Extreme Conflict For the Deeply Conflict Averse

I have to say, I feel Jon Stewart’s pain, albeit on a much smaller scale. Sure, I don’t command an audience of millions (or even, uh, dozens), and the Huffington Post will never, ever, run an article the entire point of which is just reporting something I said somewhere to someone else in public (they have much bigger journalistic endeavors to attend to, like reporting on which reality show personality I’ve never heard of is excited for the Super Bowl), but that doesn’t mean I don’t have first-hand experience with the blogosphere’s issues with conflict inflation.

I guess the idea is that conflict is exciting. Wild-eyed bloggers choking back rage-induced bile are much more interesting than slightly rumpled dudes overdoing the sarcasm a little bit because they can. Plus, the former is easier to write about–and much more prone to colorful imagery–than attempts to move past the tone and grapple with the substance. So you bloggers, writers and commenters trying to track online debates are subject to the same kind of pressures that campaign journalists are: the horse race is easier and sexier than the subtext.

On one level, it’s sort of frustrating to see debates about ideas sink into people taking issue with each others’ tone, or slapping each other on the back for how well they destroyed someone, because that’s a much less interesting conversation. But beyond that, you end up with a skewed perception of the motives, or at least the emotional states, of the people involved. When you write that someone “eviscerated,” that tends to invoke the image of that person in the throes of a murderous fugue. And it’s a particular shame when that sort of thing happens and the other party in the debate actually believes it.

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2 Responses

  1. Yes, yes and yes. But…wouldn’t it be really satisfying to hear someone call Senator Shelby unpatriotic for holding up the government of the United States for some Alabama pork. And wouldn’t it be refreshing to say out loud that the thing that stalled health care was lies; lies paid for by the insurance industry and slopped up by Republican lapdogs like the odious Senator Grassley and others? Discussion of the horse race is non-productive I agree, but wouldn’t it be great to see some fight — some cujones, if you will — for the truth, and for the good of the country?

  2. Indeed, the problem with these things is that eviscerating one’s opponent takes the Jerry Springer angle when it needs to take the Charlie Rose one (i.e. focused on policy).

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