February 17, 2003

Hate Mail From Glenn Reynolds,

Hate Mail

From Glenn Reynolds, I learn that Megan McArdle has been getting a whole lot of hate mail. She's pretty upset by it, it seems.

I'm sure I don't get anywhere near as much hate mail as Glenn or Megan. (That's not because I'm particularly virtuous, or less hate-able or anything: my blog is just a very, very small fish and hardly worth the effort.) I do get some, though. I'm not talking here about reasoned and measured expressions of disagreement about a particular point: I value these highly, and they're one of the main reasons I've continued blogging after all these months. And I'm not even talking about heated or angry expressions of disagreement that register passionate disapproval of this or that post. I value these also, though they can be shorter on content. Both kinds of criticism sharpen your ideas, spur you to reexamine your motives and prejudices, teach you things you may not have known or considered. I've learned a lot from these readers.

No, the kind of hate mail I'm talking about is the kind described by Megan, in which the major content consists of what she delicately describes as "pornographic suggestions." She also indicates that most of her hate mail comes "via a few high profile lefty blogs." This phenomenon has always puzzled and fascinated me, because those who have sent this sort of thing my way seem generally to see themselves as Left, liberal, left-liberal or something like that. And here's the puzzling part: when I do get such letters, they are almost universally devoted to what are intended as insults about homosexual activity.

But wait a sec. I thought liberals were supposed to be all for "that sort of thing," as Father Ted put it. ("You know, the whole rough and tumble of the homosexual lifestyle.") Free to be you and me.

That's how I feel about it. In fact, despite the fact that I'm tired of identity politics; that I'm a bit of an "imperialist" in that I believe in a strong, purposeful national defense, and that I still believe American power can be used to foster democracy around the world in hopes that oppressed people of the world might end up more like us; that I don't hate America, though I see our flaws and recognize we have been responsible for serious misdeeds; that I don't necessarily despise or disagree with everything that comes out of the mouth of someone who doesn't have a "(D)" next to his or her name; and despite the fact that many public standard bearers of self-proclaimed "liberalism" often don't seem all that bright, nor indeed even very liberal; despite all that, I still pretty much think of myself as a "liberal." Quite often, anyway. And when I think of myself that way, one of the things I mean when I say it is respect and support for the freedom and liberty of all citizens to do whatever they like that is not of a dangerous or sociopathic nature. And when I say "all citizens," it definitely, definitely includes gays. Of course it does.

Now, I assume most people who see themselves as "liberal" espouse, or like to think they espouse, something like this ideal. And it's certainly possible to espouse this ideal sincerely while at the same time having a bit of fun with the shock value of proscribed words or ideas. I'm a great believer in shock value. (That's the weakness of many of my utlra-lefty antagonists: they're too easily shocked.) Gay jokes, blonde jokes, Polish jokes, what have you-- they can be pretty funny and I'm all for 'em. Good-natured ribbing (so to speak) among friends using off-color terms or expressions is fine with me as well. (The rhetoric of the "hate mail" I'm talking about is not good-natured by any means, but rather profoundly hostile.) I don't believe in hate speech laws, in legislating against bad taste, nor indeed in any kind of speech restriction. I'm not even all that certain about that whole "yelling fire in a theatre" caveat. (I've done it; it's great fun.) But, if I'm not mistaken, broadly speaking they (self-identified left-liberals) do tend to believe in such laws and restrictions. And there's little question that all this stuff about gobbling this and swallowing that, how you like to "take it," what or whom you might be sucking or licking, or whose bitch you are, etc., runs rather dangerously close to "hate speech" by any definition. Especially if you are among those who think people should be fired for using the word "niggardly" or mentioning the Seinfeld "Mulva" episode in "mixed company."

But maybe those in the "I hate spunk-gobblers and cock-smokers" brigade aren't the same left-liberals as those in the would-be Insensitivity Police. How could they be? Even leaving that aside, though: what kind of "liberal" believes (as these folks must) that comparing someone to a homosexual and "accusing" him of engaging in homosexual behavior is the worst and most powerful insult that can be hurled at someone with whose views they disagree? I realize it's not a literal accusation, but rather a metaphor for something nasty, disgusting, beyond the pale, the message being that a position such as support for war in Iraq is such a thing. (There also seems to be a hint of accusation of "submissiveness," which is fairly ironic in the case of support for a war, but never mind.) OK, so it's a metaphor. What kind of "liberal" thinks that that's a nifty metaphor? What kind of "liberal" thinks that that is just the vehicle to get the point across? No kind of "liberal" I'd want to hang out with. Ewww. What's the matter with them?

It occurs that there may be a couple of things wrong with my sample. I don't get that much of this kind of mail, and much of what I do get comes from anti-war lefties, for obvious reasons. Maybe using homosexuality as a metaphor in such a way is a general cultural rhetorical habit, not a province of the intellectual dregs (I was gonna say "bottom-feeders, but somehow, that seems inappropriate) of "the Left" alone, but also of the intellectual dregs of those who lean "right." Indeed, the latter case is what I imagine a lot of people would assume, the former counter-intuitive to many, I'd guess: hostility to gays isn't generally seen as a fault of the left-leaning, which is indeed why the whole thing is so puzzling and surprising.

So here's the question: do blogs with a more pronounced leftish slant (Brian, Ted, Atrios, TPM) get this kind of mail too? Does Ted Barlow, for example, get pieces of, erm, mail from anonymous right wing types that say "hey Cum Slurper-- how do you like sucking Paul Krugman's dick?" (That's a common elocution-- when I get 'em, they usually mention Andrew Sullivan.)

If so, God help us. If not, God help us, as well. Anyone out there (preferably someone who can keep a civil tongue) have any insight into this?

Posted by Dr. Frank at February 17, 2003 02:23 PM | TrackBack