Monday night before bed, I pulled up a post I had written almost exactly three years ago, wanting to reference in a followup piece on comments and civility. Had it not been for the Vermont legislature’s vote on gay marriage and a brainstorm I had about the readiness of some on the left to blame conservative talk radio, bloggers, & etc. for murder, I likely would have penned, er, pixeled, that post on Tuesday.
It seemed, however, that April 7 was destined to be a day where I would consider civil discourse and blogging. When I had a moment to scan the various comment threads, I noted an increased level of vitriol on both sides. And it upset me because, as per that aforementioned post, when I started blogging here
I had hoped that by posting to a blog with an open-comment thread, we might generate the kind of discussion that began that snowy night in the 1980s [when I had a great discussion with an “ideological adversary”], where, when we [the bloggers] rationally put forward ideas at odds with those of our left-wing peers, our critics would come to appreciate our arguments, even when they disagreed.
Instead, mixed among some very sensible comments, we had readers on both sides leveling ad hominem attacks on their ideological adversaries. This is not the type of discussion I had hoped to promote.
Because of our capricious spam filter (which I have been tasked with reviewing), I have seen many such comments, which I would really rather let lie there and not rescue them. But, ever since reading Ann Althouse’s post where she defended letting hateful comments stand on her blog, I have acted in the spirit of her (rhetorical) question, “Is it not better to have scurrilous ideas out in the sunlight where they can die?”
At the same time as I was concerned about the level of bile in yesterday’s threads, a reader e-mailed me asking me to “get” this “under control.” And I’ve been trying to do that, posting this just two weeks ago:
All too often alas, those who chime in to defend Bruce or me compromise some very strong comments when they resort to ad hominem, using the term “libtard” or some such. In many cases, if they took the insult out of the comment, they’d have won the argument. . . . That need to get in that additional dig, while emotional satisfying, compromises their entire argument and gives our critics ammunition to attack them.
Or, as I said more simply three years ago, “Friends, you make a better case when you leave out the ad hominem.”
But, the real disappointment of the day when I posted on the Vermont legislature’s vote on same-sex marriage
In searching for an angle on my Vermont post, I found the small size of the legislative districts significant (similar to my notion on the Connecticut civil unions vote) so I researched the Green Mountain State’s legislature. There, unlike California where I live, they truly have a citizen legislature where special interests don’t have the same sway. So, I blogged to that effect.
Instead of acknowledging my point, our first critic responded by attacking Republicans and smearing me. It went downhill from there.
No matter how many times I plea for commenters to cut it with the name-calling, I find it has only a momentary effect. When our critics do it, it helps confirm our point that all too many on the left would rather insult conservatives than consider our ideas. When our supporters do it, well, they compromise their defenses of our arguments.
The sunlight which helps disinfect their ad hominems also serves to fade their strong points.
So, friends, keep it civil and so strengthen your arguments.