Tuesday evening I strolled over to Polipundit to check reaction to the President’s State of the Union address. I might as well have visited Andrew Sullivan’s site or Kos-land, for the level of maturity I found there. Of course, to expect maturity from the Polipundit readers at large is a bit like expecting Mike Nifong to do his job properly, but that’s not the issue for here. I mentioned that most people would ignore or mock what the President said, and I was proven right by the content of the comments which followed my observation.
Soon after that, personal insults against me started. Small wonder, since I am a known supporter of the President and therefore an enemy to many of Polipundit’s tenants. But what else happened was a strange study in mob dynamics; I was quickly – and quite falsely – accused of banning certain readers from Polipundit.com when I was one of the hosts there. What’s intriguing is not the charge per se - that was a common lie used by a few individuals back in 2006, when the site polarized beyond repair and the site owner declared a dictatorship.
What is interesting is that the charge has taken a sort of “Woodstock” effect; where initially only two readers believed they had been banned – possibly an honest error, although the claim was never true – by this past Tuesday it was as common as buying coffee from Starbuck’s to claim that DJ Drummond had banned one from the Polipundit.com site. I addressed those claims fully when they first surfaced, and I would ignore the matter now, except that I perceive a syndrome at work, and one which is likely more pervasive than people are aware or would like to admit. It is that syndrome which not only is willing to lower one’s standards of conduct into the muck of false accusation and slander, but which in some cases comes to prefer it, so that the lie is the first choice rather than a desperate attempt. In the perspective of the Rabid Right, the arch enemy is typified by sites like the Daily Kos, which controls the tone and direction of its debates by quite deliberately banishing anyone who even appears to be Conservative, Rational, or who dares to question the marching orders of the Left. Thus, when the Rabid Right wishes to destroy an enemy, the preferred attack is to accuse him – however falsely – of acting in a like manner to the Daily Kos, even when this requires the RR to use the Kos’ own dishonest tactics, as we see here. Ignored is the fact that I answered the claims fully when they first came up, and ignored too is the fact that it was always impossible for me to ban individuals from the site, even if I wanted to do so. But in examining this situation, another unfortunate action has become evident; apparent malice on the part of the site owner.
Polipundit.com was created by a single person, who posts under the screen name “Polipundit”. When he decided to bring additional writers onto his site, there were certain conditions under which we operated, one of them the obvious fact that the site owner retained control of the site. Early on, there were incidents with individuals who attempted to disrupt discussions, using foul language, personal attacks, and attempts to derail discussions onto non-seqiturs. Three of the four new writers pressed for the right to ban the IP addresses of those offenders, but the site owner declined to grant that right. Offensive posts could be and were deleted, and in extreme cases an IP address could be banned from a specific post, but since Polipundit.com at that time usually had more than a dozen new threads a day, anyone kicked from one thread could simply show up again in another thread. Veteran readers of Polipundit.com may recall that readers often complained about thuggish behavior which moved from one thread to another. So those people who pretend to have banned from the site are either individuals who were banned from a few specific threads where they refused to act civilly, or who were banned from Polipundit.com by the site owner himself [the only person who ever that ability], or who were in fact never actually banned at all. In any case such people are lying, making false accusations for whatever reason their spite brought to being in their foul hearts.
The significance of this fact comes from the claims by some, that the site owner “restored” them to access to the site, and they implied that the site owner blamed me for their access difficulties. As I have no specific knowledge of communications between the site owner and such persons, I cannot say whether the individuals are lying or the site owner is, but in either case the actions and the lack thereof from that site owner are disappointing. When the site owner threw out the other writers from his site in May of 2006, certain promises and understandings were made in email communications, which I prefer not to detail here, except that all parties promised to act in an honorable manner, especially in not blaming the other side for any misunderstandings or in creating any hostility. I will say plainly that all the writers who left Polipundit.com kept our promises, including not revealing the true name or location of the site owner, nor disparaging his reputation. I must bluntly observe that the site owner of Polipundit.com has not done the same, failing to keep certain specific promises made, and in my case if he did not directly malign me for an action he knows full well I did not commit, he at the least made no effort whatsoever to correct the record when those individuals began falsely accusing me of banning them. The site owner knows full well that I am guiltless in that matter, and therefore he knows those accusations to be false and malicious, yet he has not once taken it upon himself to correct the record, apparently preferring the smear to the truth. He ignored email requests from me to correct the matter in mid-2006, and apparently is still happy to let a lie stand in order to malign me, even after I have wished him well, supported his endeavors and heretofore held from publicly pointing out his ignoble behavior. I suppose shame is powerless against some folks.
What is interesting here, however, is that Polipundit.com used to be a site of fair discussion, obviously right-of-center but a place where Liberal perspectives and arguments were welcome. What has changed, is that while Liberals still visit the place and state their piece, the civility is gone. Completely. The place has the ambience of a biker bar, where only crude epithets and sub-graduate logic are acceptable; the more genial Liberals who could banter in good spirit are quite gone, replaced by knuckle-draggers who do little more than throw insults. The same for the Right, where anyone who supports the President may expect to be ill-used, and context is lost to the preferred simplicity of the mob mentality. In recent weeks, the feeling one gets from visiting Polipundit.com soon after arriving, and especially after a comment which dares to pursue a modest discourse, is that one is glad to be there only in a virtual sense, because in a real-world establishment of this type, one would be fervently hoping for the appearance of a police officer or six. A rhetorical gang-rape is the program du jour at Polipundit.com, without fail. While the present writers are generally good, and one in particular worth the read in 9 out of 10 times, the sense of the place is foreboding and dire for anyone who does not stay in the herd.
I have seen this also at other formerly intriguing sites, though admittedly at a mush lower level of hostility to reason and civility. Yet it must be said that in the Blogosphere, the number of sites which are truly open to considering alternative points of view and maintaining a civil atmosphere are in the decline. Whether Left or Right, the promise of the “New Media” is no longer the fresh invitation to expand one’s horizons and explore the full dimensions of an issue. In this measure, I fear that the Blogosphere is representing the mindset of the populace as a whole. The President addressed the nation last night on a number of critical issues, but it is doubtful that many people listened at all, whether on the Left or on the Right. Twice elected President of the United States, with more than 62 million Americans lining up behind him in 2004, George W. Bush is now ignored because of personal enmity, turf wars, an arrogant media, and a desire to put expediency ahead of principle. The liars pretend that deserting the President on Iraq won’t impact our troops there or the mission, they claim that they only ‘criticize’ the President when they call him names and lie about his intentions, and they all pretend to better qualification, these posers who have none of them been elected to office, nor who have borne the weight and responsibility that Dubya has carried for more than half a decade now. They defecate on the flag with their actions, but would have one believe they are freshening the place up. And their style is becoming the norm.
History warns us that these things may represent a greater threat than mere incivility. After the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan managed a campaign of terror for decades in the South, domestic terrorism and mob violence directed at millions of Americans simply for their race and culture. Along the West Coast in the 19th Century, race riots and lynchings of Asians were common, to the degree that law enforcement did nothing to stop it, even at the federal level. Immediately after the First World War, a period of civil unrest in the United States included assassinations and bombings, and waves of criminal violence that was only put down with near-nationwide martial law through the Palmer Raids. And there are people alive today who recall the polarization of race during the late 1960s and early 1970s, which still influence New York and California politics and social conditions. Yes, it’s a stretch to jump from name-calling on a discussion board to race lynchings, but it is important to observe that the road to such violence started just the way our present road is changing, away from personal discretion declining the use of personal invective and a constant application of context to discussions, to the wholesale and deliberate disruption of legitimate authority, and demands for violent and radical action. This present road ignores the root causes of Terrorism and the decay of procedural standards in political debate, replacing them with the self-satisfying personal attack and the expedient poll-advancing statement which promotes the next political campaign at the cost of the nation’s health and welfare. While we are but newly set on that road, we dare not ignore its destination. And the Blogosphere, which moves the quickest of all media and enjoys the repute of popular support and participation in the greatest measure, is now called to the duty to restore Reason to the helm.