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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Is Civility Lost On The Internet?

Maintaining a blog makes me a potential target, especially considering that I have an international readership and currently run over 50,000 hits per month. Over the years I've had some pretty hateful things said about me and my opinions, and I've allowed the vast majority of those comments to be posted as I believe in free discourse and open speech. I've only deleted comments a handful of times even if they strongly opposed me, and those deletions were because of inappropriate language (kids read this blog) or racist comments.

One of the points of contention in the past has been the fact that very few vets take payment plans. This was a big discussion on a post I made back in 2012, though it has cropped up in some other blogs I've written. The 2012 post had several rather strong comments, including some rather hateful ones directed and me and others of my profession. I ended up closing it to further discussion because of the direction the conversations were taking. 

A few weeks ago I received a brief email from m_michaels17. Here it is in its entirety. 

You should not be a vet. Your views are twisted and vile. Payment plans don't work? They work fine at my clinic. They work in every other business and practice. There are two professions that only except cash... drug dealer and veterinarian. 

The personal attack didn't really bother me too much. I have a pretty thick skin and realize that people like this are in the wrong. In fact, it somewhat amused me. What did bother me was that this person felt that it was worth their time to send a personal email comparing me and my whole profession to drug dealers and making a rather hostile attack. Who feels this strongly, and believes that it's okay to spend their time reaching out and directly lambasting a person whom they do not know?

Unfortunately I see this far too often on the internet. It is extremely easy to post something hateful and disrespectful from the anonymity of your own home, things that the same person would likely never say in person. Vehemence and polarization is becoming the rule in our modern society, and I think it has trended this way in large part because of the internet.

These attitudes are especially prevalent in the current US election cycle. People are losing friendships because of Facebook posts. Democrats are demonizing Republicans, and Republicans are doing the same back across the aisle. Some of this is done at protests and rallies, but much of it is conducted online through blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. It is really easy to compare your opponent to Hitler and call his supporters vile names when you aren't face-to-face with them.

Now don't get me wrong. Hateful, irresponsible comments did not begin in the 21st century. One of the dirtiest political campaigns in US history was between two founding fathers, Adams and Jefferson, in 1800. There were some rather incredible statements made about each candidate, none of which would be said in 2016 (seriously, it's rather interesting to read about....some links are here, here, and here). But I think that the internet has made these comments easier to find and faster to spread.

Whatever happened to civil debate? What happened to disagreement without animosity? Why is it that so many people go on personal attacks when they find something they don't like? And why do so many people go off on rants without actually knowing the facts or doing any research?

For example, let's look at m_michaels17 again. Let's break down those comments with reason and a lack of vitriol.

You should not be a vet. 
Why not?  Because you disagree with me?  Because you think my viewpoints are wrong?  I have a successful practice, my clients often comment about how I care about them and their pets (we do surveys), I am good at what I do, I help families every day and have saved many lives over my career.  I have volunteered my time to go to schools and children's museums to educate kids about pet care and veterinary medicine.  I have mentored numerous veterinary students and newly graduated vets.  But because I don't take payment plans I should get out of the profession.  Right?

Your views are twisted and vile. 
So it's twisted and vile to not accept a credit risk when companies who do it professionally won't extend credit to a person?  It's twisted and vile to expect payment from clients for the care I provide so I can pay my staff, order drugs, pay utilities, fix equipment, and support my family?  It's twisted and vile to expect people to give back for services rendered?  Here we see a great example of a logical fallacy called argumentum ad hominem, which happens when someone avoids the actual topic by directing an attack at their opponent.  Rather than presenting any evidence that payment plans work in veterinary medicine, or countering my argument that they don't work, m_michaels17 simply attacks me directly.

Payment plans don't work? They work fine at my clinic. 
Congratulations for your clinic being one of the very, very few that actually does this successfully!  Again, we have a logical fallacy.  Forget the fact that I have 18 years of experience as a vet and a total of 32 years in the profession.  Forget the fact that most veterinary consultants recommend against in-house payment plans.  Forget the fact that most vets who have done payment plans say that they rarely get paid in full on these bills.  Because it works at the clinic m_michaels17 goes to it must be able to work at every veterinary practice.  I'm also skeptical that this clinic does well with their payment plans.  However, because I don't know the facts on that situation I'm going to avoid making assumptions.

There are two professions that only except cash... drug dealer and veterinarian. 
Well, we certainly accept more than cash.  We also accept Mastercard, Visa, Discover, American Express, and Care Credit.  Every single one of those are credit systems where a client can repay the debt over time.  Hey, there is your payment plan!  See, we do accept payment plans!  We just let the client pay through someone else's credit system, and let that company accept the risks.  If someone cannot qualify for a credit line through a company that does this professionally, why should we be responsible for taking that risk?  If a person can't get a credit card or Care Credit, they are a very high risk.  Oh, and every other profession works on payment plans?  So when you go to the grocery store and want to purchase $400 worth of groceries that store will allow you to pay them back over a few months.  Right?  What about Walmart, Olive Garden, and your local jeweler?  When you go to your pharmacy to pick up a $300 prescription they don't expect full payment, do they?  I'm sure a band at a wedding accepts payment over the course of a year after they've played at a ceremony.  So only drug dealers and veterinarians accept up-front payment?  No other profession does?  When I recently went to my ophthalmologist they certainly expected full payment for my new glasses before they would order them.  And I think that most reasonable people would realize that the businesses and professions that only accept full payment far outnumber those who take payments.  Some stores may allow layaway, though that is not common, and even if this is the case the person must pay in full before they pick up their product.

If m_michaels17 had wanted a discussion, then they would have been able to break down my viewpoint as I did theirs.  But they weren't interested in doing so.  They didn't even want to try and convince me of the error of my ways. All they were concerned about was telling me how horrible and evil I am personally, and then lumping my entire profession into this basket.  They are a perfect example of what is so wrong about communication on the internet.

Where is civility nowadays?  On the internet it's certainly hard to come by.  But it doesn't have to be.

Be sure to look for my next post, where I get into this issue with m_michaels17 in more detail.