How mindsets drive commentary—whether reform, revolution, reaction or resistance to change

Cheap shots only cheapen what still in the main offers an effective, worldwide online opportunity.

Image Credit: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Online or not, how you express yourself links to what you say, thus style reflects telling assumptions

The idea that style expresses self-hood comes with proverbial baggage, codified in the Renaissance by Erasmus (“clothes make the man”) and Shakespeare’s Polonius (Hamlet), “apparel oft proclaims the man.” Tom Wolfe, with homage to Mark Twain, provided his own witty context in 1962: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Taking this into account, let’s focus on this truth: how we express ourselves is directly connected to our worldview (even manners), certainly complicating artificial distinctions between style (the how) and content (the what). 

Worldviews, conscious or not, are foundational drivers of what one finds significant, even worthy of scrutiny, whether a MAGA Christian crusader, the president, House swindlers, historians, or online writers and commentators. Certainly, for those with far more opinions than knowledge, whether ideological defenders or bad faith contrarians, the world of internet commentary welcomes both whims and rancor. Behaving badly exceeds bad manners, as when going personal, dumping irrelevances, or parading logical fallacies (or scorning logic entirely)—signaling the rhetorical clothes by which others know you. The specious distraction, being able to invent code names, only adds to chaotic, scatter-gun online excesses. After all, at no extra charge, the opinionated protected by anonymity can bloviate away, thrilled to appear next to notable experts, trained specialists, and knowledgeable writers. As a public service, I think it high time to categorize the range of contributors so we all understand what floats which boats. 

First up, especially facing well-educated, left leaning essayists: 

A) the ideologically-driven stalkers who know all the answers, having compressed the world’s complexity into a mantra of slogans and catchphrases. These partisans have figured it out, dishing out settled models that explain everything in the universe, the subject du jour be damned. Masters of confirmation bias don’t care to argue with facts or arguments but ridicule dissenters who don’t toe their line. So, just defend any elected politician, trying to advance ordinary lives, as different from the overweight, egocentric, self-serving authoritarian at large—and batten down the hatches for incoming fireworks. Yep, far more noise than substance. Saying anything positive about Joe Biden’s domestic gains, while bypassing cheap shots about his age or fluency, and the outraged come at you like flies munching carrion. For them, no democratically-elected politician deserves power, certainly not respect.   Really, what does the majority of (dimwit) voters know? 

Just suggest that government often works and performs key life-affirming roles makes you a knee-jerk sell-out in the pocket of some entrenched oligarchy. Not to sweepingly rail against the establishment, or distinguish what remains of functional capitalism (vs. corrupt corporatism) makes one an agent of the right-wing Chamber of Commerce. For the fixated, any published writer who doesn’t scoff at what passes for reality is simply a target for abuse. Really, who doubts the world is already disintegrating, consumed by internal contradictions? Who denies that climate change makes all reality (even elections or daily life) akin to playing shuffleboard on the Titanic? Or what thinker worth his salt challenges the looming Civil War that will obsolete all reformist activism? 

B) a variant, the gloom and doom cynics areso skeptical of reform they dismiss real-world politics as a fool’s-errand. While such congenital pessimists can’t read the future any better than those with getter eyesight, they rant and rave to express their frustration or anxiety, bedeviled by powerless against conspiracies by billionaires, militarists, fundamentalist fanatics, or the next global (Chinese caused) pandemic. You can’t be a gloom-and-doomer without adoring exaggeration. Whatever the cause or complexity, so many thought-out, prudent attitudes on current affairs (or the history they determine) become masturbatory indulgences. 

So not only is voting or supporting actual candidates an immoral waste of time and money, politics is so sleazy that embracing victimhood becomes the default stance. Not a few paradoxically end up wanting a Trump-style strongman because that crazed authoritarian will at least keep “bad foreigners” at bay, blast drug dealers (but not mass gun murderers or abortion bans), push for isolationism from such a befuddled world, and then (rhetorically only) punch an insensitive corporate monopoly in the face.

C) the scatter-gun trolls who don’t read (or care) what a veteran, trained writer presents but carve out posts to give their two cents public prominence. Such irascible folks (often hobbled by untreated psychic issues) think dumping on expertise, the well-educated, or any perceived elitist “apologist” justify their existence (and computer costs). Actual content matters less than that off-topic screeds, pulsing with snide (they think clever) judgments that achieve their ends by hijacking any page that won’t block them. Don’t expect to converse with such opportunists for it’s not clear they have the skills or knowledge for genuine exchanges. Bad faith stalking, thy name is trollery. And defamation we no know ain’t nice or cheap these days. 

D) the literate, rational adults, whether left or right-leaning, who understand the writer’s context and the objectives (even one’s background and experience) and commit to conversations. These commentators challenge the points and arguments, even the assumptions, by bringing information or a relevant perspective. They may agree or disagree but their respectful choices honor relevance, logic and reason, shunning conversation-ending logical fallacies and advancing what democratic forums truly need. They are thus good citizens, aware of complexity and nuance, who won’t be baited by trolls or distractors. Such positive forces make online writing worthwhile, hats off to them. 

E) Often sophisticated folks who promote their platforms (or books) cultivate a measured distance from anything as silly as internet chats. When challenged, they fall back on tepid satire that dismisses serious essayists. I understand skepticism about the very mixed bag that is online performance, at times wondering what light my prose and education achieve while keeping my mind sharp by tracking public affairs. And writing is work. Often driven by well-intended worldviews, those tending towards dismissal are more honorable than mud-stirring, mud-slinging trolls. 

Not covering all online types, I welcome input, additions and descriptions. What matters are the explicit words and values one brings to the party, not how one shows off. That’s what determines the nature and depth of a comment, done with awareness that other people exist and deserve respect, except for blocked, indefensible trouble-makers. Certainly, the anonymity of names serves for unchecked, uncivil commentary; having to use real names would upgrade the overall tone and atmosphere online. Not having to take responsibility for extreme, nasty or unhelpful opinions turns commentary into an amusement park shooting gallery—often getting away with what wouldn’t pass at Thanksgiving dinners. 

Style in the end, at least when measured by the surface dimension, does not make the man or woman. Only character and awareness do. But how you express yourself, and how you treat strangers you barely know, say a great deal about one’s character, values, education, and sophistication. Cheap shots only cheapen what still in the main offers an effective, worldwide online opportunity. Good faith is not just about good manners but civility and appreciation for what could emerge as collective benefits. A healthy, diverse democracy takes a great deal of work, exceeding knee-jerk reflex impulses found mainly on the right but on the left, too. More’s the pity. 


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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.