One of the reasons it took me so long to start a blog is that I’d heard from my friends who write them that they can take up huge amounts of time and energy. Although I don’t mind spending some time with it (I teach courses primarily in public rhetoric and discourse, so it’s kind of professional practice for me to write public documents), the recent set of exchanges about CCPM, CCVM, the Sheepdogs, etc has demonstrated to me what the limits of such public discourse are. At least one of the limits, anyway.
I’ve known since late January 2005 that making yourself a public target of angry people can be a little frightening. When three very angry people mailed anonymous death threats to my house in response to arguments I didn’t make in a Philly Inquirer op-ed, I was nervous. For about 10 minutes, until I got mad, that is. I was, and still am, mad that people would lecture me about accountability in letters they wouldn’t even sign. Of course, if I were inclined to threaten other people’s lives, I probably wouldn’t sign those threats either. Good thing I’m a pacifist.
Since then, I’ve had the friend of a supposed Navy Seal tell me that his friend wanted to drag me outside the back of Ryan’s Pub in WC and kill me. My office-mate, who’s a Navy retiree, tells me that no real Seal would ever say such a thing, but still. I’ve heard a counter-protester lean up against me and say to his friend, “Let’s beat the sh*t out of one of these hippies and see what happens.”
Let’s just say that while these kinds of threats aren’t pleasant, I’ve learned a few things from them. First, the likelihood that anybody will come through on one of those threats is low. I have to believe that anybody who’s really been trained to kill and has been disciplined into military service simply wouldn’t do this. As much as I disagree with the counter-protesters about politics, military policy, philosophy and so on, I don’t think they’re insane. When they say they’ve had to commit acts of violence and therefore hate them more than we do, I actually believe them.
Second, I’ve learned that anybody who would make that kind of threat (or who would be happy that somebody did) is simply incorrigible. There’s nothing I can say that’s going to change the way they think about anything. For somebody who believes (almost religiously) in the possibilities of rhetoric and persuasion, this is a hard lesson to take.
Third, although I’m firmly committed to democracy as the practice of freedom (rather than as some abstraction that we “fight for” in hopes that we might “protect it” as if it were a thing), that doesn’t mean I’m willing to be a martyr while people whose inclination is to attack throw ad hominems around.
Somebody on one of the threads over the last week or so made the claim that “can” and “should” don’t mean the same thing. Yup. And that cuts both ways. Just because you can lob accusations around without knowing or caring whether they’re true, that doesn’t mean you should. I realize that’s part of the strategy–throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks–but that doesn’t make it OK. If you’re committed to the truth like you say you are, then don’t just make stuff up.
A final note for the day… As I say on the “About Seth” page, this is my blog and I get to decide what goes on it and what doesn’t. Sheepdogs already have their own blog where they can say whatever they want. Skye has her blog where she can say whatever she wants. And having scanned through both, I can say that they take this liberty very seriously. That’s their business. I don’t intend to read any more of their blogs.
But I will not tolerate baseless personal attacks against me or anybody else (even people who are on my “side”) any more. In fact, I won’t tolerate personal attacks of any kind any more. And before anybody sets off on a lecture about my hypocrisy in being “intolerant,” let me be very clear about one thing. There are some folks for whom tolerance is the highest priority (anarchists and Libertarians are very closely aligned on this, even though they say they reject each other’s philosophies). I’m certainly committed to tolerance, but only to a point. I have no interest in serving as a conduit for disrespect. Take it somewhere else until you show some basic respect for people who aren’t you.