The Reciprocating Effect of Political Extremism

One of the more common activities within the political blogosphere, on both sides of the political divide, is to gloat/agonize over a statement by someone on the other side that demonstrates inhuman callousness or simple evil, the better to demonize the associated political faction. Examples: Air America host Randi Rhodes says that President Bush "takes a lot of joy" from seeing dead Democrats, while the Reverend Bill Shanks says that New Orleans had it coming for being morally corrupt. There are countless other examples of such things, and the reactions from the other side, from every single event of political consequence in the last several years; it is a pattern that we in the blogosphere have grown used to.

One thing I have noticed for a while is that very often, a heinous bit of drivel will often inspire similarly heinous responses. Consider this (depressingly familiar) hypothetical: a conservative/liberal site will quote a liberal/conservative pundit saying that all Republicans/Democrats are evil. Commenters go in a frenzy, soon slipping into blanket condemnations of all liberals/conservatives for being evil. Thus, what begins as a way of castigating the other side for violating standards of simple decency in political discussion will end by infecting your own side with the same sort of extreme us-vs.-them Manichaean dogma.

This is not an argument for moral relativism. When two sides are in conflict, one must necessarily be superior to the other. But people should be careful not to let this sort of ideological backwash contaminate their own thinking, or influence their decisions. The fact is that the majority of both parties is made up of decent people. On the other hand, it is to the shame of the Democratic Party that instead of marginalizing this sort of extremism (as the Republicans did to Pat Buchanan, David Duke, or even Trent Lott for a much less serious offense), the Democrats have instead embraced it. Consider the implausibiliy of RNC chairman Ken Mehlman ever saying, "I hate Democrats and all that they stand for," and then consider that DNC chairman Howard Dean said precisely that about Republicans!

I think, though, this has much to do with being the party out of power. During the Clinton years, Republicans were rather nasty in their own right. Indeed, much of what made me a supporter of the Democrats back then was the vitriol coming from the Right (along with a simplistic acceptance of NPR's reporting…), just as I tend to oppose the Democrats now because of the blatant derangement of their national leadership, to say nothing of the hard-core grassroots.

But what I see now is an incredibly dangerous effect of the instant communication that the Internet allows. Because everyone can now see the worst that a given faction has to offer in real time, it becomes very easy to judge that entire faction on the basis of its most vile members. This inspires a hardening of one's own positions in response. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat. Is it any surprise that many speak of an emerging ideological civil war in America, a rending of the social fabric?

Now, members of the other side must be opposed by any means necessary regardless of the costs, simply because the other side is Darkness Incarnate. Worse, by allowing our thoughts to be shaped by such hatred, we become a little bit more like what we despise. This of course makes the problem all the more acute.

What can be done? Are we past the point where simple decency can win the day?


Anonymous said...

Blogging the Hurricane, Day 8: Updates on the Disaster, and the Media Coverage, All Day Monday
As we have done for the past week, we will provide updates all day on media reports from the disaster zone, mainly from local newspapers, blogs and readers' forums, latest news on top.
Wow, you have a good blog here! I'm going to bookmark you! I have a merida site/blog. It pretty much covers merida related stuff.

Come and check it out if you get time :-) Tom

Mastiff said...

Any more spammers hit this blog, I'm going to talk to some uber-Unix friends of mine and get medieval on you punks.