The internet is a rough-and-tumble place. Most of you know that. Especially sites touching on religion and politics. I appreciate bloggers who want their sites to be nice, pleasant places. I know a number of bloggers who have very strong opinions on things and who even communicate them to their readers on occasion. And they have relatively calm web sites. And some bloggers do not. I suspect the writer’s tone has something to do with it.
Opinionated people who write on religion and politics might realize that once in a while something will flare up. And people who write with gusto are probably singed somewhat more often. I’ve been reading, mainly among conservatives, a distrust on the notion of being polite and holding one’s tongue (or pen) on a difficult topic. Why should we, so the question goes, withhold the Truth from people who obviously don’t have it? Civility and charity are misplaced virtues, in the thinking of some.
I find it hard to believe I was the one stinkpot single-handedly responsible for shutting down the Anchoress’s comboxes this weekend. Though clearly I was the last straw. I’m not implying that the Anchoress is one of those people who advocate for truthiness, then bemoan when their commentariat starts looking like a flare star. But there’s a certain wisdom I recall from my parents who, while they had strong opinions on religion and politics, avoided the discussion of most anything on these topics.
Ms Scalia has an interesting observation about her blog:
I noticed things changed right about the time of the John Corapi debacle, and since then it has continued more unpleasant than pleasant around here, rather like the whole society.
I wasn’t a careful observer of this phenomenon. I know Mark Shea got poked a lot for not acceding to the echo chamber on this one. It struck me as sort of a schism within the Catholic Right. Fr Corapi was one of those rough-and-tumble guys. He called it like he saw it. His fans applauded. Others saw it a bit differently. Heretics, obviously.
I think that the momentum for rudeness has turned over the past several years. One aspect that hits me is a lack of trust among people. I know that when I’ve had moments where I’ve been able to give good advice or direction to an internet or parish foil, the tide usually turns. I don’t think we disagree any less about liturgy or politics or theology. But I think there’s a demonstrable good will. When I referred an internet friend who was a fresh move to Chicago to try St John Cantius, I received a nice email about a month or so later thanking me for helping his family find a “perfect” fit. One of my liberal friends tut-tutted, “Why did you send him there?”
Fr Corapi probably sparked the same response in people who disagreed about him. How can I trust someone who likes/hates him? The Catholic Right has had long practice in alienating the Left. Maybe they had the tools already sharpened. Maybe it was easy to engage in a form of cannibalism on former confreres. I know I’ve experienced it from the Left.
I certainly think national politics have evolved into an atmosphere of distrust. Leaked conspiracies, and suspicions have been part of the public arena seriously since Watergate. I don’t think the nation has recovered.
More from the Anchoress, and I agree her take on social media has been a marriage made in hell with the hermeneutic of suspicion:
I do think social media has a hand in the world becoming so angry, with every damn issue so quickly devolving into simplistic “you’re stupid,” “no, you’re evil” side-taking and ranting. I know I’ve indulged in it too much for my own good, even when I’ve tried not to, and increasingly, I am thinking that I want off that ride, even if it means turning the direction of the blog a little, because I don’t think it’s particularly good for me.
I can’t speak to the last diagnosis. That’s a discernment for the person in that situation. I do know that when genuine relationships are allowed to grow, that difference in philosophy tend to recede as part of the background and no longer remain the stars of the show. The challenge with the blogosphere is that the issues remain front-and-center, especially for people who are passionate about the Issues of the Day.
I don’t have the answers to the blogging questions. My readers and correspondents know I routinely examine this blog and my writing. No less than a half-dozen times I’ve discerned shutting the whole thing down. I’m not hooked into it enough so that I couldn’t call the whole thing off if my priorities changed. Or needed to change. This site escapes some bile because it doesn’t net the quantity of readers the big political and religion sites do. I think if I cut way back on faith formation and delved into liturgy and politics full-time, I could get swamped by spam and an angry minority, too. But other people do that routine so well–I ask myself: why be a copycat?
It’s a good time of year to take stock of the internet again. What’s going on that’s good? What’s a personal danger? Why are people such meanieheads?