Some years ago, before blogs became popular and e-mail lists were more popular than they are now, I belonged to one for practicing Catholics discussing a variety of topics. Such forums attract all kinds of people, so I was no exception. I was the class clown, the book-smart smart-aleck. It was the role best suited to me in real life. Now, most people know, if they have any good sense, not to assume they have a complete picture of someone based on what they write in an e-mail. Emoticons notwithstanding, electronic mail lacks any degree of subtlety. People are known to offend without knowing it, or to be offended for no reason.
But anyway, back to that e-mail list.
On one occasion, some people from another part of the country came here to Washington, and we all got together. They remarked that I was exactly like I was on the list. I took that as a compliment, because people find it easy to pretend in cyberspace.
So, when I started MWBH, I decided I wouldn't pretend. This will likely always be a "B-list" blog, if only because I don't have a book-and-lecture-tour thing going on. Nor have I ever claimed to be for everybody. None of us are. The ones on the web just make it more obvious -- and occasionally, more annoying.
So, when I got this response the other day in a comments box, from some woman who wears her demands for civility in discourse on her sleeve...
"Do me a favour, if we ever agree in public again, don't say it out loud."
...I decided that there would be very little chance of our agreeing in public in the future. I have no idea what offended her (unless it was trying to make a joke in the midst of a tense argument, which is sort of my stock-in-trade), and Miss Congeniality hasn't bothered to tell me.
It probably wasn't very important.
But more important was the idea of civility. What does it mean? I noticed two things when I first came to Washington. One was that people dressed really classy. The other was that they were very civil in public, even if it meant gritting their teeth. Twenty-five years later, they still dress really classy. I suppose it wouldn't be remarkable to say that we've lost it in the present day. But I do believe it is more than just "being nice." We've got plenty of that, usually from people you can't turn your back on.
One example of civility in the blogosphere, that I've learned to admire, is Amy Welborn. Now, you won't find a single piece of journalism about "Catholic weblogs" that doesn't mention Ms Welborn, and her comments box is never at a loss. She can turn it off when she leaves town for a few days, and when she's back, so is the fan base. The point is, such noteriety is not all it's cracked up to be. Amy takes a certain amount on the chin, which is to be expected when you run out of unpublished thoughts. And sometimes she is compelled to give it back in kind. But it doesn't make her uncivil, because when it blows over, she forgets about it -- usually. (I'd say she'll probably make an exception for New Oxford Review.) We don't agree on everything, and sometimes that is out in in the open. And I've met Amy before, and she's quite charming. But most of all, she's just like she is on her weblog. No pretense, and I can live with that.
Now, we can't all have that universal appeal. But real life is much the same way, so it shouldn't matter. Lately I've had to moderate my comments box, because some of them were off topic, and at my expense. People can feel that way, and that's fine, but they can go start their own "David-Alexander-is-an-arrogant-son-of-a-b@#$%" weblog somewhere else. (I've been thinking of doing that myself.) Personally, I have found that some of the best responses I've gotten, are to those posts where I simply took the gloves off.
Some of the funniest guys in the Catholic blogosphere today are part of a loose confederation known as "The League of Evil Traditionalists." Now, I've had experience with "Trad lists" before, and there is rarely a bunch of young men that act more like a bunch of old women. On the other hand, these guys (at least most of them are guys, I think) manage to avoid that trap. In fact, sometimes they really crack me up. But most of all, hardly anyone knows about them. And they're really smart guys, who know when they're right, and can admit when they're wrong.
We can't all do that, but the ones that do it with class -- well, that gets the tip of the Black Hat for this week.
And it's only Monday.