Monday, January 19, 2009

I Love It When You Call Me Names, um Not

Why do some people, especially bloggers and commenters, write the things that they do?

Are they trying to advance a dialog where people might come to a genuine consensus of some issues or at least a better understanding of their fundamental differences? Or are they writing in a way that effectively tries to shut off debate?

You can tell that writers have settled for the latter course when they can't offer anything but insults for people who hold different opinions.

Thoughtful people read, listen to, and evaluate different views. If they disagree, they try to come up with facts and arguments that address the disputed points. If they disagree and are motivated enough, they might actually write something along these lines.

You seldom, however, see thoughtful people do the following in discussions and in their writing.

Name-calling. People who regularly address or categorize their opponents as idiots, morons, brats, liars, zealots, bigots, cowards, or even more colorfully as baby-killers, Nazis, fascists, flat-earthers, etc. have already lost the argument. More to the point, it says something about people's value of time if they spend time engaging people who actually fit these descriptions.

As George Carlin observed years ago,

There are a lot of little phrases and expressions too, language items that occur in your childhood that you don't get to use when you grow up. Things you leave behind. Stuff you don't say anymore. Like NYAHH NAH NAH NYAHH NAH! I have an awful time working that in.
George might have had problems working that in, but many bloggers don't.

Arguing with the insane. Along the same lines, you really have to wonder about people who see everyone who holds a different opinion as being crazy. If someone other than a psychological professional regularly uses the words like Bush Derangement Syndrome, Obama Syndrome, wingnuts, moonbats, whackos, delusional, fanatic, lunatic, pathalogical, etc., he or she has many more issues to deal with than his or her opponents. Yes, there are kooks, nuts, and fringe elements on both sides, but these people are the exception, rather than the rule.

Questioning other people's motives. Thoughtful people can not only disagree but can also have valid reasons for those disagreements. It's easy to assign bad motives to a disagreement; it's harder to figure out how someone with reasonable or even similar values found a way to a different conclusion. You don't have to be a war-mongerer or traitor to differ on military policy, a bigot, racist (of either the regular or reverse varieties), or an advocate of victimhood to differ on race relations, or greedy or a bleeding-heart to differ on social policy.