All Is Not Well in the Comment Stream (The Second and Final Part)
One last thing and then I’m moving on. I’m currently rereading The Collected Poems of Barbara Guest, and having a good time. I should be posting a poem or two from it. I will tomorrow. But I want to clarify an aspect of my post from yesterday. In the post, I mentioned that:
“We often set up a situation when we post where the response is going to be hostile or abusive.”
And then I went on to talk about hyperbole. I forgot to mention something that is more common than hyperbole, so I want to clarify.
I believe civility starts at home, in the post itself. If a post on a blog, or in the comment stream, by the author of that blog, resorts to name-calling, then the response stands a good chance of going, as they say, nuclear.
One of the criticisms of Silliman’s blog, is that occasionally he would use analogies that were out of line, which inflamed discussion, and while I’m not going to go searching his blog for examples, I did find several examples from blogs this week of posts that contain elements of the sort that inflames discourse:
Jessica Smith: “Let’s keep in mind, however, that most of Silliman’s usual suspects are simply (and possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths and that there’s no real point in engaging with them or acknowledging their (usually insipid and underinformed) claims.”
First off, I want to make it clear that my sympathies are with Smith, but when I came across that sentence in her post, I saw how, rather than helping things, this was going to fan the flames. What is gained by such things?
In the same way, Jennifer L. Knox, with whom I’m also sympathetic, writes, about Comment Field Bullies: “trashing the joint like rednecks at a state park: Carving their names into trees, kicking empty beer bottles in the lake, tossing Aquanet cans in the camp fire, and hollering loud enough to scare the animals away. They’re exactly the kind of Yahoos I want to avoid . . .”
These sorts of name-calling and class (and mental health) comments set the stage for Comment Field Bullies. We do this unintentionally. It’s part of our culture to talk this way, to be witty and have a snappy comeback.
Lynn Behrendt writes, in her lament about how Silliman’s comment stream went: “And I wish that all the intelligent, kind, well-read poets who care more about poetics than their own dicks, agendas & axes to grind had spoken up more, too.”
Why does she feel the need to add “dicks” to an otherwise gender neutral and reasonable sentence? What are the assumptions here? “(possibly clinically) narcissistic sociopaths” . . . “trashing the joint like rednecks at a state park” . . . who [to paraphrase] care more about their own dicks than poetics.
I want to be clear that my sympathies are with Silliman, Smith, Knox, and Behrendt, and not with those they are criticizing. I just want to draw attention to the fact that the problem isn’t simply one of the comment stream being out of hand. Our whole level of discourse is out of hand in the same way that political discourse is out of hand these days. If you think there’s something, as the Pathologos blog asks: “are poets too stupid and immature to handle civilized dialogue? i still hope not, but that is what this seems to suggest,” then check out the posts and comment streams of newspaper articles and editorials.