I don’t often check the comments, so have to come to rely on readers’ e-mails to learn what is going on in this or that thread. While I do occasionally hear of a substantive (or otherwise interesting) exchange, more often than not, I learn of one commenter responding to another not with arguments but with insults.
If another’s argument is ludicrous, there is no need to engage in innuendo, just tear it apart point by point, without addressing the motivations of the commenter or making allegations about his (or her) personal life. Just last night, a concerned reader (with a political philosophy pretty close to my own) alerted me about some particularly nasty threads. With permission, I quote from this individual’s e-mail:
Social-issue threads are sometimes a hundred or more comments long. This is not because substantive debate is going on, but because they’re being hijacked by one or two loons. They tend to be laced with profanity and crude sexual innuendo. I can only imagine what straight conservatives who check out GP think. If we don’t want them to think gay conservatives have filthy minds, they’ll nonetheless get that notion if they read those threads. . . .
Nobody with any sense is going to keep commenting on a blog when they’re treated that way. I have better things to do with my time, and as many former commenters have simply gone away, it’s evident that they do, too. GP has become an important source of information for many people. I hate to see this happen.
Look, I know that life is not easy. And we each face our own challenges. Sometimes in the face of frustration as we struggle with setbacks, we need, well, we feel that we need to vent. A lot of people seem to do that in the political sphere, projecting their personal demons onto their ideological adversaries.
And since we don’t usually see those adversaries’ faces, we don’t always appreciate their humanity. If if we disagree with someone else’s politics, even if he (or she) makes (what we perceive to be) a lame argument, he remains a human being, facings challenges and suffering setbacks just as we do. Bear that in mind each time you read a comment you find outrageous.
Critique what that person said. Don’t speculate about his private life.
I too hate to see what has been happening in the comment thread of this — and other — blogs. They should provide a forum for serious debate. Instead they often serve as an outlet for some readers’ demons.
NB: Tweaked the title when I realized it had a glaring typo.