Lost Souls?

Trying to explain the difference between commentary and vandalism

Bob Garfield

Why do people kill themselves? Schizophrenia. Depression. Despair. Agony. Shame. Who can say?

I didn’t know Paul Tilley, the DDB creative executive who committed suicide a week ago, and I would never presume to divine what was going on in his life, much less his head, when he jumped from a Chicago hotel room to his death. But I do know this: in his last days, whatever else was tormenting him, he was also under professional and personal attack from persons unknown – most of them, presumably, subordinates – who used the shield of internet anonymity to mercilessly disparage him.

They called him untalented. They called him autocratic. They called him ugly names. And, with a bitterness and sanctimony unleavened by human tragedy, they continue to do so. Because they can.

They can because the blogosphere is immature and uncivilized, subject to none of the norms of decorum, ethics and basic human decency that govern conduct in polite society. Yes, of course, it is also a revolutionary medium of expression, the ultimate free market of ideas.

Unfortunately, what it may be freest of, in its formative stages, is conscience. What passes online for opinion, analysis, criticism and commentary too often lacks logic, coherent argument, evidence, intellectual rigor or even simple honesty. It wallows instead in snide cheapshots and ad hominem bile, scurrilousness and schadenfreude, free-floating hostility and bullying disguised as wit. We’d like to imagine the internet as a tool for democracy and Platonic justice. But the blogosphere isn’t exactly Plato’s “Republic.” It too often “Lord of the Flies.” …….