Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Reasoned discourse in the age of instant communication

Back in the day, before the internet (s), when someone had a beef with their local dog catcher, cook, or bottle washer, they took it to the editorial pages of the daily newspaper. Those were better days in my opinion, for the simple fact that before that letter to the editor even saw the darkness of the inside of a mail box, the writer had time for some self-reflection, and if they were really angry at their mayor because the trash man forgot to empty their trash receptacle, the actual time and act of composing and constructing that letter often helped dissipate some of the anger. None of this instant anger flashing across monitors, like today.

In order to get your letter to the editor, chances are you had to lug your overly heavy Underwood to the kitchen table. If you were an adequate typist, knocking it out would be no problem. An interesting component of the letter to the editor was the actual signing, and noting of your residence. There was little of this “anonymous” posting, and instant hating, going on today.

By signing your name, noting the town where you were domiciled, and in many cases, the inclusion of your phone number for verification purposes, it furnished the newspaper with a contact for follow-up purposes. That’s if, per chance, you had a clear, concise letter of 250 words, short of attacks, slander, libel, or words of defamation. In many cases, you also couldn’t send that same letter to four other newspapers in your city, as many editorial page staffers, during their process (usually a simple phone call) of due diligence, asking if you were John Doe from Anytown, USA, as you had signed your letter, and whether it was exclusive to the Finicky Times-Reader. If you passed their muster, then it might be another three or four days before your missive was read by the loyal readers in your newspaper’s circulation area.

This isn’t to say that a poorly written screed didn’t find its way to the pages of your local daily. However, when your factually incorrect letter of run-on sentences, filled with spelling errors reached its intended audience, your original intent was often nullified. Another positive effect is that angry friends of the local dogcatcher (or mayor) who wanted to rush to the defense of their local champion had to go through the same lengthy process, which tended to weed the merely angry, from the passionate and semi-literate.

The intelligent politician, or grass roots organizer often embarked on a strategy to ensure that the issue of the day, or the stellar candidate, had a rash of letters supporting it, or them. A letter would be composed, and copies passed out at a meeting, with suggested changes, so it didn’t resemble astro turf. Then, on Thursday, or Friday, a slew of letters would be printed together, praising Cyrus Dogbreath, who was running for Sheriff. His honest approach of enforcement would surely return law and order to Serenity Falls.

Even better, there was none of this current posting under pseudonyms of “honest avenger,” or “pissed off taxpayer,” making ad hominem attacks the national pastime.

On the flipside, if you wanted to write something more substantial, exceeding the 250 word limit on letters to the editor, you might try your hand at the Op Ed, which potentially could triple the words allowed.

Doing so, however, required greater skill. You had to have something more than just righteous indignation fueling your prose. There’s an art to the well-written Op Ed. There are fewer of them, they tend to be for people that hold a position of some prestige, or at least, have some critical connection to their topic. The process of getting published is also much more competitive. The nice thing is that a well-written Op Ed can make a solid case for the issue that’s important to your cause.

In framing the arguments I made against my local representative, I stated that, “to my way of thinking,” his performance had been less than stellar. This was based on the political philosophy I hold, some of my observations that come from the work I do, personal observations, and the fact that in my very own opinion, a change might be in order.

If stating my case, on my own personal blog, using my ancient personal computer (during non-work time, i.e. the wee hours of the morning, when I often do much of my writing), elicits the level of vitriol, hatred, and personal attacks against me and my reputation that I experienced at As Maine Goes, then something is seriously wrong with our instant mode of communication (or better, some of the folks using it).

In attempt to drive away any of the new readers coming over here from such an esteemed site, I’ll be doing my best the next week, or so, to inform any of the haters who happen to stop by, why I hold some of the positions that I do. Upcoming will be my take on neoliberalism, a real tempest in a teapot subject if there ever was one. Then maybe, it’s a post on anger management.
By the way, this post, which is slightly longer than the length of an Op Ed, has been put away for at least 12 hours to sit and simmer while I go off to work. I will come back to it, reread it, possibly rework it a bit, and then I’ll decide if I still want to post it. I urge others to consider this very method, if perchance, something I wrote here offended their sensibilities, or caused their blood pressure to tick up.

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