Disinhibition Nation:
This column by Dan Henninger in today's Wall Street Journal has much within it with which I disagree. Not the least is that it purports to be about blogs and blogging, but is actually about the Internet writ large, including chat rooms and IM. Even with respect to blogging, it seems to rely more on the tone of anonymous commenters than on bloggers themselves, especially those who blog in their own name, which nowadays describes the best-read blogs. Nevertheless, it raises some interesting issues that we internet partisans should consider. Two in particular strike me as worthy of discussion. The first is the coarsening of public discourse:
Intense language like this used to be confined to construction sites and corner bars. Now it is normal discourse on Web sites, the most popular forums for political discussion. Much of this is new. Politics is a social endeavor. The Web is nothing if not "social." But the blogosphere is also the product not of people meeting, but venting alone at a keyboard with all the uninhibited, bat-out-of-hell hyperbole of thinking, suggestion and expression that this new technology seems to release.
One of the things I find off-putting about comments is their snarkiness and vitriol. And, lest I be misunderstood, I think this tone exists in all ideological corners, which brings up the issue of the coarsening of discourse generally. And, lest I be further misunderstood, ever since I was a criminal prosecutor, my own language is far from pristine. Indeed, I consider my year as a research fellow at the University of Chicago after practice to be a sort of cold-turkey therapy for cleaning up my language in preparation to being an academic. But I never returned to the status quo ante.

However, I am not really concerned with whether expletives are becoming more common today, but with Henninger's main point about tone and vitriol that he suggests comes from a lack of inhibition that is peculiar to the internet, and that I believe has worsened over the past (pick your own time span). To what degree is the internet in general, or blogging in particular, responsible for this coarsening and is there anything to be done about it?

Henninger's second and more interesting observation is an alleged cause of the first:
Not surprisingly, a new vocabulary has emerged from clinical psychology to describe generalized patterns of behavior on the virtual continent. As described by psychologist John Suler, there's dissociative anonymity (You don't know me); solipsistic introjection (It's all in my head); and dissociative imagination (It's just a game). This is all known as digital identity, and it sounds perfectly plausible to me.

A libertarian would say, quite correctly, that most of this is their problem, so who cares? But there is one more personality trait common to the blogosphere that, like crabgrass, may be spreading to touch and cover everything. It's called disinhibition. Briefly, disinhibition is what the world would look like if everyone behaved like Jerry Lewis or Paris Hilton or we all lived in South Park.

Example: The Web site currently famous for enabling and aggregating millions of personal blogs is called MySpace.com. If you opened its "blogs" page this week, the first thing you saw was a blogger's video of a guy swilling beer and sticking his middle finger through a car window. Right below that were two blogs by women in their underwear.

In our time, it has generally been thought bad and unhealthy to "repress" inhibitions. Spend a few days inside the new world of personal blogs, however, and one might want to revisit the repression issue.

The human species has spent several hundred thousand years sorting through which emotions and marginal neuroses to keep under control and which to release. Now, with a keyboard, people overnight are "free" to unburden and unhinge themselves continuously and exponentially. One researcher quotes the entry-page of a teenage girl's blog: "You are now entering my world. My pain. My mind. My thoughts. My emotions. Enter with caution and an open mind."

The power of the Web is obvious and undeniable. We diminish it at our peril. But what if the most potent social effect to spread outward from the Internet turns out to be disinhibition, the breaking down of personal restraints and the endless elevation of oneself? It may be already.
Readers of blogs like this one are likely to be personally familiar with "dissociative anonymity" (You don't know me). "solipsistic introjection" (It's all in my head); "dissociative imagination" (It's just a game), and "disinhibition," if such mindsets are truly prevalent. If you are honest with yourself, would you say (anonymously of course) that you notice these traits in yourself? If so, what do you do, or think can be done, to counteract them? I would find an candid and nonsnarky discussion of these ideas more useful than a deconstruction of Henninger's column that lives down to his expectations of blogging.