Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A friendly note to James Wolcott

Jeff Goldstein could kill you with his bare hands. And probably should, but I doubt he will. However, it would be unfortunate if I were to log on one day and see this top headline at Memeorandum:
Police Seek Blogger in Columnist's
Brutal Dismemberment Slaying
Don'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.

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.
Because girls don't routinely risk violence in their conflicts, their viciousness toward each other is unrestrained, and the clique mentality reigns in girl culture -- back-biting gossip, secret rivalries and all the rest.

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).


  1. Stacy:

    You're so right about the contrast between girls and boys--as a father of three now teen girls, I can tell you there is a level of viciousness to girls' gossip and in-fighting that I had never experienced.

    The parallel between that world and the online pettiness of Wolcott and the one-armed Californian lawyer is dead on.

  2. ::falls over laughing::

    So... what you're saying is "ya'll fight like girls" ?

  3. Jeff Goldstein responded to Wolcott:

    Comment by Jeff G on 12/15 @ 11:44 am:...“So the next try is to get the 'Goldstein is a crazed violent monster' message to take hold. Wolcott, naturally, tried to help that one along, even as it made his gelatinous thighs quiver with a forbidden longing.”

    It is images like that that almost make you wish for alzheimers.

  4. In online gaming circles, this principle is known by the name John Gabriel's Greater Internet F***wad Theory. As you've noted, it's proven to hold true in pretty much every venue of intertube-borne discourse.

  5. RSM,

    Patrick Frey (haaack, spiittt) is quoting Jeff Goldstein. The quotes show that Jeff G. has threatened physical violence.

    When I saw that, I thought "Hmm, I wonder what the context is when it comes to those quotes?" I mean, surely, DDA Frey would never stoop to quoting out of context or conveniently leaving out context.

    Low and behold, I get context for the quotes from RSM.

    CJ and PF, twin sons of different mothers?


  6. "made his gelatinous thighs quiver with a forbidden longing"

    If Goldstein ever gets tired of this blogging thing, he could have a whole new career writing romantic fiction. Under a pseudonym, perhaps.

    FORBIDDEN LONGING by Jessica Gold
    p. 47
    . . . "Unhand me, you brute!" Princess Jane screamed in a piercing voice. But the muscular pirate refused to release her, as her gelatinous thighs quivered with a forbidden longing . . .

  7. Methinks Mssr Walcott suffers a slight,
    Frischian Projection.
    n'est-ce pas?

  8. RS,

    Just to let you know, Wolcott also went after Pam Geller too (charting the path that CJ would take later on). When I first started my Blog, I wondered if Wolcott hated Jews.

    Correct again! Maybe you should title one of your next post: "Why does the Left Blogosphere hate Jews? (or start hating Jews when they move from Right to Left?)"

    Can't we get his ass fired?

  9. Stace: You've got it wrong; it should read...

    FORBIDDEN LONGING by Jason Goldmember
    p. 69
    . . . "Unhand me, you brute!" Barry practically screamed in a whiney voice. But the muscular Chicago Bears fullback refused to release him, as his swarthy gelatinous thighs quivered with a forbidden longing . . .

  10. RS

    What dead Jew Hating Blogger from California were you refering to?