Fulcrum Ruminations

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Speaking Truth to Power

If only I had a dime for every time I’ve run across that phrase. So many public commentators make the claim that they’re “speaking truth to power” when in fact all that they’re doing is venting their spleens. It’s a thinly-disguised claim to informational / intellectual superiority . . . “if only you were as smart as me, you’d realize that I’m right and you’re wrong.”

Rubbish, of course. People have different opinions on various matters, but holding an opinion doesn’t mean that you’re “right” or that those who disagree with you are “wrong.” You might be right, or you might be wrong, but the automatic assumption that your view is the correct view is rooted not in logic and reason, but emotion and ego. The wise man knows that he must question his own assumptions at all times. Or, as I like to put it, cynicism keeps you alive in a hostile universe. You may hold tightly to a cherished view on a given topic, but you must always be ready to jettison that view should the weight of evidence prove it wrong. This is the difference between a realist and an ideologue, and there are entirely too many people out there who don’t appreciate that difference. The blogosphere is littered with them.

The Washington Post had an interesting little article about this the other day. The author is Shankar Vedantam and the piece is titled “Disagree About Iraq? You're Not Just Wrong--You're Evil.” You’ll need a (free) registration to read the whole article, but here’s a snippet to pique your interest:

"Partisans within ideological groups tended to view themselves as atypical vis-a-vis their group: atypical in their moderation, in their freedom from bias, and in their capacity to 'see things as they are in reality' even when that reality proves to be ideologically inconvenient or 'politically incorrect,' " Harvard Business School researcher Robert J. Robinson and his colleagues concluded.

Is that not the very essence of most political bloggers, right and left? In a way, it’s similar to what soldiers do during combat. They dehumanize their enemies in order to overcome the inhibition against killing their fellow man. The venomous bloggers out there do the same thing (tho of course without the killing part . . . I hope!), castigating all those who disagree with them with such charming names as “moonbat” and “wingnut”. Hurling invective rather than reasoned arguments. Dehumanizing, belittling, excoriating by insult and foul language. It’s not debate and it’s not even about being “right”. It’s about scoring the most points off of the other guy and self-aggrandizement. Make yourself feel better by making someone else feel bad.

This is elementary school behaviour. The pseudo-anonymity of the web empowers this sort of thing, much the same way that wrapping oneself in a couple tons of rolling steel empowers so many drivers, otherwise nice people, to act like complete jerks behind the wheel.

Some, of course, take it further than mere blogging. Witness the deranged ranting of Ann Coulter, for example, or Michael Moore. These persons are handy for keeping track of the extreme fringes or as entertainment, but should certainly not have any place in informed debate.

I’ve not been cruising the blogosphere all that long, but I have found simple civility to be sadly lacking in many of its corners.

Let’s try to do better, shall we?

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