The blogosphere is usually filled with self-congratulation (often deserved) about its own innovations and advantages. But let me raise a problem. My column from last week, “The Libertarian Question,” evoked a tremendous response–far too many e-mails and blog comments to answer individually. There were some critiques by bloggers that might have been worth answering, had they been even minimally respectful instead of riddled with sophomoric insults.
I’ve learned through hard experience that when an otherwise intelligent e-mail contains a direct insult, it only brings trouble to reply. I try to hold to the same rule for blog critics, many of whom seem to spend more time crafting insults than arguments. In a given paragraph, the typical blog critique of my last article interspersed outright misrepresentation of my position with proclamations of amazement at my boundless stupidity.
The biting wit that works so well in the hands of a smart and basically fair-minded fellow like Instapundit is devolving into something shallow and mean-spirited in the blogoshere as a whole. Venom is no substitute, either for argument or for a good accounting of an opponent’s argument. It has come to serve as a way for bloggers to assure themselves that people who are not, say, libertarians, have no points worth listening to. And at some level, I think bloggers know that their insults actually protect them, by making their targets less likely to respond. After all, who wants to dignify this stuff with a reply. Insults are cowardice disguised as courage.
When the blogosphere gets this way (and it does pretty often), it shuts down debate.
The blogosphere offers a welcome antidote to the safety and blandness of the academy. But sometimes the failings of the blogosphere show why we developed those academic conventions of respect in the first place. Under the guise of rough and tumble frankness, the blogosphere risks turning into a society of like-minded partisans congratulating themselves on being smarter than all the idiots who see things differently. Cass Sunstein was wrong. Bloggers do read those who disagree with them. But often their way of responding only reinforces parochialism.