Noting that Tyler Cowen had mentioned the post below on Marginal Revolutions, I had a sudden shock of regret at the way I wrote the last two sentences. Those two sentences expressed my skepticism of Arnold Kling’s post with a confidence and dismissiveness that I shouldn’t have pretended to. Obviously, Tyler Cowen is a really smart economist, and I’m a layman who doesn’t really have the authority to be dismissive in that fashion. I really am skeptical of the view Arnold Kling expressed in that post, and of Tyler Cowen’s embrace of it, but I shouldn’t be dismissively skeptical of it.
But this kind of experience is a good example of the aspects of internet-based discourse that I think are much more positive and responsible than older broadcast media. And that’s why I remain dismissive when people like Michael Gerson write posts attacking the incivility and irresponsibility of some internet discourse without, as Thomas Friedman does, acknowledging the other kinds of internet discourse that are far more civil and responsible than, say, the writing of op-eds tends to be. When I see my post cited or countered by someone with access to greater specialized knowledge than myself in the area I’m talking about, i.e. in this case Tyler Cowen, I feel a sudden sting of conscience: did I have good grounds for saying what I said? Did I express my response in a fashion which I would be comfortable with, if I had said it directly to his face? Because, in the blogosphere, you are always potentially speaking to someone’s face. And if your name is attached to what you said, that omnidirectional regard is a powerful force disciplining people towards civility and making sure they can back up their claims.
Frankly, I make mistakes of tone all the time, and I say things I don’t have adequate support for. And I’m not going to claim that I will try to eliminate all of them; sometimes a mistake of tone is the price you pay for trying to say something sharp and original, and enough of those bets pay off that it would be unwise to forswear all stylistic adventurism. And on the factual-support count, I think if I really made a commitment to only make claims I had adequate footnoted evidentiary support for, it would be a form of dishonesty. Part of the function of a blog is to air our snap reactions and our generalized rough convictions about the universe, and a lot of that is stuff we couldn’t produce solid support for on the spur of the moment even though it’s clearly true. All of this is partly to say that I wish I had acknowledged in the previous post that, if you’re talking about government support to industries that are on their last legs for structural reasons, like most of the US auto industry, then Arnold Kling’s description of the situation does make sense.
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment