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Thursday, December 23, 2004
On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition
By Dr. Steven Taylor @ 3:15 pm

After having given her book a positive review earlier in the week, I hate to pick on Barbara O’Brien of MahaBlog, but in a post this morning she makes some claims that I think require discussion and scrutiny—and hopefully a worthwhile dialog can be established as result.

To be honest, my inspiration for writing this post (aside from the fact that I am avoiding some grading I need to do) is that her post is indicative of stuff I see all the time in the Blogosphere, i.e., wherein an ideological blog thinks its side is the nicer one, and the other side is just full of angry rubes who don’t deal in facts, but only diatribes and emotions.

Barbara makes a couple of claims that I think are over the top.

For example:

If you spend time cruising both sides of the blogosphere, IMO there is a marked difference in overall tone between right and left. There’s plenty of snarkiness all around, and it’s no secret that left and right don’t trust each other. But generally, leftie bloggers post about current events and explain (with reason and factual support) what the blogger likes or does not like about said events. And generally, rightie bloggers just spew out hate.

I find this to be grossly unfair and patently false (and, btw, I have seen righty blogs saying the same thing about lefty blogs—both “sides�? have a tendency to assume the best about their side and the worst about the other). No doubt one reads criticisms of one’s own views and that criticism seems angrier and meaner than things written by people with whom one agrees.

When I read Kos or Atrios, they often seem quite angry to me (if not mean), but I suspect that when Barbara reads them, she probably thinks they are being eminently fair. One has to recognize the lens through which one views such things.

Further, I would note that it really isn’t fair to state that lefty bloggers uses facts and reason and righty bloggers don’t. Quite frankly, most bloggers don’t use either as much as they think they do. And, for that matter, both sides use facts and reason that often appeal to their point of view.

Further, I would say that blogs that I would think fall into the “righty�? camp such at InstaPundit, Outside the Beltway, ProfessorBainbridge.com, and Signifying Nothing, do a good job of being both reasonable and non-angry.

Along the same line there are those in the “lefty�? camp who argue well, even if I don’t agree with them or find them annoying, sarcastic or even dead wrong at times, if not often. For example, I often read Kevin Drum, Brad DeLong, Mark A. R. Kleiman, among others, with whom I may not share ideological kinship, but who write intelligently on their blogs.

Along these lines, I just don’t get this statement:

The few rightie bloggers who manage a civil tone are still intellectually dishonest about it, dismissing any news story that violates their ideological sensitivities as “liberal bias.” Whether the facts presented in the story are or are not true is rarely a consideration.

This is simply painting with too broad a brush. Not only is this statement rather condescending in the sense that it is assumed only a handful of rightie bloggers can manage civility, it further slams those by accusing them, writ large, with intellectual dishonesty. Let me note for the record: it is possible for someone to be in disagreement with another person and have both parties operating with intellectual honesty. In other words: even if I am wrong, it doesn’t mean I am being intellectually dishonest.

Another point where I think Barbara is off the mark is here:

However, that’s not the kind of post rightie trolls leave. Rightie trolls leave posts that say you’re a liberal so you stink, except with more vulgarity. Rightie troll posts rarely come with reason or factual support. Usually rightie troll posts are nothing but gratuitous insult.

What I would say here is that if one strikes the word “rightie�? from the paragraph, and aim it just at trolls, then she has a point. The bottom line is that trolls are trolls, left, right, center, whatever. To state that only “rightie trolls�? are rude is to demonstrate that perhaps one hasn’t looked enough at the comments sections of other blogs. It is no doubt the case that if one has a right-leaning blog, one’s obnoxious trolls probably come from the left, and if one runs a left-leaning blogs, the obnoxious trolls are righties. Still, trolls are trolls, and from personal experience I can readily state that there are no ideological monopolies on rudeness or stupid comments.

As a generic point, I would note that citing Freepers as being a representative sample of conservatives is an disingenuous as saying that the Democratic Underground is representative of liberals. Both sides need to come to grips with the fact that there are obnoxious people on both sides of aisle.

I think that we all tend to get to isolated in our own little ideological worlds, especially in the current world of niche media. We all spend too much time reading columnists and blogs that agree with us, listening to radio that agrees with us and watching cable news shows that agree with us. As such, we find our own view reinforced, while the other side seems more and more foreign (and wrong). Perhaps the we should all take a trip on the other side of the aisle more frequently and try to view our own positions through alternative lenses. At a minimum, one will find that one is better able to defend one’s own positions if one knows how the other side will attack. And beyond that, it might actually cause us to actually think more deeply about our own views. Such a concept, yes?

Of course, when Barbara makes the following statement, intelligent debate becomes difficult:

The bald truth is that to be a Bush supporter means that you are (a) ignorant of what’s going on; (b) suffering massive cognitive dissonance; or (c) are a soulless sociopathic bastard.

She certainly has the right to subscribe to such a position, but really, this is hardly helpful, constructive, or true. This is simple demonization which does nothing to further intellectual discourse.

She continues:

I postulate that rightiness (as opposed to actual political conservatism, which is something else entirely) is less an ideology than a pathology, bordering on sociopathy. Those who don’t tidily conform to their world view are not human beings, in their minds. Democrats, liberals, neighborhood children who might be electrocuted, the poor, and often minorities -are not human beings. Just caricatures. They don’t bleed. They don’t think. They don’t have souls, or mothers. Therefore, it’s easy for righties to suggest that killing a few of these vermin might be a good thing, and no twinge of conscienceness stops them. This is sociopathy on its face.

Well, I shan’t argue the point, if her definition is correct (which I dispute). However, I am unaware of any substantial number of persons who believe such things. Oddly, by describing “righties�? in such a way, Barbara is engaging in the same kind of dehumanizing sociopathic classification of her fellow citizen that she is accusing “righties” of doing. Really, if these people (i.e., “righties”/”Bush supporters”) really think this way, why take them seriously? Why treat them as fellow citizens who ought to be treated with any modicum of respect?

Perhaps I am missing her definition of “righties�? but since it seems to encompass “Bush supporters�? I am at a loss to construct a particularly narrow definition.

Bloggers such as Stephen Green, Dean Esmay, James Joyner, Betsy Newmark, Glenn Reynolds, Sean Hackbarth, Ann Althouse, and myself (to list a few) are all definable as “Bush supporters�? to one degree or another, yet I don’t think any of us are sociopaths.

Now, I will readily grant, there are some hateful, angry blogs out there, but they are on the right and the left-anger and hate are non-ideological, equal opportunity nouns.

I think she needs to rethink her position on this topic.

She concludes her post stating that she respects “conservative opinion,” but not sociopathy. Let me join her is condemning the sociopathic, but I am vexed as to her exact definition of “conservative opinion�? and to degree to which she sincerely respects it (since at one place she links it to intellectual dishonesty and seems to link it to sociopathic thought processes elsewhere). And, of course, I dispute her broad-brushing large swaths of Americans as sociopathic.

At any rate, I offer up this post as the basis for discussion with Barbara and anyone else who wishes to get into the act—all in the spirit of classic liberal discourse.

Generically, it seems that there is a cautionary tale here for all of us in the way in which we view our ideological rivals.

Filed under: US Politics, Political Philosophy/ Theory, Blogging | |Send TrackBack

Flight Pundit linked with Know thy enemy
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QandO linked with
Centerfield linked with Which Blogs Hate More?
dougpetch.com linked with More Than A Million Weblogs
The Myopist linked with Jeebus, not another Sweeping Generalization.
Signifying Nothing linked with Right-wing sociopaths
Signifying Nothing linked with Clarifications and amplifications
The Moderate Voice linked with BLOGGING: Which Shows More Hate? The Left Or The Right Blogs?
Dean's World linked with On Communicating With Intellectual Rivals
PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » The Rebranding of a Blog linked with [...] From 12/23/04: On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition [...]
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » For Want of Reasonable Dialogue linked with [...] erm “wingnut"-which struck me as unnecessary). I share this lament (as I have noted here and here-the second post being more indicative of my general disappointment as I wrote it [...]
PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Dealing with Ideological Rivals linked with [...] vals By Steven Taylor @ 1:16 pm On Christmas Eve Eve, I posted a lengthy piece entitled On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition. The inspiration of my post was a piece on Barbara O’Br [...]
Whispers in the airstreams » arguing about who is worse linked with [...] they can apply to demonstrate thier point. [referring to ] Steven Taylor, aka Poliblogger dealing with intellectual rivals … Taylor wrote his piece after reading this post by blogger Ba [...]

29 Comments »

  1. Now who is being intellectually dishonest… or plain dishonest for that matter?

    Barbara tolled her own blog.

    Comment by thalios — Thursday, December 23, 2004 @ 7:45 pm

  2. “The bald truth is that to be a Bush supporter means that you are (a) ignorant of what’s going on; (b) suffering massive cognitive dissonance; or © are a soulless sociopathic bastard.”

    Ah, let the healing begin.

    So that’s an example of a nice, reasonable person in her mind?

    Comment by Steven L — Thursday, December 23, 2004 @ 9:34 pm

  3. I try to make it a point not to publicly attack other bloggers. It never does any good. I make the rare exception for someone I think has attacked me unfairly, but usually not even then.

    Still. How anyone can look at a hate-filled sewer like Daily Kos or a vile fascist propagandist like Michael Moore and then suggest that the right has cornered the market on nasty and thoughtless people I’ll never know.

    It’s a divide all right. How serious it is I don’t know; I sense that most everyday people aren’t part of these kinds of squabbles.

    Comment by Dean Esmay — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 3:10 am

  4. By the way, I would have to guess that she respects the Llew Rockwell folks — who I think of as rather unhinged myself — mostly because they opposed the liberation of Iraq from fascist tyranny.

    That would just be my guess, since most on the left seem to have opposed that liberation, and to consider that the rational position and anyone who disagrees to be irrational. From what I’ve seen, anyway.

    Comment by Dean Esmay — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 3:12 am

  5. On Communicating With Intellectual Rivals
    Steven L. Taylor has an interesting piece on communicating with your intellectual rivals. It’s written in response to a

    Trackback by Dean's World — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 6:20 am

  6. On Communicating With Intellectual Rivals
    Steven L. Taylor has an interesting piece on communicating with your intellectual rivals. It’s written in response to a

    Trackback by Dean's World — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 6:20 am

  7. Certainly attack wasn’t my objective, and I hope that my post wasn’t seen as such. In fact, I thouht i was pretty mild in my criticism. I was hoping for dialog on this point, but Barbara has declined to engage in a conversation.

    One would like to think that a little reasonable dialog could help dispell some of her more egregious beliefs on this subject (her, and her readers). Alas, it appears not to be.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 11:02 am

  8. She doesn’t want to discuss it on her blog either.

    Yours,
    Wince

    Comment by Wince and Nod — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 5:30 pm

  9. I left one (polite) comment and was attacked afterwards. When I tried to buttress my opinion - mostly with quotes from Maha herself - my comments were deleted. Now I am banned from her site!

    I used no profanity - no insults … just quiet and calm - but differing views from those of Ms. Maha.

    She may call herself a liberal. But her behavior is about as un-liberal as it gets!

    Comment by Peg K — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 10:25 pm

  10. Let me float one idea: What if a person on the left, say, only read the reasonable left-leaning blogs w/o reading the hate-spewing left-leaning blogs, and only read the hate-spewing right-wing blogs, w/o reading the reasonable right-wing blogs?

    Wouldn’t such a person reinforce the previously drawn conclusion that the left is reasonable, while the right is full of hate?

    -|PW|-

    Comment by pennywit — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 11:19 pm

  11. Peg-That is unfortunate.

    PW-Indeed, this was my guess. Part of the poitn of my post was to open dialog and hopefully do so in a contructive fashion. Since I felt that she was fairly balanced in her book that she would be open to such a dialog. It would appear that I was mistaken.

    Comment by Steven Taylor — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 11:27 pm

  12. BLOGGING: Which Shows More Hate? The Left Or The Right Blogs?
    It’s highly fitting that political scientist Steven Taylor, aka Poliblogger, should take up the issue of dealing with intellectual rivals — in other words, the right blogs’ treatment of the left blogs and the left blogs’ treatment of the

    Trackback by The Moderate Voice — Friday, December 24, 2004 @ 11:29 pm

  13. Penny - yes, one could get that impression.

    Which is, in my opinion, why it is so important to be willing to listen to a variety of different viewpoints and to allow others to have their say. Particulary when an individual isn’t being hateful and nasty, that person should be given a voice.

    Though I disagree with a number of their political views, I have dear friends who consider themselves significantly left of center. Anyone who rants about one side or the other having a lock on unfortunate qualities is either ignorant, dishonest, stupid - or, all of the above!

    Comment by Peg K — Saturday, December 25, 2004 @ 12:19 am

  14. Clarifications and amplifications
    Alan Henderson has generously added us to his blogroll, but thinks I’m an “evil law prof�?; actually, I’m an evil political science prof who teaches con law because the other evil political science prof has better things to do, and…

    Trackback by Signifying Nothing — Saturday, December 25, 2004 @ 12:28 am

  15. Right-wing sociopaths
    If you begin your discourse with the notion that your political opponents are sociopaths, you’re not off to a good start. Apparently Barbara O’Brien does precisely that. Steven Taylor provides a good response to her claim that people on the…

    Trackback by Signifying Nothing — Saturday, December 25, 2004 @ 3:06 am

  16. Jeebus, not another Sweeping Generalization.
    Steven Taylor, being a big softy and everything, was rather kind to a recent Barbara O’Brien post that exhibited Typical Internet Mistake #00005-01-B(L). Actually, you do know that one.

    Trackback by The Myopist — Saturday, December 25, 2004 @ 7:33 pm

  17. More Than A Million Weblogs
    The day starts with an important post by Joe Gandleman, in which he explores the left/right dichotomy in the blogosphere. He, like I, was especially taken by the following quote from a post by Steven Taylor I think that we…

    Trackback by dougpetch.com — Sunday, December 26, 2004 @ 4:20 am

  18. More Than A Million Weblogs
    The day starts with an important post by Joe Gandleman, in which he explores the left/right dichotomy in the blogosphere. He, like I, was especially taken by the following quote from a post by Steven Taylor I think that we…

    Trackback by dougpetch.com — Sunday, December 26, 2004 @ 5:32 am

  19. I have an idea. Why don’t we all stop reading Ms. Maha’s nonsense?

    Comment by Warrior — Sunday, December 26, 2004 @ 9:10 am

  20. Which Blogs Hate More?
    The Moderate Voice has a terrific post building on a thread started by Poliblog. Are lefty blogs nicer than righty blogs, as suggested by Mahablog? In general, I think the answer is no, though because there are more conservative blogs,…

    Trackback by Centerfield — Sunday, December 26, 2004 @ 5:10 pm

  21. […] they can apply to demonstrate thier point. [referring to ] Steven Taylor, aka Poliblogger dealing with intellectual rivals … Taylor wrote his piece after reading this post by blogger Ba […]

    Pingback by Whispers in the airstreams » arguing about who is worse — Sunday, December 26, 2004 @ 8:48 pm

  22. From the article over at moderate Voice, and your comments here. You touched on something I dicussed w/ my wife the day after the election. All I saw was vitriolic hate for the other side (from both sides of course). It has become deafening at times. I’m glad a blogger finally brought this up. No one in the mainstream media seems to care about it.

    Comment by vwgolftx — Monday, December 27, 2004 @ 1:33 pm


  23. Belatedly following on the heels of excellent commentary by Poliblogger and The Moderate

    Trackback by QandO — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 12:49 pm

  24. Greetings from the man who inadvertently started the hatefest. I had originally posted an article on why the big liberal bloggers were elitist which was picked up by pandagon.net. Unfortunately, the issue was quickly hijacked by the “I hate Instapundit” hatefest, led by Atrios. That was NOT the original point and I wish to disassociate myself from it. Look here for my opinion on that and your own sensible comments on the hatefest.

    Regards, Cernig

    Comment by Cernig — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 4:22 pm

  25. […] vals
    By Steven Taylor @ 1:16 pm
    On Christmas Eve Eve, I posted a lengthy piece entitled On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition. The inspiration of my post was a piece on Barbara O’Br […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » More on Dealing with Ideological Rivals — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 7:16 pm

  26. Earthquare? Tsunami? Blame the U.S.
    Didn’t you know this was coming…. Tsunami Outrage - USGS Earthquake Monitors Failed To Warn SE Asia Of Impending Tidal Waves Medford, Oregon - Tsunami - Tidal Wave - Indonesia - The USA has the most sophisticated earthquake monitoring system…

    Trackback by Wizbang — Tuesday, December 28, 2004 @ 10:32 pm

  27. Know thy enemy
    Steven Taylor has a great post talking about the left/right debate.
    He quotes Barbara O’Brien who wrote this “Blogging America: Political Discourse in a Digital Nation”

    Steven had a positive review on her book (above) then seen her blog posts (O…

    Trackback by Flight Pundit — Thursday, December 30, 2004 @ 12:31 am

  28. […] erm “wingnut”-which struck me as unnecessary). I share this lament (as I have noted here and here-the second post being more indicative of my general disappointment as I wrote it […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: Politics is the Master Science » For Want of Reasonable Dialogue — Tuesday, February 1, 2005 @ 4:36 pm

  29. […] From 12/23/04: On Talking to (and Viewing) the Opposition […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » The Rebranding of a Blog — Tuesday, October 17, 2006 @ 3:11 pm

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