MANHUNT FOR GOLDSTEINDon't hate the player, hate the game. The viciousness of online discourse has been pondered from many perspectives, but it really comes down to the fact that people think they can say anything they want and never get their asses kicked for it.
Police Seek Blogger in Columnist's
Brutal Dismemberment Slaying
Remember the Sparkman case? Sully was wetting his pants over "Southern populist terrorism" and Rick Ungar was screaming "Send the Body to Glenn Beck." In that atmosphere of fear-mongering pundit panic, I decided one Saturday night to try to do some actual reporting and, after a couple of calls, managed to get a law-enforcement official in Kentucky on the phone:
"You'd be surprised what some of these morons write on the Internet . . . that they wouldn't say to somebody's face," the official said in a brief telephone interview.Exactly. I guarantee that under no circumstances would you, James Wolcott, taunt Jeff to his face. But you have no compunction about sitting there at your computer, on Conde Nast's dime, making fun of a guy you've never met and whom most of your readers never heard of.
Pretty, Popular and Vicious
This "Mean Girls" vibe is an unexpected consequence of online discourse. When I was a kid in school, I used to marvel at the way girls were always doing that evil gossip-clique thing: "You can't be her friend because she said such-and-such to so-and-so and I hate her."
Girl culture is so much more vicious than boy culture because boys are naturally prone to settle matters with their fists. The biggest boy in third grade may be an obnoxious jerk, but his superior potential for violence means that other boys are faced with a choice:
- Stay out of his way;
- Try to be his friend; or
- Form an alliance with other pipsqueaks so that if the big kid gets mad at you, he'll have to fight more than one of you.
Girl culture can also be described as the "culture of niceness," because popularity among girls is so largely a function of who is superficially "nice," in terms of appearance and comportment. This is why girls are so keen on fashion and grooming, whereas boys don't care about that crap. If you score the winning touchdown, nobody cares about your hairstyle.
Mean Girls in the Intelligentsia
Now, to bring this back to the blogosphere, you see an extreme example of a problem that is ubiquitous in intellectual life and more generally in "civilized" white-collar environments, where physical violence is considered an impossibility.
When a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation gets upset with a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the one outcome that can be ruled out in advance is that the Heritage guy will jump in his car, drive over to Cato, storm into the office of his antagonist and invite him out to the parking lot to settle their argument like men.
This is all for the good except that, absent the possibility of an occasional ass-kicking, denizens of the think-tank world start behaving like girls on the third-grade playground, constantly backstabbing each other and forming snobby little cliques.
Steiner's Law -- "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" -- expresses the essential bogusness of virtual discourse, where a flame-war between rival bloggers passes for a Titanic Struggle for the Soul of America, even though it's merely a collection of words posted online and read by a few thousand people in a nation of 300 million.
People don't like to be insulted and, in a real-world setting, civilized people refrain from insulting others directly -- especially if the person they're insulting is someone who might kick their ass. In the real world, Jeff Goldstein is not accustomed to being insulted and if you, James Wolcott, had ever met Goldstein, you sure as hell wouldn't be taunting him with lyrics from a Village People song.
It's extremely unlikely that Goldstein will show up on your doorstep, brandishing a blood-spattered arm -- torn from the corpse of a California Jew-hater, prior to driving cross-country to confront you -- and bellowing in murderous rage: "Wolcott, you cowardly bastard, come out here and meet your doom, or I'll kick down your door!"
Extremely unlikely, I say. But crazier things have happened.
UPDATE: Moe Lane's Quote of the Day. Moe is an easygoing, mild-mannered guy. Most people don't realize that Moe's day job is ninja warrior.
Meanwhile, one of the glories of the post-racial Obama Age is that it's once again safe for guys named "Schultz" to suggest violence against guys named "Lieberman":
What is the feeling towards Joe Lieberman? I mean how do you, you know, go into a room without punching the guy out after what he’s done to the progressive movement in this country?Ed Schultz is speaking on behalf of the progressive movement, so he can't be held responsible if somebody actually does a beatdown on the Jew. I'm sure Joe will be deeply moved when he and Hadassah get a Happy Hannukah card from their progressive friends at MSNBC.
UPDATE II: Little Miss Attila is upset that I haven't linked her. Donald Douglas at American Power links with some vintage punk rock, and Jimmie Bise at Sundries Shack also links (but without punk rock).