Writing in a blog at the Strib about the Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston breakup, DJ Leary is aghast at the depravity of his fellow citizens – or at least that segment that leaves comments with Strib stories- saying it dishonors our democracy:
The reaction from anonymous online newspaper readers, including startribune.com and others throughout the country, and in thousands of public comments everywhere on the internet, has been loathsome. These comments demand that I seek a word that will convey “toxic” in stronger terms to communicate my outrage, disappointment, and disillusionment. How about “pernicious,” or perhaps “septic,” or better yet “venomous.”
Yeah, Mr. Leary, people are stupid – and for whatever reason, it seems the Strib’s comment section is worse than most, competing with the comments cesspools at Democrat Underground and Daily Kos; people almost dumb enough to write for Minnesota Progressive Project.
I am truly aghast to see how we have dishonored ourselves as a society when it comes to the public discourse between people of contradictory opinions on politics and public issues.
I’m not one of those people who whinges about how “politics has never been dirtier than it is today”; that’s absurd (and usually brought up to try to squeedge us into parting with more free speech rights).
And yet I don’t recall in my lifetime a time when the rules of common decency were so quickly suspended, not only because people disagreed with someone’s politics, but because someone disagreed with someone’s parents’ politics.
I’ve never cautioned anybody about holding anything back in his or her communication with a person actually engaged in the public arena. After all, when you put yourself out there, you knowingly wear a huge sign labeling yourself as a target for public abuse. It comes with the territory and I’ve always thought of it as one of the strengths of our democracy. If people like me feel our opinions are so god-awfully important that we’re willing to force them on the general public by publishing and circulating them, then we have no right to expect a social barrier that would silence opposing opinion.
Leary’s right about that, of course – for
The debate about who’s public and who is private is a byzantine exercise, of course – but the more accessible debate is over the depravity of our public society. Reading the comment section at the Strib or too many leftyblogs (and the Freep, sure) is like watching Idiocracy (a great movie, until that moment when you almost wonder if it’s a documentary rather than a comedy). It’s funny – until you realize that these peoples’ votes count the same as yours do.
And you start to realize why “democracy” in the founding fathers’ time was a little more selective than it is today. The founding fathers believed that democracy was too fragile and precious a thing to be trusted to the eighteenth-century anscestors of monster-truck rally fans, fight club members and contestants on “Shot At Love With Tila Tequila”.
And while the standards of the day excluded a lot of the wrong people – blacks, non-landowners and, Shakespeare’s Sister notwithstanding, women – for the wrong reasons, when you look at things like the Strib’s comment section, it’s tempting to wonder if some sort of test isn’t in order to be allowed to vote.
What kind of test, though? Race, gender and property are out, and should be. Even “intelligence” is a stupid measure; plenty of people with less-than-spectacular IQ scores are perfectly fine human beings who opinions deserve to be counted.
No, the real questions are a) how do you test for moral depravity, and b) while it’s wrong and illegal to actively exclude people from voting, how does society subtly convince them not to take part in our democracy?
I think instituting a national, three for one happy hour during polling hours on election day would actually serve a patriotic duty to democracy. Let the bars toss in open ultimate fighting, free lap dances, wet t-shirt mud wrestling, and live talk-back to the Ed Schultz show, and you’d have a perfectly capable filter, not to keep the depraved out of the voting process, but to allow them to voluntarily keep themselves out of it.