Snarling Dogs: Civility Revisited genre: Six Degrees of Speculation

I’ve had an issue on my mind for the last couple days. It started with a comment thread on another site. The question is, “what should you do with people who have nothing more to share than negative thoughts, personal insults, and hateful rhetoric?" There are some quick and easy answers. One, you can ignore them altogether. Two, you could respond in kind. As I debated with myself, I tried several time to draft responding remarks. In the end, I decided to do nothing.

As I’ve pondered the issue, I’ve wondered why I even care. Nonetheless, I do. In attempting to boil it down to its most basic construct, I came to some conclusions. In some regards, the conclusions are more troubling than the events that precipitated the analysis.

My uncle used to talk about separating people into some loosely defined categories or types. He explained that it was far too complicated to attempt to fully understand everyone you encounter. He proposed you look for some basics traits to sort the people you meet and then fill in the unknowns with the best available template. All in all it’s pretty effective…if you can be content to leave it at that. I never could.

While pondering my experience with the comment thread, I recalled one of the types he used to talk about. He explained that there are people who approach meeting others with the two by four method…they immediately clobber you with the two by four and then follow that up by putting their arm around your shoulder and saying…so how have you been? The best analogy for this approach is in the hierarchy seen with some animals such that the dominant animal waits for the other animals to acknowledge their lesser position in the social structure. Territorial factors can be at play as well. It often begins with a growl or a minor skirmish until the pecking order is established and accepted. Primitive as it seems, it helped me make sense of my comment thread experience.

I’ll try to explain it further. With many blogs, there seems to be a loosely established commenting community. Often times, some “members" compete to be the first to comment when a new posting appears. In many ways, it serves the purpose of establishing a type of pecking order. Additionally, many sites inadvertently develop a policing system that identifies new visitors. Further, the members may decide to accept the new participant or as I’ve seen happen on occasion, they may decide to attach the “troll" label…the lowest position in the internet hierarchy.

Coming back to my own experience, I have spent a significant amount of time making comments and observations on other sites in order to introduce Thought Theater and expand the visits to the site. The blogs I visit are primarily sites I’m familiar with and where I have occasionally commented. However, since introducing Thought Theater, that frequency has increased dramatically and, in truth, I’ve sought to make my comments towards the beginning of the comment thread…where they are more apt to be read.

In studying this particular site more closely, the individuals who made the “territorial" remarks are in fact regulars that are frequently at the top of the comment thread. Other commenter’s routinely grant them a degree of deference…subtle mind you, but enough to be recognized if you happen to disrupt the normal ebb and flow. Once I made the connections to the above analogy, I felt an initial degree of relief. It didn’t last long.

I could have simply concluded that I had a better understanding of the situation that had troubled me for these last couple days and left it at that…but I couldn’t because it has a larger significance that is at the core of my own search for understanding and “truth". Not simply for my own edification, but because I genuinely care about the human condition and, naïve as it may sound, I am always hopeful that I can offer something constructive to improve it.

Despite many disappointments, I always feel fortunate to come away with a somewhat greater understanding of the nature of our existence and I endeavor to remain optimistic that it brings me more proximate to the “truth". Sometimes I find satisfaction in simply understanding the games of self-deceit that are played because it allows me to decide that I will participate as neither the villain nor the victim. At the same time, I find great sadness in the repetitively counterproductive behaviors I witness.

I can elaborate in order to tie it all together. In large part, blogs originated as a political grassroots endeavor to effect change. The Rudymentary goals of that change have been either to ouster the party in charge or retain the party in charge. Hence the struggle taking place is simply a larger scale of the issue that I experienced personally as an individual. Specifically, those in positions of power, whether perceived or real, whether obtained legitimately or by other means, seek to retain it despite the merit of doing so. In other words, many of the individuals in the chat room hierarchy, as well as the political party in power, want to stay there whether or not they have any inherent or particular right to do so. At the same time, many individuals, as well as the political party not in power, want to assume power whether or not they have earned the right to do so. The problem is obvious.

When individuals cannot find consensus based upon thoughtful dialogue and debate, the larger construct of the party and the even larger construct of society as a whole cannot advance beyond the primitive animal analogy whereby aggression and brutality are the measure with which we determine authority and leadership. When one Democrat in a comment thread personally attacks another Democrat with the goal of nothing more than obtaining or retaining power or authority, it is hard to imagine that the larger goals of any one party to effect change within the society can succeed. When this exists, the notion of cohesion amongst like minded individuals necessarily becomes a secondary objective. When this happens, each blog becomes nothing more than a microcosm of the political order which it dislikes and seeks to dislodge.

I’ve never liked or respected bullies. By that I don’t simply mean someone who can use physical force to obtain what they want. Bullying can take many forms. However, at the core of all bullying is a disregard for a fair and just system that is honored and observed by each individual because it is understood to be the evolved social order and social structure necessary to advance civilization. Until we agree upon a system of merit that has its origins in rational and reasoned thought and analysis, we will remain more similar to the animal occupants of this world. Until each individual honors a legitimate social contract, we will be nothing more than feigned shells of the civil creatures we pretend to be. When we dishonor humanity by dehumanizing each other, we betray our own humanity and we are all lessened. In the end, destiny is ours to choose.

Those individuals in the comment thread, who offered nothing more than a growl and the display of their teeth, purport to espouse a desire for large scale social change. Unfortunately, they are destined to be victimized by their very own capitulations to force over forethought, to brawn over brains, and to power over persuasion. If ones notion of change is nothing more than to assume authority or power in order to impose change, real progress is not a fundamental goal. Power is the goal. Perhaps that’s all the individuals that I encountered in the comment thread are seeking. If it is, they ought to cease presenting it otherwise. In the meantime, I may have to swim through their pretense, but I need not succumb to their miscalculations. For me, I’ve resolved that the pursuit of more “truth" is worth the annoyance.

Daniel DiRito | April 30, 2006 | 8:22 AM
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1 On May 1, 2006 at 10:23 AM, Jimi Moore wrote —

You state it much more eloquently than the goofy tv commercial which states "you're just animals in pants."

You've recognized the nexus of the problem, if only we could rise above our biology when it comes to problem resolution.

Geek Card play - Gene Roddenberry is smiling down at you from the next world.

2 On May 1, 2006 at 1:16 PM, Daniel wrote —

Hi Jimi!

Yea, I like that irreverent...but accurate in many ways.

For me, the most frustrating part is the inability or unwillingness by many to learn from prior mistakes...if for no other reason than because it is ultimately in our own enlightened self-interest.

Go Star Trek! Yes, it was more than a show with tribbles.

Thanks for the comment Jimi. Always good to hear from you. Take care.


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