Civil Discourse: is it Dead?

Social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace have broadened the field of discourse to an entirely new dimension.  Total strangers can become online “friends” simply through finding similar interests or views.  But it is amazing how quickly it can turn ugly.

One of my Facebook friends, a man I thought of as a true gentleman, a real Christian, and had grown quite fond of, posted something yesterday evening asking “Where is the outrage over Obama’s war?”  I posted as reasonably as I could, saying that while I didn’t like it any more than he did, it didn’t seem as if we had any choice in the matter.

His response startled me.  He went on the attack, accusing President Obama of being another George W Bush and a lot of other choice phrases meant to inflame despite their lack of substance.  I replied that I was not about to put Obama and Bush into the same category, and he and another person whom I did not know but was on his Friends List went after me for that statement.

I was going to leave it alone, because I really had no desire to create tension between myself and this man that I really liked, but I don’t like being attacked for my opinions, and I find being ganged up on for them intolerable.

So I posted one last time on the thread, stating simply that it would be my final word on the subject, that I did not agree with him on this issue, that it was not written in stone that friends have to agree on everything, and that I was hurt and offended by the way I was attacked and ganged up on for a simple statement of opinion.

If his earlier response surprised me, his next one shocked me.  I guess he took the line that the best defense is a good offense, because turned the caps lock on and accused me loudly of accusing him falsely of disrespect.  And as if that were not bad enough, he took the opportunity to once again voice his opinion on the Libya situation, as if  the three previous times he had done so were not sufficient to make his views clear.

So I told him that I was finished with him and that all his claims to be a good Christian were belied by the fact that he could not even bring himself to apologize for hurting my feelings, and I removed him from my Friends List and blocked him.

I have a friend of more than thirty years’ standing who has been a Republican all his life, though a decidedly moderate one, and needless to say we don’t agree on a lot of things.  But we have been close friends since childhood, and some things are stronger than differences over things like politics.

I’m afraid this morning finds me a bit depressed.  I have blocked plenty of people on Facebook without a second thought; one of the nice things about it is that you do not have to stand for abuse, harassment, or even irritation.  But last night’s debacle hurt.  I did not expect the reaction I got from a man whom I had come to consider a real friend.

Is this what we’ve come to?  What ever happened to agreeing to disagree?  Why have so many people become so intent on being right that they are willing to sacrifice friendships, relationships, and love for it?  Is this something new, or have we always been this way, and the Information Age has simply brought it to light?

Either way, I sure don’t like it much.

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