One of the things I miss about philosophy class is the assumption there that an argument can be protracted and serious without anyone getting bent out of shape or overly emotional. By contrast, there seems to be no argument online so brief or so petty that it fails to bring out frothing rage in (even the most superficially-invested) comment thread participants.
I'm told psychologists have taken to studying online rage, trying to determine why it's so commonplace. I have never been a sunshiny optimist when it comes to human nature, so I think the simplest answer is: most people are complete jerks (this is, after all, the same human race so prone to smashing, burning, and raping even during riots in which the participants don't know the cause or purpose of the riot -- many people are just itching to behave like savages, I think, instinctively relishing any opportunity for tribal warfare and other combat).
More troublingly, in an era of sites like Gawker, the jerks have come to think snarkiness proves them to be intelligent rather than mere members of a cretinous mob, as though snark requires effort or insight (even idiots do it these days -- really). The jerks theory would certainly explain some of the reactions (not, thank goodness, all) to my heroic confrontation with a profoundly (albeit coyly) morally-problematic fellow-panelist on C-SPAN2 back in October.
Also, as one of my young colleagues -- far more objective than I about the whole thing -- put it, it seems as though smart people tended to side with me and stupid people with the other panelist -- and there are a
lot of stupid people. Needless to say, that certainly jibes with my own intuitions about the matter.
Nonetheless, throughout January, I'll mostly examine the reactions of various relatively intelligent people who despite their intelligence leaned anti-Todd in it all -- since these are the cases I find most vexing. I would think they might have more readily picked up on the fact that what they were seeing was not an out-of-context personal attack (even if some of them probably couldn't be bothered to watch the whole ninety-minute C-SPAN2 broadcast nor even, I suspect in some cases, the whole six-minute clip excerpted on YouTube and elsewhere).
What they were seeing was more akin to, say, a man on a panel next to Norman Mailer objecting to Mailer's praise of violent crime as transgressive by reminding everyone that Mailer once stabbed his wife and nearly killed her (true). Or, if a more anti-conservative hypothetical helps you, imagine a bold panelist denouncing a virulently anti-gay minister by reminding the audience that the hypocritical minister frequents gay bars.
Sometimes the personal is political, and people too quick to criticize me in the whole matter probably ought very seriously to reexamine their own commitment to morality -- and ask themselves if they really even know why they chose the side they did in the matter. Far from thinking that I somehow "went too far," I would contend that anyone who really listened to what I was saying and came away anti-Todd is himself morally suspect, likely irrational, and at the very least complicit in public winking at serious and socially-damaging wrongdoing (linked to a truly poisonous though artfully concealed philosophy that may yet spread, to conservatism's and society's detriment).
That the one or two people I've actually met before who leaned anti-Todd in the matter have always seemed to me (and others) to be likely Asperger's cases only adds to my impression that people who saw me as the villain in it all are likely morally and/or socially tone-deaf -- and should probably be ashamed of themselves for ineptly weighing in on the matter. There are, I strongly hope, moral priorities a good deal higher than keeping the peace on C-SPAN2, though some people can only react, zombie-like, to direct visual stimulation, without intuiting any broader moral implications. We'll get to those detractors later in the month, though.
In any case, this themed month of blog entries about (various subcategories of) my detractors will be called the "Month of Haters." I think this will get 2011 off on the right foot. My apologies in advance if I rarely or never respond in the comment threads. On this topic, madness that way lies (and I have real work to do, too). In the end, though, I think we will all learn and be better off for the C-SPAN2 fracas having occurred. It would be a poorer, plainer world had it not. If nothing else, this month's entries should serve to remind you that playas gonna have haters.
But I'd generally prefer a world that worked more like the civil discussions occurring this past week in Boston at the American Philosophical Association convention I attended -- so tomorrow, a look at that as well as our first subcategory of online haters, Catholics.