Earlier this week, Big Salon front-paged an essay entitled “Why My Kids Watched Me Give Birth,” by the aptly named Madeline Holler. One learns to approach these slice-of-life pieces with a jaundiced eye, but this one was quite good: a cynical homebirth tale mixed in with a confident mommy blogger meditation practically qualifies as genre-busting these days.
You could feel what the comments were going to be like before even clicking the little button.
Child abuse! said some.
Narcissistic hippy! cried others.
Even our beloved Dr. Amy weighed in on the evils of homebirth.
While there have been a few people who shared their stories of attending their own mothers’ homebirths and coming through with varying levels of psychological scarring (one said she developed serious behavioral problems that she blamed on witnessing the birth, but allowed might have had more to do with having yet another baby in the house; another said it made her a faithful birth-control user because she knew what she was in for) and a few self-described midwives and birth attendants who felt the Holler kids should have been better prepared and better monitored during the birth, the bulk of the 150+ comments have been pure invective.
I don’t like to believe the world is filled with rude, nasty, insulting people. Internet comments really challenge that belief. There’s something about the anonymity of the computer screen that allows people say the most extraordinarily horrible things about fellow human beings.
Quick example: when Sarah Shourd was released from an Iranian prison last week, the following comment was posted to a story on the LA Times site: “The remaining "hikers" should indeed be left to rot and die. All three are either spies or abjectly stupid idiots who could have only decided to hike in a worse place if they chose Tehran. If the former, they never had any business in espionage. If the latter, they compromised our national security by giving the maggots in the Iranian government a bargaining chip. As far as the "ill hiker" who was allowed to leave, drop dead.”
The comment called his/herself “Pollyanna.”
In two years of blogging, I’ve taken my lumps. While the majority of my commenters are respectful, challenging my ideas without attacking me personally, I’ve also been called a bitch (sometimes true), a racist (never true) and -- gasp! -- a feminist (true, and will likely be carved on my tombstone). The absolute worst was a guy who posted bits and pieces of my resume on the Washington Post site to illustrate what a “loser” I was.
It’s some kind of quirk of the brain: without the physical presence of a real human being, we forget they have feelings -- in a sense, we forget they exist. So we feel free to ignore that self-censorship that is necessary for any society to move along without constant strife.
I’ve done it myself. Yesterday, in fact.
I posted a comment on Slate.com on a story about the suicide of Virginia Quarterly Review editor Kevin Morrissey this summer and it’s relation to “workplace bullying.” This has been a big local story, as well as a national one, and when one commenter posted with that kind of all-knowing tone I’ve really come to hate about an aspect of the story that potentially has more than one side, I chimed in, paraphrasing a quote I’d seen in a different story on the case.
Compounding that error, I also didn’t paste the direct quote with attribution and a back link, as I might have done here on my own blog. I presented as my own viewpoint, even though I have no inside knowledge of the situation.
Not an hour later, I had a note left on my Facebook “Wall” from one of those Facebook-friends-I’ve-never-actually-met, who just happens to be one of the former VQR staffers. By making the comment that I did, I had inadvertently accused him and his co-workers of bad behavior. He was understandably upset.
It really rattled me. It’s not enough to say I didn’t mean any offense -- I simply hadn’t thought about anything other than winning my point. The fact that I was saying something potentially hurtful to people I’ve undoubtedly passed in the aisles at the grocery store or the library or the local bagel emporium never entered my consciousness.
The interactivity of the Internet is not a bad thing. That you all are willing and able to take me to task when I go off the rails has made me a better writer. That some of you have taken cheap shots have left me with a slightly tougher skin. And I’ve gotten to know people I’d never otherwise have met.
I just wish it didn’t have to come along with all the bad stuff.
After this week, I’ve decided to put myself on a Comment Diet through at least through the end of the year. Not here...this is my space. But no more Huffington Post, no more Salon, no more Slate, no more AlterNet.
I take as my philosophical guidance the immortal words of JOSHUA to Professer Falken in WarGames: