Thursday, March 22, 2018

WOT: Writing Outraged Tracts

This title should really be Writing Outraged Letters, but I couldn't pass up on the opportunity to reference this New Wave hit (or blip?): WOT by Captain Sensible.  After listening to that, you can come back and tune in to the rest of my rant.

I have to admit that writing letters to the editor or to politicians has never really been my style.  Usually after the passion of the moment has worn off, I either don't really care enough to bother, I don't think what I write will really make a difference (other than allow me to blow off steam) or I simply have calmed down enough to see things from multiple perspectives and don't think it wise to really put my name out there, advocating some position that I may not hold all that strongly.  That doesn't mean that I didn't consider writing on all sorts of issues.  Back in the day of course, you really had to care, to either send a hand-written letter or a typed one.  I think for a civics course, I had to write a letter to a politician, but I can't recall at all what it would have been about.

As late as 10 years ago, I remember hearing that the staff who actually handle the mail for politicians considered hand-written letters much more serious than typed ones, probably in part because seniors have a much better track record of voting than younger people.  As time marched on, typed letters were fine and counted much more than email.  I suspect now, people taking the time to write an email are taken more seriously than people who just tweet or retweet some "commentary."

At the ramp up to the Iraq war (the one that George W. Bush started), I actually did feel compelled to write to Senator Durbin of Illinois and urge him not to support the war resolution.  I got a nice letter back, though it was clearly a form letter.  He was one of the very few Senators not to vote for the war resolution, not that I credit the public letters he received (from presumably thousands of voters) for really swaying him, though I suppose if 100% of the letters he got had pushed for war, it might have troubled him that he wasn't fully representing the state.  I've really sworn off writing letters to politicians since then, though I do periodically write to city staff about issues when I think I have information that would be useful to them.

There are many things I don't like about society today, but I would say that the way the culture wars have gotten out of hand is pretty high on my list, and I have to think that internet comments on news sites and bulletin boards have contributed to this.  I basically now feel that all news sites should simply disable comments, as they have become so corrosive.  People have plenty of other venues to make fools of themselves, with Twitter being one of the top examples.  It ticks off pretty much all of the buttons for poor communication -- everything is short and un-nuanced, it rewards immediacy and not reflection and second thoughts (especially on the wisdom of sending a tweet in the first place), it is addictive and habit-forming and it spreads so quickly that one's words can't be retracted if one changes one mind.  I definitely feel that on balance Twitter has done more harm than good (and this was even before the Cheeto-in-Chief came onto the scene).  It's a close thing, but I guess I would say that the Web on the whole has been positive, though incredibly disruptive to all kinds of practices and businesses.

Anyway, I have found myself very much out of tune with most of the Toronto Star columnists, aside from the ones that focus exclusively on urban issues or Chantal H├ębert, who writes primarily about national or Quebec politics (I would generally consider her as a political reporter and not a columnist who is writing opinion pieces).  There are one or two who I've decided to completely skip, both in print and on-line, but in one case even the headlines are becoming appalling click-bait (like, Churchill -- the barbaric monster).  I wonder whether so many people are avoiding Shree Paradkar's columns that she is reduced to these desperate measures.  For me the last straw was a recent column where she claimed it was perfectly appropriate to shut down campus speakers she didn't agree with, and essentially belittled anyone who disagrees with this celebration of heavy-handed censorship.  I wrote to the Star and basically said how sad it was that their columnist was espousing opinions that reflected so badly on the paper's values (and that the click-bait techniques were appalling).  I certainly don't think the founders of the Star would be proud of the paper in general or their continued employment of Ms. Paradkar (that wasn't part of the letter, however).  There isn't any point in threatening to cancel my subscription, but I did say that if the click-bait got worse (which it probably will), then I would cancel the paper.  Essentially it was a completely pointless gesture, but I felt I had to make it to show them that they weren't living up to their own standards.  I did feel a bit better after I sent it off (just an email rather than a typed letter).  But I don't think I'll make a habit of it.  If there is something that bothers me that much, I'll weigh whether it really merits being posted here or if it is something that won't seem to matter as much to me after a good night's sleep.


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