Wednesday, January 6, 2010


When I first thought of this post, I didn’t know what to call it. My intention was to recognize a conservative blogger for her courage and strength of character in withstanding a deluge of criticism from fellow conservatives.

I decided to take a generic approach because this post is no longer about the subject blogger but about a more widespread and pernicious phenomenon: The subculture of invective, dishonest hyperbole, and slash-and-burn character assassination that has metastasized into our political life, our media, and our online interactions.

This is not the first time your liberal (O)CT(O)PUS has defended a conservative blogger. Last year, another conservative blogger asked a fair question: Do we really want President Obama to fail? Since liberals and conservatives alike are riding in the same ship of nationhood, she asked, do we really want to sink the entire boat? An intellectually honest question, I thought, but not according to rabid reactionaries who accused the writer of spreading apostasy and treason.

Rightwing critics disparage the term political correctness as a Marxist plot whose aim is to undermine conservative values and impose social conformity. The linguistic argument is one more front in the so-called culture wars. Yet, the same rightwing critics employ a far more sinister version of political correctness. They make use of litmus tests to enforce ideological orthodoxy in thought, speech, and personal associations. They will not hesitate to browbeat fellow conservatives into submission with condemnation and excommunication. How ironic! The rightwing accuses the left of using political correctness to impose social conformity; yet, the same rightwingers use coercive means to enforce groupthink within their ranks.

This post has a background story in two parts. Part One begins with Shaw, our fellow Swash Zone colleague, who asked me to look after her weblog in her absence while she underwent cancer surgery. In due course, I enlisted mutual friends including one conservative writer as guest contributors. There were no constraints or guidelines imposed on any writer; and there were no objections from Shaw for any contribution on her behalf.

Part Two: This drama moves to the weblog of our conservative friend, who posted a simple holiday greeting, A Blessed Christmas to All. As expected, her comment thread filled with good wishes from followers of all persuasions … until a few days ago when one reader discovered her name as a contributor on Shaw’s weblog:
[Name redacted] said: “I saw your name on the Progressive Eruptions blog as one of the contributes [sic] to that FILTH (…) If you wish to be part of that commie-Marxist blog then so be it. That's your mistake and I for one won't be part of it or of this. And I hope that my fellow republicans [sic] will feel the same way.
To assuage whatever demons my invitation had summoned, I replied:
[Name redacted], if you want to blame someone for putting [her] name on the contributor list at Progressive Eruptions, blame me because I am the one who invited her (…) The civil and respectful thing to do is give [name of conservative friend] an appropriate greeting in keeping with the holiday spirit. So be a human being, a mensch, and do the right thing.
The story should have ended here, but it did not. Within a day, another reader left this comment: “Goo [sic] there if you wish or if you must [[name redacted], but I will not be a follower.

As chum in the water attracts predatory sharks, news of my friend’s so-called “defection” spread across conservative Cyberspace: “I too am disappointed in you [name of my conservative friend]. But like someone else here has said. [sic] we have to do what we have to do. And I too must do what I must do.

When chatting with rightwing reactionaries, there is nothing to be gained in talking about helping a friend in need, about acts of kindness and compassion, about appealing to our higher angels, or pointing out what separates human beings from savages. There is no profit in mentioning freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and freedom to associate, or in pointing out the shared American legacy that binds us together. Trust me: Every attempted outreach drew an inflamed response, as examples:
SLIME-BUCKETS … libtards … I’m sick of people like YOU … liberal holier than thou crap … The only standards liberals have are double standards … house flies … STUPID … the infectious horrible disease known as Liberalism … terrorist sympathizers … stupid and ignorant … filthy mouthed JERKS … take a hike … (O)CT(O)PUSSY …
Returning to the subject of political correctness, liberals prefer the term cognitive linguistics to describe the framing effect of language and word-choice in shaping the attitudes and actions of speakers and listeners. In concept, the abuse and misuse of language contributes to negative stereotypes that can restrict the rights, opportunities, and freedoms of people. One goal of cognitive linguistics is to render pejorative labels as socially unacceptable, thus encouraging us to view individuals on their merits as opposed to stereotypes.

There are critics who regard political correctness as a “euphemism treadmill.” And there are defenders who view those dismissals as a distraction to avoid a debate about racism, sexism, and other forms of class discrimination and inequality.

In his book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right, David Neiwert takes cognitive linguistics a step further:
Rhetorically, [eliminationism] depicts its opposition as beyond the pale, the embodiment of evil itself, unfit for participation in their vision of society, and thus worthy of elimination. It often further depicts its designated Enemy as vermin (especially rats and cockroaches) or diseases, and disease-like cancers on the body politic.


It is by small steps of meanness and viciousness that we lose our humanity. We have the historical example of 20th fascism as a reminder. The Nazis … didn’t get that way overnight. They did this by not simply branding their opponents as the Enemy, but by denying them their essential humanity, depicting them as worse than scum – disease-laden, world destroying vermin, in desperate need of elimination.
In short, reactionary ideas and talking points have infected public discourse to such a degree that it is poisoning how we treat each other in our daily lives. It is a political subculture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas in favor of outright elimination of the opposing side through suppression, condemnation, ostracism, or extermination.

On July 27, 2008, Jim David Adkisson entered a Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, killed two people, and wounded seven others. The shooter was motivated by hated of liberals, Democrats, African Americans, and homosexuals. A police search of his home found: Liberalism is a Mental Disorder by Michael Savage, Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism by Sean Hannity, and other hate literature (source).

Liberal-bashing trolls harassed my friend on home turf and defiled her holiday message. Make no mistake. My friend has fallen victim to reactionary rhetoric as much as any liberal, or any other group targeted by this rabble. Perhaps one of her moderate followers said it best:
Seems your "friends" don't think you have the strength of your convictions. That you will somehow be "turned" or "brainwashed." That just by engaging with liberals you will be tainted and changed (…) How silly (...) She doesn't back off her beliefs. She knows irrationality when she sees it. She knows how to be a "true" friend (…) How many times has [she] asked her readers to cut the ad hom (…) you deserve better "friends" [my bold].


  1. Nice post Octo. I was appalled at what I saw over there.

    Especially when I must admit, a lot of it came from self professed God loving, Jesus following people.

  2. Very well said, Octo. I'd like to cross-post this to my blog, with your permission.

    It is interesting to note that some of those who attacked our conservative friend described my blog and The Swamp Zone, as "filth," and then went on a rampage of total annihilation of a fellow conservative because she refuses to deal in stereotypes and destructive hatred.

    My blog criticizes public figures, political figures, cable news readers, and radio bloviators. You will not find anything on my "filth" blog approaching the rabid hatred and mob mentality that they have directed at one of their own.

    And nothing we say will convince those who perpetrated this outrage that their behavior is contemptible and gutless.

  3. No surprise to me, since God loving Jesus followers have been one of the most likely causes of death amongst Jews for the last 1800 years or so.

    Belief is a dangerous thing and a culture that extols and promotes and praises belief as a virtue and science, reason and human values as evil, is a culture without an immune system, vulnerable to public insanity of all kinds.

    Such things are the norm as far as I'm concerned -- and a case where ontology recapitulates phylogeny. Apes we are and apes we shall remain.

  4. Many thanks, Dave, Shaw, and Captain Fogg.

    I'd like to keep this article at the top of the posting stack until Friday to spread this message as far and wide as possible. Assuming all of you feel the same as I do, this subculture of slash-and-burn is deplorable beyond excuse and must stop.

    May I prevail on all of you to help spread the word?

  5. This is very interesting, and very sad.

    Just the other day Patrick was having a similar situation. It seems like there's a mentality that all members of X must maintain absolute unanimity on all issues and never have any debate, dissent or exchange of non-previously-approved ideas. If this happens, the perpetrator is ousted from the ranks and slammed.

    It seems kinda a stagnant approach to me, because it encourages cognitive isolationism and inbreeding of ideas without any new approaches or thoughts. I don't know. It seems like it completely disregards the whole 'freedom of speech' thing.

    I'm sorry this happened to this person because you know that's got to hurt. On the other hand, it's a real eye opener.

    And that book by Niewert looked very interesting; I might have to give it a read.

  6. Nice post!

    I'm afraid I'm guilty also. As the old stanza says, "then they came for me and.........."

    I've posted comments there. I was sworn at by strangers, and worse.

    Then they came to my blog and I installed comment moderation.

    I read her numerous pleas to stop the vulgarity. Instead, I responded in kind. That just prolonged the nonsense.

    Feeling a little guilty, and not wanting to reengage with the nonsense, I just quit visiting.

    I figured it wasn't my problem, and I just ignored it. I believe the old statement also says something about that thinking.

    Sorry about that.

    I came to my senses (courage) and finally said what I needed to say, although she and others had already said it.

    Actions speak louder than words. Lead by example. She does both.

  7. Excellent post. It's appalling that no one knows how to talk to one another any longer. Look at that Warren "Gator" Taylor fellow who took hostages at a Virginia post office because he was angry at liberals. He fully expected to die in a blaze of glory, even had his "last meal" at Applebee's.

    What finally brought him around was someone just talking to him.

    I think the internet is great but it does allow people the freedom to express themselves more emotionally than they would if they were talking face to face.

  8. Everyone has a different view on how to handle trolls but really, it's a case of positive/negative reinforcement.
    If you engage them and give them attention for their bad behavior, they are encouraged to continue the bad behavior.
    Our blogs are forums for discussion and debate and sharing our views.
    Those that cannot stay on topic in a respectful manner should be deleted without comment and ignored when they sneak in before someone can delete them and thereby allow the adults to continue their conversation.
    That is my opinion but I respect the right of other bloggers to disagree and deal with the trolls as they see fit.
    Most disturbing is the encouragement they get from public figures and (O)CT(O)PUS' comparison to the Nazi indoctrination of Jew-hating is very apt.

  9. Wilde said, “give a man a mask, and he’ll tell you the truth.” What he meant, I suppose, was that our everyday selves are a device whereby we keep our true opinions and feelings hidden; allow a person the opportunity to escape that primary mask and put on another, and you may be in for an interesting ride. Of course, that’s a disturbing thought when we apply it to the Internet: are trollish enforcers showing us their “true selves,” or are they giving us an exaggerated or distorted image – one they either would not dare to show in person or one that they don’t, in fact, approve of? I doubt we can answer that question for everyone, so I’ll leave it unanswered.

    Writing of any sort is a kind of discursive stylization that the writer takes up—it alters the perceptions of people about themselves and alters how others see them. To me, it seems plausible to assume that by now the Internet and blogging as phenomena have gone beyond the novelty and experimental stage; I think we take blogging seriously as a partial revelation of identity, not merely as an attempt to show off or escape. Perhaps it’s a bit grandiose to say, “You are as you blog,” or “Je fais des blogs; donc, je suis,” but there’s something in the thought. What I’m suggesting is that it would not be fair for people to suggest that they can skulk away from their poor “online behavior” and be considered perfect ladies and genn’elmen in the physical world. I don’t believe you can separate the two realms so completely: there is an “ethics of blogging” to be reckoned with, no? If you’re a neandertroll online, you’re sort of a jerk offline, too, by virtue of that fact and probably for other reasons, too.

    Well, with regard to maintaining civility on the Net, yes, I’m for it, but with a caveat. One could insist that the written word can have a powerful effect upon living, breathing individuals: Goethe’s fictional hero Werther committed suicide and real young men used real guns to kill themselves in earnest. (Why shouldn’t we admit that life imitates art at least as much as art imitates life? Right you were again, Oscar!)

    But that’s the one hand; the other is to suggest that we need not demand an excessive and elaborate civility of the kind that gets in the way of people speaking their minds, approving of or denouncing ideas, and so forth.

    A fair amount of the concern I have come across on the Net regarding how a given blogger has been treated, frankly, has come from the farther reaches of the right: it’s not hard to conjure their effusions: “Just because I used half a dozen racial slurs, accused the president of being a communo-fascist-moozlum illegal alien, and said sick old people deserve to die, those bloggers at Site X were SOOOOOO mean to me! Mean liberals! They hurt my feelings! I’ll never go back there again…. {a tear}” Of course, being syrupy-nice to someone like that amounts to selling your soul to the devil at a bargain-basement price; hell, even engaging in metadiscourse with such folk about the need always to be nice to one another probably lands you in purgatory for a few centuries.

  10. previous comment continued...

    Those who have the intellectual confidence to state their opinions firmly don’t worry much about “how they’ve been treated.” Excessive concern over civility, I suspect, is sometimes a function of the wing-writer’s own sense of moral and intellectual inferiority. They know in the depths of their shallow souls (lovely oxymoron, no?) that they’re propagating bunkum, and their only hope is to surround themselves with a community of similar mediocrities.

    As for Octo's quotation about losing one's humanity, spot on -- what was all but unthinkable is thought and uttered with increasing frequency until, at some point, it fails to shock; finally, it becomes not only thinkable and sayable but actionable: a generation ago anybody who publicly brought up using torture would have been outright told to shut up, but at present the main right-wing "contribution" to the terrorism debate is, "so how come we aren't torturing more people?" They have nothing else to offer. And we have become almost inured to it, as if it were a normal question to ask rather than an indicator of the asker's bloody-minded imbecility.

  11. Octo: I would like to express my overwhelming gratitude to your thoughtfulness at my plight. I am deeply touched. You can’t imagine how your post and all the comments here have touched me.

    As you are aware, it has been my goal to have a blog that is free from hostility while remaining faithful to my Conservative values. I truly believe with all my heart that there can be civil discourse regardless of political lines. It’s those lines that I have tried so desperately to meet, but have come up against such obstruction. I’m not trying to change anyone’s philosophy, because I would never do that, but I wish to allow everyone the opportunity to express themselves. I believe we all have something important to say—to express, and I believe it’s my right to give them access to do so.

    I have many friends and family members who are Democrats/Liberals and we discuss politics on a regular basis. We are able to accomplish this “feat” without ugly vitriol, so I see absolutely NO reason why I can’t have this on my blog. I will admit that I am partially to blame. I have been way too polite; too lenient in allowing others to express themselves and that has given too many people the means to walk all over the very reasons I started my blog in the first place. I will have to get a bit tougher with my rules, but I will not abandon my “manners” while doing so. It is my core ideals that I will never abandon.

    I find it ironic that some of my “own” party fears I will become “brain-washed” or “swayed” in my views and beliefs, therefore they don’t want me to visit Liberal blogs or allow Liberals on my blog, but if I give in to “them” then I am disavowing the MOST important principle I possess, which is being TRUE to MYSELF.

    Thank you again, all of you, for your sympathetic and encouraging words. They mean a lot to me.

  12. One of the standard defenses of conservatives when confronted with their actions is the claim that "everyone does it," so it's okay. Unfortunately for them, everyone doesn't do it. So they have been reduced to creating a fictitious left whose behavior is a mirror image of their own mix of hatred, self-serving lies, filthy smears and greed. Thus, trying to create health care for all becomes some selfish, greedy power grab, the obviously well-intentioned Obama becomes a monster of dishonesty like Bush and Cheney were,and an entire looking-glass account of reality is created in which Democrats become the alleged perpetrators of all of the evils actually caused by the right.

    It is important to realize, I think, that this is not a psychological problem. It is a tactical choice, They demonize us to try to obscure or diminish their own immense failings. The need to do this has never been greater than now, after eight years of their chance to do exactly as they pleased left the country devastated.

    Unfortunately, this is not likely to end soon, and we are likely doomed to repeat this sort of incident, and this sort of painful conversation, many times before we are done.

  13. Excellent post, Octo.

    Dino says, quoting a "hypothetical" commenter:

    “Just because I used half a dozen racial slurs, accused the president of being a communo-fascist-moozlum illegal alien, and said sick old people deserve to die, those bloggers at Site X were SOOOOOO mean to me! Mean liberals! They hurt my feelings! I’ll never go back there again…. {a tear}”

    LOL! Dino, have you heard from (my former commenter) "Joe White"? His brief and colorful participation on my blog took place almost exactly in this fashion. I'll be darned. :)

    I agree that jerks are jerks, on-line and off -- there is no magic personality switch we undergo when we sit down to write blog posts and comments. For better and for worse, what we write shows who we are. A jerk is as a jerk does, on-line and off.

    Pam, I signed up as a follower of your blog a couple of weeks ago, and then started to read comments under your most recent posts. And I admit, I freaked out -- and unsigned, pronto, thinking that I would not like to attract some of your commenters to my place, even by accident.

    Yes, I am a chicken. (I'm also prone to headaches and have poor time management skills -- dealing with that amount of vitriol would exacerbate both, I'm afraid.:)

    There is a fine line, on blogs, between a disagreeable, but legit discussion, and personal attacks. In fairness, this problem is not limited to right-left political exchanges, but applies to any topic that evokes strong and opposing emotions and views. Recently (or perhaps even not so much), the hell has broken among the leftists -- the Obama supporters and his critics. Somehow it's become politically incorrect to criticize the President and his "reforms," with personal consequences to those who dare to do so. This, unfortunately (or not) revealed some folks' hidden, until now, inner jerks.

    I guess most of us are not immune to occasional jerkdom. That's why it is important, IMO, to try to observe the old don't do unto others... etc. (Dino, who's the Bible expert, knows how the rest goes. ;)

    P.S. Pam and Shaw, nice pics!

    And Capt., you look more like yourself again. :)

  14. I just visited Pamela’s weblog and found this comment:

    With all due respect for Octo, I'll let Pamela decide if she wants me to lay low on her blog.”

    The comment is a response to an appeal asking certain readers to: “… take a low profile for awhile and let this issue settle down so Pamela can have some peace.”

    My reply:

    With all due respect, [name redacted], sometimes there needs to be an inner voice within ourselves that says: Enough!

    When I consider all the Grinches who have stolen Pamela's Christmas, where is that moral compass that each one of us supposedly possesses? What is wrong with exercising personal judgment, or must one always be told

  15. I have to take a minor exception to the idea that a jerk on line is a jerk off line. The meekling who spends his days in a cubicle taking crap from middle management uses the web to act out his fantasies of being important. By being obnoxious, the guy whom nobody listens to gets attention payed him and what better way, since he doesn't really have anything to say, than to be a troll.

    It's no coincidence that such frustrated people tend to feel like victims and that's why they rant about elitists and side with politics that supports their victimhood.

  16. Captain: "I have to take a minor exception to the idea that a jerk on line is a jerk off line"

    A worthy hypothesis to be sure. No doubt, there are Walter Mitty types who live vicariously by marauding the Internet. Nevertheless, a jerk online is a jerk online.

  17. Green Eagle,

    Yes, I think hate-spewing and fact-contortion are tactics with regard to pundits and politicians -- most of them are smart enough to know they're talking nonsense. Of course, the same people have millions of followers who may well be dumb or paranoid enough to believe every devious word they hear.


    Never met the Joe in question, but I'm not surprised to hear that my hypothetical has more or less been the prescription of whiners.

    In the Dino-Bible (Copyright Gondwanaland Inc., Prehistory, all rights reserved), I believe the phrase goes,

    "Chomp into others before they chomp you."

    I have seen some of the demo-left stuff I think you're referencing -- there's polarization on the part of those who are ready to denounce President Obama as a corporatist sellout and authoritarian and those who take the opposite line and insist that he's practically a saint. It gets ugly, but it doesn't get as ugly as the right's nonsense. The so-called left's vice has always been smarter-than-thou, told-ya-so cynicism, which I suppose is at least several rungs up from the brainless vitriol one sometimes hears from the right.

    Capt. Fogg,

    Didn't T.S. Eliot write about "the arrogance of the mild-mannered man behind his typewriter"?

    As for Octo's mention of Pamela,

    She sounds like a fine person; I fear that there may not be many "conservatives" left in the old-fashioned sense I think she must be trying to maintain.

    In my view, the word has to an unfortunate extent been hijacked by brutes -- a "conservative," as they would have it, is someone whose entire value system is founded upon paranoia, racial hatred, a narrow religious fanaticism that reduces Jesus to a glow-in-the-dark trinket you can use to wish your enemies into the cornfield, and sheer terror at the prospect of anything new, fun, international, refreshing, or even suspiciously intelligent. They reject civility; they reject decency; they reject kindness. I don't see how it's even worth having a conversation with them. When people strip themselves of the right to speak, a blog-owner has every right to refuse them a platform.

    I'm reminded of a show Rachel Maddow did in which there was a segment on the old "Birchers" -- she quoted, I think, from an investigation carried out by law enforcement; the authors said something to the effect that the best way to delegitimize such groups was to let them twaddle their twaddle in the open air. It's a healthy thought, but I suspect things have become much, much worse in today's discursive environment (1950's McCarthyism etc. notwithstanding)--so much worse as to call such healthy trust in the purifying effects of freedom of expression into doubt. It's a shame. Free expression is good in its own right and it must be defended, but I don't feel certain that it will have the salutary effects we have for so long attributed to it.

    At some point in the life of a republic, perhaps the very rights that have sustained our freedom become "instruments to plague us" (Edgar in King Lear, V.iii). Still, it's not good to give up civility or abandon hope.

  18. Yer sharper than a Mosasaurus' tooth, Dino, but abandoning hope is the only way I can keep my spirits up. Thinking on a deep time scale makes you realize the insignificance of all we are and all we do and that it's going to all disappear into the same oblivion it came from and without a trace.

    Lasciate ogni speranza -- is it not written?

  19. Capt. Fogg,

    Si. Lei ha raggione! Dante knew more about us then than we know about ourselves now.

    bloggingdino wrote:

    It's a healthy thought, but I suspect things have become much, much worse in today's discursive environment (1950's McCarthyism etc. notwithstanding)--so much worse as to call such healthy trust in the purifying effects of freedom of expression into doubt. It's a shame. Free expression is good in its own right and it must be defended, but I don't feel certain that it will have the salutary effects we have for so long attributed to it.

    Someone said the best defense against hate speech is more freedom of speech--or something like that. Let the loud-mouths advertise their ignorance and idiocy, and the people will make an intelligent decision about whom to believe.


    We need a population that has critical thinking skills and a strong b.s. meter.

    When millions of people listen to performers like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and praise them for their political insights and "truths," without questioning the premises for their propaganda, we are not going to see things improve. In fact, people have given into their fears and rage and feelings of helplessness, without recognizing that this country has been on a downward spiral for a long, long time--it didn't begin last January 20th. Although the guy in the White House is taking all of the heat for the deplorable way the corporatists and politicians have run the nation into the ground over the last 30 years.

    This will not be an effete Chardonnay evening, I'm looking at a more robust Chianti to sob into.


  20. If only we could click to summon.

    And they say they're inspired to teabagging by the Green Revolution in Iran. A reaction to overt state control by the nation's official religion.


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