Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Sunday, August 13th, 2006.


Freeped

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blogging, conservatism

Those nasty liberal bloggers are at it again … oh, wait …

Last December a freelance writer named Jenny Price wrote an op ed for the Washington Post arguing for a ban on handguns and criticizing the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence for not pursuing a handgun ban.

For the record, I suspect the Brady Campaign is taking a realistic approach. The chance of a ban on all handguns in our lifetime probably is slightly less than the chance lightning bolts will simultaneously strike and write “Bush Sucks” on the White House lawn. I also believe — and I’ve spent some time with arguments pro and con on this point — that such a ban would require a constitutional amendment. But I don’t intend to go into all that today.

I bring up the Jenny Price op ed because today Ms. Price has an op ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she describes reactions to her Washington Post piece. She knew she was going to catch hell; she was not surprised, she says, by the insults and threats she received.

But Ms. Price began her Washington Post op ed by describing how her brother was murdered by his fiance’s mother, with a handgun. And Some People objected.

First, many chat-room members declared that the killing had to have been justified and was most likely an act of self-defense.

One participant, “armymarinedad,” wrote: “I would submit it was a liberal mind-set.” Liberals, many others agreed, are mean to their parents — mean enough to warrant homicide. “One can’t help wondering,” went one response to armymarinedad, “what the mother had done in a previous life to deserve … a Liberal for a daughter.”

The second challenge was that I had made up the story of my brother’s murder. “Law-abiding gun owners simply do not commit crimes,” “Gunslinger” posted — logic hard to refute. But like David’s killer, thousands of law-abiding citizens annually become criminals when they pick up a firearm and shoot other people.

“Chances are very good,” wrote “Plutarch” on freerepublic.com, “that her brother, if she has one, is alive and well.”

Plutarch and his freerepublic fellows Googled my story about David — and were encouraged when they came up empty because they were certain that “this remarkable murder” would have received massive media attention.

“I love to catch them [liberals] lying!” declared “mad_as_he$$.”

Lamentably, a double homicide by a friend or relative of the victims is an unremarkable news event in Los Angeles County, where 17 people, on average, are shot to death every week. The Times’ and Daily News’ stories were brief and buried on inside pages. Because the police took all day to notify our family, David’s name did not appear in them.

No matter. The freerepublic.com gang Googled some more, LexisNexised, scoured The Times’ archives for headlines, dug up Social Security records. They wondered whether David and I had different last names: A “rabid feminist” like me, of course, would never use her husband’s name. But “Ghengis (Alexander was a wuss!)” surmised that David and I had different fathers because that was so “common in California in the ’60s.”

In the midst of my detective work, I received an e-mail from a medical doctor who praised my “terrific opinion piece” and asked for “a link to any newspaper accounts.” But I quickly determined that Plutarch had sent the e-mail using his real name (I can Google too).

Plutarch found a photograph of me on the Internet and posted it on the freerepublic site. He worked so hard on the case that I was rooting for him to be the guy who finally figured it out. But just after he promised his colleagues that he’d call the L.A. County coroner’s office, “DakotaRed” posted a recent newspaper piece about my family that mentioned the murder. The freerepublic discussion stopped abruptly, and the chat rooms on the other pro-gun sites soon moved on as well.

Technorati says the December op ed received remarkably little notice from bloggers — only ten links. I guess when this is posted there will be eleven. The attention paid to Price’s op ed came from gun advocacy chat rooms and Free Republic, not from bloggers, which might Mean Something. Or not. Anyway, here’s a link to one Free Republic thread, although I couldn’t find the comments Price quotes. (Deleted, perhaps?) If you are interested, you can see what the Freep are saying about today’s Los Angeles Times article here. I notice one commenter (#22) doubts the story of Price’s brother’s murder is true. They don’t give up, do they?

A guest blogger at Orcinus, Sara Robinson, is posting a series on the authoritarian personality. (Thanks to moonbat for the tip.) Robinson believes authoritarians can be cured — good luck with that. But I mostly want to call attention to the traits of the authoritarian personality, which she lists in Part I. Authoritarian leaders tend to be (not the full list) —

Intimidating and bullying
Faintly hedonistic
Vengeful
Pitiless
Exploitative
Manipulative
Dishonest
Cheat to win
Highly prejudiced (racist, sexist, homophobic)
Mean-spirited
Militant
Nationalistic

And authoritarian followers are usually (not the full list, either)–

Prejudiced (particularly against homosexuals, women, and followers of religions other than their own)
Mean-spirited
Narrow-minded
Intolerant
Bullying
Zealous
Dogmatic
Uncritical toward chosen authority
Hypocritical
Prone to panic easily
Highly self-righteous
Moralistic
Severely punitive
Little self-awareness

Clearly, Ms. Price stumbled into a nest of authoritarians. Ouch. But in her Los Angeles Times op ed she makes a valid point about the Freep that IMO also could apply to blogs —

The discussions left me profoundly sad. “You know,” a friend tried to reassure me, “these are just guys who sit in front of their computers at 3 a.m. in their underwear.”

But when these gun-obsessed guys in their underwear talk to like-minded guys, they build a community that reinforces a level of intolerance that is off the charts. After all, the Internet doesn’t create community. People create community — and how the Internet is used depends on the people who use it.

I’ve sometimes wondered if some Internet forums amount to positive feedback loops for personality disorders. In this case, Free Republic is a medium by which authoritarian personalities get together and feed each other’s authoritarian traits. You can say the same thing for Little Green Footballs and other blog communities. And never forget — anything you feed will grow. Eventually (I postulate), a Freep who was mildly authoritarian when he began freeping will become a flaming, snarling, foaming-at-the-mouth authoritarian; the sort of person compelled to destroy anyone with whom he disagrees, like Jenny Price.

Price also asks, “[D]o you really want these people on these websites … to have guns? … the paranoia and bone-chilling hatred that spew from such sites as packing.org and freerepublic.com make for an equally — and unusually — effective argument for a ban on handguns.” (Have you ever noticed that the people who are most single-mindedly zealous about their right to own firearms usually are the last people on the planet you’d want to own firearms?) But, as Michael Moore argued in the film “Bowling for Columbine,” Americans aren’t just violent with handguns. We are violent, period. We murder each other with all manner of objects — knives, clubs, whatever — at much higher rates than other first-world nations. Might this homicidal tendency be a by-product of authoritarian culture? A stretch, maybe, but think about it.

Henry Porter writes on the Guardian web site that right-wingers on the web are successfully silencing speech they don’t like. Porter cites a Chicago university that banned students asking questions about Israel and Palestine in class. The subject was verboten, Porter says. When a professor named Douglas Giles permitted a student to ask a question about Palestinian rights in his World Religions class, he was fired. (I found the same story at Chicago IndyMedia. Is it true? Is there something that Giles is not telling us? I don’t know. If anyone learns more about this, please post.) According to Porter (emphasis added) —

Giles’s sacking … is part of the movement to suppress criticism of Israel on the grounds that it is anti-semitic. A mild man, Giles seems astonished to find the battle for free speech in his own lecture theatre.

‘It may be sexy to get on a bus and go to DC and march against war,’ he said to me last week. ‘It is much less sexy to fight in your own university for the right of free speech. But that is where it begins. That is because they are taking away what you can talk about.’ He feels there is a pattern of intolerance in his sacking that has been encouraged by websites such as FrontPageMag.com and Campus Watch.

Joel Beinin of Stanford University is regularly attacked by both. Beinin is a Jew who speaks both Hebrew and Arabic. He worked in Israel and on an assembly line in the US, where he helped Arab workers understand their rights. Now, he holds seminars at Stanford in which all views are expressed. For this reason, no doubt, his photograph recently appeared on the front of a booklet entitled ‘Campus Support for Terrorism’.

It was published by David Horovitz, the founder of FrontPageMag.com who has both composed a bill of rights for universities, designed to take politics (for which read liberal influence and plurality) out of the curriculum and a list of the 100 most dangerous academics in America, which includes Noam Chomsky and many other distinguished thinkers and teachers.

The demented, bullying tone of the websites is another symptom of the descent of public discourse in America and, frankly, one can easily see the attractions of self-censorship on the question of Middle East and Israel. Read David Horovitz for longer than five minutes and you begin to hear Senator Joseph McCarthy accusing someone of un-American activities.

More evidence that authoritarians rule America — we are about the last industrialized democracy with the death penalty; in 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam (authoritarian regimes, notice) and the USA. And is not the Neocon world view — love us, or we’ll invade you — essentially authoritarianism writ large?

The compulsion to eliminate whatever one doesn’t like takes milder forms. A few days ago a rightie blogger realized, correctly, that a Reuters photograph showing bomb damage in Lebanon had been Photoshopped. Ever since then a number of rightie blogs, including some of the big ones like LGF and Hot Air, have been eagerly searching for more evidence of media malfeasance. And it may be they’ll find such evidence, since many such images are coming from stringers who earn a living by selling their work to news and stock photo agencies. But now every image that amounts to bad PR for Israel is being scrutinized with single-minded obsessiveness. And if the scrutinizers don’t see signs of Photoshopping, they’ll find clues the image was staged. As Glenn Greenwald wrote last week, reaction from the VRWC to the Reuters photos has been a little, um, over the top.

I’m sayin’ there’s something going on here that ought to be listed in the DSM-IV-TR somewhere.

Sara Robinson points out that authoritarians are hostile to the “cultural and political openness” that a functional democracy requires. “Everything in their souls drives them to dismantle the democratic impulse,” she says, “and bring people under the heel of hierarchical authority — which is why history has also shown us that the nation’s worst moments, past and future, are created by people with a strong right-wing authoritarian orientation.”

I’m not sure how history shows us what our worst moments are going to be in the future, but never mind — authoritarians are in control of our government more so than ever before — even more so than during the McCarthy era, IMO. And the Internet may be a factor, because (I postulate) it is exacerbating authoritarian tendencies in right-wingers who participate in online discussion.

This bears, um, watching.

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