A few years back, while I was teaching a psychiatry short course in Iraq to about 80 mental health professionals from around the country, an Iraqi physician took me aside one day to caution me: “Don’t be fooled by those of us who have gathered here, we are not the real Iraq. This country is like Russia under Peter the Great. Our educated middle class is a thin veneer of civilization spread over a teeming mass of people who are misinformed, angry and radicalized. You can’t build a nation here: We have nothing to build on.”
The relational structure of many political websites recalls this comment about Iraq to my mind. One of the website’s authors will write an intelligent, thoughtful and nuanced post on some controversial topic and beneath the post in the comments section will issue forth a sea of bile, misunderstanding and misinformation.
Other websites are worse, being less like Iraq than Saudi Arabia, where even the veneer of modern civilization is lacking. The owners of such sites not only provide inept governance, but actively gin up rage and stupidity among the masses who follow the postings.
Websites like the impressive Belgravia Dispatch surmount the challenges of Internet nation-building by staying small. On these Liechtensteins of the web, the owner’s posts are rare enough that most people don’t even know the site exists except (judging by the comment sections) for a small number of people who are unusually informed and willing to seek out infrequent, intellectually challenging postings.
In the Reality-Based Community, Mark Kleiman, his fellow authors and the readership of this site have created a civilized country that is more than a boutique destination for elites. The posts come frequently enough to give immediacy to the dialogue, the readership is large enough to offer a cross-section of views, and the comments reflect an engaged citizenry that knows what it is talking about. I am patriotic enough to say that RBC thereby reminds me of the best aspects of the United States. That’s why I am delighted to accept Mark’s offer to become an occasional poster to RBC and thereby indulge my taste for civilized democracies. Thanks to everyone for letting me enter the country.