In a response to a prior post–made in the middle of a somewhat heated discussion generated by that post–a commenter complained that his contributions to the debate had simply been ignored by others, even though they’d been accompanied by links to what he described as “liberal” references.
As regular readers of this blog know, I rarely participate in the conversations triggered by my daily posts/rants. (I do read most of the comments.) There are two reasons for that, one practical and one more-or-less philosophical: the practical reason is that I have a day job, and I can’t afford the additional time thoughtful engagement would take; the “philosophical” reason is that the blog is intended to generate responses and in a very real sense, to allow readers to educate me–which many of you, especially my “regulars” regularly do.
But the complaint was that no one was responding to points made by this particular individual, and that such non-responsiveness–at least in the eye of the commenter–was characteristics of the disinclination of “liberals” to engage with those who disagreed.
To the extent that complaint is justified, I don’t think it’s a consequence of political orientation, conservative or liberal. I think the problem is trolls.
I firmly believe that trolls–and this blog has a couple of persistent ones–want nothing more than to stir the pot. They present themselves as angry and troubled individuals whose goals are limited to insulting and “bomb throwing.” For whatever reason (I’m no psychiatrist) they are uninterested in genuine dialogue, so responding to them is a waste of time.
Given the amount of time they spend spewing, it’s a good guess that they don’t have what the rest of us call “lives.”
I firmly believe that responding to such people is counterproductive; it simply draws otherwise reasonable people into whatever game they are playing.
The problem occurs when people who aren’t trolls, but who may have made their points in fairly antagonistic ways, enter the conversation. Readers lump those folks in with the trolls, assume that they are uninterested in real conversation, and thus don’t take what they perceive to be the bait.
This is precisely why civility is so important in this context. When dissenting opinions are offered in a civil fashion, it invites dialogue and engagement. Civility is especially important online, because online discussion doesn’t allow us to see body language or hear tone of voice–the cues that we get in other contexts that flesh out the sender’s intended message and help to prevent miscommunication. It’s really easy to be misunderstood on line (especially for people like me, who tend to be rather snarky), which is why it’s so important to frame our online communications with care, and to avoid sharing our passions in a manner that comes across as offensive or insulting.
If the perfectly appropriate response to trolls–ignoring them–puts a damper on the exchange of ideas between people genuinely interested in engaging in conversation, it may be understandable, but it’s a shame.