The Internet and intolerance

I've had the belief for a long time that the blogosphere was a breeding ground for intolerance. Now read this –

Jon Fleischman ( a 39-year old conservative blogger)has never aspired to be a reporter; "fair and balanced" is decidedly not his thing. "I don't pretend to be objective," the longtime GOP activist said last week in his modest tract home in Orange County, his blog headquarters. "I operate under the premise that conservatives are right and liberals are wrong."

 That attitude has made his nearly 2-year-old Web site, Flash Report, a powerful bully pulpit…

Courtesy San Jose Mercury News 

There is no doubt that the Internet has been great for community building. I myself am a member of more than one forum and support group. Through the blog I have been lucky to meet people who have become my virtual friends.

But the flip side of this is that there is really no need for an exchange of ideas any more. Whatever your extreme opinions may be , you are sure to find validation for them out there in the ether. And should you encounter a contrary point of view, God forbid, why, that is what the 'delete comment' feature is there for.

In a real life gathering, we are forced to examine our assumptions and defend our hypotheses because the alternative is to face public censure. The anonymity of the Internet allows us to give free rein to our most base instincts. Let's face it, the veneer of civility that is imposed by our upbringing and our education is painfully thin. The increasing vitriol of the blogosphere is a testament to how fragile our civilization is.

My theory is that the increasing partisanship of politics is, to a large part, due to blogs. Once John Q. Public has taken a stand on an issue, however ill-informed, he can find enough bricks to cement his position without having to worry about pesky things like facts. Think Hillary is gay? Just type it into any search engine and you will find enough fodder. Think Barack is Chinese? I bet there are some kooks out there just like you who believe that too. 

The one-sided nature of blogs is rather frightening. George Bernard Shaw once said "The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it."  That is human nature and blogs magnify our intrinsic prejudices. I see this unstoppable train roll inexorably over objectivity and detachment and create a world which has no brick walls but many virtual ones.

4 thoughts on “The Internet and intolerance

  1. Shefaly

    Vidya: thanks for the link love.

    “My theory is that the increasing partisanship of politics is, to a large part, due to blogs.”

    I think partisanship should come as no surprise in a two-party political system. However if you follow the history of regulation in the United States, you will find ample evidence where political ideology and shorter-term political gain has trumped larger social goals with long term gains. Political decision making is a complicated, if to rationalist business people somewhat obscure, phenomenon; but I have spent much time recently studying it and cannot say I find it mind-numbing 🙂

    Blogs are a relatively new phenomenon. They have the ability to influence some people but questions can be asked two-fold:
    * What sort of people allow blogs to influence them? Are they not already ideologically too entrenched to let ‘truth’ or ‘facts’ influence them?
    * And if they appear not to seek out non-partisan treatment of a subject, why is it so?

    Truth, at least in politics, is subjective, predicated as it is on positions, positional bargaining, short-term gains nudging long term issues out, ideologies pushing logic out.

    Having a political ideology different from one’s own may be unpleasant in some situations but it is not partisanship; it is a sign of a functioning democracy.



  2. Nita

    Hi, I have written several posts on this subject and was curious to read yours. Came here from Shefaly’s blog (where I arrived from Indian Economy Blog).
    My own personal experience has been that more than bloggers holding radical views, people object in strong and rude language any kind of view they do not agree with! I write fairly mild stuff but the reactions are often vitriolic and even crazy! Ofcourse I delete such crazy comments. I mean I have a right to my view and no one has a right to shout it down! Said in a polite way, I welcome all views.


  3. vidya Post author

    I think it is the anonymity is what gives people the license to indulge in the worst sort of behaviour. Inside we are all not that far from angry chimps – which is another argument for evolution!


  4. Shefaly

    Vidya: What is interesting is that the anonymity is only nominal. Nearly every awful comment I get, even with a pseudo-handle, I can trace back to a regular reader through his (always his!) IP address.

    I think most people hide a Jekyll and a, er, Hyde inside them. Some days one is out, some days the other one.



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