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As Long as We Remember...

June 2, 2008

The Age of Online Animosity

Steven R. Berryman

The more that I follow the divisive issues of our day, the more I feel we are in “The Age of Online Animosity.” Righteous indignity is having a field day, and there is far more posturing than productive discourse floating about. This is especially evident on the Internet.


Progressive management training has taught me that bringing forth a problem or issue for resolution must be accompanied always by a potential solution in order to be productive to the process of solving the problem.


Troublemakers can thusly be filtered out, at least in a professional environment.


Otherwise, as managers or editors for that matter, we simply enable complainers and whiners!


Debate is not meant to include the indignities of personal ad homonym attacks as we attack the messenger. This is why – in a debating society contest – there are no points assigned to malevolence without purpose.


In addition to the above, the wise man knows that the personal attacks are inevitably evidence of having a weak argument from the side of the attacker.


The demonization and “attacking the messenger” as opposed to the position or issue is as easy to find as opening your paper or web browser.


Just ask ex-White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan if his reputation has improved since pushing his new tell-all about President George W. Bush. Too bad there was little new or newsy in this instance! Hope the book sells.


But at what cost?


Just ask anyone coming out against illegal immigration! First you are labeled anti-immigrant (as opposed to anti-illegal immigration), and then it “metamorphs” into intolerance to diversity, through racism.


There are even industry standard formulas to dispose of the opposition, replete with talking points evident on talk shows including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and the most immature Laura Ingraham. This last, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, still calls names! Michael Savage defies description here.


The temptations to take advantage of easy access to a topical conversation are manifest now. Blogging on the Internet is free, and open for all to view. Online comments that follow specific columns are available to focus on single subjects…but tend to go awry after about 20 comments, at least locally!


Forums online also offer the promise of being heard. And all of the above is searchable by Google on top of that.


And that doesn’t even include radio show call-ins! You can be heard.


Commenters can comment. They can comment on-topic or on other commenters themselves! I’ve even seen it go to the third level removed as well…truly lost threads of thought!


And the commenting animosity can be just as discreetly anonymous as one wants it to be. A full disguise is afforded by the new media opportunities, allowing verbal sniping from full cover.


No risk can become no self-control for those not on the record by name.


Amateur commentators become fully emboldened to offer fringe views under these circumstances now. Saying anything, however barbarous, is virtually encouraged with the foreknowledge that nobody knows who you are.


Show me a comment with a name attached, and I’ll show you courage of conviction! And the reverse is also true.


It is a fundamental human tendency to want to believe what we ourselves believe, down to a per-issue level. It is also the human condition to want to believe in and to support those that agree with us. We want to be agreed with, darn-it!


The problem is that it is far easier to identify a problem than it is to solve it. Far too many of us stop short here. By fully stating and describing a “problem,” we can start to encapsulate it for latter dissection. Most don’t follow up all the way to do this part.


In the end, the battle is between “tell me what I want to hear” and “open mindedness.”


The former is typical. The latter can be painful, especially the more we age!


With age comes maturity, but also some obscurity. For security!


The Age of Animosity; don’t let it become the age of anonymity!


Be on the record, or be nice.


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