Twitter and blogs can be a great way to pass two, or twenty, minutes with a mix of amusement and information. One unfortunate consequence of these punchy new journalism outlets, though, has been the advent of the “Drive-by Tweeting.” Not to be confused with tweeting-while-driving, the Drive-by Tweeting is the modern pundit’s high-stakes equivalent of a playground taunt. Instead of screaming “cooties!”, adult ideologues try to undermine their opponents by loudly calling out their allegedly vicious, incompetent, or disingenuous stances. Worst of all, they attempt to do so in 140 characters (or less). This allows for retaliation in the heat of the moment, without premeditation.
The past few weeks have been especially bloody ones in the turf-war over Internet public opinion. Yesterday, for example, historian-turned-pundit Niall Ferguson published an Huffington Post article criticizing a long list of Paul Krugman “acolytes.” The accusation? Mindlessly mimicking their leader, and bullying the opposition into submission on the issue of the debt. Ferguson wrote:
[Krugman] has acquired a claque of like-minded bloggers who play a sinister game of tag with him, endorsing his attacks and adding vitriol of their own. I would like to name and shame in this context Dean Baker, Josh Barro, Brad DeLong, Matthew O’Brien, Noah Smith, Matthew Yglesias and Justin Wolfers.
This was hardly the first shot in a battle and, naturally, it wasn’t the last. Josh Barro, a moderate conservative and son of conservative economist Robert Barro, shot back this morning via the Twitter machine:
LOL Niall Ferguson, the world’s most overpaid hack, is SAD that we have been MEAN to him. http://t.co/rtISs4ozGN — Josh Barro (@jbarro) October 11, 2013
Niall Ferguson, the whiniest public intellectual in the world. http://t.co/YAxxVHpLKU — Josh Barro (@jbarro) October 11, 2013
Niall Ferguson will teach us the importance of humility, as Lindsay Lohan has taught us the importance of sobriety. http://t.co/CULaGpPoyi — Josh Barro (@jbarro) October 11, 2013
It’s hard to judge whose behavior is more insulting. Calling someone a pompous whiner and overpaid hack is not very polite, but nothing cuts to an intellectual’s core like Ferguson’s copy-cat accusation. Both sides seem to be using a self-defeating tactic in their use of public shaming to obtain respect for their reasoning abilities. By the time Barro emptied his digital revolver, there was no more possibility of reconciliation – this was now purely about personal pride, and both men retreated to reload.
Any points scored by the dueling political gangs against each other came at the expense of undermining their combined credibility. Ironically, both sides have made relevant observations that could be combined into a solution, but these rare streaks of reason get drowned out by reflexive potshots.
Many people would like to tell me why I’m wrong to conflate Ferguson’s and Barro’s positions in this debate, but I’m not interested in keeping score. The longer these wars rage on, the more ardently we must seek paths out of zero-sum political struggles.
Which brings us to a new motto for the seasteading cause, and a possible t-shirt design:
What do you think? Would you wear it?