• The freedom to be rude

    I’m a big boy, and I’ve been doing this blogging thing for some time now. We monitor our comments section ourselves, and I’m pleased to say that – on the whole – you readers are overwhelmingly polite. The few people who’ve written inappropriate things in the past usually leave after they realize their posts won’t see the light of day.

    But when I write somewhere else, like CNN, I’m often somewhat surprised by what people feel free to say. I’m not talking about people who disagree with me. I’m more than willing to engage in spirited debate. I’m talking about outright hostility and rudeness. Of course, there’s almost no risk of repercussion there. I expect cowards to hide behind anonymity.

    What’s more surprising, however, are the people who will spew hatred from non-anonymous sources. There are people who will tweet terrible things. Granted, many of them are still “anonymous” in the sense I don’t know their real names. But they are still linking such language to their accounts, and that’s not going away.

    None of that compares to email, though. That never ceases to amaze me. I get a fair amount of nasty stuff whenever I post in a public forum, and the last 24 hours have been no exception. Much of it comes from real email addresses and real people. I have their names. Sometimes they come with signature blocks identifying their places of work.

    I forwarded some of the emails I got to friends this time. Most of them assumed the emails were jokes from friends. They were shocked to hear that they were serious, and not from people I know.

    Understand I’m talking about some pretty crappy stuff. People call me names I won’t repeat here. They attack my family. Some get anti-semitic.

    I answer almost every one. If you have a substantive critique, I address it. If you engage me, I try and reply back. Most people are shocked to hear from me. But my goal has always been to have a real discussion, especially with people who disagree with me. As long as you’re willing to talk, and to listen, you’ll get my attention.

    I also answer the horrific ones, even if it’s only to reply, “nice!” I like to think that people might feel a little regret, and, perhaps, a little apprehension when they realize they sent such filth to an actual person, with a signpost leading right back to them.


    • I love The Incidental Economist! I read this blog when I am able … I learn so much.

      I rarely comment since I am a retired nurse and do not feel my comments would add to the discussion.

      Keep up the good work and don’t let the ignorant bullies get to you.

    • “Dr. Aaron” (as you were called today on Pete Dominick’s show),

      I sought you out because of Pete’s Standup show, which I don’t get to listen to often enough but am thrilled to find that I can use an app now to listen to it on demand.

      And I was even more thrilled to spend my first on-demand today listening to you on his show.

      I’ve learned so much more about healthcare and specifically PPACA from just listening to you on Pete’s show over the past couple of years. And since you’ve been on, it’s not just me: Pete obviously has to–he can tackle this topic better than anyone off the cuff these days. No doubt credit to your help.

      You’ve taught a lot of people well. I think we’re better off for the discussion, and the folks who can take the time to engage in debate and lay out facts instead of rhetoric make us all smarter.

      Thank you and please keep it up.

    • dr aaron….. you rule… anytime you want to move to canada, and help us improve our system, i would encourage it (maybe even put you up for a spell and supply some quality canadian brews).

      keep up the good work!!!!!


    • It’s a matter of perception. Many people expect others to be as thick skinned and jaded as them, and in their circles they call each other names and stuff all the time, then it becomes second nature and creeps to places where it’s not appropriate.
      I used to be like that as a teen, ha.

    • Dr. Aaron,
      I have been fascinated by the phenomenon you describe.

      My work takes me into the heart of the opposition to the ACA. I have observed that after continual pressing of how the ACA impacts real lives in good way, and a constant debunking of myths, the conversation devolves into name-calling.

      That’s my cue to move on. It’s also a heads-up that I’ve touched on an ideological nerve that has, in the end, nothing to do with the healthcare law.

      The venom comes from a perceived challenged to one’s identity.” I believe so fiercely in these ‘principles,’ and I can’t be wrong so you must be an idiot and I am justified in telling you so.”

      Here’s the clincher. I “stood” with portraits and signs for 5 months outside the US Supreme Court and Capitol. I wanted to draw attention to the healthcare law.

      O my. I had no idea that no one knows anything about the law. Opposition to the law was based on an unexplored idea about the Affordable Care Act, not the actual provisions. No real debate could happen. Based on what?

      Most were repeating the slogans from a well financed smear campaign. You can see I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. The vitriol is not about the actual law but a reaction to a perceived fear implanted by demagogues.

      Great stuff. Love your work.

    • I blog at a multi-author place with people from the left and right both writing. The degree of hostility can get pretty amazing, but I put up with it since it gives me a lot of insight into how people think. On the right, people who otherwise seem like nice decent folks are convinced that if we elect Obama the country will turn communist. They are dead serious about this (I had thought they were joking at first). During the 2004 (2008 also?) there were some prominent lefty celebrities who claimed they would move out of the country if Bush (McCain?) won, but I dont remember normal people promoting such nutty ideas.

      I think there is a full time media devoted to making and keeping people angry, often by misinforming them. Those angry people than carry that over when discussing issues with others who are not hyper-partisan or angry like they are. Part of the answer to this problem is good, strong data, but for those already convinced, even that makes no difference.


    • I’m sorry that you get these awful emails and tweets, and I’m sorrier that that behavior seems to be much more prevalent in our society than it used to be. I”m impressed that you try to engage these people.

      I read TIE every day — it’s superb. THANK YOU ALL for your work.

      A retired physician and quasi-economist

    • good for you, I was the monitor for two different on line discussion forums, and I found that over time if you answer people like that it does have a positive impact on them–gradually. So thanks for taking the time in service to humanity.

      I think a lot of people who act like that have no sense of belonging, they feel cut adrift in the world. Answering even with a bit of sarcasm and especially (courteous) honesty suddenly makes them realize that they are connected, they do have impact, and that is a good thing for all of us.

    • You’re doing a fine job educating those that want to learn. Unfortunately, those on the conservative side just want their candidate /party to win. They, meaning those that argue with you on the radio or me on the shop floor, will resort to suspending logic to win a point and walk away feeling satisfied in their effort. Every time I listened to you, I learned something. A complement to you, since my right minded friends consider me a block head.