The Social Civil War
And if you buy that blogs (especially those with high readership levels) are points of collection for opinion leaders … well, it may be we’re seeing a leading indicator of less civil debate in our classrooms, breakrooms, and political conventions. As I Michele and I said to each other on the phone just this evening: we may be in for another summer of 1968. With bloggers on both the left and right complaining about the level of discourse, it's obvious that both sides - self included - are reaching a point where honest debate and talking out the issues is becoming an impossibility. I've been voting since 1980. I've been paying attention since long before then. I honestly cannot remember a presidential election where the sides were so far apart that the feeling of a war between the voters - not the candidates - was in the air. Well, yes I can. We can go back to the 1968 for that. I may have only been six years old at the time, but trust me, I was fully aware. My mother reminds me that I was reading the newspaper every day from the time I could read. Not just the comics or the sports pages, but the entire paper. I asked questions, some she couldn't even answer. And, as my parents were news junkies before me, we watched the nightly news together every evening. I had cousins who were in the thick of the protests. In fact, I had to go with my aunt one evening to drag an older cousin away from a protest that was turning ugly. What I remember most about that year (I do have a memory like an elephant) was the feeling that something was wrong. It shaped how I viewed politics. And now, all these years later (36!) it's come full circle. Back to feeling like something is wrong. Back to the great divide. It's not just bloggers. It's not just protesters. Look at your news talk shows. Bill O'Reilly spends half of his show screaming at or over whatever guest he has on. Other talking heads deride their guests, yell at them or completely dismiss anything they have to say. These shows are nothing but Jerry Springer does politics. And now here we are, in the heat of a presidential election. On the surface, these two duos look strikingly similar - a couple of rich white men on either side. But they could not be farther from each other ideologically. On one side you have the most liberal senator coupled with the fourth most liberal senator. On the other side, two men who are as far to the right as their opponents are to the left. We are in the middle of a war. We are struggling to reign in terrorism. We are inundated with threats. We are still recovering from 9/11. These are major issues. There's no in between. There is no one who says, eh war, I can take it or leave it. Very few people are uttering those words I got used to hearing every election year: It doesn't matter who you vote for, they're all the same. Each side has declared war on the other and while we are not in the throes of some great civil war, we are definitely in a social civil war. Perhaps that is just the precursor for what's to come. So we sit here at our blogs and we write about how much we hate. We write with vitriol, we write with the taste of battery acid on our tongues. We make it a point to post the lies and half truths of our opponents and their followers. We fight amongst ourselves and, by virtue of having comments open or our email address available, we open the door to others to oppose us or agree with us. It's the same as starting a political argument in a public place. At a rally, for instance. Lt. Smash engaged in a battle of sorts with some anti-war protesters. It's no different than what goes on in the comments of this very blog. Perhaps we are just mimicking the world around us. Or perhaps we are bringing the world into our little corner of it. If this blog is my own little pro-Bush or support the troops rally, then part of the comments becomes the corner where the opposition lines up to outscream me. Blogs are just reflecting what is going on around us. I had a Bush/Cheney sticker ripped off my car last week. My friend had her Kerry sign stolen from her front lawn. That about sums up what is happening here. No one wants the other view heard or seen. Perhaps if we scream louder or try to silence the other side, our goals and visions will be the ones everyone sees or hears. I've always been pretty attuned to the air around me. By air, I mean the general feeling in the atmosphere. Someone once told me I could read people's karmas. I suppose if America had a karma right now, it would be a very dark color. It's obvious it's not going to get any better. 119 days until the election and two conventions within those days. The level of animosity is only going to grow. If you want to keep a pulse on the karma of the country, read blogs. Read the comments. I'd venture to say that before 9/11 most bloggers fell in between the Democratic Underground and Free Republic. We lined up just to the left and just to the right of center. You didn't see many tin foil blogs. Something happened to America since then. The hole in the ground in New York became a dividing line. It wasn't evident then, and it didn't become truly evident until after the war in Iraq started. That's when bloggers started lining up on either side of the hole. Instead of bringing us together, these two major events have only widened that hole that sits before us. So do we reflect the country at large? From what I hear on the radio, see on tv, overhear at work, in the supermarket or read in the paper, yes. We do. The comments on all of our blogs represent what non-blogging America is thinking right now. It's an us v. them scenario. Who is us and who is them depends on which side of the hole you are standing on. Is there anything we can do about this? Is it past the point of trying to engage in civil discourse? Has the fuse already reached the point of no return? How many times have I said in the past year that I feel a 1968 coming? Quite a few. Unfortunately, I think it's no longer just coming. It's here. The air has the same quality to it that I felt as a six year old. Like lightning about to strike. You can almost hear the thunder in the distance. I don't think the violence will reach the point it did that year, that's not what I mean. But the ugliness, the divide that keeps getting bigger, the hatred and vitriol; all present and accounted for. In the world of blogs, the only thing we can do is close our comments when they need defusing. Even then, we end up doing the anger dance ourselves, lashing out at the left or the right. We reek of hatred right now. I admit to being part of that. Thing is, I don't know what to do about it. It's perhaps too late to reign in those feelings. Honestly, I don't know if I want to. It feels good to be able to sit down here, type away for an hour or so and release whatever pent up frustration I have. The fact that I allow people to respond to that rage probably fuels it. I honestly want to know what people think. I don't have my comments open so I can get a few pats on the back and someone saying you go, girl. I want to discuss. I want to debate. I want to hear your point of view. I open my site up to people from all sides. Sometimes that backfires. I get enraged emails from readers who demand that I not allow so and so to comment. They say I am supporting the enemy by doing so. Then I get enraged emails from people who demand to know why I delete comments from someone like Robert McClelland. They say I am crushing his dissent. Then an email from someone who wants to know why I deleted their comment when they agree with me. Well, agreeing with me is great. Agreeing with me while directing a racial insult at one of my readers will get your ass kicked out of the comments. It's not easy trying to moderate the comments. I wish I didn't have to. But times like these, they call for a bit of moderation. I see it everywhere. I see the right behaving as bad as the left. I fully admit to fanning the flames with some things I write. I need to take responsibility for that. But I have been sucked into the black hole of 2004. I've drawn my sword, picked my side and I'll stand here until this thing is done. I don't know if I can turn back now. I don't know if I can turn down my volume or lower the level of my righteous indignation. Sometimes I go back and read old posts and I'm ashamed of myself. Other times I'm proud of myself. So I have to take the good with the bad, just like I do for others. I read some blogs from the left that make me cringe at times, but I go back later in the day and I applaud their clarity and sincerity. It's just how it is today. We all go off the rails once in while. Often times, we take others with us. What do we owe to our readers, if anything? What do we owe to those who wish to comment? What do we owe to our country and the civil discourse going on now? We have been called opinion makers. With great power comes great responsibility, you know. Are we too far gone to make a difference in the way the rest of this election plays out on the streets. I'd have to say yes. We can try from here to temper our words, but then are we silencing ourselves? And honestly, I think it wouldn't matter. Even a genial post on the reasons for war would elicit mean spirited comments. Like I said, the blogosphere is just a reflection of the street. And these are mean streets, indeed. Welcome to the social civil war, where we are all soldiers, all victims and all losers, no matter who wins the election.