Battlepanda: Incivility


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


I don't think I remember the last time I called someone "a crock of shit" in real-life. Online, though, I think it was either yesterday or the day before. I can't remember. And I consider myself a relatively well-behaved member of this noplace we call the blogisphere. Hmmmm...
Once an enemy has been made online, they will be yours for life. Before the internet, you had to live with someone for years before you had at your fingertips every repulsive little thing about their personality and every ghastly unforgivable thing they had ever said in an argument.

But as soon it became easy to quote email or comment threads, everything that any adversary said could be thrown back in their face at once, and they could retaliate with your quotes, and so on endlessly. Complete strangers could bring to bear on each other the obsessional hatred only otherwise found in marriages gone sour. The tactful forgetfulness which alone makes civilised life tolerable now required an effort of will; things have only got worse as the net expands and grow easier to use. Now, with Google, and with programs that search whole archives of email, you can look up exactly what he said and she said, and they said over 10 or 15 years, and all this can be done in seconds, before your anger cools. Then you can hurl another reply on the flames in the hope that they will illuminate forever your enemy's bestial stupidity - and copy your witticisms to all your friends.*

It's that last keystroke, the one which brings your friends in there as an admiring audience, which is the most dangerous and maddening one. Technology alone can't really explain the madness of the online world. It is the social aspect that turns it into a playground full of gangs of angry eight year olds. Above all, it is the sense - the hope - that we have an admiring audience out there.

You can have this without technology, if you're drunk enough[.]
As with my alcohol-fueled bouts of belligerence (Ha ha...), I mostly have the decency to regret my outbursts in the cold light of the morning. What I cannot bring myself to regret, however, is the fact that the internet gives me the freedom to be incivil without real-life consequences. You see, without the internet, I bet I can go for days without disagreeing with a single thing anybody said. It's a highly unhealthy way to be.

Even if I do end up having a *ahem* spirited discussion with someone, I never feel like I'm getting anywhere. I can't google. I can't link. I can't edit. Without those tools, I often find myself being much less smart than I intended to be. Then there's the fact that, even if you do decide that it's worth antagonizing your adversary to finish your discussion, you're making everybody else at the table highly uncomfortable. Then everybody's a peacemaker all of a sudden.

I guess what I'm saying is: yep, ad hominem, childish name-calling, and other cheap shots are all bad. Bitter dead-end vendettas are pointless and stupid. Yet I don't think the blogisphere would be as interesting or lively if everybody played by the Queensbery rules. It's kind of like how I don't think you can clean up a street market, make all the food stalls sanitary, forbid people from shouting and shoving and not lose some essential spirit of the place. Even though, if you looked at it objectively and clinically, the things you're getting rid of are all negatives.

* Actually, I've never been enough of a douche to do that. Nor have I known anyone to have emailed me with an invitation to witness a flame war. I think that, though I hate to leave him hanging, Andrew Brown might be on his own there.