Ethics Alarms just isn’t constructed for large waves of angry commenters, as are occasionally generated when I touch on some interest group third rail. I try to respond to as many coherent comments as possible, but when too many of them arrive on the same topic, my “civilized colloquy on ethics” model breaks down, and I find myself spending too much time writing dangerously hasty responses to trolls, fanatics, web terrorists and others who have as much interest in ethics as I have in stamp collecting. I also have to individually green light every new commenter, and this alone takes up time that could be better spent researching and writing new posts.
Legendary conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds generously linked to my recent post on the “Harry Reid is a pederast” campaign online, and that’s generally a good thing, one that most bloggers would give their right arm for,since his blog Instapundit is one of the most popular (and professional) on the web. This, in turn, triggered the so-called “Instalanche” at Ethics Alarms, which has resulted in this blog getting the equivalent of two weeks of typical traffic in 24 hours. Sadly, the vast majority of the comments following the Instalanche are examples of the kind of thinking this blog was established to combat, and as a whole, the group is a graphic example of why political discourse, and indeed the political system itself is so toxic and dysfunctional. This is no knock on Prof. Reynolds, whose blog I read most days, and who is almost always rational and fair. It is a knock on the majority of his readers (not all) who chose to leave comments here.
The comments were, in addition to being non-ethical in nature, brain-meltingly repetitious in their fallacies and themes. It’s bad enough having more comments than I can keep up with; having to read nearly identical sentiments over and over again is more than I can stand. And since it is clear that most of the commenters aren’t bothering to read the thread, never mind the links in the posts they are railing about or the rest of the blog, this is not going to cease anytime soon. Yes, I know that most of this breed of commenter doesn’t want a response, because their comments are seldom thought through or carefully crafted, and they are shocked to have their sloppy reasoning called so. (Then they accuse me of ad hominem attacks.) Too bad. This isn’t a bulletin board or a graffiti wall.
So I’m no longer going to answer individually the vast majority of the comments on the post in question, “Funny! But Wrong: The “Harry Reid Is A Pederast” Rumor,” just as most of you will not have the time, stomach or stamina to wade through all the comments to it. What I offer for the convenience of everyone concerned, but mostly me, is this, a directory of the most common comments from the current Instalanche, and my answers to them. I will direct all future commenters on the original post here, and the odds are that they will find their reply waiting for them.
Comment I: “All is fair in love and war.”
First of all, that has never been true. Second, American politics is not a war. Those who degrade it treat it is as one, but until politics stops being a treated as a war, and the objective continues being to crush the opposition rather than doing what is best for America, the nation will continue on its downward spiral. No doubt about it, the purveyors of the “Harry Reid is a pedophile” attack, as well as Reid himself, have jettisoned ethics and are waging war. But that is an indictment, not a justification.
Comment II: “Liberals always fight dirty and conservatives are expected to take the high road. It hasn’t worked.”
Of course, liberals say the exact same thing, reversed, and in both cases it’s self-validating fantasy. What really hasn’t worked is the increasingly dishonest, uncivil, mean-spirited vilification of both sides that has characterized national politics since Clinton took office. The result: a total breakdown in trust and respect for government institutions—in my view, a greater threat to America’s vitality than the debt or the economy. And the defenders of Reid-libel think the solution is more of the same. Madness.
Comment III: “Tit-for-Tat is a proven effective tactic for discouraging cheaters and malfeasors”
Yes, and so is shooting them. This is merely “The ends justify the means” in sheep’s clothing.
Comment IV: “You have a double standard, and only condemn this tactic when practiced by the Right.”
Discovered!!! Yes, it’s true, I’m really a left-wing, Obama-worshiping, MSNBC-cheering, conservative-bashing partisan! Right, loyal readers? Here we have the peril of rationalizing all criticism as biased. Come on Barry, blameblakeart, tgt, Ethics Bob, and my other readers with solid liberal leanings…tell these perceptive folks how I’m in the tank for your favored positions, policies and politicians.
Comment V: “Oh, NOW you’re against what the Left did to Rick Santorum! Where were you before?”
I was writing about how the denigration of Rick Santorum was wrong, that’s where I was, and I was there over a year ago. But by all means, don’t let reality get in the way of a cheap hypocrisy accusation.
Comment VI: “What’s good for the goose…”
The classic unethical fallacy. This allows the most unethical party in any relationship to set the standards of conduct, guaranteeing a race to the gutter.
Comment: VII: “You are claiming a false equivalency between the slander of private bloggers and elected officials.”
No, I’m not. I wrote that what Reid said was despicable and wrong, and I wrote that the pederasty meme was wrong. They are both wrong. I didn’t say that one was more wrong than the other, but obviously the standards are far higher for a man in Reid’s position than a random blogger or private citizen. So what? So what you are advocating is less wrong than what Reid did—that doesn’t make it right.
Comment VIII: “Reid has an obligation to the nation to prove he’s not a pedophile.”
Uh-huh. Suuuuure he does. It’s impossible to tell if the people writing this and similar comments are just carrying through on the charade or genuinely practicing the Big Lie. And at a certain point, the distinction vanishes.
Comment IX: “What gives a self-appointed ethicist the authority to say this is wrong?”
Everybody has an obligation and the authority to call wrongful conduct wrongful. It happens that I do it for a living; I practice it and work at it; and I’m pretty good at it, but that doesn’t mean I have a monopoly. I do know that anyone who can’t see that it is unethical to spread lies about a public figure as revenge for a scurrilous charge is unqualified to discuss ethics with anyone, not just a professional ethicist.
This is the ultimate non-argument always leveled at me by those who have no genuine arguments to make; it’s the equivalent of “Oh, yeah???” I’m pretty sick of it, to be honest. In this thread, the short-hand approach was to mock me as “Mr. Ethics.” I suppose this is clever to someone who thinks “Harry Reid is a pedophile” is the height of wit, which brings me to…
Comment X: “It’s a joke! You have no sense of humor, and don’t appreciate satire!”
Yes, “Harry Reid is a pedophile” is a real gut-buster; people just roll in the aisles when they hear that funny, funny sentence. The wit! The originality! The cleverness!
It’s not a joke, obviously. It’s not a joke to call anyone a child molester, especially these days, in the wake of Penn State. Bill Maher claims it was a joke when he called Michel Bachmann a slut, too—after all, nobody really believes she, of all people, really is a slut. Why weren’t all the red state types LOLing at that witticism? Or when MSNBC boor Ed Schultz called straight-arrow Laura Ingraham a slut? Hilarious, right?
“Harry Reid is a pedophile” is funny to people who hate Harry Reid. It’s playground, name-calling, bullying humor, which is to say it’s not truly humor at all. Kids used to think it was funny calling some skinny kid with glasses and a lisp a “homo”—in the 6th grade. That wasn’t a joke…that was someone with malicious intent laughing at hateful conduct toward a victim, and so is this. It isn’t satire. Name-calling isn’t satire. One commenter compared the smear to Jonathan Swift. Wow.
That’s it. If someone has something new and different to add, I’ll probably respond, but mostly this has just been a depressing demonstration how partisan fervor extinguishes ethical judgment, and how rationalizations rather than ethical analysis rule the conduct of a large and vocal segment of society.
Graphic: John Lund