14 February 2011

The internet flattens distinction.

If you ever want to get depressed about the state of the world, spend some time reading comments on articles on the internet. Now on your regular sites like CNN, you expect a certain amount of stupidity, because most of the people commenting there are stupid. Sorry, but they are. They couldn't think through anything more complicated than a value-meal menu at a drive-thru.

You can call it smug elitism if you want, but when Glenn Beck is a highly-rated talk show host and best-selling author, I'd call it something closer to the truth.

On your more esoteric sites, like the Chronicle of Higher Education, you might expect the comments to be more thought-through. However, you'd be horribly, horribly wrong. The magic of the internet is that a mere link can join us together, and so it takes only a small piece of html code to direct knuckle-dragging half-literate asshats, whose main connection to higher education is that they once went to a party at the college where their second cousin was enrolled, to the Chronicle of Higher Education articles and comments.

Take the recent article on Francis Fox Piven, the professor of political science and sociology whose currently in Glenn Beck's rhetorical doghouse. The article went up on February 10th and comments are now closed, I suspect in part because of the absolutely useless nature of the "dialogue" that the 75 comments represent.

From these comments, I have "learned" the following:

1. Piven is really the bad person here, because she advocates violence. Apparently, calling for mass mobilization is advocating violence because her examples, like the Greek anti-austerity protests, have resulted in violence. In other words, if violence is a possibility, or if violence has ever occurred as the result of mass mobilization and civil disobedience, then you are an advocate for violence, which pretty much makes every single mass movement a violent movement.

2. If someone uses a word in their organization's name, then they must adhere to the meaning of that word. Since Beck is so prone to bringing up Hitler, it was only a matter of time before the name of the Great Evil One was evoked in the comment section, which led to the incredible claim that Hitler was in fact of the Left. Here, "physicsprof" supplies the analogy, while throwing in a little dig at the social sciences:
The difference between Newtonian mechanics and political science is that the former is an exact science while the latter is open to interpretation (=BS). Surely the left would like to disown Lenin and Hitler and would readily twist the evidence, but the facts are simple, both parties had exactly the same name (NSDRP vs NSDAP, with R and A standing for the same word, labor, written in Russian and German) and carbon-copied programs. [comment 36]
Ah, so their acronyms are very similar and in fact the words based on the acronyms are similar. I see. Apparently, to disown Hitler, the Left has to twist evidence. Evidence like Hitler taking over the NSDAP and removing or killing any of the actual socialists involved in the party or maybe evidence like Hitler imprisoning or killing leaders of socialist and communist parties. But it's all in the name...you see, the Nazis really were Leftists because they used "Socialist" and "Workers" in their name. In much the same way, the German Democratic Republic was in fact a democratic republic.

3. It's often best simply to repeat what someone says and act like you've made a point:
Beck lacks much in the way of common sense, but acknowledging his past and background it makes sense. He can be thankful that he lives in a democracy that allows him to spout off his stupidity. [comment 67]

(followed by...)
Fox Piven lacks much in the way of common sense, but acknowledging her past and background it make sense. She can be thankful that she lives in a democracy that allows her to spout off her stupidity.

Too easy. [comment 69]
Well, of course it's too easy to let someone else do your thinking for you. We call it plagiarism in my freshman English courses. However, I'm not blind to the underlying point #69 was trying to make, but trying to make a point and actually making one are two different things. Beck is a moron with very little understanding of history, and what he does know proves the maxim that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. He consistently fails to account for changing contexts, cannot understand that a multitude of factors impact events and actions, and is prone to equating nearly everything with Hitler. It's easy to make #67's statement about Beck; it's not so easy to see it applicable to Piven.

Besides, repetition is a tactic often employed by my five year old against my ten year old. It's effective largely because it posits no position and is irritating much in the same way that a poorly wiped anus becomes irritating.

Now one of the real lessons that should come out of all of this perusing the comment board at CHE is that many commenters have no actual association or familiarity with higher education. They may have graduated from college, but they certainly don't know anything about the professional culture of universities or the academic culture of departments and disciplines. One moron even spoke of the "simple French philosophers." I'd like him or her to point me to that one, because I have yet to read a French philosopher who was "simple" in any use of the word (although right wing -- and even analytic philosophy's -- caricatures of figures such as Derrida for instance would make his work appear simple-headed...but that comes from not reading very carefully or not at all).

So they are trolls. They have no interest in higher education other than to see it cohere to a lockstep point of view (something they accuse the Left of doing...because the Left apparently is so well organized) in which their history of America is the only valid history. It can be summed up in a statement made by Rick Santorum at the recent CPAC get-together that America is perfect (which if you think about it is quite a proud statement from one who supposedly believes in the concept of Original Sin and we are all sinners etc.). To point out areas where the U.S. perhaps made errors or didn't live up to its promises is to of course hate America. Although, the best response to Santorum's statement might be to ask, "If America is so perfect, why are you so angry with it?"

For these souls, history was given. It wasn't a site of contestation, but sprung fully-formed from the head of Reagan. Or Goldwater. At any rate, for these people living in the eternal present, America is perfect because we no longer have slavery and we no longer allow children to work the mills, etc., and forty years from now, these same hate-filled bigots -- having learned the same lesson their present day counterparts have learned about race -- will stand in front of crowds and talk about how perfect America is because we no longer condone the lynching of homosexuals.

This post is already very long, but just imagine another few paragraphs on the interesting rhetorical moves that the Right employs to turn their hatred and intolerance back at the Left. It generally goes along the lines of "every voice is equal," thereby employing the rhetoric of equality to suggest for instance that repeated studies and the considered weight of scientific research and opinion is equal to Glenn Beck saying "no it's not" on the subject of climate change, or in this case to suggest that somehow there's a level of equality between the academic and intellectual credentials of Noam Chomsky and Rush Limbaugh. Where do you even start with such ridiculous assertions?

No comments: