I was really disturbed to read this post on the nola.com forums:

4028. woman on Karre Johnsons show
by nolafurby, 4/6/07 1:18 ET

YOU ARE AN IDIOT AND PROBABLY A BIG BIMBO! You should be on your knees thanking the LORD that ANYONE wants to invest in that area. You can’t even defend your side. For all of you that are against this development you are MORONS!!! Kiss N.O. goodbye because any progress is always shot down by you idiots. Live in your slum and love it and quit b!tching that you don’t have stores to shop at WAH WAAAAAAAH Boo Fricken Hoo!

The target of these insults is Jennifer Weishaupt, Vice-President of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization and chair of our Economic Development committee. She is also one of the most energetic, insightful, and clear-headed people I have ever met.

You might wonder what terrible thing Jennifer did to earn such scorn from anyone. Well, I can clear that up. She dared to suggest the community should have some voice in what sort of development gets built in our neighborhood as we rebuild from a monumental disaster.

I know Jennifer, and to characterize her as anti-development is simplistic and just plain wrong. She is an outspoken advocate of responsible development. She’s very positive and quite articulate as well. To call her an “idiot” and a “bimbo” is ridiculous and outrageous.

But it is also very instructive. This shrill rhetoric gives an indication of the political climate surrounding these issues. I wish I could say that the post quoted above was an isolated incident, but it’s not. It’s indicative of a broad counter-attack which seeks to characterize this issue in the narrowest and most simplistic terms. It serves to turn neighbors against one another. The advantage accrues to the developer, of course. If the community is divided, they will have a freer hand to do as they please. I gather that would please people like nolafurby to no end.

The question is, in this climate, how do we elevate the discourse? It’s an unfortunate fact that extremely negative and unreasonable voices get most of the attention. Name-calling and insults stick in the mind much more than rational arguments.

I’m tempted to simply ignore such nay-sayers. Or perhaps it’s better to call attention to these attacks, because they certainly do far more to discredit their own cause than I could ever hope to accomplish myself.

  1. This is a problem with online forums in general, it seems. People feel free to express sentiments they would never dare state in person–perhaps because there’s an element of anonymity, or a degree of emotional distance? I don’t really know, but it disturbs me to no end. I mean really, who calls anyone a ‘bimbo’?? Its all very Fox News to me and I’m all for taking the Don’t Look/Don’t Comment approach, which is precisely what I have to do with that particular channel in order to remain sane and (semi) rational.

  2. Anonymity allows idiots to act like themselves.

    That being said, I think that most rational people would enjoy having pretty much any kind of development in mid-city if it simply looks like it belongs in mid-city. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask from the vendors.

  3. Having experienced this sort of thing in the parenting blogs I’ve read and commented on – and hell hath no fury like someone on a parenting blog who feels they’ve been wronged in some way, whether they have been or no – I have to say that the thing that stops this stuff in its tracks is ignoring it or, if it absolutely HAS to be addressed, to get the anonymous commenter to reveal their identity. Most of the time, the author of a comment like that one is just someone begging for attention.

    Bart, keeping on doing what you do: telling it like it is without resorting to the name-calling. THAT is what ensures a saner discourse. Piling up more insults on the insulter might make everyone feel better, but then there is still business to be done.

  4. We took a lot of the mud baths in regards to the Walgreens Issue. Somehow there is some sentiment that Neighborhood Opposition scares away development. Hardly..We are but tiny pebbles of resistance.

    Of all the online fourums nola.com is the ugliest.

  5. nola.com forums are the worst because there is nothing to discuss. It is merely a place to vent. If you want to raise the level of discourse, create a weblog with clear posting guidelines, and then moderate.

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