I don't consider trolling, baiting or sensationalism as valid discourse. Certainly not in politics, we all have our moments, but too many use it for commercial gain, for fame, or to create artificial political division for partisan and electoral advantage.
Fine I can accept that. I don't like it, and try to ignore that, except when it intrudes on my habits - which includes reading the Outlook section front to back on Sunday mornings. Another of my favourite past times is going to the local Barnes and Nobles store where I browse the history and philosophy sections, with no particular purpose in mind, just to see what jumps at me.
Recently the store broke off the modern politics section and put it in the center of the history alcove. It is two shelves high on both sides, waist height basically, and filled with all the sensationalist, rotten muck that passes for political discourse. "How to kill liberals", "How to waterboard conservatives", "How binHillary will be next President" or "Why Bush is the devil" - you know the titles and the authors.
I love probing the depths and complexity of history, politics and philosophy: it is my hobby, but when I see this line up I am faced by a mix of despair and laughter. Despair that the country which produced the great rationalist liberal leap of the US Republic now passes this shit as political discourse, and laughter that such absurdities are taken seriously - commercially and politically.
All is not lost of course. Buried in this morass of sensationalism are modestly named texts like, "The Rights of Man" and "The Federalist". I recognise that commercialism is driving much of this. Even well reasoned and professionally written books such as Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq have sensational titles. Fiasco is an excellent work of journalistic insight into present history and events.
But even so. The desire for eyeballs does not mean that editors have to go to such shrill lengths especially when they carry so little purpose and are devoid of quality, merit or relevance. The recent Liz Cheney op-ed is one example, and this Dinesh D'Souza article is another.
I am reminded of Warren Bass' Book Review of D'Souza's book:
As the great social scientist Thomas C. Schelling might have put it, there are two possibilities here: Either D'Souza is blaming liberals for 9/11 because he truly believes that they're culpable, or he's blaming liberals for 9/11 because he's cynically calculating that an incendiary polemic will sell books.
I just don't know which is scarier.
One has to wonder why his publisher, agent, editors and publicists went along for the ride, and it's hard not to conclude that they thought the thing would cause a cable-news and blogosphere sensation that would spike sales -- a ruckus triggered not despite the book's silliness but because of it.
This sort of scam has worked before (think of Christopher Hitchens's gleeful broadside against Mother Teresa or the calculated slurs of Ann Coulter), but rarely has the gap between the seriousness of the issues and the quality of the book yawned as wide.
This time, let's just not bother with the flap; this dim, dishonorable book isn't worth it.
Warren Bass is saying don't feed the trolls. The problem for reasonable people of conscience is that the Washington Post editors are feeding trolls like D'Souza steak by the truck load.
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