Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies, Statistics, and Whatever Comes out of Dennis Prager's Mouth

First, if you haven't seen enough to suggest that Dennis Prager makes up whatever crap he needs at a given moment, take a look at Luke Ford's quasi-recent post at Reshimu:

If you don’t feel yourself a victim, you are 75% less likely to vote Democrat…

Yeah, and if your head lives in your butt, there's a seventy-two percent chance your last name rhymes with "Jäger."

This latest bit of bullcrap inspired me to see what else Dennis has been up to lately. Surprise, surprise, I wasn't disappointed.

Check out this oldish post from October. Dennis starts off by ranting about internet porn.

Only God knows, for example, how many kids, searching for some government information, typed in "" only to be greeted by pornographic images (happily, the website changed hands in 2004). It is almost impossible to completely avoid such imagery even with filtering programs.

Yeah, some porn-hawkers are kind of bastards like that. At the same time, it's not like there's any legal way to stop them. And it's the old slippery slope argument, Dennis. What domain-names ARE ok for porn sites? Are you going to say they can't have ones with "cock" in the title because Boy Scouts looking for tips on rooster husbandry will be led astray? What about facials? The sad truth is, the porn people use and abuse language just like everyone else. You can't really get around it.

Luckily, right right before Dennis starts growing a beard and calling himself Tzvi, he gets control of himself and turns to his real point. Porn is bad, but name-calling is worse.

But there is something at least as awful – and arguably more destructive – that permeates the Internet: the lies, vitriol, obscenities and ad hominem attacks made by anonymous individuals on almost every website that deals with public issues.

Eep. A shot across my proverbial bow. Well, Dennis, you want war, I'll give you a war. Anonymous snark, away!

Sexual images and prose for the purpose of sexual titillation are not new. But the ability of anyone in society to debase public discourse is new. Until the Internet, in the public's best-known venue for self-expression – letters to the editor published in newspapers and magazines – people either expressed themselves in a civilized manner or they were not published. And overwhelmingly, even those letters that were not published were written in a respectful manner because the letter-writers had to reveal their real names and their addresses (though only names and cities were published).

Your cherry-picked example is technically accurrate, but, as Orthomom pointed out in her free-speech case, a lot of really great stuff in American political history was originally published, sometimes self-published, anonymously. (To be fair, sometimes it was precisely because the tone or content was not entirely professional- Ben Franklin's earliest literary works seem pretty analogous to snarky blogging to me.)

Being identifiable breeds responsibility; anonymity breeds irresponsibility.

Oh, how Dennis does love those absolutes. Only problem is, plenty of identifiable people continually act like jackasses without any real consequences- just look at Pat Robertson, who says whatever damn thing pops into his head at any given moment. For every Imus and Dog Chapman, there are zillions of others (Ann Coulter?) that just keep on trucking.

That is why people tend to act more decently when they walk around with their names printed on a nametag.

Another brilliant statistic Dennis no doubt got from his favorite periodical, the "I Read it Somewhere" Journal, not to be confused with, "Pulled from My Ass" Quarterly.

That is why people act more rudely when in their cars – they cannot be identified as they could outside of their car.

Disproven by riding in the car with my father with the windows down (totally identifiable), and by him cursing other people- usually drivers- out when HE is standing outside his own house. Some people just don't care.

There is no question but that most people would write very different entries on the Internet if their names were printed alongside their submission.

Dennis has obviously not read any talkbacks on Israeli newspaper websites. Some are anonymous, but some people just don't seem to care.

The problem here is that Dennis is confusing different definitions of anonymity. Knowing my name wouldn't give most of my readers a heck of a lot of information, simply because there isn't that much to know, certainly not in terms of a web presence. The fact that one can use one's real name yet still have the anonymity of a low profile (or, say, a common name) seems to challenge Dennis' assumption that if only people would reveal themselves on the net, no one would act like a jerk.

It is the very rare individual who sends a hate-filled, obscenity-laced e-mail that includes his name.

That wasn't my experience the one time I got into a tiff with the JDL on their message board, but fair enough.

As the recipient of such e-mails, I know firsthand how rarely people identify themselves when sending hate-filled mail. It is so rare, in fact, that I usually respond to hate mail that includes the writer's name just to commend him for attaching his name to something so embarrassing.

Note to self: send Dennis some email. Of course, the obscenity thing is still going to be tricky- maybe I'll make things challenging and send it full of nothing but double-entendres. Let's see:

"Dear Dennis, you are a cock. Your beak of stupidity makes my ears bleed, and your crow of fake statistics makes my brain want to break out of my skull and strangle you. I want to swing you around by the neck over my head before slaughtering you to feed a poor family. Also, I heard you like facials. That must explain why you have such nice skin."

The Internet practice of giving everyone the ability to express himself anonymously for millions to read has debased public discourse. Cursing, ad hominem attacks and/or the utter absence of logic characterize a large percentage of many websites' "comments" sections. And because people tend to do what society says it is OK to do, many people, especially younger people, are coming to view such primitive forms of self-expression as acceptable.

Again, Dennis always seems to come back to the issue of misidentifying related problems (public schools are secular; public schools are shit-holes) as causing each other (no prayer in schools MAKES them shit-holes). Cursing, ad hominems and the absence of logic may be more easily apparent on anonymous sites, but they're far from restricted to them. Just check out any shock jock or quasi-notorious Internet personality. Anonymity may give people a security blanket, but the underlying motivation is that they don't see those activities as being all that bad.

Some might argue that anonymity enables people to more freely express their thoughts. But this is not true. Anonymity only enables people to more freely express their feelings. Anonymity values feelings over thought, and immediate expression over thoughtful reflection.

There is not one good reason for any website, left or right, or non-political, to allow people to avoid identifying themselves. Anyone interested in serious political discourse, or in merely lowering the hate levels in our country, should welcome the banning of anonymous postings.

So there, Orthomom.

It would be interesting to find out how many websites continue to encourage anonymous postings. Presumably, they would pay some financial price by insisting on posters identifying themselves. I don't know why, and I don't know how big a price that would be, but it is hard to imagine that it is higher than the price society pays when hate, anger and irrationality become the normal way of citizens expressing themselves.

Not at all like, say, Talk Radio. Incidentally, Dennis, how exactly do you propose these websites check and enforce people's names? Background checks? Social Security Numbers? It seems like an awful lot just so I can comment on the BBC. Somehow I don't picture you or Rush spending much time screening callers to make sure that "Mike from Montana" is actually named Mike.

Dennis' last comment, which I'm guessing started this whole rant in the first place (how is it you didn't have anything more important to talk about that week?), is particularly heartfelt:

I have come to the point where I even read fewer comments posted about my own columns.

Poor, poor baby. How dare those vicious commenters stop you from regaling in your own genius!

You know, spending tons of time reading comments on your own columns seems almost as bad as Googling yourself. Humility, thy name is Prager. Or
Jäger, if you'r feeling rhyme-y.

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