Silly Chickens and Rotten Eggs

The foolishness of political debate in America has discouraged me from writing this column, but I have decided to come out of semi-retirement to ask this chicken-and-egg question: Which came first in America, the narcissistic obsession with personal trivia or the blogosphere? In other words, did Internet blogging reduce the mentality of young Americans to the level of mind-numbing chatter about what they had for breakfast or what they think about Obama or did blogging only give an opportunity for the already brain-dead to talk about themselves?

I suppose I know, already, that the second answer is the correct one. I’ve spent the past 30 years, at parties, conferences, rides on the O’Hare shuttle bus, and coffee hour after church, listening to strangers tell me about the wonders of their RV, their vacations in Disney World, their opinions on pop music, and their political prejudices. Beware of the Republicans, who are plotting to enslave American workers; beware of the Clintons, who are plotting to make themselves dictators. What are most political blogs but cellphone conversations overheard on the runway before the plane takes off. The good thing about blogs–including this one–is that you don’t have to read them, but when the bloggers are shouting into their telephone or cornering you at coffee, they are impossible to escape.

These thoughts were triggered once again by reading the write-backs to a recent Tom Piatak column on my friend Taki’s website. Piatak had taken John Derbyshire, whom he mostly respects, to task for his rather naive defense of Voltaire. He’s in for it now, I thought, and then went on to read one or two or even three polite and thoughtful responses that were virtually buried in the “I like Voltaire because he’ s X, Y, or Z.” Since Tom had already quoted me on the subject of Voltaire, it would have been questionable manners to write in a rebuttal of his critics. Besides, answering the blog-responders is like arguing with a retarded child who thinks breaking wind is a witty response.

I described the blogger mentality as a form of Narcissism, but even that is a compliment. Narcissus was so handsome that he fell in love with his own reflection. The proper parallel would be the writers and political intellectuals who are so brilliant and clever that they have fallen in love with their own voices, but bloggers are like a hideously ugly person who looks in the mirror and says: “The rat’s looking good.” [Note, I have to check the quotation from the recent film of Charlotte’s Web, which I watched on a flight to Rome.]

There should be a place for casual, informal conversation on such topics as Voltaire’s malign influence on the Western mind, Abraham Lincoln’s or Woodrow Wilson’s political legacy, the enduring results of WW II, the role of Catholics or Southerners in “conservative” politics, but if we took the trouble to start a conversation, the blogospheroids would jump in, agreeing or disagreeing–it hardly matters–with opinions by the truckload. This might not be so bad, if the truck were not a garbage truck.

Even otherwise intelligent conservative scholars, once they enter the Blogosphere, appear to lose all sense of discretion and regard for facts. In the past few months I have come upon the most amazing assertions about Catholic social teachings or the Southern political tradition, sometimes written by people who should know better, people I had once regarded as friends and colleagues. Inevitably, their unsupported generalizations are seconded, thirded, and fourthed by a chorus of ignorant yokels, whose only weapon is a consequentialist argument hard to distinguish from the post hoc fallacy stated as an enthymeme with an undistributed middle. Southerners tended to back entrance into WWI, while Bryan was from Illinois, ergo…. Ergo what? Bryan’s family were Southern, while Pitchfork Ben Tillman made an alliance with La Follette. Like the South, hate the South–I could scarcely care less. But whatever your opinion is, you can keep it to yourself, if you have no argument better than a temporary whim or a bad bucket of KFC.

There is a lot of conservative chatter out in the blogosphere. Much of it can be reduced to Rodney King’s question: “Why can’t we all just get along.” Unfortunately, most of these would-be peace-makers, drunk on their own ungrammatical effusions, have made themselves appear as stupid as Rodney King–and just as troublesome and even harder to repress. They spend their time lambasting “Paleos,” Catholics, Southerners, and even all Christians, wihtout knowing the first thing about “paleoconservatism,” Christianity, or the South. Then they wonder why they cannot build a coalition. I had hoped, by beginning a serious dialogue on the early Church, Protestants and Catholics might begin to find some common ground. In fact, that is exactly what has happened. Can we develop the same common ground on more political topics? Why not? Where do we begin?

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