I think first of the extraordinary anger that seems to be more present in the blogosphere than in everyday life. Debate after debate—on almost every site I visit, including the ones devoted to Christianity—either escalates from rational discourse into sneering and name-calling or just bypasses reason altogether and starts with the abuse.
Partly this derives from the anonymity of blog comments: people rarely identify themselves by their real names, and the email addresses that they sometimes provide rarely give clues about their identity: a person who is safe from substantive reprisals is probably more easily tempted to express rage. Also—and this is a problem especially on the political blogs—commenters can find themselves confronted with very different beliefs than the ones they encounter in everyday life, where they often are able to select their own society. A right-winger wandering into a comment thread on Dailykos.com is likely to get a serious douse of vitriol for his or her trouble; ditto a liberal who plunges into the icy waters of No Left Turns. And the anonymous habitués of a given site are unlikely to show much courtesy to the uninvited guest. (This is one reason why sites like the two just mentioned get more rhetorically, and substantively, extreme over time: everyone is pulling in one direction, and scarcely anyone shows up to exert counter-pressure.)
Wow! I wouldn’t have thought of comparing the level of vitriol at NLT to that I’ve seen at Daily Kos, and I’m not certain that NLT has gotten "more rhetorically, and substantively extreme," in the years that I’ve read and contributed to it. I know that there are a few anonymous commenters who are over the top at least some of the time, but even they, often as not, make substantive arguments. We are, for better (I think), not in the Daily Kos’s league when it comes to venom, vitriol, and extremism. And it’s not something to which I’d aspire.
So I ask NLT readers, liberal and conservative alike, what they think of Jacobs’s observations.
And for gosh’s sake, keep it civil.
Update: You should, of course, read the whole of Jacobs’s provocative essay, which makes a number of telling points, like this one:
Blogs remain great for news: political, technological, artistic, whatever. And they provide a very rich environment in which news (or rather "news") can be tested and evaluated and revised, as we have seen repeatedly, from cnn’s firing of Eason Jordan to the discrediting of Dan Rather’s story on President Bush’s National Guard service. But as vehicles for the development of ideas they are woefully deficient and will necessarily remain so unless they develop an architecture that is less bound by the demands of urgency—or unless more smart people refuse the dominant architecture. Even on a site with the brainpower of Crooked Timber, what happens more often than not—indeed, what happens so often that I’ve taken the site from my rss reader and only check it once or twice a month—is the conversion of really good scholars into really lousy journalists. With few exceptions, posts at the "academic" or "intellectual" blogs I used to frequent have become the brief and cursory announcement of opinions, not the free explorations of new and dynamic thinking.
So, yes, read, the whole thing, even if you don’t agree with it.