Monday, July 7, 2003

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Virginia Postrel wants to steal the blogosphere's bread and butter

In this post on the disturbing tendency of commentators to escalate the rhetorical arms race as a way of capturing attention, Postrel concludes:

There is only one (partial) solution to this "impoverish[ment] of our political discourse." Just say no to reviews of and columns on stupid books. Discuss something more interesting. Easy advice to give. Hard to follow.

No kidding. What percentage of blogposts are denunciations of some blowhard on the political extremes?

Postrel's motivation for the post comes from this Andrew Sullivan comment on Ann Coulter:

In the ever-competitive marketplace of political ideas - in a world of blogs and talk radio and cable news - it's increasingly hard to stand out. Coulter's answer to that dilemma is two-fold: look amazing and ratchet up the rhetoric against the left until it has the subtlety and nuance of a car alarm. The left, in turn, has learned the lesson, which is why the fraud and dissembler, Michael Moore, has done so well.

It's worth pointing out that John Stuart Mill anticipated this problem in On Liberty, but believed it to be the lesser evil:

I do not pretend that the most unlimited use of the freedom of enunciating all possible opinions would put an end to the evils of religious or philosophical sectarianism. Every truth which men of narrow capacity are in earnest about, is sure to be asserted, inculcated, and in many ways even acted on, as if no other truth existed in the world, or at all events none that could limit or qualify the first. I acknowledge that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion, but is often heightened and exacerbated thereby; the truth which ought to have been, but was not, seen, being rejected all the more violently because proclaimed by persons regarded as opponents. But it is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect. Not the violent conflict between parts of the truth, but the quiet suppression of half of it, is the formidable evil; there is always hope when people are forced to listen to both sides; it is when they attend only to one that errors harden into prejudices, and truth itself ceases to have the effect of truth, by being exaggerated into falsehood.


posted by Dan on 07.07.03 at 10:45 AM