Leave a Comment – change the world

I’ve heard that unemployment is down around 7% now, but that this figure doesn’t account for those who have dropped out of the job market, who have quit looking for work, in other words, and that the number of such is not insignificant. If they were counted (again, so I’ve heard) the percentage would jump to around 10% or even higher.

I don’t know how people quit looking for work. By that I mean I don’t know how they survive. (I also mean that if I got thrown out of work and decided not to look for any, the vengeance of the Queen of the Industrious, Prosperous and Stable Home – known also as my wife – whose rule tolerates no shiftless men in her orbit, would fall upon me with a terrible and swift finality.) But somehow, survive they do.

So I got to wondering: if they’re not working, what are they doing? Are they all couch potatoes now? Have they taken up gardening? What? Then one day I was perusing the articles at Yahoo News and saw that one of them had 18,000 comments attached. Plenty of others had 2 and 3 thousand, but a comment count in the range of 5 to 10 thousand was not unusual. Thus it came to me: the unemployed put in a hard day’s work leaving comments to various news and opinion articles scattered across the internet. They apparently believe that they can still make a difference in the world by sharing their opinion. Seeing that there are 2 thousand commenters ahead of them is no deterrent. Their comment will be the one that brings light to the discussion.

The light usually involves insulting either the writer of the article (often well-deserved), the subject of the article, or their fellow commenters. But sometimes the subject matter doesn’t lend itself to calumny, and they end up having a more normal sort of fun in their new line of unpaid work, as we find in some remarks appended to an article about the Asian tiger shrimp’s invasion of U.S. waters. The shrimp can grow to 13 inches long, resulting in a rational fear that this species will devour the natives:

“See I told you, even shrimp think shrimp are tasty…”

“somebody pass me a fork and some melted butter…if those things are invading, I am going down fighting.”

“the only problem I can see here is if there is a shortage of cocktail sauce…”

“Snakeheads, Lionfish, Asian Carp, and now this giant shrimp. How come their fish can beat up our fish?”

“foot long 1/4 lb. shrimp. so one only needs one for a meal and the problem is What !!! ”

“All you shrimpers out there, ‘Your gonna need a bigger boat’.”

“A 13 inch ‘shrimp’ . . . I wish I had that problem.”

And the duel of wits goes on for over 10,000 comments.

Now, I must admit that the temptation to Leave a Comment is sometimes difficult to resist, particularly when there aren’t that many ahead of you. My limit is about 50, after which I figure that even a comment by Jesus will be lost in the babel. For example, I was recently at National Review reading an interview of Anne Lastman entitled “Abortion Hurts,” conducted by Kathryn Jean Lopez. It concerned Lastman’s book Redeeming Grief. I was doing fine until I got to page 2, where Lastman says:

I am not in favor of the death penalty. I cannot fight for the life of a pre-born child and then agree to the killing of a person who has made a mess of his or her life. Pope John Paul II, in Evangelium Vitae, said “Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity.” There should be justice done, of course, but state-ordered murder of an adult is similar to the crime of the perpetrator.

In a fit of pique, I headed immediately for the comments:

As soon as I got to her characterization of the death penalty as “state-ordered murder,” I stopped reading. It’s disgusting, as though putting to death the innocent and the guilty were identical things.

That, I figured, would open her eyes. I mean, why else leave the comment? Somebody’s eyes needed opening, and I was the man for the job, a bearer of light, so to speak. Besides the comment getting only one “up” vote, neither Anne nor Lopez took any notice of my presence. But some guy named John Stevens did, and proceeded to lecture me:

Allow me to point out that the questioner is Catholic, and quite probably the subject of the interview as well. Execution of a prisoner is immoral because it steals from a human being the change to confess, repent, do penance and attain salvation. Thus the state becomes complicit in not just the killing of another human being, but the damnation of them, as well. Too, execution is contrary to the sanctity of human life, and damages the respect we should have for all human life. So long as a dangerous person can be held safely in confinement, there is no need for execution.

There was much to attack in this, but contented myself with, “I see you’re under the impression that use of the death penalty is contrary to Catholic doctrine. It isn’t.”

The end. No impact whatsoever. The unpaid work of bearing light is pretty much thankless. However, on another occasion I was perusing the American Spectator and came across this blog post by Aaron Goldstein, in which he claims that

…the Christian baker is every bit as wrong to not make a wedding cake for a gay couple as the Muslim cab driver is wrong not to transport passengers who need guide dogs or are carrying a bottle of Beaujolais.

His gift for split infinitives aside, here was another errant culture child in need of guidance. So, with a mere 40 or so people in front of me, I guided:

There is also the inconvenient fact that the Muslim cabdrivers are *wrong* to think that there is something immoral or unclean about guide dogs and wine bottles, while the baker is absolutely right that there is something *wrong* with two people of the same sex “marrying” each other, and with his being compelled to affirm the celebration.

Whoa. This time I get 8 “up” votes. This was better than “likes” on Facebook. A guy named Douglas says: “Your post highlights the true heart of the matter.” Hell yeah, I thought. That’s why I post things. But I said, “Thanks.” Aaron didn’t respond to me, so I guess he’s still in need of guidance.

In fact, on another post of his I descended into mere snark. In it, he accuses Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty of counseling 39 year old men to marry 15 and 16 year old girls. Many of the commenters dispute this, but I took issue only with his concluding that “we conservatives should choose our heroes a little more carefully.”

To which I responded, “We conservatives. What a laugh.” I admit this was not intended to shed any light on the post’s substance. It was beneath me, and I resolved to sin no more, maybe. My resolve was unaccompanied by any sense of remorse. After all, he was a sexual libertarian, not a conservative, and NEEDED TO HEAR IT.

He’s not the only one (libertarian) who writes for this conservative publication. One day I came across a post by Ross Kaminsky entitled “I Knew Someone Would (Do Some Gay-Bashing).” He had gotten incensed at a comment to his previous post, in which he had taken issue with Mark Regnerus’ 2012 study of homo vs. heterosexual parenting and its suggestion that “outcomes” were “worse” for children “in same-sex households.” It is Kaminsky’s belief “that a kid is probably better off with two very caring gay parents than two not very caring heterosexual parents.”

In response, he received an email from a reader who thinks that “preferential homosexuality and transgenderism” are caused by some trauma suffered early in life, which results in “faulty bonding and identification with the same-sex parent” and devastates the victim’s healthy “psycho-sexual development.” In other words, the correspondent thinks the affliction a form of mental illness. Kaminsky’s retort is to call his reader a “liar, a bigot, and represents everything that makes moderates, libertarians, and many young people dislike and distrust the entire social-right.”

It was obvious that my help was needed, so I gave it:

In the current post you say: “Libertarians (or Objectivists, like me) are not (necessarily) indifferent to the ‘inner life of the human being.’ What we object to is government involvement in that life…and in most other aspects of our lives.”
In the linked “note” you say: “I’m a libertarian and don’t care about people’s sexual orientation; I don’t have a dog in this fight.”
So it certainly sounds as though you are indifferent, even if you care very much. Whichever, the real question is whether you think homosexual sexual activity to be right or wrong, a good thing or a bad thing. If bad, you’ll condemn homosexual marriage and adoption. If good, you’ll laud it. So which will it be? Or is deciding what sort of sex you’ll have a matter of genuine indifference, like deciding what to have for dinner?

There. Now that core of the matter was made clear, he’d change his mind. (Although his calling himself an ‘Objectivist’ with a capital O was puzzling. Did this mean that he, the libertarian, was more disinterestedly objective in the search for truth than a conservative like me, or just that he objected to a lot of things, also like me?)

This time the author responded. He took note of my existence, vindicating my faith that progress was possible. Kaminsky:

William, I said that being pro-liberty does not make one indifferent to the idea that people have their own spiritual lives. My point is that those lives are private, and certainly not the business of the federal government. In fact, I am indifferent to other people’s sexual orientation in the sense that it doesn’t impact me and I don’t care to try to influence others along those lines. I don’t think homosexuality (or sexual activity) is either right or wrong. My interest when it comes to the kids is whether they will be raised by caring parents who turn them into good, productive members of society. The matter of “what sort of sex I will have” is absolutely NOT a matter of indifference to me, but the matter of what sort of sex YOU will have is a matter of indifference to me…as long as you don’t harm your kids.

This was, as internet commenters like to say, incoherent. My faith in progress and the reign of reason devolved at once into a state of apostasy. My career as a bearer of light was over. It was hopeless.

What was left of curiosity, however, compelled me to do a google search on ‘Objectivism.’ It sent me to this page, where I became acquainted with the hostility between Ayn Rand and Buckley’s crowd at NR, and with her views on various subjects of the day. Here she is on abortion:

An embryo has no rights. Rights do not pertain to a potential, only to an actual being. A child cannot acquire any rights until it is born. The living take precedence over the not-yet-living (or the unborn). Abortion is a moral right — which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

And on religion? Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.

On that page I also found a link, now dead, to Whittaker Chambers’ review of Atlas Shrugged, still retrievable here. It begins: The news about this book seems to me to be that any ordinarily sensible head could possibly take it seriously, and that apparently, a good many do. Take that, Kaminsky.

Ah well. This has been a very adumbrated version of my commenting history. I don’t how I have managed to persist in it for so long, since I can’t recall ever having convinced anyone of anything. It is amazing how invincible is the delusion that one can make a difference. Henceforth, my New Year’s Resolution: to refrain from commenting. I will keep my silence and my pearls from the swine.

Via an accidental swish of the mouse, I just noticed an old bookmark pointing to an article at National Review in which one of its writers makes the case for legalizing prostitution. Someone needs to set him straight, though it won’t be me. Still, it won’t hurt to take a look. Click.


This entry was posted in Abortion, Blogs, Capital Punishment, culture and morality, the marriage wars. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Leave a Comment – change the world

  1. Ron says:

    I came to your site, because I’ve been wondering how “people quit looking for work” and yet survive. I thought you might have some insight, but you quickly changed to other things. I don’t “FaceLift”. I don’t “Chirp”. I don’t normally read blogs. Don’t have the time. Don’t have the time to read this whole article. Do you ever give insight into this question?

  2. William Luse says:

    I’m sorry. I don’t have time to answer that.

  3. I’ve read up on this a bit. It’s a combination of:

    - Early retirees
    - Very young adults still living at home or returning home
    - One spouse or the other of two income couples
    - Huge spike in disability claims

  4. William Luse says:

    I’m sure the previous commenter appreciates your doing his work for him, but it’s off topic.

    I still love you though.

  5. Zippy says:

    The fact that a Google search brought someone to your page means he is entitled to an answer to his question from you. Because entitled.

  6. Lydia says:

    When e-mail first came along, those of us who had been inveterate and lengthy correspondents tried our best to treat e-mail in very much the same way as we had treated paper correspondence. To some extent, I think that is do-able.

    Then came e-mail listserves. That was a little harder. The volume was overwhelming, the conversations constantly crossed. One’s inbox filled up. It was extremely difficult to treat it as normal correspondence.

    In that context, the blogosphere came as something of a relief. It solved the problems that listserves were not solving well. It sorted out conversations (by blog post) and made it possible just to contribute to the ones you were interested in. It made it easier to skim over the entire conversation on a particular topic. So those of us of a pre-Internet generation, at last some of us, went back doggedly to trying to treat it as being like normal human interaction. If not quite like correspondence with an individual, perhaps like a combination of correspondence and group conversation. But even that proved difficult if not impossible. Even for the most old-fashioned, the temptation to one-liners and occasional pointless snark was nearly overwhelming. And whose mind was ever changed?

    Here I note a contrast with in-person conversation. I don’t know how one would gather statistics on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if more in-person conversations change people’s minds than blog discussions, however good the intentions on both sides.

    This is in large part why I keep my blog commenting restricted to a small and somewhat arbitrary set of blogs. The only possible way in which a comment is going to have force (hopefully for good) is if someone actually listens to it, and it’s a lot more likely that people will listen if there is some sort of “sense of community,” if people think that they “know” you, and if you have garnered some respect. Occasionally I comment somewhere more random, but my goal (not always followed) is to keep those comments to the informational: E.g., “By the way, that actually occurred in 1912, and it happened to Jones’s grandfather, not to his son.”

  7. William Luse says:

    Because entitled.

    Especially when my site ranked in the top 5 for that search. Har. When he asked if I ever give insight, I should have said, “Yes.” Then he’d have to read the article to find it. Which he doesn’t have time for. He doesn’t “chirp”, but for someone lacking time, I’d think Twitter would be perfect.

    Then came e-mail listserves

    You were on a listserve? You must have gotten started early. By the way, the guy who was at least partly responsible for starting all that might have commented somewhere above.

    the temptation to one-liners and occasional pointless snark was nearly overwhelming

    I think I might have succumbed to this temptation more than once. I’ve been trying to figure out how to fit it into confession. “Father, I was on this blog the other day and I said something gratuitously nasty to a person I’m not even sure exists who goes by the handle…” I’m working on it.

    And whose mind was ever changed?

    I’ve seen a few changed, or at least compelled to admit they were wrong, but not by anything *I’ve* said. Something’s lacking in my approach. Besides, I think minds on the internet (or anywhere, for that matter) are hard to change because most people who go there to express their opinion have already accepted one of our age’s dogmas: that everything is a matter of opinion. Everyone’s an authority now, such that people who actually are don’t get no respect. Nevertheless, I’d be willing to accept without proof that “more in-person conversations change people’s minds than blog discussions,” because that authority can make its force felt when it’s filtered through genuine love for the truth and for the person to whom it’s being offered. That’s how a priest I once knew convinced me on any number of matters. On the other hand, I converted to Christianity while reading an extended blog post called The Gospel According to John, so…

  8. Lydia says:

    Yes, I was on MEDTEXTL in the early 90′s. It was a medievalists’ listserve, based at the University of Illinois, I believe. (Medievalists have been some of the most go-gettum techno-savvy people in the Academy.) I wasn’t a medievalist but was working on Renaissance Christian literature and doing my prelims for my PhD and then my dissertation on Edmund Spenser, and they had a lot of relevant information. I was so ignorant of what etiquette obtained that I remember being shocked and even taking offense the first time someone used my name on the listserve. I can’t imagine now where I got the idea that people weren’t supposed to refer to other people by name when speaking to the list.

    Then about fifteen years ago I was on a listserve related to Intelligent Design theory. We got off of that one because we just didn’t have the time for the volume of e-mail.

    Yes, confessing bad on-line behavior is a puzzler for Protestants, too, even though we only have to name our sins to God. Still, it sounds odd even when talking directly to God: “I’m sorry for being so sharp with ‘Jeb’ the other day on-line. Or was I too harsh? Not sure. Anyway, I confess it if it was wrong…”

    Very good point about the Gospel of John!

  9. Lydia says:

    I don’t think this book, _John Who Saw_, is available on-line, but I think Tim owns a copy. Here’s a great quotation from it:

    http://lydiaswebpage.blogspot.com/2011/08/john-who-saw.html

  10. William Luse says:

    I remember that post. Neat passage.

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