There's a lot of truth in that. But I have a few observations. First of all, the main reason that I chose to adopt a pseudonym is because I intended to talk about some personal stuff some of the time online, NOT because I wasn't brave enough to take on (say) Terry Glavin under my own name. Once I adopted the pseudonym I let my hair down in other ways, both in good fun and in being confrontational.
Canadians, even in 2010 after four years of rule by Stephen Harper, pride ourselves on our good manners. It’s one way we measure ourselves against Americans. More importantly, it’s how we get along. But that doesn’t mean we’re impervious to the transgressive urge, even if we transgress in safe Canadian ways.
Check out the no-holds-barred blogosphere: we (well, many of us) swear, we insult, we’re actually rude. I wonder how many of those bloggers and commenters, many hiding behind aliases, behave face to face with others? Would they be pleased or shocked if their kids talked that way to their schoolmates?My suspicion? In their daily lives they’re polite, even reserved; considerate of others; soft-spoken, and they’re bringing their children up the same way. Typical Canadians, in other words.
But civilization has its discontents. We fetter our basic desires and instincts in order to live peaceably with each other. We create rules and boundaries. Order is imposed upon disorder. Part of ourselves, however, is suppressed in the process. Where does it go?
We create channels for its expression. The Internet, as a newsgroup commentator once said, “is where I can get in touch with my inner a—hole.” Why not? It’s virtually (but not entirely) consequence-free. We don’t stand physically face-to-face, our body language setting off numerous responses and counter-responses that call us to order.
There’s little or no accountability. We don’t have to work with these people, they don’t live on our street, and all they’ll usually do is respond in kind—then you all shut off the computer and go to supper.
They’re images, in fact, caricatures with whom we bloodlessly do battle, and for whom we in turn are the same thing. Shooting off one’s mouth in a safe cyber-environment is the work of a few minutes, steam from a safety-valve.
And I don't think that there's anything particularly wrong with this semi-anonymous internet battling. As a matter of fact, I think it's healthy. It's true that in person I'm actually rather diminutive, as well as basically easy-going. One right-winger who I encountered in graduate school said a number of times that I was "all right for a lefty" which I took under advisement, especially since he said his first inclination had been to smash me in the face when I spoke up during our first seminar together. One-on-one with fleshy counterparts I'm generally polite, soft-spoken, and diplomatic (at least that's what I think).
But I think civility is way overrated in many instances. Especially with online political debates. When we're blogging or discussing online with a pseudonym, we're acting as symbols for the political ideologies or orientations that we're arguing for, not so much as 100% real people. As such, "fergusrush" or "nonny" or "bobolink" or "krynaghtum-pants" or any of the other trolls I've insulted in the past aren't real people either. They're symbols. They're symbols of stupidity and nastiness. As such, I don't feel any compulsion to remain civil while arguing against their stupid, nasty, brutish ideas.
Canadian Cynic (who is apparently on "Twitter" now) has voluminous archives from his old blog where lie preserved multiple demonstrations of the utter stupidity of right-wing viewpoints. He's 100% rude to those cretins and they deserve every bit of it.
Because, what are we talking about here? Politics. War. Justice. I'm sure Barack Obama is a fascinating individual. I've heard that Bill Clinton oozes charisma. I'm sure that I could probably kick-back and enjoy a drink with any number of military or business world denizens and that many of them are fine people to their families and friends and the people they meet one-on-one in their everyday lives.
But then again, they might be complicit in stuff like this:
Research Links Rise in Falluja Birth Defects and Cancers to US Assault
• Defects in newborns 11 times higher than normal • 'War contaminants' from 2004 attack could be cause
See, the thing is, I've lived too long in a world where these atrocities were made and where they continue to be made, to worry about such a thing as "civility" when maddeningly stupid people make stupid decisions based on stupid opinions that produce these horrors.
The latest Falluja study surveyed 55 families with seriously deformed newborns between May and August. It was conducted by Dr Samira Abdul Ghani, a paediatrician at Falluja general hospital. In May, 15% of the 547 babies born had serious birth defects. In the same period, 11% of babies were born at less than 30 weeks and 14% of foetuses spontaneously aborted.
The researchers believe that the figures understate what they describe as an epidemic of abnormalities, because a large number of babies in Falluja are born at home with parents reluctant to seek help from authorities.
One case documented in the report is of a mother and her daughter who after the 2004 battles both gave birth to babies with severe malformations. The second wife of one of the fathers also had a severely deformed baby in 2009.
"It is important to understand that under normal conditions, the chances of such occurrences is virtually zero," said Savabieasfahani.Iraq's government has built a new hospital in Fallujah, but the city's obstetricians have complained that they are still overwhelmed by the sheer number of serious defects.
I also think that the right-wing got a lot of mileage out of mocking the left and the things we accomplished and that it's past time that we returned the favour. So, while I don't go in for cowardly death threats, or lying to prove a point, or ignoring things said by opponents that puncture my arguments, I do use insults and scorn against people who dredge-up stupid nonsense that produces real-world suffering.
EDITED TO ADD: For what it's worth, when I attended the Canada Day rally at Queen's Park after the G20 abomination, there was some doofus there with a pro-cop sign and I lit into him and told him he had shit for brains.