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May 18, 2010

Brave New World

Last Friday I shut down the comments on two posts here at VC. Closing the comments section, like deleting individual comments, is something I have tried very hard to avoid over the years.

Shutting down debate on an entire post, in particular, smacks of punishing everyone for the misbehavior of a few. That's the wrong answer, and it's not the way I want to run this site. That's why, going forward, I am going to be far more aggressive about deleting comments that, in my opinion, lower the tone of debate.

I'm not going to publish a long list of guidelines for acceptable commentary. We are all adults here, or we're supposed to be.

The nature of the Internet is that it offers the ability to do and say all sorts of things we would never dream of doing or saying in real life. In many ways, the 'Net is the ideal vector for moral hazard. Online, the causal connection between act and consequence, between cause and effect becomes blurred. Both logic and moral reasoning suggest that the lure of nearly unlimited freedom requires more rather than less self restraint. But online it becomes far too easy to distance ourselves from the self imposed boundaries that govern our behavior in real life.

There are two items I'd like you to think about. The first is something I read back in the Fall of 2007 during an extended hiatus from blogging:

There is a personal value — the presumption of decency — that counteracts the tendency to let hatred befuddle our reason. If we hold tightly to the view that people around us are as decent as ourselves, trying, like we are, to muddle honorably through life, it is harder to turn them into villains and to turn ourselves into creatures of irrational judgment. Besides, I'm certainly no more decent than most of mankind.

The presumption of decency is not naiveté. Instead, it requires a certain amount of realism. If you expect perfection, you will spend your days being furious at irresponsible teenage babysitters and equally irresponsible politicians. A better approach is to recognize human frailty and to be generous in our judgments.

The second is a pretty good summary of the way I've been feeling lately:

Much as I love thoughtful comments (even by those who disagree with me), one of the problems that plagues me is when commenters jump on me by playing GOTCHA games, misreading what I said, putting words in my mouth, or even attributing to me positions I never took or beliefs I do not hold. This happened over the past couple of days, and I was so disgusted that I just didn't feel like blogging.

Too much work.

Writing is that way. If you start worrying that anything and everything you say might be misinterpreted, jumped on, or used as an invitation to start an argument (which is not why I write), it becomes a distraction, and makes writing feel more like a nuisance instead of the creative, introspective process I want it to be. I write to find out what I think and as a release, and I am often engaged in a dialogue with myself. If someone comes along with a goal of starting an argument, then it makes me feel that the post I wrote was not a release, but only created more work for myself in the form of an argument.

I started VC because I love the world of ideas and I enjoy discussing them. But there is a difference between discussion and argument. In one sense, no one "wins" a discussion. But in another sense everyone wins if - in the process of exchanging views - the participants gain some understanding of how other people think or see an aspect of some issue they had never fully considered before.

That is why I write, and why I have tried to encourage vigorous and free ranging debate, even on contentious topics. It doesn't always work.

I've often been told that VC has the best comments section on the web. I'd like to think that if there is any truth to that observation, it is because I've tried to encourage all sorts of readers to participate in our discussions: not just conservatives, not just men, not just those who agree with what I've written. In other words, not an echo chamber or a vehicle for people who only want to have their pre-existing biases confirmed by like minded individuals.

Discussion (as opposed to argument) requires a certain degree of detachment and restraint. I don't expect perfection from people who - like me - are human and highly fallible. We all have bad days - days when we're primed to take offense (often where none was intended). We all, from time to time, have had some random observation that more often than not has nothing to do with us strike a nerve. Perhaps it reminds us of a painful experience, or we infer disparagement when in fact the speaker may not even have been thinking of us at all. These things are to be expected, and have generally been handled well by all of you.

What I am not willing to tolerate is comments that violate the presumption of decency. If your only "explanation" for the fact that someone disagrees with you on a matter of public policy is that they're stupid, a sexist, a bigot, or a bad person, keep that insight to yourself or go elsewhere. I've experienced that sort of "argument" at other sites and it isn't helpful. I'm also not willing to tolerate what I'm going to call harassing comments. A good example of this is when commenter A clearly states, "I don't think X is true", to which commenter B replies (often repeatedly), "You think X is true."

If you are commenter B, either you have not bothered to read carefully or you are implying that commenter A is a liar. Both are unacceptable here.

Because I don't wish to waste valuable time arguing over the comments policy, I am simply going to delete any comments I find objectionable (IOW, I will leave the commenter's name and substitute a brief statement for the objectionable part of the comment). Those of you who remember our years at ScrappleFace will perhaps remember that Pile and I had repeated encounters with the big Cheeto eraser in the sky for comments that violated the family friendly policy of the site owner. We never took it personally - it wasn't always clear to us where the line was drawn but it was unquestionably his prerogative to run his site as he pleased.

I hope you all will view this regrettable change in that light and understand why I believe it is necessary.

Posted by Cassandra at May 18, 2010 09:05 PM

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Comments

Can I still call you a poopy head?

Posted by: Carrie at May 19, 2010 11:35 AM

That's *mean spirited* poopy head to you, Sister!

Posted by: Ad Hominid per Astra at May 19, 2010 11:37 AM

Cass:
I think what I've always liked about VC is the general decency of the posters. There are some really smart folks on this blog, yourself included, and it's a joy to read the comments and (once in a while) comment occasionally myself.

Although I mostly ascribe to the "brevity is the soul of wit" concept, I've come to understand when brevity is employed with snark, the reader often must use his own perspectives/prejudices to fill in the blanks of someone's thought processes. Wow!, big surprise when THAT leads to misunderstandings, hard feelings and the obligatory counter-punches.

Anyway, I appreciate your attempt to get control of the Villainy (a truly daunting task :)) and I'll remain your loyal fan.

Posted by: ziobuck at May 19, 2010 12:23 PM

...I've come to understand when brevity is employed with snark, the reader often must use his own perspectives/prejudices to fill in the blanks of someone's thought processes. Wow!, big surprise when THAT leads to misunderstandings, hard feelings and the obligatory counter-punches.

Boy, I could write an entire post on that. It's something I need to remember more often, especially when dealing with men.

Posted by: Cassandra at May 19, 2010 12:32 PM

It is a collective punishment, and it often never works in counter-insurgency, teachers trying to control students, or what not.

In the cases where it does work, it only works if there is a local enforcement agency that will fix the problems themselves. That can be workable if a tribe is threatened with extinction. The tribal elders has power and influence to fix the problem, if it can be fixed by them.

But comments on the internet is totally independent of each other. There is no direct influence or control from person to person, unless there is a physical or relationship effect going on.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 19, 2010 12:46 PM

Brevity is the soul of wit except in cases where people lack the wit or the soul.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 19, 2010 12:49 PM

LORD POLONIUS
This business is well ended.
My liege, and madam, to expostulate
What majesty should be, what duty is,
Why day is day, night night, and time is time,
Were nothing but to waste night, day and time.
Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit,
And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes,
I will be brief: your noble son is mad:
Mad call I it; for, to define true madness,
What is't but to be nothing else but mad?
But let that go.

Hamlet something or other.

This is necessarily a choice of writer's, not observers. It is not the King and Queen observing that one should be brief, it is the teller, the actor, the main protagonist choosing to be brief when otherwise he could expound at length.

It is the soul at work, free will, not external agency and force.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 19, 2010 12:55 PM

I'm just wondering if there are prizes involved. Actually I think it's a great idea. Your comment is not being deleted because of what you said, it's being deleted because you are acting like a crushing boor.

Posted by: Allen at May 19, 2010 12:59 PM

This will probably only get worse. I'm surprised it has taken you this long to reach this conclusion regarding comments.

Per our intellectual betters in the government, "net neutrality" may require you to cross-link to other blogs/opinion sites that offer a contrasting opinion to that which you write about. And with the inevitable backtracks, this will lead to the appearance of those who wish to "argue" and impugn, rather than discuss and evolve a thought.

Ain't freedom great?

Such as "you wingers can't think beyond blah blah blah", and "just what I expected from Rethuglican blah, blah,blah."

The net result is just what those thoughtful people like Cass Sunstein actually intend with respect to "net neutrality", which is to reduce all personal interactions and intercourse to a Hobbesian wilderness of all against all. I am always amused at how soon any discussion deteriorates on any comment thread of popular news blogs or opinion blogs.

If such a thing comes to pass, Cassandra, I think you and a lot of other people like you, left and right, who have small but thoughtful blogs, will probably soon get fed up with blogging because it will become too much of a headache to endure the negativity and the sheer hostility of comments.

And in this way, Cass Sunstein and his masters also get what they want, which is actually a diminishment of dissent and thoughtful criticism of the government, whomever is in charge.

Status quo ante, to the times before the Internet.

Time marches on.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at May 19, 2010 01:22 PM

You could always edit the comments to your amusement.

I might go with a tiered approach with, say, Holy Grail quotes.

Standard level deletions get "It's just a flesh wound."
Aggravated level deletions get "What are you gonna do? Bleed on me?"
Especially egregious level deletions get "Come back here and I'll bite your kneecaps off!"
Now you're just asking for it level deletions simply get "Ni!"

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at May 19, 2010 01:29 PM

.....especially when dealing with men.
Posted by: Cassandra at May 19, 2010 12:32 PM


Notifying a guy that he is banned

Posted by: tomg51 at May 19, 2010 01:32 PM

I've always had the policy of deleting comments outright and without apology, if I felt they disturbed the peace of the Hall. Anyone who minds left long ago, or adapted to the rule. (Although, if they had complained, I would have just deleted it.) :)

Posted by: Grim at May 19, 2010 03:19 PM

Deleting comments?

I treat hybrids the same way.

Posted by: Hummer at May 19, 2010 03:43 PM

I hope Obama doesn't start posting here. He and his cronies violate your posting guidelines on a daily basis.:)

Actually, in the spirit of Obama, The Dear Beloved Leader, I object to and denounce your posting guidelines, even though I haven't read them.:)

Posted by: a former european at May 19, 2010 03:58 PM

Your board your rules. I like holding people accountable for their antics especially when they use the "argument from intimidation" form of bullying when dealing with those who have the temerity to disagree with them.

Play by the rules or go somewhere else where there are no rules. The HORROR of being held accountable!

An edifice is only as strong as the bedrock upon which it is built.

Posted by: vet66 at May 19, 2010 06:22 PM

Boy. Just miss a few days around here and the next thing you know there a sign in the window:
"No witless, souless, longwinded, boring, argumentitive, snide, callous, ungrateful, wretched, profane, ugly, or just plain objectionable people permitted to swim in the fountain naked." It's always that way with Cassandra.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 19, 2010 07:26 PM

Cass,

An observation, SVP....

"Boy, I could write an entire post on that. It's something I need to remember more often, especially when dealing with men."

I resemble that remark, and I think a call to Mr.Sunstien is in order, you sexist dyspeptic web-savvy object of my intellectual whimsies! ;^P

Actually, I have nothing but absolute respect for you and your writings. Not always in total lock-step agreement, but when I am out of step, I take the equivalent of a skip step to re-read what is said and try to better digest it. Sometimes I see your point; sometimes, not so clearly.

Words can wound; many of us know the power of the tools of the trade. Grade school taunting by mindless myrmidoms of any persuasion is not helpful, except to point out that they reside in the shallow end of the gene pool or were strained through a sheet.....there are other ways to reach people who need to be brought into line...

Sad, ain't it?

Posted by: kbob in katy at May 19, 2010 07:27 PM

Did I miss a flamer outbreak? Must have been on a thread I was overlooking. Rats!

Posted by: Texan99 at May 20, 2010 11:48 AM

Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 20, 2010 03:29 PM

"I've always had the policy of deleting comments outright and without apology, if I felt they disturbed the peace of the Hall. Anyone who minds left long ago, or adapted to the rule. (Although, if they had complained, I would have just deleted it.) :)"

I edit comments on my blog that try to provoke me by rewriting what they said to be praise of me or a self-ridicule.

Unfortunately, I often never reacted fast enough or they never came back, cause I could have had some good fun. They kept coming back to my blogspot page though, precisely because I didn't have such an edit function.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 20, 2010 03:31 PM

"The idiots we will have with us always" and I pray that I never become one of them.

It's so good to see you back!


One board I used to frequent (back in the BBS days) had a somewhat neat, passive-aggressive feature whereby a user could be declared a "twit" by the moderators. Twit logged on, he could see his posts, which the other users were ignoring. User logged on, Twit hadn't even posted. Moderators could see Twit's posts if they wanted, and could even quote them and reply to them. Twits frequently went away, but it was hard not replying to them. I don't know of a way to do this with the internet, and sometimes wish I did.

Posted by: htom at May 20, 2010 07:35 PM

I suspect that my self moderation will suffice.

Posted by: camojack at May 21, 2010 01:18 AM

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