The problem with political discourse.

It’s not easy to blog regularly. I try to post as often as I can, but many times I find myself having to really work to make my blog posts worth reading. It takes a lot of time to compose a thoughtful post about an issue, and I often am pressed for time. I often wonder how those who keep active blogs for many years manage to do it.

One theory is that they’re smarter than me, and this is at least part of the reason, I am sure. But even so, maintaining an active blog, filled with cogent, thoughtful analysis of current issues is very hard. More than once, I’ve resorted to posting a link to some story and throwing in a brief wisecrack of my own.

That’s all very well, as far as it goes, and I have no plans to abandon the practice. But to try to do the more in-depth analysis that I’d prefer to do takes a long time. If you’re really going to examine an issue thoroughly, you want to do your research. And you want it to be something that not many people have said before. It takes work to do that kind of thing.

The reason I bring all this up is not to guilt trip you into leaving comments about how much you appreciate the lengths I go to in the hopes of giving you interesting information. I bring it up because I want to demonstrate that running a blog that comments on politics and analyze issues without just mocking one side or the other all the time is hard.

In fairness, it’s hard to run a purely partisan blog as well. But not for the same reasons. A purely partisan blogger knows what they’ve got to say; it’s all just a question of how to say it most persuasively. A challenge, no doubt, but a very different one than that faced by someone who is trying to get outside of this framework.

A lot of people blame the internet for the rise in “partisanship”, using the word in a rather colloquial sense of “someone who forcefully supports a cause.” But there is nothing inherently wrong with this. I myself am probably a partisan when it comes to, say, ending the war on drugs. I am not complaining about partisanship per se, but rather about the unthinking nature of these partisans. By this I mean the tendency of political blogs to not engage in conflict with the other side.

I know this sounds bizarre but, for all their insults and mockery of each other, liberal and conservative blogs don’t actually argue about their core philosophies much at all. They mostly just write posts attacking the other side for things that they have done. Then, when the trolls show up, the trading of insults begins.

Here it is necessary to say that mockery and insults are not the problem, but a symptom. A lot of people complain about the “lack of civility”, “the hurling of insults”, the comparisons to Nazis–which I myself complain about, but it’s a different problem–that goes on in internet debates. But, while these are annoying, they are not actually the problem. I don’t care if liberals and conservatives insult each other, but it would be better if they did so always with their respective reasons for insulting their opponent explicitly stated.

It’s commonly said that liberals and conservatives ought to listen to each others ideas, be respectful, and try to reach compromises and understanding. The people who say this are the ones who most often bemoan the lack of civility. That’s largely a naive and simplistic view of the issue. You can’t expect liberals and conservatives to compromise–their philosophies are wholly at odds with one another. The problem with insults isn’t that they’re mean; it’s that they can easily be used to cover up a lack of understanding of what you are actually fighting for.

And it’s this which makes me concerned about discourse: the very ease with which one succumbs to the temptation to merely insult the opponent, rather than to explain to him your own position. There is no wrong in hating your political opponent–if his philosophy is so opposed to yours, you basically have to–but there is grave danger in allowing hatred of the opponent to be your philosophy.

What's your stake in this, cowboy?