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I have seen the future, and it’s murder…

Loonies, and teabags, and prayers…oh my!


VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Since it is now true that most people in North America use the Internet as their primary source of news, I’ve been trying to take the pulse of the Internet surfing public. To that end, I’ve been following news commentary on Internet news providers like Yahoo; I’ve even posted a couple of comments on a sampling of news stories to get a sense of the level of news discussion in which the general public engages. I’m here to tell you that if I have seen the face of the future, we’re in for a rough ride.

A few weeks of using the most popular Internet portals for daily news and commentary is a sobering experience. In the first place, the editors at Yahoo, to use the most popular source as an example, don’t seem to draw a distinction between news and commentary; click on a headline and your chances of opening an opinion piece by one of Yahoo’s bloggers is about the same as getting a Canadian Press, or Reuters, or other newswire piece. I have no idea how Yahoo chooses who is to be one of their contract bloggers, but they certainly have strong opinions, with, it seems to me, a right leaning predisposition. This is fair enough, of course; unless of course it is run without clearly acknowledging that the opinions expressed are personal views and not news reporting. Imagine if my opinions in the posts on this site were run without being distinguished from news! Even I would object to an unbalanced, partisan op-ed – like most of my pieces – being run under a news headline on the news section of a news site.

I won’t even bother going on about the preponderance of celebrity gossip, gotcha photos of “celebrities” I have never heard of since I don’t watch reality shows, and intensive analysis of the wardrobe choices of virtually anyone who has ever had a picture taken. There is no need to click on those headlines, and to maintain one’s self respect, one simply doesn’t.

I’m not even going to spend time bemoaning the wretched quality of the reporting and writing of the actual news they run between their lists of “10 things Men Hate About Women” and “12 Foods That Will Reduce Stress”. Let us just say that the content of the news logs is supermarket tabloid level and the form is barely literate.

But for a glimpse into the heart of darkness that seems to be at the centre of the Internet surfing experience, you need to follow one of the interactive threads provided for readers’ commentary after each piece. Now that can be truly frightening. A casual or even a serious look into these threads reveals a subculture dominated by vicious, hate-spewing, intolerant, uneducated, right wing bigots. If you want to challenge this observation, just pick a Yahoo News story on any high profile issue. Make a mild comment that suggests tolerance, or compassion, or human decency, then sit back and watch the replies come flooding in.

Is it just me, or does this guy look like Reagan?

I read a piece on Hilary Clinton’s release from the hospital after she was treated for the blood clot she incurred when she recently fell; I commented that I was happy she had recovered and hoped that she was in renewed good health. The very first comment that was posted was a carefully thought out discussion opener. I quote it verbatim: <<Pagun, your a scrotum sucking Liberal %$#@*& who needs to be frickin shot. You and every other *&^%@#$ dont understand freedom or democracy!!!>> (No, my interlocutor wasn’t sparing my sensibilities with that collection of symbols…Yahoo apparently runs an algorithm that censors unacceptable words. Perhaps to avoid racist comments it won’t let you post the word “white”. This led me to read one of my own posts after it was cleansed and I found that I had referred to the President’s dwelling as the @#$% House).

Apart from the clear stupidity in the response to my somewhat innocuous comment, there is a worrisome undercurrent that runs through the Internet news forums. The right wing violent rage is palpable and it manifests itself in outbursts of venom at the slightest hint that someone may hold a differing point of view on even the least contentious issue. For the right wing, it seems, it’s not enough to disagree with Hilary’s politics; it’s not enough to resent her bitterly; it’s not even enough to despise her; they have to wish violent death upon anyone who even treats her with a modicum of courtesy.

Imagine the fun if you comment favourably about the @#$% House’s proposals for gun controls. Since I post comments using my “Pagun” handle, it’s fairly easy for even the none-too-bright trailer trash to find this website; one mild comment supportive of the need to reign in the gun violence in the US and I was inundated with death threats apparently intended to persuade me that they were from responsible gun owners. I know they were responsible gun owners because they told me so, and then promised to use their assault weapons to <<*&^%#$  shoot (my) mother&^%$*  Liberal  &^%$  off and teach (me) about being a real man>> since I am <<a frickin fudgepacking %$#& hole>>.

Hand in hand with this extreme intolerance is an inclination to politicise virtually everything. A woman stabbed her husband and two children to death; the first response in the midst of the that tragedy and the overlapping mourning of the children who died in the Sandy Hook school massacre? <<Now Obammy’s gonna want to take away knives from law obiding citizen’s>>

Something I am learning is that there are two categories of people, according to the audience who chooses to engage in public news analysis on the Internet. If you say anything vaguely positive about environmental efforts you cannot escape your categorisation as: a gay, hippy, Marxist, unemployed, welfare sucking, intellectual, abortion pushing, gun-hating, deluded, atheistic, anarchist. And on the other side, if you are a fiscal conservative, you find it necessary to espouse unfettered civilian access to weapons of war, killing the poor, rejecting all science, Christian fundamentalism, life beginning at conception, eating the whales, drill and frack in Banff, pave the forests, torture prisoners, invade every annoying country, and arm teachers. No middle ground; compromise is failure; shout the others down and deny their right, not just to an opinion, but to live.

My journey through the muck of the lowest common denominator on the web was profoundly depressing. I know there is more out there; I also look at genuine sites with actual news and therefore actual discussion, and I am sometimes refreshed by the thoughtful comments and I’m occasionally inspired by the insights found there. What is depressing is that such reasonable discussion is hard to find whereas the easily accessed surface stuff would embarrass Jerry Springer. This seems to me to be a perfect example of what I used to call The Pagun principle when I taught critical thinking to first year university classes: Ninety percent of everything is crap. 

And, judging by the level of stupidity of the content of the Internet news and those who weigh in on it, that principle needs to include people. Yes, as Leonard Cohen put it, I have seen the future and it is murder.




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  1. I could not agree with you more. Thanks for the article, it was an enjoyable read. Unfortunately, I read a few blanket statements that should be corrected. The main one: “right wing violent rage is palpable… ” this should read as “ignorant and intolerant rage is palpable…” lest we should confuse these two things. I do not consider all “left wing nuts” as being crazy or stupid. Some of them might be, just as some folks with right wing views might be full of hatred and violence (not to mention craziness and stupidity), but hopefully we can try to avoid these generalizations..

  2. I agree that rage is not exclusively on the right. It’s just that for the purposes of the little experiment I ran, I found that the rage was mostly EXPRESSED by the right. That was perhaps because my opinions which aroused the violent hatred were usually somewhat to the left of Mussolini; that started the loons scratching and spitting. And frankly, I didn’t see that kind of response from the left when even the most outrageous fascist comments were offered by the right.

    Maybe that’s because, by and large, people tend to move to the left as their education levels increase. Hard to say for sure, but as a very general statement, the massively stupid and violent, vicious hatred came from the right, whereas the left tended to be contemptuous and dismissive.

    • To say I am disappointed with your answer would be an understatement. I am not a writer, therefore I don’t know if I will have the ability to explain the flaws in your response. Please bear with me while I try. What I meant to say is that we should try to avoid generalizations, this tends to be the cause of most errors in human thinking. I pointed out one that was of particular importance. There is a tendency that whenever someone voices an opinion against “left views” they are accused of hatred, intolerance , rage etc. We must be careful not to confuse the two things. Hatred, intolerance, rage and fascist comments do not come from “right views” they mostly come from ignorance and a lack of education (I am not sure how to express eloquently the circumstances surrounding a person’s upbringing, that would cause hatred and rage. )
      There are many, many aspects and issues that fit into the political spectrum of right and left. For this discussion I will simply include the one that is relevant and discuss the treatment of human beings. “Right wingers believe in formal equality. They believe that everyone should be treated equally under the law and should be treated equally by government. Examples of right wing formal equality include equal pay for equal work and civil and political rights.
      Left wingers believe in substantial equality. They argue that not every individual is the same and so government policy should be aimed to create substantial rather than just formal equality. Examples of left wing substantial equality include affirmative action and social and cultural rights.”

      This philosophical difference is extremely important. When a right-winger says “I don’t believe in affirmative action, or gay rights.” What he is saying is “minorities and homosexuals have the same rights as everyone else and should receive no special treatment”. When an ignorant, hating fascist says “send those f—ing blacks back to Africa” or “Kill the faggots” he is not expressing a right wing view. The biggest problem is that people don’t see the difference and anyone that speaks out against “a left cause” is lumped together into the same category. (unfortunately the ignorant and intolerant also believe the right is on “their side”) As many of my political beliefs fall to the right, I get very tired of being accused of being racist, homophobe, elitist, hater, etc. I am none of these things. I simply don’t believe that treating people unequally will help to create equality.

      After having said all of this I hope you can understand why that particular blanket statement was important to me. It propagates a false generalization that has done much harm to political debate. The harm done? Many debates end with the special interest groups calling the right names.

      Now you have also opened a can of worms with the closing statement about political tendencies moving left through increased education. Personally having attended university and obtained 2 degrees, I don’t doubt the truth of your statement. For over seven years I was forced to regurgitate the left beliefs being propagated by 95% of the professors. Most students could barely force themselves to read the assigned (usually biased) readings, much less use their own time to seek and read alternative opinions. Despite educators claiming to stimulate critical thinking, it is only true if you are critical of the right. This is not exclusive of university anymore; you can see teachers spewing left beliefs starting in kindergarten. Luckily, there are so many flaws in the ideas of the left that many people eventually realize it despite public education. (Sorry that I ended with a cheap shot that is not worthy of a response)

  3. Sorry, there are no bears with me. But bare with my poor spelling.

  4. Mr. D.

    To say I am disappointed with your response would be inaccurate; I expected about as much. I don’t even know where to start responding to some of your post because it would involve restating much of what was contained in the article you’re commenting on.

    I too decry the tendency of people to latch on to a single expressed sentiment and inductively attribute an entire buffet of cliche-ridden viewpoints on that basis. I specifically address that in the piece above.

    As to the idea that the right wants to treat people equally v the left who believe that unequal treatment can lead to equality; I would comment that you have the faintest glimmer of a point there. The right is simplistic whereas the left has a deeper understanding of the issues. The right simply feels that rules that don’t distinguish among people are all we need to ensure equality. The left is somewhat more nuanced than that, They are more interested in outcomes than simplistic solutions that they can pay lip service to and consider themselves morally done with a problem. If everyone were to have the same treatment, should we eliminate wheelchair ramps? Why should paraplegics get special treatment? Senior’s discounts or tax breaks? Ditto. The fact is there is a multitude of facets to what the right insists on seeing as one dimensional.

    As to education…I don’t know where you were educated, but if you were subjected to indoctrination by any political interest group, you might want to look into getting your tuition back. I was exposed both as an undergraduate and in graduate school to a wide variety of viewpoints and political theories. But the more I learned (my education did not involve regurgitating anybody else’s ideas, if I were to have tried to do that, I would have failed. I was expected to develop my own ideas out of a breadth of reading), the more it became evident that the only intellectually and morally justifiable position to which any thinking person gravitates is farther to the left than the right. That applies insofar as being left implies a desire to move forward in science, to have a concern for humanity and community, a benevolence toward fellow human beings and an inclination to broaden horizons, elevate others and share the benefits of the planet we occupy jointly.

    I agree that bad universities (Oral Roberts comes to mind) have bad teachers and you end up with a bad education. That is if you allow it to happen. I took university as an opportunity to self-educate and I took responsibility for what I accepted and what I rejected. All well educated people from even the best schools are self-educated.

    Sorry you couldn’t get anything out of your opportunity. Others were able to.

    • It is too bad you were disappointed, but this isn’t my site.
      This response will be much more brief. I was not debating the differing viewpoints of the left and right. I would agree that the left seeks a much more complex and “nuanced” solution. My post was clear on the difference, that is not the discussion. It would be difficult for me to debate many political topics with you as I am not on your level. My degree was not in philosophy or political analysis (or as you seem to think, I was not educated at all.) I would hope that many times you would make me look foolish and backtrack and rethink my views. Unlike many, I seek out and invite thoughts that differ from mine, especially from people more knowledgeable. What disappointed me was your inability to admit a difference between some espousing hatred and someone with right wing views or vice versa. Now I am unsure if you truly don’t see/know the difference or if you are simply unwilling to discuss it.

  5. Mr. D:

    The article we are discussing was focused on the hatred that was spewed instead of rational discussion. That’s what I was decrying ; I also mentioned the fact that most, if not all, of it came from the right. That is not to say that I am unable to distinguish between conservative viewpoints and venomous hatred. I merely pointed out that those spewing hatred seem to hold conservative views. Subtle difference, perhaps but significant.

    If you want to pull at that particular thread, I will say this: I feel that the right wing, or conservative worldview tends to be less compassionate and more antagonistic than the progressive liberal view.

    Among the things that attract me to the left is the fact that the left is concerned with human rights where the right is concerned with property rights. Human rights for the conservatives seem to be dependent upon their financial cost; moreover they are subordinate to the property rights that are of paramount importance. Human rights to the left, in contrast, are paramount and property rights and financial concerns are subordinate.

    With that in mind, it’s easy to see why the right would attract those with an inclination to vicious, violent hatred.

    I’m not unwilling to discuss anything reasonable.

    • My mistake, I thought the article was about the shallow “crap” published as news on the internet and the even more shallow “crap” posted by viewers.

      Your first four paragraphs discuss the crap passed off as news. The following five paragraphs tie it in to the crap commented on these sites. Now the final conclusion of your article states the “Pagun Principle” and goes on to include Internet news and the people that commented on it. I am not sure how I made that mistake.

      The very first thing that I said in my opening comment was ” I couldn’t agree with you more.” That was when I misunderstood the “focus of the article”. Now that I see it is an article trying to make right wingers look like uneducated, hate spewing bigots, I do not feel so inclined to agree with you.

      Believe it or not, there are many uneducated and ignorant left wingers out there as well, and an article written with the intent of making those people believe that right wingers are full of rage, hate, violent fascists, etc. Hardly seems worth commenting on. It reduces political debate to nothing more than name calling.

      Or maybe I should surf the web and find enough information to write an article explaining why “most” left wingers are gay, hippy, Marxist, unemployed, pot smoking, welfare sucking, abortion pushing, gun-hating, deluded, atheistic, anarchists? Doesn’t that seem to be the general uneducated opinion of left wingers?

  6. Do feel free to write such a piece: I’m afraid it would be lost in the crowd of right wing opinion writers who express that view in various degrees of literacy..

    It is hard to have to explain this article yet again, but the point I was making was that the hatred spewed was on Yahoo news and was mostly from the right wing. Yes, those posters struck me as uneducated and shallow and all the rest. Please note that I also pointed out that I found other sites with intelligent and insightful posts but the general public seems to be composed of … know the rest.

    There is no need to be defensive about the piece…it was an observation and some reporting on my experience posting from the left. Feel free to give it a try and report your results.

    And absolutely; many of the right wing posters were uneducated hate-spewing bigots. I, however didn’t leap to the conclusion that because assholes subscribe to your politics, you HAVE to be an asshole. They’re not a great advertisement for the right wing point of view, though, you’ll have to admit.

    • I will easily admit it (they are not a great advertisement) and that is why I fight so hard to try and disassociate myself and other thinking right wingers from them. As I stated previously it is unfortunate that even they seem to think they belong to the same political group as myself. In reality they are idiots in the true Greek sense of the word, with no knowledge or true interest in politics. (most of them likely need help)

      My desire to ensure that “disassociation” was so strong that I tried hard to resist commenting on many topics brought up in these comments.

      So I will search for an article on political policies and use that as a space to discuss these issues. If you have the ability to edit these posts, I would like my closing paragraph deleted from my previous post, it adds no value what so ever to the discussion. I would never write such an article and that was an immature inappropriate attempt to mock yours.

      I know I can be stubborn, my wife tells me all the time. Therefore I should not be surprised at what I am about to write, but, I still think this is a good article. My stubborness? I am disagreeing with the author on what the article is about. I believe that this article describes a sad decline in news/information and the intellectual capacities of a vast majority of people that rely on the internet to stay informed.

      I will close and post no more here, except to invite you to read “Entertaining Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman. He talks about this before his time. (If you haven’t already read it.)

  7. Mr. D:

    The ability to edit exists, but it is a policy of this site not to edit the comments that I receive. If I start to do that, I’m sure you’ll understand the slippery slope I would be stepping out on. In fact, I don’t moderate them and I generally don’t eliminate them entirely unless they are profoundly offensive or in some way dangerous. Apart from spam, what people write gets posted without my censorship. In any case I think your last post accomplishes what you would like to achieve.

    As to the article in question, I think you actually are exactly right when you summarise the point of the piece. I suspect that the only place where we hit a speed bump was that I observed that the most ignorant and offensive commentary came from the right; you felt that I was stating that the right therefore is ignorant and offensive. I don’t hold that view, although I have considerably less affection for their views for the reasons expressed elsewhere.

    Thank you for a stimulating discussion.

  8. Pagun, you are clearly a good writer, and fairly educated and thoughtful. However, I think I can immediately spot a few problems:

    (1) You are Canadian, and as a result, you think you understand the American Behemoth and its politics, but you most likely do not. It is natural that you would think you have some special insight into it; after all, you live right next door (for at least some of the year), speak roughly the same language, have probably been to the US for vacation to places like Hawaii and Las Vegas and Disneyland, are constantly inundated with US news in the Canadian media, see lots of American movies and television, and so on.

    I am a transplanted Albertan who has been living in the US for decades. And after a few years, I have realized that although Canadians THINK they know the US, they really do not. For example, the “left wing” and “right wing” political axes in Canada do not align with their counterparts in the US.

    Also, there are lots of strange twists to US culture that Canadians are not aware of, and would not be aware of, unless they lived for years in the US, paid taxes in the US, spent years interacting with the US education system, dealing with American racial politics, spent years interacting with the US medical and legal systems, and so on. Every Canadian expatriate that I have met living in the US says the same thing; their friends and family back in Canada think they understand the US, but really do not have a clue.

    I regularly report to my cousin who is a retired high Canadian government official about the odd machinations I observe here in the “real” Evil Empire. She is shocked and amazed and amused, as are her friends. Maybe someday I will have to compile some of these stories as a book, but it would be of no interest to Americans who do not see their quirks as odd (but instead, completely natural and even desirable and a sign of their superiority and “exceptionalism”) , and might not sell much in Canada which is a teeny tiny market even in the best of circumstances (and since Canadians fancy themselves as experts on the US already, they would be unlikely to read anything that disagreed with their biases they had acquired while walking on Florida beaches).

    (2) Yahoo! articles and their comments are not particularly right-wing; in fact, most of the articles strike me as slightly left-leaning. If you want to get a taste of something a bit closer to American “right-wing”m try Weasel Zippers. If you want to get a taste of center left-wing articles, look at the Huffington Post. There are lots of other websites that are even further to the left, however.

    (3) I like the Pagun Principle in general terms, but I would put the percentage of crap at closer to 99%. I often tell my colleagues and students that I expect that at least 99% of my ideas are complete nonsense, at an absolute minimum.

  9. Thanks for writing, Bob! And just to be clear…I lived in the States for a number of years when I was writing political analysis. NYC is arguably not representative of the US as a whole, but I think I can say I am more than passingly familiar with places in the US beyond tourist traps.

    As far as left/right wing attitudes are concerned, I agree. Much of the US is far more to the right than even the most reactionary trolls on Yahoo would suggest. And thanks for the tip on Huffington Post; I write for them fairly frequently.

    I would only say that the right/left dichotomy is not all that accurate. I see it as more of a crescent that almost closes as a circle. Go far enough in either direction and you arrive at totalitarianism. Go far to the left and you end up in Stalinist pseudo-communism. Go far enough to the right and you end up in Nazi fascism. Almost indistinguishable, really.

    And it’s not often that I am accused of being too optimistic and hopeful in my application of the Pagun Principle! Thanks for that!

    • Pagun, I am not sure when you lived in NYC, or where else you have lived in the US. This might tell me more.

      For example, did you notice a substantial change when NYC changed from a Democratic to a Republican Administration? And what sort of administration does NYC have at the moment, in your judgement?

      Perhaps you understand the US very well, and are just a bit of an ideologue; nothing wrong with that. I run into them all the time. And clearly, you do as well, on the internet; you just disagree with them.

      Or perhaps you only THINK you understand the US; this is also very common. I probably had lived here for at least 5 or 10 years before I started to figure out why it is different than Canada or Europe, and in what areas. It is better than other places in some ways, and has its own share of drawbacks, but it is difficult for Americans who have limited experiences to be able to identify them. It is not that easy for outsiders who are only casually familiar with the US to see them either.

      Lots of people are just oblivious, as well (not that you are, but it is certainly a possibility). A lovely neighbor of mine from the Ottawa Valley has lived in the US for a good 25 years and goes back and forth between the two countries frequently. In spite of having a part time job marketing supermarket products, she has no idea what the relative costs of food and other goods are in the 2 countries. She just never pays attention. So it is easy for lots of people to just go through life with blinders on. Nothing wrong with that, but it is reality.

      As for political views existing on S1, rather than on some linear scale, this is a well known, and hackneyed meme that has been flogged for at least the better part of a century, if not longer. My claim is that what the Canadians might view as “right wing” and “left wing” do not map neatly onto their American counterparts.

      In addition, obviously, the American definition of “right wing” and “left wing” positions are quite dynamic and fluid. Lots of views that are supposedly the province of those on the right of the spectrum in the US were only a short time ago subscribed to by their political adversaries in the other party. And the public is plenty confused; I could easily ask 100 average Americans and 99 of them would claim that the late senator and Exalted Cyclops of the KKK was a Republican, and would be so incensed at any other suggestion they would want to physically assault me, if not worse, in spite of him being eulogized by the current POTUS.

      I was going to give you a few instances where I think you are offbase, backed up with examples and data, but I decided it is basically pointless. You are probably totally certain of your positions, whether because of your own political disposition (which often is bolstered by selective editing of the evidence) or the result of massive ignorance and misunderstanding. In either case, it is not worth my time to try to correct any of it, or to point out where I think you are missing out.

      Since you write for the HuffPo, I suspect it is the former anyway.

      • Thank you for your sustained dismissal of me, my views, my experience and your predictions as to how I would react to hypthetical circumstances.

        Please do come back again some time.

  10. Howdy would you mind stating which blog platform you’re working
    with? I’m going to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.

    The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then
    most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

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