I’m not a big fan of censorship. The trolls here know this, and so they gleefully abuse my tolerance in a relentless effort to drive real debate off my threads, filling them with offensive, dumb-ass and downright racist comments. My philosophy has always been that rather than delete or edit a particularly offensive comment, I leave it untouched for all to see, so that the author can hang himself on his own public display of hate and stupidity.
Yes, HA can be an odd place, and one gets numb to it after a while… but it is always a bit shocking to see how comfortable some people are in posting comparable bile in other, more solemn forums. For example, an anonymous author posted the following to the Seattle P-I’s comment thread on their editorial board endorsement of King County Executive Ron Sims:
Yes lets stay the course and keep the incompetent OREO in office…
(The P-I does censor their comment threads, so catch it while you can.)
That somebody would feel it appropriate to post such a racist comment in such a very public forum raises a number of issues, the most obvious being the inherent racism that still infects society. I am certainly not implying that a substantial number of David Irons’ supporters oppose Sims due to the color of his skin, but certainly, some do. Racism is still a very real electoral factor facing all minority candidates, and when the state and local GOP publicly embrace somebody like (un)Sound Politics’ Stefan Sharkansky — who repeatedly referred to Sims as “the Robert Mugabe of WA politics” — they send a very strong message to voters that this kind of behavior is not only acceptable, it is welcome.
The second issue this raises is what this lack of civility means to the prospect of a broader public debate. It is one thing to post on a no-holds-barred blog like HA, where such vile crap is grudgingly tolerated. (For the moment.) It is another thing to post it on the website of a major newspaper. I have argued with people at the Seattle Times that they are missing the boat by not transforming their own website into a more interactive experience… and this is exactly the type of incident that they insist prevents them from doing so. When public debate is squashed by a few unruly bullies, we all lose.
And finally, I am disturbed that anybody feels comfortable posting such a statement in any public forum, under any circumstances, and view it as just part of the growing mainstreaming of violent hate speech most visibly embodied in public figures like Ann Coulter, and more dangerously, by the swarm of anonymous cowards on sewers like Free Republic. Of course, the “oreo” comment is mild compared to the eliminationist rhetoric that is now routinely aimed at me in the comment threads on my own blog, where apparently some feel it an act of patriotism to call for my death in response to a display of informed dissent.
Those who long for “The Cleansing” or whatever they choose to call their giddily imagined modern day Kristallnacht, remind us daily that even in this, the world’s oldest functioning democracy, we must remain vigilant against the ever-present and creeping danger of fascism.