It’s the principle of the thing (but the facts are in my favour)

Once in a great while, someone on Twitter with many more followers than I’ve got retweets something I’ve said, bringing it to the attention of a much wider community. Yesterday, that person was David Miller, our former mayor (with what I’m guessing was an assist by writer, professor and prior retweeter Tim Falconer, since Miller doesn’t follow me).

The tweet in question was a link to a story on the BBC website about Connecticut’s decision to abolish the death penalty. They’re the seventeenth state in the union to do so, and although their governor called the bill’s signing a “historic moment,” he said it was a time for “sober reflection, not celebration.”

Nonetheless, a lot of people celebrated as they spread the word. One retweeter added a misspelled but hearty “Good for Conneticut!!!” to his retweet, while another congratulated Connecticut for “joining civilization” in hers.

But of course, not everyone agreed with the decision. Take, for example, the self-identified conservative activist who said “Much better 2 fund & house violent criminals! Morons.”

Now, I like when this sort of thing happens, because it doesn’t happen very often. People tend to prefer the company of people who share their opinions and perspectives, and that’s especially true on the web, where you’ve got a lot more freedom to choose your company. Twitter, which is more about content and less about relationships than other social networks, is one of the worst offenders. Each of us is probably more likely to “friend” a conservative brother-in-law on Facebook than we are to follow some obnoxious pundit on Twitter.

This unfortunate tendency goes hand-in-hand with the sad notion of politics as a team sport. Twitter’s not to blame for people labeling themselves liberals or conservatives, or for tuning out the opinions of their so-called opponents, but it’s certainly encouraged these attitudes.

These days, unless you’re trolling or being trolled, you’re probably not that likely to have a lot of online conversations about social issues with people who don’t agree with you. The only time I tend to get this sort of feedback, in fact, is when someone like David Miller shares my tweets with people far beyond my social circle.

In this case, I didn’t agree with a person who called the Connecticut state legislature a bunch of morons because they’d abolished the death penalty – and I decided to respond.

I didn’t argue against the death penalty on moral grounds, because I’m sure she arrived at her support for capital punishment through her own perfectly valid moral code. I didn’t cite any of the studies that show that it’s actually more expensive to house an inmate on death row, because I knew I’d only be encouraging her to dig up a different study that supports her point of view.

All I did was point to a single relevant statistic in the BBC’s story: Connecticut has only killed one prisoner in the past fifty-one years. That, combined with the fact that the eleven people who are currently on death row in Connecticut won’t have their sentences commuted, means that the abolition of the death penalty will have little to no effect on the cost of corrections to the state. She and Connecticut’s taxpayers, in other words, have nothing to worry about.

I haven’t heard back, and I doubt I will, but I hope I do. Call me a glutton for punishment, but she seems like a decent person with an interest in the issue. Just because I’m totally right doesn’t mean we can’t have a decent conversation, does it?

Posted in Uncategorized