Saturday, November 09, 2002

I've been reading a lot of blogs lately — the big ones, like Andrew Sullivan's & Glenn Reynolds's, & many of the host of smaller ones strung along the chain of the blogosphere — & have been struck & dismayed by the degree to which insult-slinging & point-scoring replace reasonable argument & investigation. I notice this phenomenon particularly among the right-leaning warbloggers, but hasten to add that I seem to read right-leaning warblogs more than any others (some kind of fascination I haven't figured out yet). The warbloggers descibe themselves as "anti-idiotarian", so by extension anyone with an opposing view is an idiot.

Every time I bring up the subject, my friend Damien tells me no one has a right not to be insulted. Well that's obvious, that's what free speech means, & that's not my point. My concern is that, in the blogosphere, the razor of intelligent argument, sharpened by fact & wit, is being shattered by the blunt club of cheap name-calling. Instead of cutting delicately closer to the truth of things, readers & bloggers are driven further out to the extreme edges, where in order to make themselves heard they must raise their cries to a even shriller pitch.


A couple weeks ago Christopher Hitchens, self-proclaimed contrarian, published an op-ed piece an the Washington Post explaining his decision to stop writing his column for the Nation, after 20 years at that left-wing journal (on the Iraq question Hitchens is pro-war, the Nation is anti-war). Nation columnist Katha Pollitt responds in a piece posted on Thursday. She temperately, sensibly, reasonably dismantles some of Hitchens's recent rhetoric, performing something like the ideological opposite of a fisking, using reasonable argument, good sense & common civility to make her point — qualities which many rabid warbloggers & their ilk have abandoned in their zeal to score points. Pollitt ends with an expression of regret:

"I'm sorry you're not here to discuss all this further — although your current style of debate relies perhaps too heavily on words like 'idiot' and 'moron' to shed much light."

This isn't a cheap blow, it's a telling criticism of the fiskers & the ranters who've substituted insult for argument & online self-aggrandizement for genuine comprehension.

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