I spend a lot of my time reading the news. I must admit I have a guilty somewhat masochistic habit. I almost always read the comments section, at least until the commenters show me why I shouldn’t. There is always at least one argument raging in the comments section and this particular argument always goes the same way depending on which bias the news site associates with. For the sake of this example, I will make the news site a conservative one, but make no mistake this argument is on just as many liberal sites. I will also try my hardest to use real words, spelled correctly, and with a basic use of grammar. Something you don’t always find in the comments sections of even the best news sites.
Commenter 1: This article is so true, down with [insert negative semi-clever nickname of politician].
Commenter 2: You’re an idiot. Just another right-wing brainwashed drone serving corporations. You should really read something sometime. Go [insert positive semi-clever nickname of politician].
Commenter 1: You’re the brainwashed one. Liberals always spouting lies. [Insert personal attack].
This goes on for the rest of the argument. One calling the other various emphatic insults and then getting the same in return. The problem being that neither person has added anything of value to the discussion posed by the article. To avoid confusion, NEITHER person has added anything to the conversation. Rarely, someone will throw out sources, but I have never personally seen anyone comment back, “I read your source and it raises interesting questions about my beliefs and I need to reevaluate my stance on the topic.” I bring up this argument for another reason than just bashing the people who constantly engage in them.
I know there are other people out there, people who think critically about what they read and hear. Then they decide based on the best possible information available. They just don’t comment that often. That is the question I am raising now, why don’t they comment often? If I can take the liberty of believing myself one of those people, then maybe my reasons are yours.
My first reason for avoiding comments. I don’t want caught up in arguments like the one I described and that is what almost always happens. Republicans and Democrats both have insulted me. Libertarians and environmentalists both yell at me. The poor and well-to-do have both cursed my name. I have even been called snobbish for misunderstanding people’s general lack of grammar and spelling. The only reason I can find is because I base my comments on the facts that I have in front of me and not on what a party or ideologue’s opinion is. (Also, because I am a little rough on internet speak).
The second reason for avoiding comments is the loneliness. Once one side or the other has set in on a person there is no coming back. The argument can never go back to being about the real information in the argument. Just scanning the comments can make me cringe away from wanting to voice an opinion. Reading the comments section of a major news site would lead a person to believe that there are only two sides to any argument and they both think the other side brainwashed by propaganda and they want them and their offspring dead. It is a lonely world for the center in the comments section.
The third and last reason is the seeming triviality of leaving comments. I say seeming for a reason. There are computer programs that scan comment sections and even people who read comments to compile what they find into viewer demographics. The same way that commercials get marketed to specific demographics the biggest response gets the most coverage. No matter the response. A good example of this is the Bain Capital fiasco that has beset American politics lately. I will be writing more on Bain in my next blog post so for now I will simply use it as an example of something that generated response and in response to that become something huge, distracting us from what could be considered more important discussions.
This is good news, in a way. It means that if more people start commenting in a civil and engaging way then perhaps those voices can start shaping the national dialogue in a better way. If there is one thing that I have seen in my years as a United States citizen it is my country’s fall into extreme polarization. Polarization that becomes more extreme by the day. So extreme that compromise has become the greatest dirty word. Oddly enough, tiny comments can help make a tiny shift in national dialogue. I think we desperately need this shift.
So, this is a calling of sorts, to voice your opinion, no matter how small. I only beg that you voice it in a civil and well-spoken way. Stay open to dissenting opinions and answer blind anger with as much composure as possible. I will try my best to do the same and hopefully this will help give a voice to those of us left in the center. As I mentioned, the next blog will be about the distraction that is Bain Capital and how it benefits both parties and hurts the electorate. A topic that I feel has caused more than its fair share of these arguments.