I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and have written about this theme and similar ones in recent  weeks, for instance in the diary on Bushco’s vicious circle of mistrust, in my diary about religion, and in comments in the most recent dicussions between the Booman / Tribune crowd and Daily/ Kos about our collective and individual behavior on the internet.

The underlying theme is that of personal responsibility.
1) The tear wars

I have trouble taking seriously people that complain about being insulted and denigrated by insulting and denigrating others.

It kinda spoils the point, however legitimate it may have been.

If you start invective wars, you cannot complain that there are invective wars on dKos. But even if you started on the receiving end of insults, invective or poor behavior, you have a reason but you still have no excuse for feeding the war.

This is a political blog, i.e.  we are talking about words on screens and feelings inside you that nobody else sees. If you are hurt or unhappy, say it, explain why, and remain polite. If you do it any other way, all that will generate is hurt for others, and pretexts for others to send the same back at you. So you will prove that there are other stupid people around, but that does not make YOU less stupid. Take the high ground, use reason, argument, and be nice. You’ll be amazed how effective this is.

You are responsible for what YOU write. whatever the pretext, if you write stupid, you will be treated as stupid and you’ll get stupid in return, and if you write nasty, you’ll get nasty and you’ll be treated as nasty. And if you get unprovoked nasty or stupid, let those responsible be blamed for their behavior and do not use it to justify falling into the same, because you’ll enter the stupid or nasty category just the same.

2) The vicious circle of mistrust

The Bush administration is a great demonstration, on a grand scale, of the ability of people to use stupid or nasty behavior to justify their own stupidity or nastiness. The USA under Bush are conducting an amazingly heavy handed international policy, alienating friends, generating hate and mistrust everywhere, and not getting any progress on any of the goals they have set (security? fighting terrorism? what a joke).

That behavior can be linked to 9/11, which was an indisputably nasty and evil attack against the USA. But again, 9/11 was a pretext for what followed, but it does not justify it.

Whatever its causes, 9/11 happened. Once it had happened, the behavior of the USA was the responsibility of the USA, not of the terrorists.

It would have been possible to seek justice, not revenge.

It would have been possible to unite most other countries against terrorism, those that finance it, those that arm it, those that support it, instead of treating all of them as enemies or potential enemies.

It would have been possible to take the high ground, to show that America would still be bound by the rules that make it a beacon of democracy and civilisation, instead of unleashing its righteous military force without any restraint across the globe – and at home.

A crackdown on offshore financial havens and circuits, a reinforcement of international rules on nuclear proliferation, a coordinated fight against international trafficking (whether in drugs, prostitutes, cheap labor or others), and a serious push for democratisation in a number of countries would not have been resisted by the usual suspects in the circumstances following 9/11, and would have been supported with relief by many others. Instead, we had “you fucked with me, I’ll fuck with you (and anybody that looks like you)” and “What, Fuck. Not happy about what I’m doing? You’re with that fucker? Fuck you”.

And, how strange, we heard lots of “fuck you”s in return. 9/11 still hurts, a number of other people around the world hurt, and the likelihood of another 9/11 has only increased. Nasty and stupid breeds nasty and stupid. It’s not justified on either side, but again, do you really want to be judged by the standards of the other side? That will be Bush’s legacy “they started it and we’re no worse than Saddam”. What a sickening lack of ambition for oneself.

3) Collective rules vs individual behavior

If I haven’t offended enough people already, let me wade back into the debate on religion, because it is directly linked to this. To me, religions can provide an anchor for our values and our ethics. The 10 commandments, other teachings in the Bible, and similar things in other religions, provide rules of behavior which, if properly followed, will guarantee public order and individual civility. But religions can also be abused if behavior becomes driven not by these rules, but by the desire that these rules be applied by others – and if it becomes acceptable to break the rules to ensure their future enforcement (upon others). When the end justifies the means. Personal responsibility means that you should apply the rules that you use to guide your behavior (whether inspired by religion, any other ideology or spiritual source, or your personal morals) to yourself before you seek to apply them to others.

You are responsible for YOUR acts. You may want to enforce respect of common rules (which religious rules are not in our societies), but you have to follow the procedures to do so and you must keep on respecting the rules yourself while doing so. Vigilantism is not responsible, and it makes you as bad as the mecreants you are trying to punish.

Civilisation comes from respecting the basic common rules of society. If you break the rules – EVEN IF it is only in reaction to someone breaking the rules to your detriment – you put yourself outside of that society. A strong society has procedures to deal with deviants, or it would not be strong. So trust your society a bit.

On dailykos, the rules are not so restrictive: don’t insult people, don’t treat them with contempt or disdain, don’t taunt or provoke them. Basically, the same rule as everywhere else: don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you. And again, you are responsible for what you do, not for what others do. And ultimately, others are not responsible for what you do.

Don’t be surprised if people react stupidly to your stupid comments – they are stupid and/or irresponsible, but as your initial reaction showed, that seems to happen to a lot of people. And you cannot use them as an excuse for what you do.

And there is enforcement on dKos: comment ratings are there for that purpose, and they do work. If someone insults you, put a polite comment explaining why you feel that comment was inappropriate and let others sprinkle the original comment with low ratings. If you put a rating yourself, or if you respond inappropriately, people will be more reluctant to blame the initial comment – or they will take sides, which only increases the scale of stupidity and nastiness.

Be responsible. Be nice. Be polite. Be respectful. Fight back on substance, not on tone. Don’t give others pretext in your tone to ignore your substance. It goes a long way, in your private life just like in public life.

It takes two to start a flame war. Blaming the other does not absolve you. You are responsbile.

I am responsible.

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