You probably have no idea that a Slog article I wrote years ago ("How I Outgrew Libertarianism") suddenly and randomly was anointed a week or so ago with widespread online attention via a link on Reddit (which quickly metastasized to other sites). I wouldn't have known, myself, except for the appearance of a slew of new comments here in response to that old posting.
The crowd arrived en masse, like a horde of cicadas. They read and they snarked, and, just as suddenly, they were gone, on to the next momentarily trendy nexus of attention. You can read the couple dozen comments posted here to the Slog, but untold thousands of them sprung up on Reddit, Metafilter, and elsewhere (google for the full picture - and note that there are several separate humongous Reddit discussions). To prolong the cicada metaphor, the din and droppings all played out in remote fields, and it was all completely impersonal.
Almost no one read beyond the one Slog article, or, judging by the conversation, registered that I'd founded a web site some likely visit. And most appeared not to have even read the article closely. Disagreers off-handedly rejected it as poorly-written garbage, while, completing an eerie equilibrium, the confirmation bias of kindred spirits was fed. I didn't perceive much in the way of careful attention or insight.
But the really jarring thing is that while I'd written the piece with great care, and felt that I'd stated my points quite clearly, not one phrase or idea failed to provoke caustic snarky miscomprehension. Writers aspire, above all else, to be clearly understood, so the degree of utter misapprehension - by commenters who seemed otherwise intelligent! - left my teeth grinding. At this scale, there was no way for me to circle back and rebut. I'd have just been buried in mounds of empty snark.
The strange thing is that, having browsed hundreds of sharply critical comments, prompting me to reread the piece several times, I still can't see how I could have done a much better job of explaining the personal experience I was relating. When people are determined to misunderstand, misunderstanding's unavoidable. Per Maslow's hammer, if all you have is snark, everyone looks like an asshole.
Worst of all were those who agreed with me but tried to reason with the haters, conceding that while the article might have been poorly-written by a conceited shmuck, hey, c'mon, the guy did at least have a couple of interesting things to say. I learned early with Chowhound that haters are nowhere near as bad as defenders. Lord defend me from my defenders.
The scale was inhuman, the snark eviscerating, and the whole episode felt entirely unpleasant (exception: the one guy who posted that i'd helped change his mind, who I chalk up as an anomaly). These "Internet fame" moments demonstrate the utter depersonalization of mass attention - and the sheer vanity behind any effort to "get one's voice out there." At best, one can stroke confirmation bias while irritating the bejesus out of everyone else , but that's a dialectic of little interest to me. Heaven, I think, is a small open-minded following of readers willing to at least entertain unorthodox views. So I sincerely thank all of you non-cicadas for reading along!
Writers As Clowns....Plus George Benson
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