To Post or Not To Post
In the comments section to that most recent entry, Jim Valliant raises the issue of "boycotts" and a reader named "Cato" addresses the subject of SOLO HQ. Valliant suggests that even the most tolerant among us might become "intolerant" at some point, and that exercising our right to boycott is simply an extension of the necessity of drawing lines and boundaries.
In truth, of course, as every economist reminds us, there is not a single person on earth who does not discriminate. Lindsay Perigo, founder of SOLO, has often taken to calling me "Her Royal Whoreness," because he found my capacity to "mix it up" on so many diverse forums to be quite promiscuous. But even this ol' whore has learned over time that there is a virtue in not participating in forums where my practice of civility and tolerance are used against me. As I suggested in my previous post, I still try to take the high road even among those who insist on the sewer, but I withdraw from discussion much more swiftly nowadays; I am willing to thrash out ideas and to debate issues vigorously. I am not willing to be anybody's punching bag. And I will not sanction discussions that revolve around personal attacks.
Clearly, this leaves a lot of room for debate. And I'm willing to engage a very wide diversity of opinion. As a founding co-editor of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, I encourage vigorous discussion among contributors who come from many different schools of thought. Heck, my aesthetic tastes alone should suggest the breadth of my eclecticism and of my willingness to put personal and ideological differences aside for the sake of the artistically sublime ... or even for the sake of some darn good entertainment!
But as I indicated in that aesthetics post, "Taking the Ad Hominem Out of Art Appreciation," I won't censor my own artistic responses according to whether or not the artist in question has the "right" intellectual premises or is a member of the "right" political or ideological groups. I'd say the same thing about intellectuals and nonfiction writers. In fact, my appreciation of, and engagement with, people whose views I adamantly reject is partially responsible for the strengthening of my own convictions. Where would I be without the challenges posed by my mentor, the Marxist theoretician Bertell Ollman? Ollman himself was a Volker fellow under Friedrich Hayek! And Hayek was taught by Friedrich von Wieser, who was a Fabian socialist. Even within the broad Randian universe, stranger bedfellows could not be found: Leonard Peikoff, whose doctoral thesis advisor was the pragmatist-cum-social democrat, Sidney Hook; David Kelley, who studied with the postmodernist Richard Rorty; and so forth.
So, I have been, and I am, a proud "whore" in terms of my willingness to read those whose views I reject.
As I have suggested, however, reading is not the same as posting. I suspect that Commentator Cato might be working with the same distinction. Cato writes here:
The reasons given by fan are exactly the reasons I do not post at the SOLO forum. Some time ago I read some messages in a tread about [hard] rock music and the people that dared to admit they liked bands like Rush were treated with the utmost disgust and revulsion. I don't care how much their ideas are in line with mine when objectivist[s] are being called Nazi's because they like a certain kind of [rock] music. Something is very, very wrong here.
Well, I genuinely understand the need to abstain from posting on sites or on particular threads within sites, when these forums are not the most inviting of dissent. I don't participate in several forums for precisely that reason: they are overwhelmed by unappealing posters and messages. But, I confess, this doesn't stop me from occasionally reading an article or a thread on a particular forum that I won't post to. If I cut off my reading activities (in contrast to my posting activities) every time I found myself hating an Internet forum, I'd quickly find myself navigating nowhere ... except my own solipsistic cyber-universe. I just can't imagine putting myself in that kind of intellectual ghetto. (Granted, sometimes when I read certain threads on certain forums, it packs the kind of fascination that bystanders feel when viewing a car wreck... but that's another subject entirely...)
So, Cato, here is a key difference that you might have with fan: You suggest that you won't post to SOLO because of the treatment that some hard-rock music fans have received in some of the discussion threads at that site. Well, I grew tired of posting on SOLO on two issues primarily: art appreciation and foreign policy. (And you'll note, at Notablog, I won't even open up my "Song of the Day" entries to discussion; they are not open to debate!) There are only so many times I can say the same thing over and over and over again, only to be met with the same objections over and over and over again ... only to see the whole thing degenerate, eventually, into a flaming, verbal slugfest.
But I don't think this problem is endemic to SOLO. In the Randian cyber-universe, the problem proliferates: These subjects seem to bring out the best, and the worst, in some people. Because they inspire a certain degree of high passion, such discussions can end up shedding much more heat than light. And after a while, the reactions are so predictable that the threads start to resemble a "repetition drill" like that which I remember from my days of studying French in junior high school: People just repeat the same phrases as if they are listening to an "ecotez et repetez" audio drill in a language lab.
The key difference here, however, is on the issue of posting versus reading. Cato, you suggest that you won't post to a forum that allows some of its participants to be "treated with the utmost disgust and revulsion." Well, okay, and something may indeed be "very, very wrong" with the tone of such a discussion.
But that still doesn't prevent you from navigating to a free site and reading a specific thread or a specific article (like my own) that has nothing to do with the kinds of threads that bring you grief.
Perhaps "flaming" is simply the nature of the beast we call the Internet. Plenty of people who would be pussycats in person become roaring lions when hiding behind a computer screen. And you will see the same dynamic played out in "ideological" forums especially, across the political spectrum, on blogs, in usenet groups, in the groups at Yahoo and MSN, and in the comments section of many online periodicals. It's because of these tendencies that each of us must discriminate in terms of our posting proclivities in the cyber-marketplace of ideas. But these tendencies don't prevent any of us from occasionally navigating to sites we don't like in order to read the one or two posts we might find enjoyable.
A very dear friend of mine who has known me for nearly twenty-five years once said to me that I'm the kind of guy who would find that one rose petal in a pile of manure. Sometimes, when the whole world smells like fertilizer, you do need to search out the flowers that spring forth, nourished.