consume an environment ripe with promise. It's an environment where difference of opinion is valued, not prevented. It's a place where people of diverse backgrounds need to be able to express themselves without fear of being gang-attacked. It's a place where adults go, not a playground of childish tantrums and screaming where louder makes mightier. That, my friends, is anarchy.
George Will talks about the "politics of disdain" that "luxuriates in its own vehemence." He notes:
Today, many people preen about their anger as a badge of authenticity: I snarl, therefore I am. Such people make one's blood boil.
Yes. They do.