Wednesday, April 11, 2007


A local columnist at the San Jose Mercury, Mike Cassidy, lamented recently the lack of civility that often characterizes the blogosphere. Surprisingly for a leftist columnist at a leftist newspaper in a leftist city, he gave as an example the ugly events surrounding the life and death of conservative blogger Cathy Seipp:

Recent news reports have told of the circus surrounding the death of Cathy Seipp, a blogger sympathetic to George W. Bush and conservative causes. She'd long been the victim of nasty online attacks. Her imminent death from cancer didn't stop them. The week Seipp died, a man posted a farewell essay that he passed off as Seipp's work. The post, published on a site made to look like Seipp's, repudiated Seipp's core political positions. The piece attacked her own 17-year-old daughter - a daughter who was watching her mother die - referring to her as "arrogant," "obnoxious," a wannabe "skank," according to a story on Can you imagine that kind of evil?

Well, yes I can. It's the natural outcome of the sea-change about behavior that our culture decided to have a generation ago -- a change championed by the left. Manners and self-restraint were out; unfettered self-expression was in, and not just in, but exalted as a good, and a right, that trumped all other interests. Let it all hang out, baby!

It's also the natural outcome of a phenomenon that's been brewing for a lot longer than a generation. In the early decades of the last century, writers including G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, and C. S. Lewis noted and lamented the loss of the ability of the common man to base his opinions on reason. Somewhere along the line, the rules of rational argument lost their place in mainstream education. After a generation or two of that, the abandonment of manners and civility in public disagreements started.

And to me, the connection's clear. When you don't know how to reason, and those around you don't know either, there is no longer common ground on which all can stand while looking for the truth. All that's left then is bald assertion, with barely a nod to proof or logic. And the key to victory is then no longer a stronger case, but a louder, nastier, more intimidating voice -- and if that doesn't work, trickery and finally violence.

We long ago entered the world in which the public square would be full of little but shouting. All that Mike Cassidy is noticing is that, in blogging, the same kind of people who screamed obscenities and stormed podiums and stole conservative newspapers back in the 60's to deny their opponents a chance to make their case have now found another public forum to pollute and ruin.