Son of "No Comment"

A couple of people have come to Quick Study lately via a link at U.S. Intellectual History, where Tim Lacy points to a recent post here and characterizes it as follows: "Scott McLemee reflects on the hazards of online intellectual life in an age where everyone thinks of her/himself as important, as part of the conversation."

This is, to put it one way, a misreading. The issue is not people considering themselves "important" or "part of the conversation." The issue is people acting like assholes.

The distinction here is radical. The normative assholery of comments sections (at least in places with a lot of traffic, unlike either USIH or this blog ) typically involves acting (1) without any self-respect and (2) with no interest in communicative rationality whatsoever, just the making of spiteful noises. I consider these things the exact opposite of "everyone think[ing] of her/himself as important, as part of the conversation."

Of course people do have a right to act like assholes. Furthermore, it is clear that there is no cost or obstacle at all to doing so online. There is no filter, and opportunities to "act out" with no risk, no expense, and no consequence are roughly numerous as drops of water in the ocean.

But that does not mean that it is a medium in which nothing is limited. For attention is scarce. And no serious person is under any obligation to give it away, least of all to people who don't act like even they think they deserve it.

That was the point of what I wrote. It seemed clear enough. But the lesson of my five years or so online is that communication is a utopian thing to expect.
May 7, 2009 11:45 AM | | Comments (3)

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3 Comments

Dear Scott,

I'm sorry to have offended. In my world, when people think of themselves as important, as part of (and essential to) every conversation, they're generally being assholes.

I love democracy as much as anyone else. However, we're not all as important as we think we are. My line at USIH was meant to convey something about false pride and appropriate humility. It's also about making an effort when you comment. If you're commenting because you're think you're important but are making no effort to think deeply about what you're adding, you're most likely being an asshole.

Again, Scott, my apologies for any misrepresentation. My link at USIH was meant to direct people to your worthy post. I'll amend my post.

Sincerely,

Tim

Thanks, Tim. I was just concerned that my post was being taken as some kind of anti-democratic statement, which is not the case.

The idea that there is some intrinsically democratic dynamic taking place when people act out their worst impulses strikes me as a problem -- but this seems to be "default setting" for the ideology of whatever this emerging cultural order is, however you want to name it. ("Really very late capitalism indeed" maybe.)

dearly departed, wasn't it?

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