Julie Barrett is a freelance writer and photographer based in Plano, TX.

Civility, Trolls, and Politics - Oh, My!

Fresh when it gets here from Julie Barrett
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Both of my Twitter followers know I've been musing over this topic for a few days. I think it all gelled last night when I sat down to watch Craig Ferguson's one-on-one interview with the ever-charming and always erudite Stephen Fry.

Mr. Fry is an interesting study in contrasts. He is, as he noted, practically "made of tweed," and yet he embraces new technology with a cheerful optimism. His musings on trolling and incivility online were cut short by the dreaded commercial break, but he did seem to note that it's a small price to pay for the openness, the freedom to express one's opinion unfettered.

I write as one who has been accused many times over the years of being the "civility police" and of using "censorship" to moderate bulletin board discussions. (Hint: It's not censorship to enforce the terms of service one agrees to when they sign up to post.)

One thing that frustrates me to know end (I'll admit it) is how a rumor grabs hold and refuses to let go even when it has been refuted. It's human nature, I suppose. We believe what we want to believe, and we'll defend out beliefs until the very end.

It seems that politics has become the battleground on the Internet. Loyal voters are now taking care of the "dirty work" of attacking political opponents. All it seems a politician has to do is toss a tidbit out on their web site and the faithful take it from there, spreading the word to chat rooms, Facebook, newspaper blogs, anywhere they might be allowed to present their opinion. I'm not accusing any politician of wrongdoing, but what happens if they discover they were mistaken in the tidbit they tossed out or if their supporters completely misunderstood? (Again, people believe what they want to believe.)

The local political kerfuffle that has me somewhat flummoxed at present is the Republican politician who - gasp! - voted in the Democratic primary in 2008. Republican loyalists seem to have conveniently forgotten that a number of their party members crossed lines to vote for Hillary Clinton in what was dubbed "Operation Chaos." In fact, it was downright fashionable to do so and seen as support for John McCain. That seeming contradiction makes sense when you realize that Texas was one of the last states to hold a primary. The Republican nomination was locked up for McCain, but Clinton and Obama were still waging a close race for the Democratic nomination. Republicans figured (and I don't think they'd have been wrong) that Clinton would be an easier candidate for McCain to defeat in the election, so there was a movement afoot to get Republicans to cross party lines and vote. We're a caucus state, so a number of Republicans showed up to sign the sheet in support of Clinton.

Two years ago, this was considered fair politics. Now it's enough to vilify a candidate. Of course, the story that gets spread is that the candidate in question voted for a yellow dog Democrat, and conveniently  sidesteps the fact that he did it for Republican ends.

Politics just gets curiouser and curiouser.

And what does this have to with civility? A discussion thread including that topic on a local newspaper blog devolved into unacceptable language. Call me the Civility Police, but when someone calls the female candidate a "female dog" (their words) and uses the word "vomit" in the same sentence, it is a post clearly meant to provoke a negative response rather than contribute to the conversation. When someone took offense at my taking offense, I pointed out that I'd be just as offended if someone has used "illegitimate male child" to describe a male candidate.

Politics gets people passionate, and that's a good thing. Our country was founded on that very passion. However, when rational discourse sinks to unsubstantiated "he said, she said" arguments and we accept vulgar speech in place of substance, we are chipping away at those very foundations of free speech.

Why? Because the only speech left will be the shouters, those who monger fear and hate in place of reason.

I challenge you - Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, independent, moderate - to stand up for rational, reasoned discourse. Let's show the world that it's possible to disagree without virtually beating each other up.

Here's our slogan: "Strike a blow for civility!"

What good is civility if not tempted with a gentle sense of humor, eh?

Tags: LifePolitics

Filed under: Life   Politics         


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