COLUMN: A Commentary Lapse of Reason

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

<em>“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”</em>

—George Orwell, from his book “1984”.

74 comments. Wow! In my column last week entitled “I hate BYU”, I currently have 74 comments attached to the bottom of the column. That well may be twice as many comments as have been posted in every other column I have ever produced for CacheValleyDaily.com combined.

Most of the comments came from BYU fans (apologists?). As you can imagine just from the title of my column, those fans were not terribly happy with me. Most of those comments tried to psychologically dissect me. Some condemned me for using the word hate. One commenter claimed the Mormon church has over 50 million members—that person needs to be heavily medicated.

In the year that I have penned this column, I have discussed from time to time some of the most important issues facing America and the world at large. I have opined on history and our place in it. I have taken controversial stands on social issues. I have discussed the philosophy of gods and religion. But, what in the end finally got readers to tear a swath into the comment section? BYU football.

Priorities, man.

I will say that most of the comments were civil. Good luck finding that in comment sections of other news sites. On this note, I consider myself lucky. It most decidedly could have been worse.

And that is where the current states of commentary and criticism reside in the American dialogue. It is not a dialogue at all. It is a monologue of unsubstantiated, ill-informed and ignorant absolutes.

It is almost too easy. You read a column or an article on a news site and there below is a place where you may comment on the story. Some of these sites require a strong verification of who you are. Most, including CVD, do not. We are all just a fake email address and a cute pen name away from publishing anything we want on the Internet.

Oh! What brave souls are these that can call someone names through a computer screen? And how fortunate are they that the Internet exists so that they may show the full bore of the intellectual breadth?

If you allow a person an avenue to be bad, they will travel it freely. If you allow the ignorant a forum, you will have a forum filled with ignorance.

These are not profound statements on my part. Yet, news sites still allow for the worst of us to have such forums to spew comments so inane and benighted that I personally feel dirty reading them. And that leads to a simple question that has had no sensible answer manifest itself so far.

Why do news sites allow it?

Consider if you will a man who sees a woman’s social networking web page. She is attractive to him. So, with gentlemanly conduct, he sends her a message asking her out on a date. She might say yes or no based on her desire to spend time with the man. Or, she may not even give the message any thought because previous messages from other men were more lewd and vulgar.

Rejection is easier to withstand when you lack the third dimension. Criticism for deliberately ignorant comments is cleansed away when you do not have an objection raised directly towards you. The courage of one’s convictions is non-existent under the guise of a sock puppet.

This is how we as a society speak to each other. When we are all dead and buried, future generations will remember us unfondly as the The Era of Relentless Snark.

I fully admit my own culpability towards this breakdown of civilized conversation. I am an avid fan and user of that mechanism where brevitous sarcasm has replaced thoughtfulness: Twitter.

If used only to gather news from various sources, Twitter is an amazing tool. When wielded like a rapier to pierce the souls of celebrities and athletes, it is the death of language. I am often guilty of this. I like to hurl pointed, witty barbs at famous people. I am pretty funny.

But Twitter is a minor annoyance next to the pusy, festering disease that is comment sections on news sites. Oh, other sites such as YouTube also have hideous trolls who post terrible things—but, they have no standards of decency. Newspapers should know better. But they don’t.

Anonymity and pseudonyms were once used to bring forth great ideas. During the debate regarding the United States Constitution Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay helped sway the skeptical towards ratification writing under the name Publius.

In the 20th Century, many writers who were blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Commission for communist ties had their plays and screenplays produced under nom de plumes. And in that vein, history is filled with women who used masculine pen names in order to have their works published.

How far have we digressed?

I am an ardent supporter of free speech. I believe that attempts to prevent or curtail what is now called “hate speech” are wrong. When you ban things, they become more popular and much more potent to an impressionable mind. I believe that ridicule is an essential part of language. This is not my argument.

The vessel by which the lowest amongst us can spew their bile does not have to be so readily provided. Those news sites whose mission it is to inform the populace should not provide a haven where the dregs may continue to spread their toxic ignorance without naming names.

You might not like my opinion, but you know it is mine. You can name the man you disagree with. And I am responsible for those words. I gladly take that responsibility as my own. Try doing that with those who hide like rats in the dark cellar that we refer to as the comment section.

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