Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Again With The Civility?

Not soon after we got a call for civility in the Iraq War debate we now discover that the Left is mean and uncivil, doubts Ana Marie-Cox's qualifications for judging comedy (because she's a woman), thinks Richard Cohen's mom is ugly and is damn sure Mark Kleiman has a fat ass. Or something to that effect. While I'm tempted to just agree with Fixer, being a blogger, I have to add my own two cents (again).

I'm actually all for civil discourse - in fact some of the most civil debates I've had were with someone who disagrees with me on pretty much everything (excepting the deliciousness of beer and the supremacy of Miguel Tejada). However, civil discourse is only useful when there's an actual debate going on - you know, the whole "engagment in formal argument" thing (emphasis on formal). In the case of the "Colbert Incident" that's sort of impossible, no? For the record, I didn't think he was funny - but that's because I hate it when people more famous than us steal our material. However, on the matter of "what's funny", you are entitled to your own clueless opinion and you're free to voice it in as many blog posts, op-eds, and bathroom graffiti as you see fit. Just don't expect me to read (let alone pay for the privilege of reading) them, jerkface. For a few reasons, though, these new calls for civility are effin' irritating.

First, it's a little late in the day to call for civility when it's clear the disagreement boils down to one side saying "over half the country should be beaten up or deported or jailed or shot on charges of treason because they don't agree with the President" and the other side saying "uhm, no and go eff yourself for saying so". What we have here is slightly more than a difference of opinion.

Second, most of the paid opinion spewers in this country have no expertise in any given subject, yet are paid to dispense their clueless opinions in op-eds, blog posts and television broadcasts. And the internet has only made it worse. Stoke a man's intellectual vanity with a few ill-defined big ideas, send him to far flung corners of the globe for discussions with cab-drivers, and he gleans a new form of global economic interaction. A drunken British journalist - famous for being a contrarian because he failed to miss when he took aim at a few barn doors (and he likes to smoke) - a psychiatrist (who's expertise in treating neurosis qualifies him for a career in international affairs), and members of an obscure philosophy cult team up to engage the rest of us in an on-going seminar in which policy questions are aligned with the Great Politics they studied decades ago (the rest of us call it "The Iraq War" and will be living with the consequences for years if not decades). Armed with tear-stained copies of Road To Serfdom and Atlas Shrugged a sub-literate bore becomes an expert in economics (meanwhile an actual expert in economics is dismissed as "arrogant" and "shrill"). An ex-congressional staffer finds himself the moral compass of a nation and uses his bully-pulpit to ponder such grave issues as the likablitiy of the President. A book, the central argument of which is "politics bores me", is hailed for its political insight. Another British countrari-yawn helps propel a work of shoddy racist pseudo-science into the mainstream, and even after the work is shown to be a fraud, he still boasts of this "achievement" and lands a gig at a major news magazine. The list of insults to our intelligence and affronts to our sense of decency goes on and on and effin' on some more and reasonable people are supposed to be civil. ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME?

This point is not partisan. Let me put it another way. In my line of work you spend a year to two years pounding on your keyboard, sometimes 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, to make a product which will hopefully make your company some money. The product is released and within hours hundreds if not thousands of people are out there in the internets posting to forums or writing on-line reviews voicing their opinion of your labors. A week later three magazines publish yet more opinions. Sometimes you get lucky and everyone loves your work. Other times people will write very unkind things. Consumers know when they're being had and they aren't shy about saying exactly what they think of the work you've done. Sometimes they'll question your abilities. Sometimes they'll question your intelligence. Sometimes they'll wonder what kinds of drugs you were on when you did the work. Sometimes they'll question your (horror of horros) masculinity and (often in the same breath) they'll say mean things about your mother. This is par for the course in my industry and I have never, not once ever, heard calls for civility. You eff'ed up, you live with it. If you don't eff' up, you get to keep your job.

Like it or not, paid punditry is a job - you are paid for your opinions. I do not see any reason why anyone paid an order of magnitude more than me for the privilege of dispensing opinion talking out of their ass should be treated with special care. If anything, they should be held to a higher standard and therefore should be prepared to deal with even graver insults.
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