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Toxic Air

Society and Morals

Threee years ago I was asked to join a group of community bloggers by Lake Country Publications (LCP). The purpose was to create a forum for the exchange of opinions and ideas which would be an asset to the community newspapers published by LCP. I thought this was a great idea and gladly joined. Initially, things went very well. I wrote some blog posts and got a limited number of generally responsible comments. Some were supportive and many were in disagreement, but all were civil, articulate and thoughtful. Even the notorious Picard brothers were civil while casting aspersions on my intelligence and knowledge. That was O.K., because my ego is secure and hide nearly impenetrable. It was fun.

Then things began to deteriorate. Comments from a very few commenters became insulting and abusive towards me. I didn't much like this, because comments like these are generally devoid of any useful intelligence, hence dull and boring. However, I tolerated it because I promised an open forum so, although we had the power in those days, did not block or edit any comments except for asterisking an occasional profanity. Times have changed

Now there are many more comments, often upwards of 100, relatively few of which address the subject matter of the blog post and instead engage in a war of words among commenters. Personal commentary, insults and sarcasm abound with no useful content. Many are a mystery to me because they involve other blogs which I do not have the time to read. It seems that lots of folks want to take out pent up anger on others. Most of the more vociferous  hide behind pseudonyms, apparently inducing some sort of mob mentality. You know, the folks who yell "Jump!" at some poor soul on a ledge.

The result of all this toxic nastiness, which apparently is pervasive and much worse on other blogs than mine, has been the loss of some bloggers and the driving away of commenters and potential commenters who do not want to put up with the nastiness and abuse. This pains me as it limits the discourse to a few voluble commenters who engage in long, inscrutable wars of words with each other and sometimes me. I understand that on other blogs the battle has degenerated into personal threats. The response of LCP and Journal Intreractive, the administrator of the blog site, is to ban certain commenters and re-institute an after-the-fact ability to take down objectionable comments. The net result is a confusing mess.

All this is, in my opinion, symptomatic of a much larger societal problem. There has been an almost complete loss of decorum and civility in public discourse, particularly in the political arena but also in the business world and personal relations. No-one can disagree calmly and rationally any more. Disagreements degenerate into vicious arguments and invective is flung back and forth like bricks.  Political discourse is a sick joke, fraught with lies and insults. Campaign rhetoric has degenerated from simple misrepresentation into vicious lies and personal attacks with no regard for the truth. The guiding principle has become to win at any cost and by any means, tactics formerly restricted to world wars.

The danger of this "end justifies the means" mentality is a total disregard of the harm those "means" may create. In both political and corporate worlds, and sometimes the personal, the goal obscures the harm done to the innocent bystanders. This "blinder action" is evidenced by many professional politicians obsessed with power and the mania for re-election, as well as corporate leaders who are obsessed by becoming richer than the other guy to often the detriment of their companies. There certainly are exceptions, perhaps many, but there are enough self-motivated opportunists to create a lnasty societal crisis.

Just one example of political obfuscation and chicanery. We have heard unending warnings about the coming insolvency of the Social Security System. It will presumably go broke in 30 or so years. Yet, what is never mentioned is the fact that the Treasury owes the Social Security Administration about $3 trillion--that's trillion, 12 zeros--which should go a long way toward fostering solvency for the forseeable future. Unfortunately, Treasury is overdrawn on its credit card and can't afford to pay off those pesky l.O.U.'s. Hence the crisis.

Great use is made of oft-repeated generalities, like Republicans hate old people and children, and love rich corporate fat-cats and oil companies. Democrats are lap dogs of the unions, and pander to illegal immigrants and the homeless to buy votes. Both of these simplistic misrepresentations are repeated so often that a regrettable number of folks believe them. The word "hate" is used with disturbing frequency, a pejorative that should be reserved for the likes of Adolf Hitler.

The result of all this is a toxic atmosphere that threatens to choke off civility, decorum and basic morality, replacing them with a menacing coarseness that turns us all inward and selfish. The reasons may be complex but generally revolve around the de-emphasis on Judeo-Christian morality and rules of conduct. If you object to the religious reference, use your own source of civil conduct. In any event, there is precious little of it in the public or private arenas.

The implication is the end of communication and with the end of communication, the demise of rationality. A society taken over by the irrational cannot function for long. If we cannot communicate with each other, the result is incomprehensible babble or, worse, red-eyed anger. Ask yourselves, are we not frighteningly close to this today? Our poor little blog is a microcosm of our very ill society. A toxic atmosphere will eventually destroy those who breathe it in.

Is it too late for us? I'm not sure. I have had some success in encouraging a degree of civility on my blog. The unfortunate consequence frequently has been a descent into incomprehensibility and confusion, at least for me. I don't know how to revive morality in a society. It must of needs start with the young, but that means the public schools, largely a lost cause. We need something to blast us out of our uncivil rut, and I don't know what that might be.

I do sense an increasing number of folks are uncomfortable with the situation. Perhaps that's a glimmer of hope. I hope so.

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