Soren Kierkegaard noted that, "people demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use." Bang on, Mr. Kierkegaard. Of course, not only do these people demand freedom of speech, they insist on following through with the whole business and storm through the gates saying or writing whatever unfiltered nonsense happens to be passing through their mind at the time. I hesistate to say 'what they were thinking', becuase I am not always convinced that thinking is actually taking place.
'Ken, I hate to interrupt a screed in progress, but what in the world are you banging on about? You haven't written a word since that saccharine ode to teaching last August, and this is the way you return to the blogosphere?"
Simply put? I am bone tired and despairing of the regular discourse of comments sections on the web. What was the phrase in Star Wars? 'A wretched hive of scum and villainy?' As apt a description of the noise and convulsive verbal bloodletting as any, though perhaps a little naive and overly benign. Wade into a comments section on just about any blog and you will be treated to the rawest, ugliest, stomach-churningly unfiltered and unregulated thought you could possibly imagine. Open sewers would be preferable. Comments sections are usually a swamp of hatred, bigotry, anger, poor grammar, lousy spelling, and unreconstructed conspiracy theory twaddle.
"Why is this a problem? Should we not simply celebrate that people from every walk of life are expressing themselves about the major issues of the day?"
I would like to say yes. My impulse to encourage everyone to participate and voice their opinion is blunted by the fact that most people have no idea how to shape what they say, or even think twice about it is they want to say - they just blurt out whatever may flit into their heads at any given moment. Saying something is easy. Saying something that shows evidence of careful thought is another matter altogether. My fear is that most people simply pound out their comments without thinking about what they are saying. They feel strongly and therefore they write. But what they write is usually not worth reading, as it is so much unfiltered id. There is no careful exploration of an idea or problem, just a torrent of words conveying emotions. In simply regurgitating their bile they corrode our interactions - all of them. They are helping to insure that we will never get anything accomplished, by making dead certain that people of differing points of view will never be able to actually have legitimate and worthwhile conversations.
By slowly killing constructive discourse the problems that confront us will be less likely to be solved. Bit of a slippery slope? Perhaps. Perhaps even a bit alarmist. But I can't shake the feeling that we are slowly but surely losing our capacity for any kind of constructive, meaningful conversation between people with opposing points of view. Too much on the web is focused on tearing apart, denigrating, ridiculing - and frankly so much of this destructive word-play is hardly word-play, it is ungrammatical word salad.
So, allow me to offer a simple solution, at least as a first step. If you cannot find a way to offer a constructive comment, don't offer any. If you must comment, take the time to actually think through what you are going to say, so that even if it is savage you have, at the very least, thought through the consequences of your savagry. Perhaps, in realizing that you about to offer up something hateful and repellent, you will think twice before pressing 'submit'. Perhaps you will even realize that such speech is corrosive, and benefits no one. Including you.
Think before you write. Think before you speak. Just because you feel righteous doesn't mean that you actually are. Just because you can say something, doesn't mean that you should.
This isn't about free speech, or any type of freedom of expression, it is about recognizing that words have impact, they matter. Be aware that your contribution to the discourse will be received by others who do not inhabit the same space that you inhabit. Think, do a little mental editing, then write.