The Playground of Ideas
A response that Newsmakers host Tim White made to me during the latest episode of his show (channel 12 at 5:30 a.m., channel 11 at 10:00 a.m., and online in two parts here and here) struck me as worthy of further discussion. Ian Donnis asked about the “vitriol” in blog comment sections, and I answered, in part:
One of the things I do like about the medium in general is you really can bring it back to a sort of basics of interpersonal relationships. What I mean by that is you ignore somebody who’s being snippy, and they’ll stop, if everybody starts to gang up on them, and if it gets really bad, you can ban them.
To which Tim White suggested:
That’s kind of a high school playground mentality. Is there any filter; do you read a contribution to your site before posting it, or is it raw?
The curious consequence of White’s formulation is that it casts learning to interact without hierarchical supervision as the juvenile method, and submitting to an official hand to “filter” discussion as the — I guess — mature and civilized route. Without extrapolating an extemporaneous statement to global ideological realities, it’s possible to see in this reversal the inclination to seek ever more central authority.
That’s a profound question: Is it a higher mode of being to mutually reinforce a set of abstract standards, or to rely upon a chosen group of human individuals to dictate behavior? Obviously, I’d argue for the former (and in a way that integrates with the Catholic Christianity to which I strive to adhere, if anybody wishes to take the discussion there), and I’d further suggest that what Tim characterizes as a “playground mentality” is actually the set of grown-up rules that we try to impose upon youthful interactions. Adults tell the kids to ignore the troublemaker or jointly express disapproval (and to accept him if contrite and cooperative), rather than allow them more primal means — such as throwing rocks to drive him off.
In a playground for adults, the need to have somebody on recess duty would ideally be minimal, and his role, in any case, ought to be to guide toward better behavior, not to censor and punish.