Julian Sanchez notes that any “commenter on politics or public affairs whose audience reaches a certain size gets a level of feedback—via email, Twitter, blog posts and comments — that would have been unthinkable for any but the few most prominent public intellectuals a generation ago.”
Um, yes. I like to remark that the most interesting reading I could offer is a peek at my email inbox. You would not believe the amount of information that flows through there. I spent a decade as a political operative and I never had access to the kind of information I have as a political blogger.
And I can’t imagine what flows through a more prominent political reporter’s inbox. What’s in your inbox, Adam Smith?
Still, Sanchez worries about this development:
If the type and volume of criticism we find online were experienced in person, we’d probably think we were witnessing some kind of EST/Maoist reeducation session designed to break down the psyche so it could be rebuilt from scratch. The only way not to find this overwhelming and demoralized over any protracted period of time is to adopt a reflexive attitude that these are not real people whose opinions matter in any way. Which, indeed, seems to be a pretty widespread attitude. Scan the comments at one of the more partisan political blogs and you get a clear sense that the “other side” consists not so much of people with different ideas, but an inscrutable alien species. I think it’s self-evident that this is an unhealthy development in a democracy, but it may be a coping strategy that our media ecosystem is forcing on us—at least until we find a better one.
Andrew Sullivan has a suggestion, not one I am ready to agree with, but that I see the point of: Scrap comments sections, and add serious editors to filter the smartest emails both in favor of the blogger’s view and against.
Yes, you need to develop the thickest of skins. But a thick skin isn’t the same as epistemic closure. Or it doesn’t need to be.