Frank Bruni bodies forth in one of those backward-looking, end-of-the-year, Dickensian pleas for greater civility, everyone, in these, our increasingly uncivil times. It seems we're all suffering from a particularly nasty case of intolerance exacerbated by technological opportunity--chiefly that of hot-tempered Tweetdom and Facebook ferocity and almost comically insensitive comment sections.
On social media, on many blogs and along other byways of the Internet, the person you disagree with isn’t just misinformed but moronic, corrupt, evil. Complaints become rants. Rants become diatribes. And this tendency travels to cable news shows, Congress and statehouses, where combatants shout first and ask questions later.
Horseshit. Congressman Preston Brooks didn't read about Sen. Charles Sumner's insults to family relations on Twitter. And since Satan's expulsion from Bliss, moronically evil corrupt little fucks have demonized their ideological enemies in alehouses, town halls, churches and caves, just as their virtuous enemies have.
It's only human nature, to which I prefer the Shakespearean, as opposed to Dickensian, approach: heaps of detachment and no little acceptance of our unalterable condition.
That's not to say I reject the potential of human evolution; any way you cut it, we are, fundamentally, I think, a more decent species toward one another than when Carthaginians were breaking POWs' legs and hurling their hacked, broken and still-breathing bodies like cordwood into open tombs, which was something of a world standard, hardly exceptional. Today it is the exception, and we take condemnatory note--indeed global wars have even been waged against such unfathomable evil.
Given that bit of perspective, some assclown losing his temper on Twitter doesn't really chuck me into Brunian depths of despair. What does leave me rather despondent is the collateral intellectual damage of Twitter and the like, which Bruni addresses.
Socio-political debates are, it seems, (and this is only my unverifiable impression), increasingly reduced to 140 characters or less, which means we don't actually debate a damn thing. We simply spit at one another, which is less intellectually taxing and thus, for most folks, a lot more fun. This modus operandi of contemporary debate has so swamped online discussions--i.e., blogs, so this is personal--I detect decreasing readership on virtually a monthly basis.
Right now this post consists of less than 500 words, and yet most readers, I'd wager, have long since bailed out. They either haven't the time to finish it, or, more likely, they read something 300 words back with which they disagreed, so they clicked off.
But here's the real kicker. A few won't return, because reading anything with which one disagrees is an intolerable online rub. There's plenty of comfortable pandering out there--and I could easily protect and even grow this blog's readership by practicing just that: I could offer, say, unvarying Obama idolatry, or issue endless Democratic hackery, or sidle up to some version of identity politics, and therein would lie a steady readership base. They'd all come back, to be soothed--to be reminded they're right, because they just know I'm right. One big happy family. Otherwise, fuck it.
Anyway, that's my challenge for 2014: building that most exceptional of readerships--thinkers (and engaged commenters) who don't crap temper tantrums and scoop up their toys at the first written signposts of uncomfortable territory. You've made it this far, so you're one of them. I hope you'll invite your like-minded friends and family to join you--to join us, here.
So there's my Brunian plea. I reject that most of us suffer from some newfound incivility, but finding the civil crowd is no easy task.