“I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.” – George McGovern
If you’re like me, whose always curious to what readers of controversial magazine and newspaper articles think, then you have noticed that the comments section of nearly every post and article in print or online these days, especially if it has a high volume readership, is as Jessica Valenti noted over at The Guardian, “a place where the most noxious thoughts rise to the top and smart conversations are lost in a sea of garbage.”
I find it depressing to read an interesting article, usually well written, about a subject that matters to me only to find comments at the end of the article that are inundated with vitriolic aspersions, often castigating the writer or some other commenter, with little regard for the substance of the piece. There is no real intelligent dialogue. Just angry people finding that cherry-picked piece of commentary and emasculating it without consideration for the person’s feelings who wrote it. It’s like watching mongrels rip apart the carcass of a dead animal left behind by some predator.
The McGovern quote above strikes a chord with this vicious assault on civility. When people verbally assault others’ choices the foundations of a healthy society are weakened. The escalation of gun violence in this country is one of the worst manifestations of increased aggression often expressed in many comments found online.
Though no racial culture or political slant is immune from this fall from grace it appears more to be a predominant feature of the male gender in this country who display the greatest agitation with what medical science refers to as intermittent explosive disorder (IED). I wouldn’t be surprised either that the IED disorder has increased largely with both black and white males, but especially white males who strongly associate themselves with anti-government, 2nd amendment zealots and Christian fundamentalism. Men are after all expected to be the stronger more aggressive gender among the human species.
Is it conceivable that many who display this disorder haven’t expanded their cultural horizons beyond what they attained up to a middle school level? This isn’t to suggest these people are exclusively uneducated. Many are not. But for some reason when exposed to diversity their mental disorder tends to entrench them in a past that is slowly eroding rather than moving forward with the changes that inevitably come with humans over time. Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old white man charged with gunning down nine people at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C. this last June seems to fit this profile.
This perhaps explains where the anger comes from. Their world is slowly disappearing and the ones to blame for this seem to be those who were less powerful in a bygone era in America and many other Western civilizations. Ergo the abundant invective many female and minority bloggers experience compared to someone like myself.
When it comes to the argument that all speech should be free there are of course exceptions. Yelling fire in a crowded theater when there is none is the classic example of this. Getting passionate about your convictions however can often overlap into angry diatribes that turn hostile and threatening. This doesn’t mean you should be criminally charged for such behavior. But it does raise concerns in our culture of hate that has evolved over the last few decades pitting one ideological proponent against another.
The comments section following a piece should be a place where rational people come together to have a dialogue on the subject. Yes it can be heated but it should remain respectful of those we disagree with. The problem it seems is that people really don’t want to hear why you think as you do, a behavior that might gain some empathy for the diversity we live amongst. They want instead for you to bend to their ways and when it becomes clear to them that their “reasoning” is not persuading you they then release the hounds of their obsession and attempt to deprive you of your humanity. Valenti recognizes this in her essay.
“…it feels as if comments uphold power structures instead of subverting them: sexism, racism and homophobia are the norm; threats and harassment are common.”