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  1. Laura says:

    I think the best response I ever heard to this argument was written by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee who stated in her blog post Big Snow, Big Day, Big Question that she considers her blog like her living room and just as you wouldn't want into someone's living room and literally or figuratively shit all over the sofa, so should you apply the same courtesy to her blog comments.

  2. Connie says:

    I am sorry people cannot behave with enough grace and civility to make these sorts of posts unnecessary. I enjoy this blog, and 99% of the commentary, but sadly the "GIFT" is more of a Law than a Theory.

    But GIFL just looks ugly when you type it out.

  3. JRM says:

    Connie: Isn't this the GIFT that keeps on giving?

    Patrick: We loves our Popehat, we does. We don't want people stealing or wrecking our Popehat.

    Ben: If we're only stuffing that pathology deeper and hiding it, that's exactly what we want to do. I am all for getting people to hide their insane lunacy. "The problem here is communication. Too much communication." – Noted philosopher Homer J. Simpson.

    –JRM

  4. Rob W. says:

    This is your "home" and we are guests. If a guest in my home is being an asshat I have every right to show them the door. I don't see how this is any different on a website forum. It's not taking away their freedom of speech…you didn't delete their comments. The comments are there for everyone to see as long as the site is up or the cache exists.

    Freedom of speech arguments in regards to privately held forums or websites is always an interesting argument. I maintain the person paying the bills has the final say in the matter. You could always just shut down commenting all together…

  5. Goober says:

    More simply put, I will go to war and die in order to protect the Occupy movement's right to demand free shit at my expense, and I would do so gladly. However, if they showed up at my front door spouting their drivel, I'd politely ask them to leave, then, failing that, demand that they leave, and failing that, force them to.

    There is a huge difference between defending the right to free speech and hosting a forum for it. Popehat may defend the NeoNazi movement's right to speak their mind if they so choose, but I doubt very much if anyone here would appreciate Popehat's choice to allow those retards to post hateful white supremacist rhetoric here all the time in the name of "free speech."

  6. Goober says:

    Oh, and Patrick, Ken, and the rest – heartfelt thanks for the free entertainment over the years. Seriously, you guys make my life better, and I thank you for that.

  7. Greg says:

    Have to agree. The analogy of this being the living room of the Popehat owners is probably best.

    There is no law preventing someone from saying whatever they want in your living room (beyond obvious illegalities unrelated to the First amendment of course), but if you call the homeowner a stupid bastard, you are probably going to be removed from the home and won't be saying anything in that environment ever again. That doesn't mean they weren't free to speak their mind, just as you were within your rights to remove them from your private domain. If they want to continue speaking, they can do so elsewhere (preferably in their own domain).

  8. Elise Logan says:

    Well. I believe Goober just took the words right out of my mouth.

    I teach political science – I am not a lawyer. But I teach my students this: You have a right to freedom of speech. However, there are time, place, and manner restrictions on that freedom. Here in the US, those restrictions are extremely liberal by any measure. Even so, there are restrictions – and one of those is that while you have the right to say nearly anything, you do not have the right to say it anyWHERE.

    I think Ben's underlying point is an interest in seeing how the restrictions of the real world- as pointed out in other comments by suggesting the living room analogy – transcribe into the digital world. The digital world, by my reckoning, is largely made up of living rooms – sites owned or rented by individuals or corporations or other entities. Those entities (inclusive) have the right to make the rules for their living room. That doesn't mean that they don't recognize the larger rights – it means they are applying the existing convention in a specific way. Whether that application is accurate under the law is a question for the law and the courts – who are, imho, woefully behind the curve on this one. But the standard, I think, is reasonable. I pay for my site and the hosting of my site. I pay for my web address. That makes it my virtual living room, and I believe that is what we see at play here.

    If a guest behaves badly, they aren't invited back to my living room. I think that applies here.

  9. Sara says:

    The living room analogy is very apt. I don't visit sites that don't have some sort of control over the commenting. It makes visiting very unwelcome.
    Like arriving to the party and watching a brawl. That may be to some people's taste, but it's not mine.
    I like debate. But you can exchange ideas without demeaning anyone else.

  10. TomB says:

    I understand full well that you are a private venue and nobody should be able to compel you to host speech you dislike.

    Ben, I going out on a limb here and say that no, no you don't understand. Otherwise you would not have subjected us to the rest of that vile screed.

  11. Jack B. says:

    I think Laura and Goober have pretty much said it all.

    I have nothing else to add except to say that I would cry salty ham tears if the comments ever got permanently shut off at Popehat.

  12. Allen says:

    Oh boy.

    "I don't understand why anyone would try to stop someone else from yelling racist or sexist things in their house."

    Why yes, it's a mystery for sure.

  13. Anna says:

    I'd like to add that keeping discussions in check keeps things pleasant for the readers, as well. The fact that discussion is usually intelligent and civil is why I read Popehat instead of other… unnamed blogs.

  14. Frank Prumagio says:

    Eh, yeah, I guess this is why the few times I've read the comments here, nobody seemed to have anything to say except how wonderful you guys are. Not that it's a problem, if you all enjoy it.

  15. Patrick says:

    That is indeed a typical comment thread at Popehat, Frank.

  16. BebeTaian says:

    As a fellow blogger, I agree with your sentiment. This isn't necessarily about 1st Amendment rights here- that largely pertains to *government* institutions, not private ones. If someone comes to my blog and starts leaving piles of poorly-disguised racist, homophobic, and/or misogynistic trash on my blog, I'll be deleting (and if I can, permabanning) that person. I'm all for discussion. I am not all for making it OK for someone to spew hatred on a blog that I host. It's like letting someone come into said living room and scrawl graffiti all over the walls before having guests that I *like* coming over.

    You can have your say all you want… outside my house. Go stand on a street and yell to the rafters. I might still be offended, but I can't do much about it. My house, my rules.

  17. Ben says:

    Oh my… That was a very quick turnaround.

    Many thanks for answering it (in such short order no less!) and yes, it does give me an insight into where you are coming from.

    TomB, I apologize if I was not clear (or was overly long-winded in making the point) that my question was not an "are we able to?" but a "is this really best?"

    As to 'brute force', I also did not intend to imply that you were closing the thread – and then subsequently sending two very large men to remove the fingers of all involved, thus banning them (at least temporarily) from the interwebs. :)

    More, I should have written, that I see a qualitative difference between suppression and disapproval (of a discourse).

    And finally, to the allegorical living room. I see a distinction in that your concrete, physical living room (generally) does not have an abstract, ideological component associated with it.

    Very few people would say "and this is the part of the house that supports freedom of expression and social justice. And oh, you can't use the bathroom, sorry… It's racist. Like, really racist."

    But those are the kinds of descriptors we can use with websites that offer forums for discussion.

    In conclusion, thanks again so much for taking the time to answer my question. And you should think about advertisements or t-shirts or something. I'd buy something witty about the First Amendment.

  18. penjin says:

    > "the Occupy movement's right to demand free shit at my expense"

    say what?

  19. Kelly says:

    *points up* What they all said.

    This is your house and your rules. That doesn't seem to be a difficult concept to me.

    Debate is good and bashing/hatred is bad. That is another easy concept for me.

    I don't think Ben gets it. :(

  20. AlphaCentauri says:

    Some people seem to like to express their right to free speech by contributing to discussions on YouTube. Clearly, no site can provide the ideal experience for all visitors.

    Since web hosting can be cheap as dirt and there are plenty of blogging platforms that are completely free, no ones right to free speech is being curtailed by moderation on someone else's blog. If Frank doesn't find the discussion here stimulating, he not only can go elsewhere, he can create his own elsewhere and do it exactly the way he thinks it needs to be done.

    Now if a service provider tries to people from accessing his site, then they'll have a fight on their hands.

  21. AlphaCentauri says:

    "tries to prevent"

  22. Rick H. says:

    TomB:

    Ben, I going out on a limb here and say that no, no you don't understand. Otherwise you would not have subjected us to the rest of that vile screed.

    Are you aware of some hidden connection between the "vile screed" and letter writer Ben? Because otherwise I don't understand what you're so smugly asserting.

  23. Ben says:

    Ah. I posted my comment before I saw the most recent twitter update by @PopeHat. It was never my intention to distract from what you do here – which is equal parts humorous and interesting.

    I know, from friends, I can be long winded and "over-analyze" subjects that seem incongruous to me. Again, no harm was intended and I truly enjoy what I have read from this site, so far.

    Ben

  24. Kary says:

    The hardest thing for a person to learn, if they are able and willing to learn, is how to recognize, and respect boundaries. Common sense can do lots for this issue, but it's not so common. Popehat has set a boundary, and from where I sit it seems healthy and reasonable. No matter what you do or say, some people will never understand the 'why's' of that simple stance.

  25. W Ross says:

    I think you all handled it fine. I think people are more surprised that you were surprised that that comment thread went south.

    You write in a sensational (note, not inaccurate) way about things that will get people's blood up. That's going to bring in a few fighty commenters every now and then, and closing down a thread is a good way to control that.

    But this is the second post specifically about commenting, along with the tweets and other stuff. You absolutely have the right to spend the next three weeks talking about the one thread that went off the rails, again, it's your living room.

    But the party gets decidedly less exciting around the fourth time the hosts go "Guys, remember this is my house and I can kick you out any time." Its true, it's legitimate, but if the posts stop being OC and are just meta about the comments, the living room will probably get less and less full.

    Anyway, still love the site, love the content, just felt that needed to be said after the second thread devoted entirely to a thread that was closed over a week ago.

  26. @ Laura – funny you should mention the Yarn Harlot. It's not a coincidence. That post is exactly what I thought of a few weeks ago when I first read the Comment Policy on this site – where in fact the "living room" analogy is explicitly spelled out.

    Commenting on a moderated site (especially one where the moderation is so… moderate!) is a privilege, not a right, of course, and it carries a certain social responsibility. I don't mean to come across all sanctimonious – just want to add my two cents' worth to those acknowledging the covenant between host and guest. And to those expressing appreciation for the usual level of discourse here.

    Really, though, seems to me that saying even that much is preaching to the choir. Even at its snarkiest, this is a highly civilized community as a rule; that thread took it way out of character, and it takes a whole heap of extreme provocation to do that. I feel awful for Ken and Patrick et al, but I also feel awful for a number of other people here whom I admire greatly, who clearly were sore beset and have got to be hating themselves in hindsight for having given way under pressure. Precisely because it was so out of character. I count myself lucky, in a there-but-for-the-grace sort of way, that I didn't read the thread in question before comments were closed. I'm new in these parts, with way less invested in the tenor of the place than most of the regulars, but surveying the train wreck after the fact I swear I found myself getting as hot under the collar as anyone else. I don't know if I'd have been able to resist taking the bait; it can be incredibly hard to walk away from a determined assault. Dunno if I could have done it. Hope so, but that's the nature of hot buttons, isn't it. Just when you think you're safe and solid on the actual issues, rising above the fray… the ad hominem attacks creep under your guard, and next thing you know you're down and dirty, mixing it up with the best of 'em after all. And next thing after THAT you're kicking yourself for losing control, and feeling all contrite and embarrassed as you gather up the shreds of your dignity and look for a hole to hide in. And then there's the trying to apologize and it getting all garbled because you're still trying to haul the foot out of your mouth. So messy. Sigh. Stupid adrenaline. Pesky old human fallibility, let me sho u it. :(

  27. Jim Hall says:

    I have a friend who runs a forum website dedicated to a pastime of mine. He moderates it pretty aggressively as a "G-rated" enterprise. This has caused quite a bit of discussion in the past, as the typical user of his website is not a "G-rated kind of person. (This includes me.)

    I defended him once using a "free beer" analogy. If you go to John's house, he will offer you a beer – actually as many as you would like. It will be a Bud Light. I'm not a fan of Bud Light, but I am a fan of free beer. I will drink it with appreciation. And I will gladly put up with John's rules regarding his website, since he is the one putting all of the work into it.

    Same thing here. I don't always agree with what you all say, but it is your tavern and free beer to me. Not Bud Light though. More like Arrogant Bastard Ale. Tasty, but requires moderation.

    Thanks all of you.

  28. Dave Ruddell says:

    John Scalzi has a great comment section over at his blog, and has roughly the same 'living room' policy. There's also the Mallet of Loving Correction. He also states in his comment policy:

    "A good rule of thumb is to comment as if the person to whom you are commenting is standing in front of you, is built like a linebacker, and has both a short temper and excellent legal representation."

  29. Luke says:

    While I am new to popehat overall, the basic rule of the comments seems to be this: don't attack another commenter. Their opinions and arguements are fair game, and you can be pretty vicious in attacking an opinion. But! Once you go after the commenter, regardless of which side of the arguement you are each on, it's over.

    I am sure people can find exceptions to this rule, but it seems you have to be a paste lover in order to cross it. And I am perfectly fine with that. There are too many sites on the internet where I might like the main content but cringe at the idea of reading, much less participating, in the comments. Here I can enjoy and participate in both.

  30. That One Girl says:

    So… lemme get this straight – if someone asks a person not to be an asshat on THEIR blog/site/forum, they're not actually about free speech? Isn't that like saying that the U.S. isn't a free country because it's illegal to vandalize?

    In any case, I think the owner/mods have a perfect right to set the standards of their little corner of cyberspace. It's their yard – they maintain it and pay for it.

    I've been running into this since the good ol' BBS days. Some things never change. I don't understand why people can't go start their own blog/site or whatever if they don't like the rules. No, wait, I do. Then they can't get all the attention they'd get from the established community!

    I came here because of the Oatmeal saga, and stayed because it seemed to me that differences of opinion could be expressed and debated without devolving into name-calling. Of course nothing's perfect, but I don't see anything wrong with the expectation that we try to keep it civil.

    Just sayin'.

  31. darius404 says:

    Very few people would say "and this is the part of the house that supports freedom of expression and social justice. And oh, you can't use the bathroom, sorry… It's racist. Like, really racist."

    I have no idea what this means. If anything, Patrick is saying something like this: "I support freedom of expression. However, if you want to talk like that, you'll have to leave my home."

  32. TomB says:

    Rich H.

    Are you aware of some hidden connection between the "vile screed" and letter writer Ben? Because otherwise I don't understand what you're so smugly asserting.

    Huh?

    Ben wrote a vile screed (IMHO).

    Is it really that hard to understand?

  33. TomB says:

    I know, from friends, I can be long winded and "over-analyze" subjects that seem incongruous to me. Again, no harm was intended and I truly enjoy what I have read from this site, so far.

    Ben

    Don't you really mean "what I have been allowed by the mind-control authoritarian owners of this place to read from this site?

    Oh, and Rich H.? If there is anything in abundance in the comment sections of this website, it's smugness.

    'cause we're just that much better than you.

  34. M. says:

    If anything on the Internet is more tiresome than this sort of U.S.-centric "the Constitution applies to everything in the entire universe, or else I'll cry" stuff, I don't want to know what it is. There's this bizarre, overweening perception that because of the First Amendment, people are obliged to tolerate any kind of speech that shows up on their fora. It isn't even just U.S. citizens perpetrating this – I've dealt with people from across the world who believe that either the U.S. truly administrates the entire Internet and thus the First Amendment applies to someone in an Internet café in Cusco, or that I as an American should value freedom of speech so absolutely that I'm happy to let them verbally abuse me.

    Well, kiddos, listen up: The U.S. does not administrate the Internet, and freedom of speech is not absolute, whether you have this expectation consciously or subconsciously (I suspect the latter here). No one is obliged to let you proverbially defecate on their carpet.

    Besides, if anyone thinks Patrick overreacted, I can tell you horror stories about a certain etiquette forum…

  35. Chris R. says:

    @M, indeed. I have the freedom to tell my boss where he can insert his head and at which velocity to do so, however my First Amendment guarantees do not preclude him from firing me. The American government must legally abide by the First Amendment when crafting laws and carrying them out. Persons, organizations, etc. do not. If this what not an accepted principle there would be no such thing as site moderation.

  36. M. says:

    @Chris R.: I could write a short book about how Internet freedom of speech seems to be rabidly pursued more valued by people from countries with little or no IRL freedom of speech (my boyfriend, a native of the Dominican Republic, is insufferable on the topic), but it's Friday night and I'm lazy.

  37. Ben says:

    I do not know if you are attempting to be hyperbolic, TomB. I presume so. On the vanishing chance that you are not;

    If I gave you the impression that I thought popehat.com was obligated to behave in a certain way, then I apologize. I obviously failed to be concise in my communication.

    What I wondered – and it may well be a shoe-gazing, meta thing to wonder – was how they reconciled the role of moderation in this microcosm to the macrocosm.

    What I take from the reply – which was a gracious act on popehat.com's part, in the first place – is that they see this as less of an ideological monolith (promoting unfettered expression and exchange of ideas, as a tautology) and more of a community of individuals they have built, with which they enjoy sharing and dissecting what they perceive as social injustices.

    So, I never meant to give impression that I believed they were attempting to manipulate readers through excluding certain responses.

    And Darius, that was in the context of the 'parable of the living room' – to delineate the difference between a simple room, which has perhaps current function or purpose, and a website which has an ideological component.

    It would be challenging to find a room at which we could point and declare "That room has some very strong opinions the relationship between poverty, ethnicity and gender."

    And without such, there is nothing to be congruous or incongruous with. A room is as incapable of hypocrisy as it is of sincerity, but since we do not identify the physical, concrete components of a website (the distributed physical memory describing the data and how to display it), but with a set of abstract ideals (Google is about searching, Hulu is about television, 4Chan is about… whatever 4Chan is about. :) ), we can then go on to try and create an internal model to describe that site.

  38. Mike K says:

    I actually think Ben has an interesting point. What I read in his message is more of a question as to where the line should be. I can also see how easily it could be misunderstood. He can probably see that now himself. Some of us are extremely curious and aren't always able to express ourselves in a perfectly clear way.

    To me the major difference between the censoring that this blog rails against and the moderation that goes on is that what this blog repeatedly points out are the illegal or frivolous attempts to waste someone's money, credibility, or destroy a person's life. The moderation here is relatively mild, serves to improve the community, and I trust that it is being done in a fair way. If they were silencing people for disagreeing with them, randomly silencing people, or personally attacking the readers, then I'd probably stop reading (not that I matter to anyone).

  39. That One Girl says:

    @Ben – yeah, sorry, some of us are just used to "omg I can say what I want!" reaction couched in all kinds of language polite and otherwise.

    @Mike K – what you said! :)

  40. TomB says:

    I do not know if you are attempting to be hyperbolic, TomB. I presume so. On the vanishing chance that you are not;

    No, I was not being hyperbolic.

    And, if I was having even the slightest hint of regret about my response your last post has absolved me of that — for the rest of all time.

    If you can't read your last post and realize how utterly tedious you are with you faux-philosophical musings, er, allow me:

    And without such, there is nothing to be congruous or incongruous with. A room is as incapable of hypocrisy as it is of sincerity, but since we do not identify the physical, concrete components of a website (the distributed physical memory describing the data and how to display it), but with a set of abstract ideals (Google is about searching, Hulu is about television, 4Chan is about… whatever 4Chan is about. ), we can then go on to try and create an internal model to describe that site.

    Really?

    Really?

    What does that even mean?

    You write that at a site whose claim to fame is the coining of the term "snort my taint"? (no offense guys)

    Get over yourself. This isn't your sandbox. We're playing in this sandbox because the guys who own the sandbox let us play here. If I get sand in somebody's hair, they'll kick me out. End of story.

  41. Random Encounter says:

    I can see why the discussion in question needed to be closed, but that thread was actually one of the most open and moderate discussions of the topic I have seen recently. I am really impressed with the community here that despite obviously heated opinions the thread cooled down enough for an actual exchange of ideas at several points.

    This is why politics and religion are generally off the menu at polite family gatherings. Some topics just naturally lead to arguments.

  42. leslie says:

    Please oh please kick TomB out of this sandbox!

  43. nlp says:

    I've been a regular here for a number of years, and I will often pull up a recent column just to catch up on the comments, because they are so often interesting, well-written and thoughtful. The PTB patrol the comments, often responding to questions, clarifying something they said, acknowledging a point someone has made. The comments section is just as much a part of the blog as the bloggers. And in order to keep it an important part of the blog, the comments need to be orderly. That doesn't mean they need to be dull. It is possible to take an unpopular viewpoint and argue for it without intimidating people or messing up the place.

    It is not ideas that are checked, it's behavior. I can think of a number of sites where I never bother to read the comments simply because they aren't moderated, and the sneers of contempt and arguments are wearisome.

    Ben, you spoke of the graciousness of Patrick's response. If you stick around long enough you may have the pleasure of reading Ken's eloquent thoughts on grace, which have been known to move me to tears.

  44. Ben says:

    I see, TomB.

    Consider yourself absolved, in nomine patris, et fili, et cetera.

    As to "What does that even mean?"

    Well, what it means is that previous commentary had been engaging in a kind of symbolic comparison.

    That is, people were saying that A has this property a and shares this property with B, and B has these other properties {n[1], n[2]….}. What can we infer about A based upon B.

    Now when we engage in this kind of discussion, it can become perilous – from a fidelity stand point – because different individuals will migrate properties from B to A (other than a) that may not belong on the set A.

    Quick example, if someone declares

    "An Apple is like a Ball".

    That could be a very useful declaration, someone else may infer "Oh, a Ball is roughly spherical, and an Apple is roughly spherical."

    However, another individual might hear this declaration and infer "Oh, well this specific Ball in front of me is a soccer Ball, so all Apples must be filled with air and mapped in pentagons!"

    So back to the original source of confusion; a commentator declared "Websites are like living rooms, where we have the right to decide who is invited and who is not."

    To which my response was, essentially, "True, but a room has no attached ideology, or analogous abstract construct. In this way they are different, and so my inquiry of 'is there ideological uniformity here?' can not be applied to a living room."

    Does this clarify things for you, I hope?

  45. Robert White says:

    When I was a child of about seven (late sixties, early seventies) I being filled with dread when my little compatriots would yell "I'll sue" as a remedy for all ills. This was slightly compounded by the "well I can stand here and shout whatever I want because it's public property."

    The latter was particularly galling when the place was declared "public property" simply by virtue of being made of concrete. My front walk and drive being such a concrete fiction. Sure "public property" was a mere three steps away, but damn-it-all they were going to have to take those three bloody steps if they wanted to keep it up.

    Public decorum was much further afield, and it never seems to get much closer.

    I love, for the pure chutzpahs and irony, it when people assume that all spaces are public just because someone is speaking or that, indeed, they have a right to speak in every space.

    The fact that people have a right to speak is plain, the idea that people have a right to be heard in every venue, not so much. It's not just the whole fire/theater thing. The (hyperbolic) KKK has no right to speak in my living room regardless of the color of my skin. The color of my skin being immaterial to my right to be free of your message when I withdraw from public and verge into the sanctuary of my own house.

    In contra-point, people act as if their right to call your phone is god-given to them, but your right to not answer, or heaven forfend, hang up, is abridging their inalienable rights to trample all over your silence.

    You have the right to speak, you do not have the right to be heard, or to compel others to listen or provide you a venue for your speech.

  46. Mike K says:

    @TomB, Ben isn't trying to be pretentious, or talk above you, or trying to rule the sandbox. He's curious about things. His prose is natural to him as a way of expressing himself. I usually talk and write in a common way, partially in order to be understood, but sometimes other more elaborate words slip in since they seem natural to me. When I use words like orthogonal I'm not (usually) trying to confuse people or talk in a way they don't understand, but using words that seem germane to the situation.

    In the case of the paragraph you quoted, he was pointing out that abstract concepts are more important to internet 'rooms' than physical rooms. Many of us are new to this 'room' and are trying to figure out what the rules are in our own ways.

  47. Robert White says:

    @penjen — people have the right to -demand- any damn thing they want.

    Do not conflate this with people having a right to any damn thing they demand.

    He was referring to their right to speak, not inferring he was willing to fulfill any element of that speech.

    These are the sort of distinctions that all to often get lost.

  48. Ben says:

    Random Encounters, I do not concur.

    To me it stands to reason that the signal itself is valuable. Some people are uncomfortable examining certain beliefs underlying psychological structures closely, it's true.

    And so, I would agree in the sense that I never pursue making people uncomfortable or distressed through conversation… but I disagree that close examination and inspection is, by it's nature, a distressing experience to be avoided. Yes, there are a never ending trail of "Why?"s in any given epistemological direction and the examination of them bears diminishing returns.

    Also, in many things we do there is not total conformity to our principles. I could, for example, not have broadband access and instead use the money to feed or clothe the homeless. I do not and it is for entirely pragmatic, unprincipled reasons.

    All the same, I think that it is important to consciously understand those concessions of principle that we make.

  49. Ben says:

    (And I should preface, my original question of how they reconcile it to themselves is answered in the original reply ("You and I proceed from different assumptions regarding it's purpose"…). Now I am simply investigating how I might have better phrased/written that, to more clearly convey the question I intend.

    Perhaps not by starting with statement saying "I understand you are a private venue…" but by positing what my perception of the sites 'ethos' is.

    Like, "It appears that, like me, you value communication for communications sake."

    That way, people could have stopped right there and said "His first postulate is wrong. We can stop right there. That's not what this is about."

    RobertWhite, on an entirely tangential note, my experience with telemarketers has generally been that they are not doing what they do maliciously, but because they have no other reasonable avenue of income. That is what you are speaking of, correct?

  50. Random Encounter says:

    I think you misunderstand my assertion about polite family gatherings.

    I argue with some members of my family *all the time*, but we generally do not engage in those discussions at certain whole family gatherings because that's not what they are for.

    As for the discussion that got stopped, it is one where reasonable discussion is incredibly difficult right now, yet the good folks of this forum at least tried.

    It is obviously a topic that is difficult for at least one of the forum editors as well. I don't think we will see it brought up again soon (much like religion at a family Christmas gathering).

  51. darius404 says:

    @Ben

    The parable of the living room has nothing to do with the room being used. It could be the kitchen, bathroom, or bedroom, it doesn't matter. It has everything to do with it being someone's house. The living room is only mentioned specifically because it is the room where guests would normally congregate at someone's house.

    About the "ideological monolith", I would say no, this site is definitely not a paean to unfettered speech without regard to venue, but a site where people's right to speak freely is routinely defended. That by no means entails providing a venue for speech the venue owners find objectionable. I don't know of any site that would match your idea of being an "ideological monolith" to free speech, wherein anything is welcome (though it's certainly possible one exists).

  52. Robert White says:

    @Ben — Every signal has some noise. When that noise starts to dominate the signal it's time to shut down the signal path. The acceptable signal to noise ratio varies by individual. Some people can listen to barely descernable squawking overlain by horrific AM squeal. Other can not stand it. And some -can- but chose not to.

    There is this ancient social rule that reads "don't be a dick". It has other formulations but that one sums it up nicely. Once the conversation devolved into a dick measuring contest, that is once the dicks were out and everyone was just holding them up against eachother, what was the effing point? I submit that the point was far lost.

    Now in terms of the first/worst message from that thread, I wouldn't have picked the one that the site owner chose. I found others worse and less content-rich, but it' not my site so it's not my place to pick the moment.

    Oddly enough, evidence suggests that it isn't your site either. Now where you, or indeed I, would have drawn the line is not at issue. Surely there is some line you would draw, just as there is some line I would draw. I cannot hazard to guess what your line is or would have been. Mine either for that matter as I didn't read the thread "as a mod" nor am I the keeper of tone.

    Can you process the idea that you have not been agreed with, and you are likely not going to find those here that do so agree?

    The general level of discourse has been set. It is not within your power to alter that level by any means but your own contribution.

    In that general level you will find words like "douchenozzle", "ass-hat" and "fucktard" as we are not always the lords of couth and demeanor here in the comments. And yet, we find the whole thing can just go too far.

    Flaming each other in search of the ego-killing blow, well it's just over-done all over the internet. It may well be 4chan's greatest purpose in communication history. But they have that base so firmly covered that nobody here feels the need to try to compete. What would be the point of trying to topple such masters of the puerile invective?

    Sometimes "shut the fuck up" is what it takes. And other times its one big "I'm going to take my ball and go home."

    If you think you can throw a better metaphorical driveway then feel free.

    But trying to turn "I wanted to keep shouting at that guy", or worse "I wanted to keep watching those two shout at each other", into a "my good sir, how daresay you confound those keepers of deep discourse by closing the venue upon their profundity" is just plain weak sauce.

  53. Dan Weber says:

    It's oftentimes tough to get the moderation feel here, because Patrick uses such deep and nested layers of sarcasm. But that's also what I love so much about his posts.

    All that said, that thread was pretty clearly getting out of hand. If I had more wisdom I probably would have just closed the tab and forgotten about it.

    I'm also glad that Popehat answers letters. I understand how Popehat can simultaneously defend free speech as well as restrict speech on its forum; if Ben did not, or wished to explore it further, he's not a fool or a prick for that.

  54. darius404 says:

    edit: It might be better to read "someone's house" as "someone else's house".

  55. Robert White says:

    "metahorical party in your driveway" — damn my inferior editing.

  56. Stacia says:

    As a new reader who now somewhat regrets coming here after that terrible thread, I do have to say that, to extend the metaphor, some of the people in your living room are extremely problematic. I'm catching up on a few days of posts, and I see a comment from a few days ago about possible banning, yet clearly some of the people involved in making the comments section of Popehat so inhospitable were not banned. They're still in your living room.

    For a relatively new female reader who was interested in the blog and somewhat blindsided by the incident a few days ago, this is all a pretty big sign that Popehat is not the blog it thinks it is. The public, back-patting, we're-so-neat image of the blog often put forth isn't accurate. That the Rebecca Watson thread is being praised by some as being an earnest attempt to discuss a difficult topic is definitive proof of that.

    I also confess that I just don't know why Popehat would need a post that states feminists use "tedious wankery" and a "deliberately jargon-laden approach," whose reactions to harassment are so bad they are "more off-putting than the descriptions of harassment themselves," which makes them silly, oh and also, they're wrong sometimes.

    Okay, so that was an opinion and you expressed it. But how could you not know that post would open the door for the exact kind of comments you ultimately got?

  57. Grifter says:

    @Darius:

    Ben already addressed that. He understood that it was an imperfect metaphor, and understood where it did apply, but was pointing out that it did not apply to every facet, in that it was difficult for him to discuss his question by using that metaphor.

    @Ben:

    I think I mostly understood you, and I think Patrick at least mostly understood you, and I think about half of the posters seem to have mostly understood you. That's doing pretty good, and probably better than me. The problem you have in even asking the question is that you will have difficulty not phrasing it without sounding like some who begin by phrasing themselves in a careful way to bring up the discussion, and then continue on in the way Robert White described, "This is private property, and I totally understand that, but I'm going to continue with points about my rights in your venue, as though I have any".

    In other words, a lot of people are disingenuous with their discussion, and you sounded like you were, even though it has since become clear (I think) that you weren't. Some avenues of debate are so frequently taken by those disingenuous, that someone who is being genuine is going to seem like the disingenuous simply by virtue of statistics. Like that poor legit Nigerian prince who just wants to give away all his money, you're stuck by all the shady fake Nigerian princes.

    I think reading more of the older posts might have helped (I too, came in recently) you understand the perspective the writers here come from, as regards to the interplay of rights as concepts. Frankly, I'm just glateful I haven't been banned from these fine gentlemen's house yet, as I rather like both their posts/perspective and that of the commenters; I sometimes have a tendency to annoy and exasperate due to my literal nature and inability to let unresolved things go (What Mrs. Grifter is quick to call my "Aspyness").

  58. a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @TomB
    I suspect that if you get sand in somebody's hair, folks will be likely to assume that it's a pretty obvious hazard of playing in the sandbox. If you get sand in somebody's eyes, you'll be scrutinized for carelessness vs. malice. If you shove sand up someone's nose forcibly, they'll kick you out.

  59. Ben says:

    Trying to write from my mobile phone, apologies in advance for garish errors. I understand that some people engage in a sort of play, where outlandish and potentially hurtful claims escalate. Those interactions, I would contend, are obvious as such. It would seem to me that, for the vast majority of cases where a discussion devolves into belligerents waging war, the participants are genuinely interested in the topic, but have become too emotionally entangled with the specific arguments to objectively evaluate whether an argument they have made is valid or flawed. Again, for my part, I am very satisfied with the reasoning he put forth, as well as the fact that he even decided to respond to the interrogations of a total stranger. As he said, he wears the Crown here. So, in summation; I see no dichotomy between principles and actions. There is no schism, because my very first postulate was false. What seems to be the focus now is the source of my belief in the penultimate value of communication. Which, if you are interested, I am happy to oblige. But it would appear that people think I am dissatisfied with the original recipient's response. I am not.

  60. Grandy says:

    Patrick and I recently discussed re-writing our comments policy. Not because it isn't working – and it's worth noting the spirit of the policy would remain intact – but because we're both poets and dreamers at heart. Bad poets, maybe, but we strive. And we wanted something a little more romantic. You might see it soon.

    Apropos of nothing. . .

  61. I don't want to be so gratuitous as to simply link back to what I wrote in response to this, but I do want to at least mention that I have a piece up.

    I can't get behind censorship like this. Sure, there are times when it has to happen and, of course, it's all perfectly legal and within the administrator's rights blah blah blah, but by and large, I see it as a way to shut down and tune out what the person in charge doesn't want to hear. There are other avenues available for that.

    As for the quoted post that contributed to the thread being closed, I don't see that as particularly bad. It has invective and personal attacks, but who cares? It also had substance. And even if it didn't, I'm not so sure I would care so long as it didn't entirely derail the thread.

  62. AlphaCentauri says:

    Reading Ben's original letter again, in light of what he has posted subsequently, I see it differently. He's asking because he's honestly interested in learning more about the point of view of someone who appears to have a different opinion than his own, and to some extent he's doing it by playing devil's advocate. I don't see any call to abuse him for having asked the question or for having asked it without using the word "fucktard" even once.

  63. Robert White says:

    @Ben — No, in my telephone analogy I was not particularly referring to telemarketers. Hang up on your mom some time. Refuse to answer the phone when your girlfriend calls.

    People in the U.S. at least have come to believe that -they- have a right to -your- phone, and through it your attention. It is apparently incumbant on you to stand and walk (or, in more modern terms, fish around in your pants) when a bell rings.

    You are -not- allowed to demand that bill collectors stop trespassing on your phone even though you pay for it and they do not.

    The "direct marketing associations" and the various political and religious groups go and have the "do not call" list laws written so as not to apply to them, as if -you- are not entitled to tell -them- that they are not special.

    This is completely backwards from a rational world.

    I do pay my phone bill so that the people I want to hear from can reach me when they want to reach me, and yet somehow others have turned this into a right-to-trespass that has become enshrined in law.

    Right now I am getting calls from a bill collector who is trying to reach someone who lives in a section of the same property where I live. This collection agency seems to think, and Washington state law seems to agree, that -they- have some right to use -my- phone to reach someone who is not me. So now what I pay for is being used against my will and interest and this is considered normal.

    This right to interrupt had been enshrined, no just in "legal law" but "social law".

    If someone demands "why didn't you take my call" it is you who are expected to go on the defensive.

    This right-to-intrude is encroching into other elements, such as the demand that you are somehow wrong to ignore texts or emails. And of course spammers think you are being all unfair when you try to implement anti-spam measures.

    So to the "I have a right to comment on your message board or blog".

    Is effing backwards.

    I have the right to -allow- you to reach me, or -allow- you to comment on my blog, and you have -no- -right- to that access. You have the right to demand that access but beyond you right to the speech of that demand you are shit out of luck.

    That was my point about the telephone.

  64. Grandy says:

    I've been a part of online communites since 1993. I have helped run online communities since 1993. There's always someone crying censorship whenever official action takes place. Fascinatingly, these people always fail either grasp what censorship is, or ignore the larger body of evidence that suggests why it's not actually taking place. I can't think of a single instance where that wasn't true.

    I would probably remember it, too.

  65. Rick C says:

    @penjin:
    >> "the Occupy movement's right to demand free shit at my expense"

    > say what?

    Being absolved of their student loans is demanding free shit at everyone else's expense.

  66. Robert White says:

    @Michael Hawkins — what censorship?

    Censorship is the prevention of speech.

    Telling someone "go say that somewhere else on someone else's time and someone else's dime, preferably you own" is not censorship.

    Denying someone access to your audience is not denying them speech.

    You are no more entitled to comment than you are entitled to make a lead post, or have your words appear on the front page of The London Times, or at the top of the hour on all television stations world wide.

    You are granted the right of speech. You were -never- granted the -right- to an audience, let alone someone else's audience.

    Closing comment threads, deleting comments, and even banning people outright from a private forum is not censorship by any meaning of the word.

  67. Ken says:

    Culling the herd is not just about a blogger's own freedom of expression. It's also about a blogger's freedom of association.

  68. Robert White says:

    I'd be behind absolving everyone of their student loans, and I've never had one. Student Loans are the new indentured servitude. They are the ultimate "company store scenario" without ever having to have the company own the store.

    I don't necessarily think all education should be free, but if we could afford it I'd be behind that too, but the student loan scam works out to be usuary of the worst kind and is full of pitfalls and traps that the average twenty-something is nowhere near devious enough to imagine exists, let alone puzzle out right after high school.

    Besides, it doesn't ever hurt to ask (or demand) anything. 8-)

  69. Scott Jacobs says:

    You know, there's been more than a couple of comments here that I very, very much would like to respond to, but I find myself absolutely incapable of doing so in anything like a civil manner.

    And so I'm just going to take my leave of here.

  70. Fox says:

    @Stacia–

    Thank you. I'm also a fairly new reader, also cringed through those remarks on feminism you mention, and likewise feel rather uncomfortable commenting here after that thread. I'm very glad it was shut down, but I suspect that a chunk of the commentariat (especially those involved) might not understand why those remarks were so vile that shutting down the discussion became necessary. And that makes me more leery of joining future discussions. :|

  71. Christopher says:

    I think, besides the "living room" analogy, it's worth pointing out that being allowed or not allowed to post to Popehat's comments doesn't have a very large effect on how easily you can get your speech out there.

    Frankly, I only even read the comments on maybe half the articles here or less. Furthermore, my understanding is that it's fairly easy to set up a free blog of your own, if you want to voice your opinions on the internet.

    In other words, Popehat's comment section is not a very efficient way of getting your speech out to the public, and whatever loss you suffer by by not posting here is pretty easy to offset in other ways.

    If Popehat were a television station broadcasting on the public airwaves, or a large chain store refusing to carry a controversial book, or something along those lines, I'd be more sensitive to Ben's argument. But as it is, the losses from being banned here seem so trivial that they can't outweigh the benefits that the blog owners get from their comment policies.

    Also, the whole "alpha male, beta male" thing is so last year.

  72. Rhapsody says:

    Rex non potest peccare!

    The king… Doesn't allow peccaries to protest?

  73. Patches says:

    That guy gives us software engineers called Ben a bad name :(

  74. Grifter says:

    Rhapsody: The King can do no wrong

  75. Andy says:

    Digressing slightly Grifter, those sparkly jumpsuits were pretty horrendous, I'd say he did wrong there.

  76. Look at that says:

    I follow another blog quite closely, a science blog. The blog, it turns out, is used by many homeschoolers. The level of conversation there is quite civil, mainly because people are reminded that children are present. That is, the commenters self-police in a really remarkably gentle way. In addition, anyone who comes in with some really off-the-wall theory is gently educated about research and how to approach science. I delight in that blog.

    I came here during the Oatmeal story, and found myself fascinated by law and how it works. I thought I found another pleasant "living room" where I could learn new things from knowledgeable people.

    The comments actually started deteriorating (in my opinion) prior to Ken's thoughtful and funny essay on his daughter. Somewhere, don't know where, exactly, personal attacks rather than discussion of law and 1st amendment issues became rampant.

    I stopped reading the skeptic community blogs just as the whole men/women threads started popping up. Ironically, it all started as a discussion "Why aren't there more women at skeptic conferences?". Then it deteriorated into name calling and pissing matches.

    I actually avoided the comment thread because I figured that it would be a repeat of the skeptic arena.

    I am SO relieved that you stopped the comments. You guys own this blog, you ultimately set the tone. I realize that this is not a blog for children, but perhaps we all could converse as though children might be nearby.

  77. Ben says:

    Patches, perhaps you should start trade association to protect our Brand. That or we could just do the Highlander thing. You would probably win, though, what with me being a pacifist and all. Certainly wouldn't make for compelling television; me running away for thirty minutes while shouting "But wait, if we just don't kill each other, we're both immortal!" until eventually I trip.

    Christopher, that is a very pragmatic and utilitarian argument. It is not, however, really the one that was expressed in the original response. It is interesting (and cohesive) nonetheless. :)

    To Fox and Stacia, as individuals who were made uncomfortable enough to not wish to further participate, I hope I have not given the impression that I want you to be uncomfortable (or even worse, that I want you not to participate). That is not the case. Idyllically, everyone could realize they were not engaging in productive, dialectic discourse and detach themselves from their rhetorical positions. This not being a likelihood when things pass a certain critical mass, I would say the best solution would be to turn the topic of discourse, temporarily, onto that perceived need to identify with our arguments (that I am right and thus you are wrong, not that I have an idea I believe to be correct, which stands in conflict with the idea you believe to be correct). So again, I just wanted to reiterate that I do not desire that you feel excluded from a community or discussion or discourse that you want to be a part of.

    Robert, I did not believe that was legal. But again, no legal expert here. But my brother had trouble with a creditor a short lifetime ago, and he sent that creditor a letter saying not to contact him further about the debt, because it was not his – cited fair debt collections practices. Creditor stopped bothering him thereafter. Have the laws changed substantially in the last five to six years?

    To Ken, yes, it would impinge on that right – and I understand now that my question unfortunately aligned with some kind of meme about a sense or feeling of entitlement to access to privately owned venues. Or that the United States Constitution is some kind of Mad Lib which you can substitute any institution you happen to cross paths with. (_______ shall make no ________ respecting the establishment of _______)

    The original respondent seemed to understand that I did not intend "how dare you?", but "why would you?" and answered accordingly.

    Finally to Grifter, I too have been diagnosed with that syndrome, yet to me it seems more like a new label for individuals with social skills deficits. :)

  78. cfv says:

    As a programmer, I can totally relate with his inquiry, even if he's not using the right terminology.

    What he means by brute force is more of a black and white / 0-user-effort solution like just plain banning people. It's not the same as, say, a social engineering solution where you work on people's minds.

    Also, some of us software folk (I'm not a programmer anymore, but still kind of identify with the group) tend to sometimes place an inordinate amount of faith in the fact that our opinion will be respected ("I come from the internet", just replace "internet" with whatever we're tinkering with), regardless of how unimportant this opinion actually is, and kind of conflate this into a nebulous "right to free speech", where we're (and often anyone else) entitled to communicate whatever barbaric crap we feel like spewing, and "simply" banning people from doing that is condemned. To better understand this mindset, you should try to picture 4chan's moderation as sort of decent.

    I just felt like doing some explaining; please forgive the fact that english is not my primary language.

  79. Margaret says:

    Just to add to what Fox and Stacia said, I only recently came to read Popehat because of the Oatmeal thing. I'm glad I didn't really read any of the comments on "that thread" until the comments were closed.

    For the record, I'm female, and I found that entire thread of comments pretty disturbing. But part of the reason it was upsetting to me is that this blog clearly appears to be an established community, and commenters have reasonably expressed differing, even opposite, points of view on other threads. When one has the misfortune to visit a "free-for-all" area, say Yahoo comments, one expects it to be unpleasant, vitriolic, etc., even if the topic is "petunias vs. gardenias". But in a place with a solid history of reasonableness, that comment thread was not only upsetting on its face, but out of character, which makes it *more* upsetting.

    Lastly, if your debate technique devolves to "Jane, you ignorant slut…" – guess what, you've already lost.

  80. Margaret says:

    Just to add: re the fact that I and a few others have said we were upset by that thread: I get that me being upset has NO bearing on who, what, or how comment threads here should be moderated (or not). If I don't like it, I'm free to take my eyeballs elsewhere.

    This is the Popehat crew's site, and they can do whatever they like with it.

  81. TomB says:

    I suspect that if you get sand in somebody's hair, folks will be likely to assume that it's a pretty obvious hazard of playing in the sandbox. If you get sand in somebody's eyes, you'll be scrutinized for carelessness vs. malice. If you shove sand up someone's nose forcibly, they'll kick you out.

    Point well made.

  82. David Schwartz says:

    I think the fundamental thing that Ben's letter seems to miss is that freedom of speech and the openness of the Popehat comment threads to opposing views have basically nothing whatsoever to do with each other.

    The freedom of speech that this blog defends is specifically a right of individuals against the government and a constraint on government power. It is something that is seen as a fundamental human right.

    The freedom of speech in the comment threats in this blog is a pure grace of the owners of the blog. They have no obligation whatsoever to provide it and could set whatever policies they pleased. They permit a level of openness simply because that's the kind of blog they want to have. The only right involved here is the right of a property owner to use that property as they please. Openness and tolerance for dissenting views is permitted only to the extent it furthers their goals for their blog.

    There is basically no similarly between these principles and almost no overlap in their spheres of application. So there's no conflict in holding both views. They both basically express the idea that an people may use what is theirs to speak as they like.

    The point of the living room analogy is not just to point out why blog owners have the right to moderate as they please. It's also to point out why people who violate those policies or evade bans are jerks.

  83. Andrew F. says:

    When I first looked over the comments in the closed thread, my first reaction was, "This is actually pretty tame compared to the comment threads on a lot of blogs."

    You guys obviously have every right to control the discussion on the site as you see fit. But it'd be nice if the rules of the road were clearly spelled out somewhere, especially for new readers. Not everyone shares the same standard of decency.

    I think Luke made a good stab at a rule:

    While I am new to popehat overall, the basic rule of the comments seems to be this: don't attack another commenter. Their opinions and arguements are fair game, and you can be pretty vicious in attacking an opinion. But! Once you go after the commenter, regardless of which side of the arguement you are each on, it's over.

    Perhaps this, or something similar, should be posted in some spot where it can put commenters on notice of what is acceptable?

  84. Patrick says:

    We have a comment policy Andrew. It's linked at the top of this page, next to "Become a member of Popehat".

    We have debated replacing it with something based on the Laws of Magic. The most important of which, as everyone knows, is:

    "Do not call up that which ye cannot put down."

  85. Nibor says:

    I am also one of those new visitors that came here after the Oatmeal debacle.

    And what I see is that the thing what is happening here is the normal reaction after a surge of new visitors to a establishment (that was settled).

    The new visitors think they like it here for it seems to be a civilised and decent place where discussion is appreciated, but their presence is already making it another place than the place they perceived in liking.

    So with all these new visitors everybody has to find a new balance and this will always be an “uneasy” process.

    I read that some of the new visitors first thought that this was a pleasant place but now are thinking of leaving, for they don’t like what the place is now.

    Maybe it would be good for those who are thinking of leaving, to wait a little and look at the organic process that is happening now, bear with the growing pains that accompany it.

    Yes some of us newcomers will never feel in place here and will eventually leave, many will learn the playground rules and find their spot, even some of the older visitors will leave because the little changes in dynamics aren’t to their liking.

    But the process of growth (especially after a grow spurt) goes to be painful and will leave some behind to be replaced with others, but if all goes well and the base is good and the ground fertile it will become an even better place.

    And I think the new potential and base population together with the bloggers that are in control it will become a pleasant place “again”.

    Only some of us need to find their borders and their place in this exciting new (to us) playground, as well will the ones that where here before we swept in need to adapt/tolerate/correct us so their place is also guarantied.
    And the keepers of the playground will have to temporarily be a little more vigilant in up keeping their standards on the playground in this process of growth.

    Note: I would never ever allow that thread go as far as has, I did followed the comments at the start but at one moment (as I conceived it) a very well-constructed and thoughtful augmented comment from Robert White, was struck down with a vengeance, not with well-conceived thoughts and/or counter arguments but simply “you’re wrong point”.

    That was the point that I left that thread and did not come back until the “not cool” post after reading the last 4 or 5 comments, I was baffled that Patrick or his fellow bloggers did allow to get it so enormously out of order (this is how I conceive it, but remember I am much more censorious than he and his fellow blogger are).

    I have already wrote my share of comments on this site, but I have actually wrote twice as much, but deleted them just before I was to click the post comment button.
    I always read my comments back, before hitting the button, that is why 2 out of 3 comments never make it to the site
    It makes me think about what I just wrote, if it would be appropriate to post it here on this playground, concluding it is not.

    But this is only my view on the situation, hoping that as many of you “new visitors” as possible stay a little while longer and learn our place in the grand scheme of popehat.

    I am going to stay, that is sure, hmmm………. as long I will be tolerated. :-)

  86. tsrblke says:

    I'm always curious why people tend to assume that supporting of free speech must follow with support of an infinite platform for said speech. Such that it must follow that if I hate government censorship, I hate private censorship (or for that matter that such a thing as "private censorship" exists, which you could make an argument that it's not a thing.)
    Similarly, why people say it's a contradiction to support laws in the area of Anti-SLAPP (for instance) yet be against graffitti (which is just expression, man). Yes, I've seen people make arguments like this. These conclusions do not follow from the initial premise: I suppose free speech (where free speech is speech free from government interference.) I'm not even sure they follow from a broader premise: I suppose speech that is not restrained by political correctness (Granted, we're closer to the mark on this premise, but still not quite there. After all "political correctness" and "decorum" are two entirely different things. The former is "you can't say X it's makes people gasp pearls and faint!" the latter is "express X in a way that's more intelligent.)

    In any case, I've worked on large-ish forums before as a moderator, my experience is (having been on both sides of this.) People who say "I'd never shut X down" (often coupled with: "and I run a blog/forum/whatever") are people who haven't run anything on any scale before (hence me being on both sides of this.) It's easy to allow the one troll to hang around when you only have 5 regular posters, and they all ignore him. It's a heck of a lot harder when you have 100 trolls, 5000 regular posters, and a bunch of non-regulars passing through getting drawn into the fire like moths. Decisions are easy when nothing of consequence rides on them. Blogs like Ace of Spades, and Volokh seem to be at the "critical tipping point" where they're finding this out. Popehat may be approaching that too. (And it's worth saying, each blog/community/forum/etc. is different. There's not "magic number" of what that point is.)

    What saddens me the most is the comment in this post (admittedly no the only example of stupidity) could have been written in such a way that it futhered the debate (stripped down it brings up salient points) but is full of ad hominems, vulgarity, flippant responses, etc. which render it useless (and not proper at this juncture.)

  87. Here is the way I look at it Ben. I am all for the rights of free speech but if I invite you to my house, you should respect my beliefs in having active and lively debate without it turning into name calling or animosity. If I let anyone speak derogatorily to others in my house, it then reflects poorly on me. Take it online and this is Popehat's internet house and I will respect their wishes.

  88. Gretchen says:

    Andrew F. said "When I first looked over the comments in the closed thread, my first reaction was, "This is actually pretty tame compared to the comment threads on a lot of blogs."

    Tame compared to Pharyngula for example, yes. I don't comment on Pharyngula much anymore. It's a bad place to disagree with anyone on anything.

    I would note that that comment above, the one quoted in this post, was a response to the person's first comment on the harassment post. A comment which, while pointed, included no personal attacks whatsoever.

  89. Peachkins says:

    @Nibor- You made some excellent observations in your comment. With so many new people to the site- including myself- there are bound to be some changes seen in the way people are communicating with each other. As you said, everyone needs to find their way around and figure out what is acceptable and what is not. People also need to realize that this is a privately-owned blog and not a public news site.

    As far as my own experience here, I have been extremely impressed with the comments I've seen on this site. Most of these comments- no matter what opinion the writer has- are intelligent, thoughtful, and well-researched. I have learned more about the rules of law and litigation on this site in the last few weeks than I have in last 20 years. The problem comment thread notwithstanding, the comments here are certainly a far cry from the name-calling, for no reason political, or just flat-out rude statements that I've seen on other sites.

    The Oatmeal debacle may have brought me to this site, but I love the other blog posts I've seen as well and plan on sticking around for awhile. I appreciate the moderation of this site, and feel that it in no way censors anyone and only serves to make this site a good place for intelligent discussion.

  90. ppnl says:

    I think Ben's problem isn't that he overanalyzed the issue but that he underanalyzed the issue. It may seem at first that if you believe in the free and open exchange of ideas then you would not moderate any discussion. But the fact is a lack of moderation pretty much dooms any chance of an exchange of ideas.

  91. M. says:

    Yes, there are comment threads elsewhere that are much worse than the one that was closed. That's kind of like saying that Chernobyl was worse than a banana stand. Unmoderated Internet fora are anarchic, stinking cesspools of virtually secreted testosterone and the inability to spell extremely basic words. While there's definitely a such thing as overmoderation, I haven't seen it here. I say this without hyperbole: I find Popehat to be exactly the right mixture between snark, obscenity, intelligence, and civility for my taste. That's why I'm still here even though I'm clueless about most of the subject matter.

    If it starts to feel a little ho-hum, there are always electronic gaming forums and YouTube comments.

  92. azteclady says:

    @ Nibor: I really like the your growing pains analogy and find it accurate. I'm sure many here have seen this happen in other fora too.

    I'm also new to Popehat and came because of the Oatmeal posts. I'm staying because I'm liking most of what I see–main posts and comment threads.

    Being cautious in nature, I have posted just a handful of comments. I am taking the time to learn more about the pre existing relationships, between commenters and with the owners before I throw myself out there fully.

    Perhaps I'll never feel comfortable enough to contribute much, or perhaps I'll find that someone else (and often several someone elses) have said it much better already.

    Either way, I respect that this is not my space but Ken and the rest of the property owners, and that they'll allow conversations to wander and/or deviate only so far. It's not my right to question where the lines are drawn, but it is my responsibility to pay attention and, if I happen to step too close to one, either step back from it, or go elsewhere.

  93. Sarahw says:

    Ken, my takeaway from that letter was very different.

    I saw it as a rather disingenous "rebuttal" of the way the law is – under sec 230 of the communications decency act.

    The tell: "My question is; if an individual has no responsibility/culpability for the reactions to any stimuli you create, why do you even attempt to moderate the expression of those reactions?"

    Sec 230 allows content providers to moderate comments as they please, without waiving the broad immunities of Sec 230 for the speech of others.
    So long as the content provider isn't altering the content to make a new message of its/he/she's very own, that speech belongs to the one who spoke it.

    People who write their own content in reaction to what they read, or take any other actions, are responsible for their content and their actions.

    the letter writer attempts to undermine the sec 230 reality that people are legally responsible for their own speech/ own acts, as if that is estopped by your having any control at all over what appears in a comments section. i.e. if you moderate you concede the idea that blog content creates "reactions" and that the blog owner "owns" those reactions.

  94. cthulhu says:

    Patrick, I'm all in favor of the potential change to the commenting policy, as you might guess… :-/

  95. Nance says:

    @ Goober – please don't use "retard" as a synonym for "stupid". They do not mean the same thing, and by doing so, you are denigrating those individuals with developmental disabilities (although I'm sure it's unintentional) who are not stupid, but simply have brains that work differently.

    @Ben – I didn't read most of the comments in the discussion that was closed. My attention span for things of that sort is typically pretty short.

    In terms of your letter, I see the dichotomy as this – here, things were said in comments that the moderators found to be offensive and inappropriate. They, therefore, closed the thread for further posting. No one was sued, no threats were made, and no animals were inappropriately assaulted by large breasted drawings.

    With the whole Oatmeal thing, the person saying the offensive things was the owner of the website. His site, his rules. Now, it sounds like he tried to be reasonable, but then someone got a lawyer involved, and we all know what happens when lawyers get involved – things get heated, money gets demanded, and bears get assaulted.

    So, why defend Matthew Inman's (spelling?) actions which were, arguably, offensive, but not allow offensive comments to stand here? Pretty simple – the comments made here were offensive to the people who exercise control over the site. Rather than deleting them, they simply chose to allow no further commenting. That's within their rights. Matthew Inman made his comments in his virtual "living room", as was his right. No laws were broken, and he was pretty funny about most of it, although funny in a 12-year-old-boy sort of way. However, he ended up getting sued for expressing his opinions – which isn't what happened at this site, and which runs contrary to the concept of free speech, which is pretty liberal when it comes to satire.

    Hopefully this made sense. I'm not ADHD, I just have kids.

  96. Sean says:

    Count me as another outsider drawn here by this topic. I wonder if some of the established members of the community might help me by answering a question.

    I can see after only a brief visit that the forum deserves its reputation for civilized discussion. The thread above speaks clearly to that, even as it puts to rest the notion that anyone has a right to expression on this property other than its owners. But just because the guests here are not entitled to claim free expression as a RIGHT, does not mean they are barred from arguing for it as a GOOD (and perhaps trying to persuade the hosts to tolerate more of it than they otherwise might).

    Yet no one seems to be making such an argument. No one seems to be making the utilitarian case. Hence my question:

    WHY do so many commentators here regard civility as a self-evidently desirable feature of online discussion?

    For me, one of the chief reasons for going online is to escape from the thought killing conventions of ordinary politeness. In real life, when someone says something that we consider ignorant and foolish, most of us do nothing. We do nothing because, while there is no social taboo against making foolish statements in polite conversation, there is a strict social taboo against challenging people with logical argument.

    It may be considered slightly uncouth, but a man at a party can say “I hope Obama loses” without clearing the room…as long as he doesn’t try to explain his reasons. But if a second man says “Really…would you mind naming, say, three major policy positions in which you believe Romney would be better”, the party is over then and there.

    A comment thread is a place to escape from that paralyzing convention. It’s a place where one can take a fool and call him foolish, and then use evidence and logic to make him look that way in front of the world.

    So…as The Joker might phrase my question: why so civilized? What makes this community so different from all the others? What makes it want to be different?

  97. S. Weasel says:

    It's a big ol' internet. Sometimes, when you try to maximize civility, you just add scolding to all the other unpleasant noise. But this is your ant farm, and I have mine, and everyone else can have one, too.

  98. Allen says:

    Weasel, but you're lucky you have managed to attract mostly funny commenters over the years. Well all except…

    Something Patrick said about The Rules of Magic and calling something you can't control. So I won't mentiion further.

  99. James Pollock says:

    It is unfortunate that so many people confuse the right to speak without fear of government reprisal ("free speech") for a right to say anything, anywhere, without consequence. The latter has never existed anywhere there are at least two people present.

  100. Ben says:

    Nance, the question – and the perceived schism central to that question – were entirely non-legal. @Popehat's tweet about it being a mixture of introspection and observation ('self-absorbed' and 'meta'), which neither entertained nor enticed -it seems an accurate summation.

    If you are curious, and it seems a few are, as to the dichotomy I initially perceived, perhaps it would be more illuminating to show how my line of reasoning was incorrect.

    Examination leads me to believe that I conflated the pervasive ethos of "Get a thicker skin" and defense of First Amendment rights with my own beliefs that any expression is superior to non-communication.

    In a more abstract sense,

    Iff A contains {a and c} and B contains {b and d} then A and B implies C{a or b or c or d…}

    As you can clearly see, the statement is false, as there are many permutations whereby A contains members a and c and B contains members b and d and A and B are both extant but C is not.

    Nothing about their identities necessarily relates them to each other, just as nothing about the advocacy for the First Amendment and the distaste for suppression of criticism implies that their advocacy for the First Amendment or distaste for suppression of criticism are rooted in any specific ideological set. Any number of potential arguments could be (and have been) made for their advocacy, that do not involve a fundamental belief in the superiority of communication to non-communication.

  101. Ben says:

    Sarah, that is an interesting conclusion to reach. I have never read the communications decency act – but now I feel compelled. :)

    Meanwhile, I do wonder at how you drew that interpretation. Did you read "why do you even attempt…" in a manner such as;
    "Why would you attempt to pick up a penny off the tracks when a train is coming. It's too dangerous."?

    That is, did you read it as an insinuation of warning of a potential hazard?

  102. Ben says:

    Tsrblke, Bearman Cartoons, Ppnl and David Schwartz all present similar points.

    It is true that the identities of the motives and the identities of the behaviors are not the same. That is, many people may do take the same action, for wildly different reasons – thus, with only information of the action taken, it is difficult to ascertain which motive is associated with it.

    It is not true that the two cannot be (or should not be) congruent. More concrete;

    Motivations for advocacy of the First Amendment are numerous. One could be a utilitarian (e.g., "…it offers the most happiness for the most people…"), a pragmatic reason (e.g., "… it is useful to me …"), a conservative/traditional/bathos reason (e.g., "… this is the way it has been until now …"), a dogmatic reason (e.g., "… because it was given to us by God/Yahweh/our ancestors …") and the list goes on and on.

    As more behaviors can be observed, though, you can estimate more and more closely the paradigm by which people are motivated. If someone declares themselves a 'rabid atheist', there is an increasing likelihood that they are motivated by a dogmatic assertion of "not God." Similarly, a person who declares themselves an empiricist (such as I) runs a greater likelihood of being ideologically attached to their senses and personal faculties.

    Also, to the point of "It is a shame that people destroyed the points they were making with ad hominem." I have never seen the inclusion of a fallacy as disproving the totality of the argument presented.

    Only when a theory is predicated upon that fallacy does the entirety have to be scrapped in it's entirety. Attacks of a personal nature indicate, to me, that the person no longer views this as a fellow conversant attempting to find the truth of a matter, but now instead sees me as an adversary, attempting to manipulate or trick him into believing something he does not agree with.

    In my (anecdotal) experience, I have found it useful to try and step back, to make certain the individual knows that I am not attached, psychologically or emotionally, to the ideas I have put forth – and that I only wish to reach a mutual understanding. Sometimes reminding them that they are not the argument they put forward is helpful as well.

    This has not always worked for me, of course – but that is a sign that I need to improve my ability to communicate and empathize, not a symptom of some failing on the part of another individual.

  103. Robert White says:

    I too found this over the oatmeal. I never read the site terms. The rules as I intuit(ed) them from the content:

    (0) Don't be a dick — This is a starting rule for life so I always include it.

    (1) Don't try to get "the last word in". — In a free speech paradigm nobody gets the last word.

    (2) Don't force the agenda. — It's okay for the topics to wander as conversations do that.

    (3) Be conversational. — Address people present as if they were within arms reach instead of as if from deep within opposing bunkers.

    (4) You have to be -at- -least- a funny as you are mean. — Nobody can control everything, and nobody can really make an ass-hat change his ways, so if you must speak ill, remember you are speaking to the room not the person.

    (5) Imagine you are -at- -least- as wrong as the other person. — We hate most in others the traits we perceive as flaws within ourselves, so if you are getting all pissy its likely because you are accusing someone of your own behavior.

    (6) If you can't take a hit, and take it in good humor, you should just watch. — The forum is funny and all, but it is rather rough-and-tumble here as well. More-so even than places like 4chan because instead of the wrath there, you will be met with the cruel blades of insight here.

    (7) The only real sin here seems to be "gracelessness". — Trying to re-make or re-justify your position, as opposed to simple clarifications, is fail-sauce.

    (8) Don't repeat yourself overmuch. — If you feel the need to say "but that's not what I meant" you only get to say it once and you need to choose clearer words to say it. If people still "don't seem to get your point" go to rule five. Chanting the same thing again and again doesn't improve your standing.

    (9) You will be judged. — another life thing.

    (10) Don't be a dick. — it bears repeating and summarizes rules 1 through 7 in clear violation of rule 8.

    (11) Know when to break the rules.

    I may be totally -wrong- about these rules, but since that's what seemed to be going on here, that's how I have been playing and why I like the place.

  104. John says:

    Like many others, I came here during the theoatmeal controversy.

    I just want to point out that I have never seen so many people arguing for a point that was never contested. Ben acknowledges that this blog is your property and that you may do with it as you please. He goes on to say that within the scope of a person's right to moderate speech on their property, some of that activity may be disingenuous, and he is correct.

    Since many are fond of metaphors here, imagine you host a discussion salon on religion at your house and then you begin to throw people out for rejecting Christianity. You would be within your rights, but you would be disingenuous.

    As for your example email of what displeases you, I think your response to it demonstrates a twisted sense of empathy. Stand in the angry guy's shoes for a moment. This fellow, the significant other of a rape survivor, despises rapists. He has been told that like Schrodinger's cat, which is in a state of half being alive and half being dead until its probability wave is collapsed, he is half a rapist and half not a rapist until his probability wave is collapsed, presumably to all 3.5 billion women on Earth. Since that will never happen the logical conclusion is that he must live out his life with 90 of his 180 pounds being a rapist.

    I don't think there is any other suggestion in the world that should properly make someone angry as being told that they are something that they hate. Do some soul searching and decide if kicking people out of your house for becoming angry at suggestions that would make a rational person angry is the sort of house you want to be the master of.

  105. Ben says:

    Robert,

    Cute :D But… I do not understand rule #7, or it's value here.

    If one's position is contradictory/inconsistent/inaccurate, and someone else has clearly demonstrated why it is so, is it not better to revise your position to be more accurate, consistent or truthful?

  106. Look at that says:

    I was just watching a British television show, and some men were talking, one of whom was a drunken jerk. One mentioned that they could have a better conversation if the jerk "could keep a civil tongue in his head."

    That got me thinking, what does civil, as in "civil tongue", really mean. For the history of the word, check wikipedia.

    What I always find interesting are synonyms, these form the online merriam-webster:

    civil, polite, courteous, gallant, chivalrous mean observant of the forms required by good breeding. (Yes, I know–breeding– an archaic word. Perhaps we could say "forms required by adult society")

    civil often suggests little more than the avoidance of overt rudeness (owed the questioner a civil reply).

    courteous implies more actively considerate or dignified politeness (clerks who were unfailingly courteous to customers)

    polite commonly implies polish of speech and manners and sometimes suggests an absence of cordiality (if you can't be pleasant, at least be polite).

    I like the last– polite– because it's where the true master of the language can make the most cutting remarks. I've never have the talent to be polite with malice; I've never been able to master the polite, cutting remark. But I sure admire it. (I think of Inman's lawyer's reply to the lawsuit– such mastery!)

    But then, even courteousness can be used for masterful snipes. I love to read Miss Manners mainly for the many lovely ways she suggests for dealing with rudeness. (As in, "I wish I'd thought of that!")

  107. Robert White says:

    If you don't know the difference between "trying to re-make or re-justify your point" and "revising your position" I am quite frankly at a loss on how to explain…

  108. AlphaCentauri says:

    Robert, I understood your point as "if you are led to change your point of view, give credit to the person whose argument swayed you rather than pretending you were arguing the revised position all along." Like the line from the Billy Joel song, "she never gives up and she never gives in, she just changes her mind" — maybe he found it endearing, but most people find it infuriating. So then you end up still arguing even though everyone is in agreement over the issues.

  109. Ben says:

    Huh, very well.

    I just see those as saying the same thing in multiple ways, revise your position, remake your point I had inferred "re-justify" to be in the vein of 'to make just again'. That is, to reassert a rational schema to an ideas substructure. Simply because we arrived at a conclusion by means of faulty or suspect reason/justification/logic, does not necessitate that the conclusion untrue or false.

    If you mean 'justify' in the sense of the pejorative "She is just trying to justify her actions," or more specifically "his justifications conceal his true motive for his actions" then essentially number seven is that everyone must enter conversations 'in good faith'? As in, without prevarication/intentional deception/whatever one wants to call it.

    I would argue that while this would be an admirable goal, I don't see how it could be accurately determined. People I have had discussions with who seem to circle around the same point, with various logical structures, abandoning one and adopting a new one – they generally do not seem to be aware that they are taking a conclusion, and attempting to work backwards to it's connectives and postulates, and that the motivation for this is something unrelated (like a fundamental rejection of the precepts of rationalism.)

    Also, what of the case of the devil's advocate? Sometimes for examination of ideas, we must 'play a role' of a system that we may not truly identify with.

    It does not seem to me that rule seven offers any real pragmatic value.

  110. AlphaCentauri says:

    I would just like to say that I wish this comment software had a means to "preview" before posting, and that it had an alert to let people read comments posting while they were typing before they post their own comment. We don't know who is responding to what.

  111. Ben says:

    Oh. Apologies. I meant that with regards to Robert White's response about the difference between revising, remaking and re-justifying.

  112. M. says:

    @Robert White: I'd add "(12) Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but of articulacy."

  113. Allen says:

    Will Rogers had a way with words on occasion, and I suppose itmight suffice here.

    "Don't piss off cookie."

    Cookie runs the chuckwagon.

  114. Kinsey says:

    I found this site view Ken's admirable defense of the Regretsy sellers and I've stayed because I love the writing and the legal discussions (I'm a law librarian, not a lawyer). I thought Ken's analysis of that wretched NC proposition was brilliant. I also like the snark and sarcasm – but then, the only other place where I really hang out in the comments is Reason Magazine's Hit and Run, which is all about snark and sarcasm.

    I agree with several people here in that the comment thread Patrick shut down was, by comparison to many sites, remarkably restrained. I mean yes, people got nasty and personal and it really did get off topic, and I get why Patrick was pissed off, but I've seen much worse mud slinging and not just on gaming sites – a lot of news sites and political blogs attract breathtakingly puerile ranters.

    There is no such thing as censorship on a blog. A blog is private property, and private property owners may set the parameters of their visitors' behavior as widely or narrowly as they want. They are under no obligation to their visitors and they have the right to be as capricious or hypocritical or magnanimous as they wish. Your house, your rules. This isn't a difficult concept.

    I've never found anything here particularly disturbing, but then I suspect I'm older than most of the women who landed here via The Oatmeal saga.

    One last thing – "tedious wankery" is my new favorite phrase. What a great name for a band, or a blog, or something. I will find a way to work it into dialog at some point, I can promise you that.

  115. Joe Pullen says:

    Actually Kinsey the NC series was Patricks fine work.

    I like Roberts list. I especially like #6. “If you can't take a hit, and take it in good humor, you should just watch.” I know one poster took an unwarranted swipe at Robert on the earlier portion of that thread and he handled it with both wit and grace.

    Generally I assume that since what I’m seeing is the written word only, I’m missing half of the communication – the non verbal half – and so I try not to assume or read things into someone else’s intent. This typically keeps me from hauling off at someone. If I feel their intent is unclear I may ask for clarification. Sometimes that may prompt the other person to realize their intentions were not clear on their post and they may then reply with clarification. Other times it may reveal that person to be an idiot. If they are an idiot, better to let them reveal that than me.

  116. nlp says:

    WHY do so many commentators here regard civility as a self-evidently desirable feature of online discussion?

    For me, one of the chief reasons for going online is to escape from the thought killing conventions of ordinary politeness. In real life, when someone says something that we consider ignorant and foolish, most of us do nothing. We do nothing because, while there is no social taboo against making foolish statements in polite conversation, there is a strict social taboo against challenging people with logical argument.

    It may be considered slightly uncouth, but a man at a party can say “I hope Obama loses” without clearing the room…as long as he doesn’t try to explain his reasons. But if a second man says “Really…would you mind naming, say, three major policy positions in which you believe Romney would be better”, the party is over then and there.

    Sean, the reason we like civility is because we believe someone can state a point of view without descending into name-calling. When people start directly attacking another a lot of people leave. Ken and Patrick like to have people stay and state their points of view. When we (speaking as a large group, not just the people on this thread) starting yelling and calling each other names we lose many people who believe it is perfectly reasonable to state three reasons why we (or they) like Romney. Or Obama. You might consider this more of a debate (depending on the thread and the topic) rather than a mass exercise in beating people up.

    There are a number of places on the internet where people can call each other names. This is not one of them.

    There has been an unusual quality to the site recently, partly because Charles Carreon has been such a major topic of conversation, and partly because we have a large number of people coming in and moving the furniture around. Eventually the dust will settle, and you (meaning everybody, not just Sean) will get a better idea of what the site is like.

    I find it interesting that so many of the people commenting on this thread have just recently joined us. I'm enjoying watching people try to understand the ground rules and talk with each other.

  117. Kinsey says:

    Joe – Ah hell. I knew that – or I did before I started the second glass of wine. Thanks for the correction. Also ditto on the not assuming, right off the bat, that a comment is meant in anger or snark.

  118. tsrblke says:

    @Ben,

    Normally I'd agree with you on the logical fallacy aspect of things, however I find ad hominem to be the rare exception. Even if a particular argument is rigorous to almost mathmatical precision, ending with "and my opponent is a utter dumbass!" pretty much unwinds everything said previously, by the mere fact that it doesn't respect your interlocutor.
    Another way of saying that is: the form of your argument carries at least a little bit of weight. (I'm not going full on emotivist here, but I think anyone short of Spock would concede the point.)
    Furthermore it would be a mischaracterization of what I was saying to boil it down to "well his style destroyed his argument." The argument was DOA as I read the comment, my point was that there was some good seeds of discussion in the comment that never got to mature because everything went sideways after the first character.

  119. Sean says:

    nlp,

    Thanks for the response. I still think there's a powerful case to be made on behalf on incivility and impoliteness

    All my life I've enjoyed arguing. The better I get at it, the more I tend to infuriate people who aren't very good – those who have the will but lack the skill to debate. As a result, I've already been hit with every ad hominem in the catalog. Perhaps that bothers me less than it should. But there seems to be something very powerful in human nature that makes people prefer death to conceding a point at argument. And as long as they don't concede, they will usually resort to provocation of one kind or another. People have to say something when they run out of something to say, and usually they don't say it too nicely.

    Why be surprised when it happens? Why not let them flame out? Why punish open aggression when sarcasm, snark, and passive aggression are not just tolerated, but relished as art forms? As anyone knows who had to read Jane Austen in college, good manners are sometimes very good at expressing the iciest hatred and the coldest contempt.

    I still don't understand why they are considered to be such a virtue. In real life, civility can be defended as a means of preventing actual violence. But in a comment thread any such risk has already been eliminated. Why go on taking such pains to be polite?

  120. I completely agree that moderation is an essential part of any forum to create a good experience for its contributors and its readers – both for commercial and noncommercial enterprises. YouTube is what happens when comments go (largely) unmoderated, and it's not pretty. Popehat adds value over YouTube by moderating.

    That said, Elise Logan aptly noted that "[t]he digital world, by my reckoning, is largely made up of living rooms." There is no public square you can cry on or hand out pamphlets, no place you can safely stage a protest, that might not be shut down. Even if you host your own website on your own equipment, your ISP can still choose to shut you down for terms of service violation. This was illustrated well when Wikileaks was kicked off Amazon's servers and forced to operate from a raw IP address because domain registrars refused to deal with them. It seems to me that if true freedom of expression is to exist in the virtual world, there needs to be some kind of constructed public space to support it.

  121. Sean says:

    Derrick,

    "YouTube is what happens when comments go (largely) unmoderated."

    I always thought YouTube's comment section was more an example of what happens when you remove the literacy barrier from a website.

    Do you really think things could get so bad in a place like this?

  122. Bob says:

    I just want to point out that to a software engineer, like Ben, 'brute force' has a distinct meaning that is different than how the term is used in general conversation, and has nothing to do with violence. It is used to describe a simplistic least-effort approach that uses no finesse.

    For instance, there are all kinds of computer algorithms that one can use to calculate a list of prime numbers. Many of them are based on very sophisticated mathematical principles.

    A "brute force" method, on the other hand, would simply be to just go down an infinite list of numbers, and test each number one by one by checking every number between 2 and that number until you find one that divides into the test number with no remainder.

  123. Look at that says:

    Sean and Ben:

    Incivility is boring.

    Winning is not the point of conversation and discussion.

    Perhaps the two of you could start a no-holds-barred debate blog?

  124. Dustin says:

    "YouTube's comment section was more an example of what happens when you remove the literacy barrier from a website."

    It all makes sense now.

  125. leo marvin says:

    Sean,

    Imagine you own a blog with a comment section you provide for discussion of issues raised in your posts. In response to something one of your commenters says, another says one of the following:

    1. "I disagree because [evidence and logic]."

    2. "Shut up, you pathetic, worthless, dishonest parody of a sniveling, groveling "Beta Male" pansy who will do and say anything if he thinks it will make him seem sensitive enough to be allowed to gaze upon a womyn."

    Which do you think is more likely to foster the discussion you're looking for, and which is more likely to devolve the thread into a flame war that drives out any further discussion of the issues?

    Now, there's a long continuum between 1 and 2. That leaves room for plenty of the snark, sarcasm, teasing and mild ridicule that makes arguments more entertaining without outright derailing the discussion, much less descending into mean-spirited ugliness. Where one draws the line of how much of that to allow is largely a matter of taste, but I think you'll find that sites which don't at least prohibit direct personal attacks and name-calling have precious little useful discussion.

  126. nlp says:

    good manners are sometimes very good at expressing the iciest hatred and the coldest contempt.

    I still don't understand why they are considered to be such a virtue. In real life, civility can be defended as a means of preventing actual violence. But in a comment thread any such risk has already been eliminated. Why go on taking such pains to be polite?

    Sean, I know a lot of people who like really pushing an argument, and like destroying other people. It's part of the fun, and I understand that they like being mean and/or unpleasant. There are lots and lots of places on the internet where people can be just as unpleasant as they want.

    But some of us don't like name-calling or mean attacks. And some of the people who don't like the name-calling happen to run this site. This is their sandbox, if you will. There are other sandboxes where you can kick sand in someone's eye. But in this sandbox, you play nicely. You don't have to agree with everyone, but it can be done with courtesy.

    And to be honest, with all the thousands of places on the internet where people can be as rude as they want, why are you complaining because Popehat prefers basic courtesy?

  127. Narad says:

    Ben, have you read Harry Frankfurt's "On Bullshit"?

  128. Ben says:

    Narad, no, I had not, before this. Some of the arguments appear fallacious.

    Take;
    "Consider a Fourth of July orator, who goes on bombastically about 'our great and blessed country, whose Founding-Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind.' This is surely humbug. As Black's account suggests, the orator is not lying. He would be lying only if it were his intention to bring about in his audience beliefs which he himself regards as false, concerning such matters as whether our country is great, whether it is blessed, whether the Founders had divine guidance, and whether what they did was in fact to create a new beginning for mankind. But the orator does not really care what his audience thinks about the Founding Fathers, or about the role of the deity in our country's history, or the like. At least, it is not an interest in what anyone thinks about these matters that motivates his speech. It is clear that what makes Fourth of July oration humbug is not fundamentally that the speaker regards his statements as false. Rather, just as Black's account suggests, the orator intends these statements to convey a certain impression of himself. He is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history. What he cares about is what people think of him. He wants them to think of him as a patriot, as someone who has deep thoughts and feelings about the origins and the mission of our country, who appreciates the importance of religion, who is sensitive to the greatness of our history, whose pride in that history is combined with humility before God, and so on."

    He rests this on a presumption that 'the orator' is actively or passively attempting to deceive – that they could not possibly be genuinely communicating their perception of this country. Which is a fine, if skeptical, attitude towards communication. My brother is fond of the "trust but verify" model of speech, which acknowledges the truth that the content may be compromised (either by circumstances, the senders intent or the receivers intent).

    However, such a view of communication – the presumption that someone would never say "I have a great deal of nationalistic pride, and allow me to detail why…" – is, in and of itself, imposing constraints upon the communication. Mr Frankfurt never acknowledges that communication involves both broadcast and reception – and that by some of his vague standards of bullshit, an individual might 'bullshit' (deceive for the sake of aggrandizement or ego or even some compulsive delusional order, like he seems to imply towards the end) as the receiver of a message. Certainly one can -through careful or careless action – misrepresent what someone else has said to you, in order to gain a rhetorical advantage.

    and

    "The word shit does, to be sure, suggest this. Excrement is not designed or crafted at all; it is merely emitted, or dumped. It may have a more or less coherent shape, or it may not, but it is in any case certainly not wrought."

    While semantics and semiotics can be interesting, we run into those same difficulties in confusing two things because they share a set of attributes – what it is called and what it is.

    For instance, could I not just as easily say that excrement is a vital part of almost every ecology so should not bullshit be a vital part of our thought and speech?

    The answer, of course, should be no. Individuals who are delusional are generally considered ill – because their lack of connection to our reality is perceived as an impediment, for the most part. Those who use dishonesty as a means of procuring greater rewards are seen as selfish; because falsehoods and misrepresentation add no value. They are not the manure which makes ideas fertile; they are contradictory elements that compromise a meticulous logical structure.

    and

    "The point that troubles Wittgenstein is manifestly not that Pascal has made a mistake in her description of how she feels. Nor is it even that she has made a careless mistake. Her laxity, or her lack of care, is not a matter of having permitted an error to slip into her speech on account of some inadvertent or momentarily negligent lapse in the attention she was devoting to getting things right. The point is rather that, so far as Wittgenstein can see, Pascal offers a description of a certain state of affairs without genuinely submitting to the constraints which the endeavor to provide an accurate representation of reality imposes. Her fault is not that she fails to get things right, but that she is not even trying."

    This is just odd. I am not up on my modern philosophers, but it would seem to me that Wittgenstein, or at least in the story related by Frankfurt via Pascal, is actually patently wrong.

    The faculty of abstraction does not necessarily render something incorrect. Fania Pascal can, in fact, understand what a dog who has been run over might feel like.

    Pascal could abstract the pain of broken or cracked rib, internal organ damage, crushed muscles, and so on, and gain at least a reasonable perspective of what it might feel like to be a dog that got run over.

    To me, the diatribe seems like a lament of the role that prevarication plays in human communication. I understand that at times, people lie for personal gain or as the symptom of some underlying pathology.

    Yet, to me, even this can tell us certain relevant things. Like a puzzle, by exclusion (ruling out things that it is not) and inclusion (inferring things that it is) we can more and more accurately approximate the true intent.

    Anyways, that was interesting. Did you mean it to have some significance to the current discussion? (The word 'pretentious' has come up in these comments, to describe me and I notice that it is prominent in the initial description of bullshit and humbug by Frankfurt… So I do not know if that was just a subtle rephrasing.)

    I admit, I do pretend at times, when I am examining something or trying to understand someone's argument. Yet, contrary to Frankfurt's assertion, it is always used in an attempt to draw closer to a truth, not in disregard for it.

  129. Narad says:

    I suggested it for a reason. I do not entirely agree with Frankfurt, particularly the failure to discriminate 'horseshit' from 'bullshit', but here's the point: You seem to be resorting to frankly pseudophilosophical bloviation about the nature of communication while simultaneously demonstrating a rather poor practical grasp of the actual subject, as the song and dance about the living-room "parable" illustrates amply. Others no doubt will disagree.

  130. Sean says:

    nlp,

    Okay, so here's where it gets interesting. You wrote: "And to be honest, with all the thousands of places on the internet where people can be as rude as they want, why are you complaining because Popehat prefers basic courtesy?"

    But I wasn't complaining. I was just making comments as needed to frame a few questions, and the general purpose of my questions was to learn how the regulars here might describe their values to someone who does not take them as a given. I wasn't asking anyone to change the policies or the culture here, merely to help explain them.

    "Look at That" was much more blunt, suggesting that perhaps I should simply leave and take Ben with me.

    So now I'm in a very strange position. I've been here two days and I've posted three comments, all painstakingly polite, and all aimed at discovering the foundations of politeness in this community. Already it has been suggested that I should either stop complaining or leave.

    So that leaves me with an odd conclusion: it seems you value civility, but you don't much like being asked to explain why you value civility.

    Maybe that's because it is self-evidently good, and I'm the only fool who cannot see it. Maybe civility isn't the kind of value that can be explained or defended in a logically consistent way. Maybe there is no rule or standard more refined that "I know it when I've banned it."

    But I note something interesting: no one so far has said civility is good because incivility hurts people. Whatever the explanation is, it seems not to be that.

  131. Delvan Neville says:

    Main screen turn on…

  132. Ben says:

    I apologize if I have made you uncomfortable, confused or bored. That was never my intention. I also never had the intention to convey that I am a subject matter expert when it comes to communication. As I have both written (and demonstrated), communication does not come naturally to me. It is a skill that I must actively attempt to cultivate. I cannot intuitively demarcate parody, satirical and insincere communication from sincere yet absurd communication. I often skip or presume portions of my communication which I believe (in error) that a receiver would already know or should infer from the portions I put forth. These are a few of the many areas where I suffer from communication deficits.

    In taking the time to note that you feel I am attempting to deceive you, in some manner, it would seem your desired outcome is to either A) simply announce your impression or B) seek to resolve whether you have been deceived or not.

    In case of A, I thank you for the time you spent reading and acknowledge your reaction – and would agree that there is obviously something I might be able to do to make my writing more compelling or concise.

    In the case of B, it might help in resolving any internal consistencies to keep in mind that, in discussing the analogy, it is all within the context of people inquiring into/rebutting my beliefs with regards to the inherent value of communication. As the commentary was (at least initially) a response to a response of my letter, and many of those responses either seemed to be or were directed at me, we were by then exploring the value I found in communication.

    For "You seem to be resorting to frankly pseudophilosophical bloviation about the nature of communication … " do you mean that inspection of why we value what we value is not useful?

    I ask because I take 'pseudophilosophical bloviation' to mean 'grandiose false philosophy', but it seems you might also mean "something else disguised as philosophy".

    Or within the context of "..while simultaneously demonstrating a rather poor practical grasp of the actual subject, as the song and dance about the living-room 'parable' illustrates amply."

    It might seem that you are meaning "Only experts should examine why we value what value."

    If your meaning is, "I find no value in such analysis of causation." I would contend there is great value to it! Indeed, perhaps it is the only thing of true value! But, it is a primitive in my value system, so it is not something I can convince someone of if they are disinclined.

    If you mean, "It appears that this philosophy you offer up is misleading…" I, again, apologize. I never set out to mislead anyone (certainly not people who I did not know would receive or respond to my letter).

    If you mean "It seems to me that you do not have the requisite skills to inquire on this topic." I would hope you would indulge me by pointing to specific contradictions or fallacies in the structure of my paradigm, so that I might improve upon it. There is no objective benefit to you. Just a friendly thing to do! :)

  133. Narad says:

    In taking the time to note that you feel I am attempting to deceive you

    You are mistaken.

  134. Ben says:

    Oh. My apologies.

    Is that not what Frankfurt was proposing Bullshit / Humbug to be? A deception 'just short of lying'?

  135. Narad says:

    Is that not what Frankfurt was proposing Bullshit / Humbug to be? A deception 'just short of lying'?

    "Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic."

    You appear to be attempting an elaborate form of concern trolling. I neither know nor care why, but I'm willing to state that it appears to have nothing at all to do with your putative object of concern. The signal-to-noise ratio is low, as you seem to think your "paradigm" is of self-evident interest and naturally to be elevated to the coin of the realm. It's not.

    I am an infrequent commenter at Popehat, and that's for a reason–I'm greatly outclassed on legal topics, and there is more for me to gain than I have to offer. Attempts to control discourse with lines like "that is, to reassert a rational schema to an ideas substructure," on the other hand, I am perfectly familiar with.

  136. nlp says:

    But I wasn't complaining. I was just making comments as needed to frame a few questions, and the general purpose of my questions was to learn how the regulars here might describe their values to someone who does not take them as a given. I wasn't asking anyone to change the policies or the culture here, merely to help explain them.

    Ah, I see. I thought you were complaining that you wanted this site to be like the others and you couldn't understand why we wanted civility, since you didn't care that much about it. I apologize for the misunderstanding, and I hope you (and Ben) will stay around.

    The internet has introduced us to a new form of communication, and, while many people are perfectly comfortable with it, there is still a long learning curve to go. Consider newspapers, magazines, and network news. Different papers and networks take on different tones. Some are liberal, some conservative, some libertarian. People tend to read or watch those papers or networks that match their own beliefs. There are a lot of nuances involved. Back a few decades, New York City had nearly a dozen daily newspapers. Some aimed for the college educated, managerial level, some focussed on the high school educated blue collar workers. Some always looked for a sex angle. As time passed more and more of them folded, and there are just a few left. They still have different markets and different areas of focus.

    In the same way, different internet sites have different areas of focus. Some have a come one, come all, let the chips fall where they may attitude, others like a more cordial tone. Certainly places like Oatmeal have a 'let it all hang out' attitude. I've looked at Oatmeal, and I recognize that it doesn't match my sense of humor. That doesn't make it wrong, just different.

    I'm not comfortable with personal attacks made under the guise of arguing a point. I admit I've taken part in some of these (not here, elsewhere) but I'm generally sorry afterward and have been trying to do better.

    Personal attacks can get in the way of the message. Attacking someone personally, rather than attacking his or her idea, means that the person is likely to attack back directly, rather than explaining his idea in different terms, or disagreeing with the attacker's ideas. I've seen too many disagreements flounder in a sea of contempt, and no one ever got back to the original question.

    Focussing on the question or idea, and not letting it spread to personalities, means people need a firm idea of exactly what they are arguing about. They can't fall back on the "you're an idiot and I'm not going to waste my time on idiots" routine. They have to actively defend their point of view. This actually means better arguments and, even if you still don't agree with the other person, you can gain a better idea of why they think a certain way, or of the political philosophy they expound. I gain more from such arguments, even if I'm not taking part in the discussion. That's why I keep going back and reading new comments. The discussion itself is what is interesting. Certainly the personalities of the people involved become very clear. And I learn more when I can focus on the arguments presented, and not have to deal with the personal attacks.

    While the blog claims that it's not a legal website, it qualifies as one. (Also a gamer's blog, an art history blog, and a parenting blog. When Skyrim came out the place went dark for weeks). The other night, in search of one of Ken's posts about his children, I came across the 2nd anniversary post, which gives some of the background of the comment section as well as some of the more popular posts.

    http://www.popehat.com/2009/10/26/two-years-of-griping-goofing-off-and-smug-self-satisfaction/

    It can be a lot of fun having an argument without personal attacks. I hope everyone stays for the fun.

  137. Ben says:

    So then, it was correct to say that you feel you are being deceived?

    I had to look up 'concern trolling'.

    It is hardly a technical term but all the same I believe I gather it's meaning. By way of the infamous wikipedia; It is an individual "whose actual point of view is opposed to the one that the user claims to hold".

    Would that not be deception? Not just incidentally, but at the core of it's definition?

  138. Narad says:

    So then, it was correct to say that you feel you are being deceived?

    Have you forgotten the part where I already stated that you were mistaken?

  139. Ben says:

    No. My apologies.

    It is just that those are two contradictory beliefs to hold;

    You feel I am not attempting to deceive you (the original statement), – though deceived, I suppose, has the additional implication of not having detected the deception.

    Yet

    You feel I am an individual stating the opposite of my beliefs.

    How could I both state the opposite of my beliefs, yet not be engaging in deception?

  140. Narad says:

    You feel I am an individual stating the opposite of my beliefs.

    Has anyone ever told you that you leap to a lot of conclusions?

  141. Ben says:

    Not particularly, though I know that I must.

    So, you believe I am a 'concern troll' but you do not agree with the wikipedia.org definition? Very well. In reading other entries upon 'concern troll', dissemblance seems to be common theme in the definition.

    Perhaps it would be simpler for you to define what a 'concern troll' means to you?

  142. leo marvin says:

    Ben, briefly, a concern troll is someone who gives "if I were you" advice to a person whose goals s/he opposes.

  143. Ben says:

    Leo, that is what I had gotten from the wikipedia.org, but Narad's use seems to have no requirement that there be any misrepresentation of your goals or views intrinsic to it.

  144. Narad says:

    Perhaps it would be simpler for you to define what a 'concern troll' means to you?

    If we're to be clear, I stated that you appear to be engaged in an elaborate form of concern trolling. As opposed to leo marvin's summary definition above, I separate the method from the motive. The method is fairly fixed: the self-depiction of the sincere interlocutor. The motive is variable; I do not much care about yours. Tactically, you appear to desire to control the language. Thus, plain speech is inadequate. Thus, mystification along the lines of "the bathroom is racist."

    Perhaps you will become a regular commenter; perhaps you will evaporate when "that's the end of this one" kicks in. Suit yourself.

  145. Narad says:

    Narad's use seems to have no requirement that there be any misrepresentation of your goals or views intrinsic to it.

    Sorry to follow myself up, but in this regard, one does not have access to the contents of other people's heads. Absent a long history, such speculation simply is of no consequence.

  146. Robert White – Semantics.

  147. Ben says:

    "Sorry to follow myself up, but in this regard, one does not have access to the contents of other people's heads. Absent a long history, such speculation simply is of no consequence."

    No harm in clarification, only good. :)

    As to the speculation (in actuality, by that point, more of a self-contained truth) was correct – and the consequence of it was that I more accurately understood what you were writing.

    We had already established (twice, hehe) that you did not believe I was attempting to deceive you, that you believed I was attempting to 'concern troll'.

    Since we were not working under some standardized definition (I mean, who would I look to as the penultimate resource on defining 'trolling'?) it was clear that while I did not understand your specific definition, to conform to your previous statement, it could not have included

    We can demonstrate this by showing that

    Narad does not believe that Ben is being deceptive
    Narad believes that Ben is being a concern troll
    If Narad believes Ben is being a concern troll
    And Narad does not believe that Ben is being deceptive
    Thus Narad does not believe being a concern troll is not deceptive

    So, becoming more formal, we are saying
    A not B
    A then C
    A
    Thus C
    If and only if not B.

    Now, obviously, one could misunderstand the postulates involved – for any number of reasons – but given the (relatively clear) statements that I am not correct that you believe I am being deceptive and that you believe I am being a concern troll, it forms a tautology that your definition of being a concern troll does not contain the element of deception.

    So I am not attempting to read your mind, you see. I am just following your train of thought and inquiring where I have questions.

    As to being a 'sincere interlocutor', you write 'you do not much care' about my motives. Is that not what differentiates a 'troll' from a regular poster – your perception of their motives? If you are ambivalent, how are you able to discern?

    As to not being able to use plain 'speech', I write much as I speak and I speak much as I write. If it's my mannerisms seem arcane, it is not a matter of intention and I apologize. Not to mollify you or get you to agree – those are hollow things – but because it is my failure as a participant in this dialog we are having.

    Mystification is, itself, an interesting choice of words. I can see how that ties in nicely to Frankfurt and 'concern trolling'. Let us go back to that example which is unclear; the living room.

    For clarity's we shall simply have a room, the room's owner and his guests.

    So, in our room, the owner might invite or evict whomsoever they please, for whatever reasons might 'tickle their fancy'. Our room might be dedicated, by it's owner, to be a certain thing. This room is a bedroom, this one a kitchen, this room is a library and another a study. He may even imbue the room with more specific purpose; this is a room for entering other rooms, this is a room for waiting while another room is full.

    So like our room owner, a website owner might say '"his room is for chatting", "this room is for sharing images" and "this room is only for talking about this subject."

    But unlike a concrete room in a house, a website can be (and often is) imbued with an abstract ideological element. So, this website, to us, right now, is more than just bits on a hard drive, or even the representation they make on our display. It is a website about First Amendment. It is a website about humor.

    Here is where the analogy ceases to function for us; a room rarely has such a conceptual element. Thus, the absurdity of the statement 'the bathroom is racist', is meant to demonstrate just that – absurdity. While a room may be for doing something, it is rarely about something.

    So where it concerned my question, which was an entirely non-legal one, in evaluating whether something is congruous or incongruous with an underlying principle.

    This specific case of my question – much as my presumption of your use of 'concern troll' – was one of misunderstanding their motivation. Now I do understand and thus see no schism.

    I hope this demystifies my previous comments.

  148. Ben says:

    Hah!

    Mistake in my verbose version of the predicate logic. Should be


    Thus Narad does believe being a concern troll is not deceptive

    Apologies if that caused more confusion.

  149. Robert White says:

    @Michael Hawkins – Semantics are incredibly important in most cases. Have you ever actually looked up that word. People who use "semantics" as a means dismiss argument are invariably wrong.

    Semantics — The meaning of a string in some language, as opposed
    to syntax which describes how symbols may be combined
    independent of their meaning.

    Arguing meaning is the only reason to argue at all.

    @Ben — Remember the "take the hit and move on" rule? You have reached the point where you will never sway those who have not yet been swayed. This is the point past which the returns have diminished past zero and you begin to make negative progress, losing your previous converts.

    You might also want to observe the "don't try to get the last word in" rule and just take the progress made as "as good as its going to get" and simply relent.

    @ Everyone Arguing With Ben – You -also- might want to observe both of these rules as Mr. Ben has been "on the defensive" since his name showed up in the leading article so here too returns have diminished.

    Indeed this comment is likely "inflammatory" to Ben's defense. Sorry for that.

    Please don't take this as a mewling attempt at peace-making. I hate that sort of thing. Think of this as more of an attempt peel off the band-aid™ of faux conditional concession so the last bits of spew can drain away.

    None of you are going to win, so everybody yell at -me- and then let the thread die… 8-)

  150. Ben says:

    Hah! Yeah.

    Well no, let's yell at Popehat.com for not finding more entertaining news of strange people trying to do strange things with the legal system. We plebes demand our circus!

    Sorry if I am coming across as pestering. I am relatively satisfied that I understand everyone so far – it just seemed that people were saying they did not understand me! I suppose I should try to adhere to the 'one clarification' rule you mentioned. It would certainly put more pressure on being concise.

  151. Narad says:

    We can demonstrate this by showing that….

    Ben (and everyone else), this will be my last comment on the subject. I knew a fellow back when I was in graduate school who thought that cognition would ultimately be reducible to formal, automated theorem-proving. In Prolog, as I recall. This is false. Everybody knew it except the fellow whose lectures we were forced to attend out of interdepartmental politeness. You are trying to bang natural language into a framework that you have established in advance, and, IMO, it's not working.

  152. Martin says:

    This is a public venue. You talk about ownership of Popehat but if you wanted it to be private then you could have kept it so. You could choose to have your conversation with a few friends around a dinner table or you can walk to the town square step up onto a soap box and start talking. You chose the latter. It was your choice. To now suddenly be shocked and horrified that a discussion got heated is just poor form in my opinion. It is a serious misjudgement of your role and responsibility. Something I did not expect to be honest.

    I know you're not paid for what you do here and I don't care. The social contract you entered into here is something along the lines of: Come here, listen to me. I will talk about freedom of speech. We're all in this together. We want to expose those who suppress the speech of others and we want to make our society stronger by building freedoms instead of breaking them down. There was a secret proviso regarding this free speech which I was not aware or, it was for everyone – except those commenting in a way you don't like on Popehat.

    You were "displeased" – I was deeply disappointed in how you acted. You aren't my parents and you acted as if you are.

    You've been exposing bullies for what they are and yet here you went exactly into the bully role: "If I don't like it then I won't play anymore."

    I am quite capable of making my own decisions about whether or not a comment thread is tiresome, BS, insulting, racist, sexist or whatever else. I don't need you to do it for me. Which is what I felt is what Popehat stands for. So to me, although I disagree with a LOT of what was said in that thread you simply did not practice what you preach and I don't like that.

    "I closed the thread, because it became painful for me to read it." Luckily this is all about you. Actually you invited us here. This is not really about you anymore. It is about all of us. And you being "most displeased" is something I don't really care about.

    Dear Patrick, I used to treat Popehat as a guiding light of Freedom of Speech. Now patrick, I am DISAPPOINTED. I think that what happened here was one of the small cuts that happens to Freedom of Speech on a daily basis. And eventually it will be death by a thousand cuts. You just moved from being a critic to being a participant in my opinion.

    Regards, Martin.

  153. Robert White says:

    @Martin — Thing is, this is -not- "a public forum" which is demonstrable by the fact that you don't own it and they can close a thread.

    I can park my car on public property, but that doesn't make my car a public property.

    I could put an electronic sign board on my car and leave it in public without it becoming a public property.

    I could put a bluetooth receiver on that sign board to let people post messages and it -still- wouldn't make my car a public property, and I could close that sign to new additions or lock out particular phones and so posters at my whim because it was my sign on my car.

    Being able to "see something" from "public" doesn't make that something public, and it never has.

    Being granted a privilege, such as posting on someone else's board, doesn't automagically confer an ongoing right to repeat that privilege forever into the future.

    "A public forum is a place that has, by tradition or practice, been held out for general use by the public for speech-related purposes."

    You were "allowed in", your first post was vetted, the ongoing posts of all threads is moderated. this is exactly -not- "general use by the public". Its liberal use allowed by the select. You have simply forgotten the selection criteria because it was a very "liberal" criteria.

    That you never before chaffed under the selection criteria is ample demonstration of that very liberal allowance for comment.

    Past performance is not a promise of future gains.

    You are simply wrong.

  154. M. says:

    @Martin: Yeah, because moderation of blog comments is totally in the same league as domestic terrorism and unfounded arrests.

  155. Martin says:

    Wow @Robert White you must have some kind of qualification in diplomacy or something. To end your comment with "You are simply wrong." is a real Dale Carnegie award winner. In fact when I mentioned in my previous comment that there were people that I heavily disagreed with you are one of them.

    I find your comments annoying in the extreme. Mainly because you write in a way that shows you're desperate to impress whoever reads your overly long and meandering paragraphs.

    I believe that if this is a blog on freedom of speech then you should not control the comments. If you don't want comments then switch the comments off so that everyone is aware that comments are not welcome. I was not aware that there even was a moderating process and it has changed my opinion of Popehat simply because I believed that Popehat was where people, that can't stand the opinion of others but believe in their right to still comment, hang out. This turns out not to be true and I find that very disappointing. The authors here have made it abundantly clear that opinions that they don't like are not welcome. I am upset about that because I believed that this is one place where diverse debate would be tolerated.

    As for "M." – I have no idea how you move from my discussion of freedom of speech, specifically written speech here, to domestic terrorism and unfounded arrests. If you have a coherent way of connecting them then have at it but otherwise you make me yawn.

    Regards, Martin.

  156. Martin says:

    p.s.
    @Robert White and "M.", although I think you're both ######s your comments are still welcome. (Although only by me, not necessarily, Ken, Patrick and co.)

    ;-)

  157. M. says:

    @Martin: Do you actually read this blog, or just come here to ramble at length in a pretentious fashion?

  158. nlp says:

    Martin, there seems to be a couple of major misunderstandings here. This is not a blog on freedom of speech. It is a blog where several people post about matters that are of interest to them. Oftentimes the readers also find that the posts are interesting, and they write comments. But the site is not about freedom of speech. To say it IS about freedom of speech means that you have misunderstood what is going on here.

    Several of the board owners are interested in situations where freedom of speech is blocked, either through government enforcement, university stupidity, or threats of lawsuits. The board owners discuss these matters with basic civility, and readers engage in these conversations. The people who run this site have requested that people refrain from direct personal attacks. Making this request does not infringe on anyone's freedom of speech. They are not restricting your freedom of speech; they are restricting a certain style of speech. You can certainly make your point without attacking people. You are still free to disagree with people. You can still support unpopular issues. (Within reason).

    Let's move away from the living room analogy. Instead, let's talk about a front lawn. The Popehat authors have a nice lawn. They allow people to argue or put up signs regarding their views. But people are not allowed to put up signs asking people to break the law, and they are not allowed to punch other people.

    Ken sometimes posts about his kids. People comment about his posts. (And indeed, it was a post about one of his kids that led to this entire thread). People can comment about his post, or about his kids. But if anyone starts making threats regarding those kids, Ken, Patrick, and the rest will shut that person down and tell the police about the threat.

    Freedom of speech does not mean that you can say anything you feel like saying. Certain kinds of speech are restricted. The Constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech states Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Congress shall make no law. The government cannot stop you from speaking. It doesn't say anything else at all regarding what private property owners are allowed to do. Over the decades our understanding of freedom of speech has grown. But private property owners still have the right to restrict what is said, and the manner in which it is said, on their own property.

    I'm not sure what else we can say to help you understand why some basic restrictions do not amount to controlling or denying freedom of speech. It's possible (indeed, highly possible) that you do not understand how freedom of speech is defined by other people. And, as I said, you clearly do not understand what this site is about. But I hope you will stay and participate in other topics.

  159. Martin says:

    Hi nlp,
    I hear what you say. Maybe you're right. Are you talking on behalf of Popehat? You seem to be speaking as if you know what you say to be factual.
    Regards, Martin.

  160. TMH says:

    I find it fascinating to see how online communities form in the oddest of places. Blog comment threads make IRC rooms look sophisticated in contrast, yet here we all are. Kudos to Ken, Patrick & all for creating it through their work – it is a fitting tribute to the quality of their writing.

    It should go without saying that they have the right to silence what they deem to be offensive to themselves and their site without it in any way reflecting on their libertarian and free speech beliefs. They have the divine right of kings here, and that is as it should be.

  161. Grifter says:

    @Martin:

    It's a little strange to hear someone complain about the moderation policies of a site after some time, as though the moderation policies were not posted in a link at the very top of the page.

    It was posted before you got here, and has been here the whole time you've been here, but now it's an issue?

    I assure you, every time I've posted on this site anything that might be inflammatory, I wondered if I was crossing the invisible line ("There's an invisible line that moves with our mood. Try not to cross it."), and hoped that I wasn't.

    Would you go inside a store (let's say an Army Surplus store, they often have 1st [but mostly 2nd] amendment stickers talking about the constitution) and start shouting obscenities and then act offended when they make you leave?

    I'd like to ask you to clarify your position. Do you agree with any moderation? Do you feel that the Popehatters shouldn't even remove spam (a form of speech)?

  162. Grifter says:

    @Martin:

    Also, it's ironic you said they weren't your parents, when one of their comment policies says:

    "This is a group blog. Different authors have different perspectives. But when it comes to YOU, we have one perspective. We're like your mom and dad. If you're an orphan, we're like the Communist Party. We adhere to the Party line. Complaining to dad about mom's high-handed, arbitrary decision on your comment will only get you sent to the bushes, to cut a switch."

  163. repsac3 says:

    Filing away Robert White's Jul 14, 2012 @2:28 pm list of rules, just in case I ever need a set of blog comment policies. (Also, calling them "Robert's Rules of Order," 'cause that's kinda what they are… That other Robert guy can pound sand if he doesn't approve…)

    Good discussion. Some of the commenters here are absolutely right. The folks who disagree with them are obviously asshats. (I leave it to the reader to figure out who's who… …but it is kinda obvious, isn't it?)

  164. Marzipan says:

    @Martin, I'm yet another of the newbies washed in by the Carreon tide, and I still noticed that at the top of the page, there is a tab titled "comment policy". On that page, there is this point, which falls after a description of how comments are moderated:

    3. This is our living room, not your living room. You comment as a guest, so please act like a guest we'd like to invite over again. If you think we're jerks, do a better job at that than we do. There's an invisible line that moves with our mood. Try not to cross it. If you go out of your way to cause trouble, we may not do anything. We may be amused. Or we may arrange it that you can never read this site, much less comment here.

    Thus, it was neither surprising nor disappointing to me when I came here to think that some forms of speech wouldn't be tolerated here. From my perspective, this isn't acting like my parents. Rather, it's acting as a responsible community moderator to ensure that the discourse remains civil and on point.

    To address Sean's point about incivility being hurtful, I think that's one of the reasons "civil" dialog is requested. However, in addition to ad hominem attacks being hurtful on their face, they also shift the discussion from issues to people. Both of these amplify the noise generating function far more than the signal generating function in a way that well-crafted snark does not (a framework I like a lot, Robert White).

    However, I think you're right, Sean, that most discussions about "civility" in comments overlooks that incivility can be hurtful to a person. No, I cannot control what you perceive or believe, but I can do my best to enhance the probability that you perceive and believe the message and only the message I want to convey.

  165. Marzipan says:

    @Grifter, darn you and your speedier fingers and synapses :) But nicely put.

    @repsac3, as long as we know what side of the argument someone started on, of course it's obvious! How could anyone be so blind as to not understand who's who!!!11!one!1!!one

  166. nlp says:

    <backquote hear what you say. Maybe you're right. Are you talking on behalf of Popehat? You seem to be speaking as if you know what you say to be factual.

    Martin,

    No, I'm not one of those in charge, and if it seemed that I was speaking on behalf of Popehat then I am sorry for the confusion. But I've been reading and commenting here for several years, and I've gained a tiny bit of insight into what the blog is about and what the basic rules are. It's that understanding that allows me to be certain that freedom of speech, while a regular topic of conversation, is not what the blog is about.

  167. Joe Pullen says:

    @Martin. RE your statement “The authors here have made it abundantly clear that opinions that they don't like are not welcome.” Actually Martin no they have not. I’ve seen people post opinions here that are directly contradicting Ken and Patrick. I’ve seen them engage in discussion over it, I’ve seen others engage in heated debate over differences of opinion. The only things I’ve not seen not welcome here are threats, personal attacks, and suggestions of doing something to someone else that would cross the line of being legal.

    As far as Robert, while his posts may be prolific (a condition I think caused by ingestion of too much caffeine at times), I personally find his commentary interesting. Others may not and if so, they’re free to scroll right past them.

  168. Jeremy says:

    Hey, all due apologies for any fan flaming I may have done myself in that previous thread. I honestly thought I was being civil, but perhaps my additional comments were simply motivating others to post that which was best left alone.

  169. Jeremy says:

    err, I mean flame fanning. It's monday, it's early, and I was at a wedding till past midnight last night.

  170. Grandy says:

    At this point, I see no reason why anyone shouldn't enjoy seconds and even thirds of the delicious irony cake that was delivered to this thread. Attack!

  171. Patrick says:

    Martin:

    nlp doesn't speak for Popehat, but I do. I happen to agree with his comment. 'nuff said.

    As for your comment, I disagree.

    Let's take each statement with which I disagree in turn:

    This is a public venue.

    This is a website, where all comments must be approved by the proprietors. No one can comment here without initial approval from one of us. If we want to use the private land analogy, think of it as a club that requires an application to join. That application is your initial comment.

    And we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason.

    You talk about ownership of Popehat but if you wanted it to be private then you could have kept it so. You could choose to have your conversation with a few friends around a dinner table or you can walk to the town square step up onto a soap box and start talking. You chose the latter. It was your choice.

    You don't understand what I mean when I say "private". "Private" has several meanings. It's a military rank. It could mean "confidential" (which is the meaning you ascribe). Or it could mean, "not owned by the public". That's my meaning.

    Were this a public site, you could post on the front page. You could sue for your right to post on the front page if we denied you that right. I suppose you could sue for that right anyway. You can sue for anything. But you won't necessarily win.

    To now suddenly be shocked and horrified that a discussion got heated is just poor form in my opinion.

    Judge Martin gives Patrick a 6! But the American, Russian, Chinese, and Albanian judges give him a 10! A 10 it is.

    It is a serious misjudgement of your role and responsibility. Something I did not expect to be honest.

    But what is my role at this site? What is my responsibility?

    I was under the impression that my role is at this site is to write about what I want to write about, when I want to write about it. My role in moderating comments at this website is to delete those that, for whatever reason, displease me.

    Did I misunderstand the instructions that you gave me when you hired me to write for this site?

    I know you're not paid for what you do here and I don't care.

    Oh, but I do. Work that others pay for gets done to their specification. Work that I perform for myself gets done to my specification.

    The social contract you entered into here

    Excuse me? I made a contract with society to write for Popehat?

    While that's news to me, I wasn't aware until now of what a rotten job society is doing at living up to its end of the bargain. I wouldn't have signed a contract with society unless it offered me a guaranteed income for life, and my pick of the finest ladies society has to offer.

    Where is my money and where are the babes?

    is something along the lines of: Come here, listen to me. I will talk about freedom of speech. We're all in this together. We want to expose those who suppress the speech of others and we want to make our society stronger by building freedoms instead of breaking them down. There was a secret proviso regarding this free speech which I was not aware or, it was for everyone – except those commenting in a way you don't like on Popehat.

    No, you must have some other Patrick in mind. I'd never sign on to a contract that required me to talk about something as boring as all that.

    I guess this means the guaranteed income for life and the hot women are out. Darn.

    You were "displeased" – I was deeply disappointed in how you acted.

    By this time it should be abundantly clear that your disappointment matters to you, and perhaps your parents, but not to me.

    You aren't my parents and you acted as if you are.

    Let's examine the flaws in that statement. Your parents love you. I most assuredly don't love you. Your parents, presumably, attempted to train you from birth to behave as a responsible adult. I take no such responsibility. I assume that everyone here can behave as an adult. If they can't, I'll throw them out in the street.

    Parents who do that can be convicted of child neglect, by the way.

    You've been exposing bullies for what they are and yet here you went exactly into the bully role: "If I don't like it then I won't play anymore."

    You definitely have some other Patrick, at some other Popehat, in mind. I don't expose bullies. I write about World of Warcraft.

    I am quite capable of making my own decisions about whether or not a comment thread is tiresome, BS, insulting, racist, sexist or whatever else. I don't need you to do it for me.

    I never volunteered to do it for you. I did it for myself.

    Which is what I felt is what Popehat stands for.

    Evidently you were misinformed. Where and when did we inform you that: a) comments at this blog are unmoderated; b) that if they are moderated, readers, as opposed to authors, will be allowed to make such decisions; or c) that Popehat stands for anything apart from what its authors intend it to stand for, at any given moment?

    So to me, although I disagree with a LOT of what was said in that thread you simply did not practice what you preach and I don't like that.

    "I don't practice what I preach, because I'm not the sort of person I'm preaching to."

    — J. R. "Bob" Dobbs

    "I closed the thread, because it became painful for me to read it." Luckily this is all about you.

    It's about me and you. And a dog named Boo.

    Actually you invited us here.

    As long as you obey our rules, you're welcome to stay. One of those rules is "don't comment in such an obnoxious fashion that Patrick gets multiple tweets and emails about you on a Sunday night as he's preparing for a motions practice."

    This is not really about you anymore. It is about all of us.

    So if Ken, David, Grandy and I decide to stop writing here, "all of you" will sustain this site by continuing the Oatmeal comment threads in perpetuity?

    Good luck paying for the bandwidth on that.

    And you being "most displeased" is something I don't really care about.

    But wait? I thought that Popehat was for "all of us"? I care if a comment thread becomes abusive and crazy. As a member of this collective, does my voice mean nothing?

    Dear Patrick, I used to treat Popehat as a guiding light of Freedom of Speech.

    One on which you first commented in January 2012. Your second comment is the one to which I reply.

    Now patrick, I am DISAPPOINTED.

    "You aren't my parents and you acted as if you are."

    — "Martin", second comment at Popehat, sometime this morning.

    I think that what happened here was one of the small cuts that happens to Freedom of Speech on a daily basis.

    You're a dishonest hack, and you might be the best living example of the concept of "Beta Male" that I have ever interacted with. You're almost a parody of the concept of the sniveling, groveling pansy who will do and say anything if he thinks it will make him seem sensitive enough to be allowed to gaze upon a womyn.

    You're pathetic, you're worthless, and you should just shut your nommer lest you emasculate yourself further.

    And eventually it will be death by a thousand cuts. You just moved from being a critic to being a participant in my opinion.

    Regards, Martin.

    I look forward to your sixth comment.

    Regards, Patrick.

  172. Ken says:

    I wasn't going to respond to Martin out of a sneaking suspicion that he was a hoax. Thanks for taking that bullet for me.

  173. Patrick says:

    Ken, I read his first comment (the one in January), and his subsequent defenses of this comment.

    He's real.

  174. Robert White says:

    @Martin — Telling someone in clear and uncertain terms that they are wrong is the most diplomatic thing you can do when they're wrong. Many people have trouble doing this, thinking the word "no" is somehow bad or some such, and you have to back up (or in my case pre-demonstrate) the nuances of their utter incorrectness if you dare to so declaim.

    As for my style. I freely admit to having adopting character. Not because, how did you put it "[I am] desperate to impress whoever reads your overly long and meandering paragraphs", but more because I think the audience will find it more interesting to read than some dry, self-important hissy fit based entirely out of my own imagination. This is my obligation under rule 4.

    Rest assured that I can also be a raving childish asshat who keeps daring others to act and opines that the moderators alone can restate the rules of social order while simultaneously complaining of that is moderation. I picked up -those- skills on usenet some thirty years ago.

    I can also go all 4chan on someones ass, but that isn't for here, that's for there.

    I also tend to go -short- on my paragraphs, but long on my sentences, so you really should get a handle on the meter and grouping before you jump on someones prose.

    So you attacked my form by yelping about being called wrong, but you didn't address the meat of the post that explained why I felt that was a necessary summary. Since the dozens of preceding posts, and the actual published policies of the site, and the entirety of the law already demonstrated your position to be wrong, I thought a more concise statement might be just the ticket.

    So precedent didn't work. Pointing out the declared site policy didn't work. Long posts annoy you. Short declarations of fact seem to offend you as well. Perhaps you can tell us then, what version of "you are wrong" will actually make you consider that your position on the "public forum" standing of this site is not now and never was correct.

    P.S. if you would like to meet on the field of petty invective and rampant douche-cannon peer-bashing, perhaps you could suggest a different forum and we can sell tickets…? /doh

  175. Joe Pullen says:

    "He's real". Well that is unfortunate

  176. Chris R. says:

    Maybe people are unclear as what the difference of private and public means? Even McDonalds is a private business and has the right to refuse service to anyone. Now McDonalds doesn't seem to exercise that right frequently, as obesity projections suggest, however they still maintain that right. A public establishment even has the right to excuse you if you behave poorly, see a library. Freedom of expression does not mean "whenever, wherever, I want." It means "whatever and about whoever I want."

  177. Sean says:

    Nlp, Marzipan, Leo Marvin, Look at That…

    Thanks for your responses. The common theme between them seems to be a belief that ad hominem exchanges are uniquely pointless and dull. If I can add a small refinement, I think you may have meant to say that ad hominem exchanges are uniquely pointless and dull for third party spectators (they can be a thrilling enough experience for the two actual homines involved in the exchange).

    But that's not quite the same thing as advocating on behalf of civility as a value in itself. If the point was really to spare people's feelings, then sarcasm and snark would be taboo as well. You're not saying "let's have a rule against interpersonal cruelty", you're saying "let's have a rule against interpersonal cruelty that fails to make me laugh." Robert White wrote almost exactly that in his suggested Rule #4.

    Nor are you saying that bad arguments and sophistry should be taboo because they spoil the purity of discussion. As a fallacy, ad hominem is clumsy, obvious, and easy to ignore. Much more damage is done by complex fallacies equivocation or causality, against which people are not so well equipped to defend.

    So does the etiquette of the group boil down to this: "You can hurt whoever you like, you can pervert logic and reason in most any way you want, but…for god's sake don't pervert logic and reason to hurt someone in a direct personal attack, because that just bores me to tears, darling."

  178. Grandy says:

    Chris R, I would argue most people understand what it means to say this place is private or not exactly public. The majority of the comments in this thread support that.

    It's just the occasional clown who doesn't see these things. And note, it is not disagreeing with the moderation itself that makes someone a clown. Ken, Patrick, David and myself have been hanging out online since the earliest part of this decade, where they all arrived at a forum I was help running. We we all old hats at the online community thing even then. There are always Martin's around.

  179. Ken says:

    I think you mean the earliest part of the last decade, old man.

  180. Marzipan says:

    @Sean, no, I'd also reject that ad hominem attacks are thrilling for at least one of the participants when that participant is me. When I find myself stooping to those, I often realize my argument has derailed, and I go back to rephrase and excise them. I may be in the minority here, but I feel bad when I notice them in my writing.

    Also, when I mentioned "well-crafted snark," I had intended that to refer to the issue at hand instead of the person making the comment. Generally speaking, I'd prefer snark not be used to attack posters. Personalizing an argument gets emotion involved too easily and too strongly. Logically, I'd agree that ad hominem is coarse and should be easy to ignore. Pragmatically, it's not.

    I'd say that other fallacies are more acceptable, yes, because they can be deconstructed in a more reasonable way. That's part of the fun I get from argumentation: Holding up the form of the argument to scrutiny as much as its content helps sharpen reasoning. Poorly formed arguments are part of the "noise generating function" I alluded to earlier, but at least that noise can be parsed and reduced within the function of the debate. Once things get taken personally, analysis seems to drop off precipitously, defensiveness and attacking seems to rise correspondingly, and there's too much noise to detect much substance.

    In short, I can't speak for the etiquette of the group. However, I think that personalized attacks are one of the surest ways to divert a thread's purpose. I also believe they inject massive amounts of noise into a comment section that obscure any signal, even more readily and profusely than most logical fallacies and faulty heuristics.

    Does that make sense?

  181. SeanD says:

    When someone invokes the old "you're not my mom!" in an argument, that's when I reach for my revolver. Or perhaps just something shiny to distract them…

  182. Ben says:

    SeanD; A revolver? I hope that you are joking. Violence is never a proper resolution.

    Martin; I think Patrick made himself abundantly clear in his initial response, with regards to this topic. You (as I) appear to have misunderstood the motivations involved in this site. As Narad aptly pointed out, one cannot predict someones motivations with one hundred percent accuracy – no matter how much information we might have.

    The First Amendment and unfettered freedom of expression are not identical. Unfettered freedom of expression may imply support of the First Amendment (or it may not, as in the case of school children who we expect to 'surrender those rights' for a greater good of instruction).

    Support of the First Amendment, though.

    As to Robert's statement that an argument being used is contradictory – either to itself or to a greater rational framework – I think such statements are not only 'polite' but beneficial.

    If you are acting on a belief with stands in defiance of a body of scientific evidence, would you rather continue on, or have someone say 'No, that's not right'.

    Really, individuals are not obligated to even do that much. Some individuals, such as Robert, go the extra mile to explain why he believes we are acting under false or contradictory assumptions.

    Not trying to have a "last word" here. So, I will let that stand as it is, even if it might not be as clear as I would like. :)

  183. Grandy says:

    This decade, last decade, circa 604 BC. They all run together after awhile.

  184. AlphaCentauri says:

    This kind of demonstrates why competitive debates include time limits for each competitor to make his/her argument.

    I'm amused by the idea that Ken and Patrick delete any comments they don't agree with. I mean, how much do the two of them agree on? The content might be pretty sparse around here.

    Anyone who thinks moderation is inconsistent with Popehat's spirit has clearly never moderated a site like this and has no idea how much work site owners have to put in. A site like this would be chock full of spammy comments in a week without vigilant culling. A site owner has to block registrants all the time. The main difference with the thread that got closed was that objectionable comments came from people Patrick respects and values and who he doesn't want to ban.

  185. Robert White – I don't believe it is important here exactly how one wants to define censorship. For philosophical or legal reasons it would be important, but not here. For my purposes, it is only important that the usual lines of dialogue were intentionally shut down because someone didn't like the way people were making their points.

  186. Grandy says:

    The question is, Michael Hawkins, which is to be master. . . that's all.

  187. alexa-blue says:

    A plea for sanity:

    1. Ad hominem has a meaning, different from insult
    2. Ad hominem may be a logical fallacy, but for non-experts (most of the internet, for example), it's a good heuristic. If someone is obviously wrong about an area I know, I'm less likely to believe them when they talk about an area I don't know.
    3. Most insults are boring and boorish. Ken and Patrick's insults are awesome.

  188. apauld says:

    "I don't practice what I preach, because I'm not the sort of person I'm preaching to."

    – J. R. "Bob" Dobbs

    Patrick, your whole response was fantastic; but quoting "Bob" when you did made it stellar.

  189. Sean says:

    alexa-blue,

    "If someone is obviously wrong about an area I know, I'm less likely to believe them when they talk about an area I don't know."

    This is based on a very strange assumption that there are two classes of people: a) those who tend to be right more often than not, and b) those who tend to be wrong more often than not. It's even stranger to think that, having caught someone being wrong in one or two cases, you have grounds enough to sort them into category b and treat with prejudice statements they make on other topics.

    I find that not to be supported by experience. Some of the smartest people I've met still nurtured little flourishes of stupidity amidst their brilliance. I've known a world class scientist who only let herself by "treated" by chiropractors, a math genius who believed in the holy trinity, a whole bunch of really clever physicians with totally idiotic political ideas.

    What if I'd met them the other way round? What if I'd learned about those flourishes of stupidity before anything else? Wouldn't the result be a serious and easily avoidable error in character judgement? Why not simply reset your presumptions to neutral each time?

    (BTW: You're quite wrong to suggest "insult" should be used in place of "ad hominem" in the above discussion. Since the only thing most of us know about each other is the arguments we post in these comment boxes, any insult you encounter is almost certainly being deployed as a substitute for or supplement to answering to that argument. The infamous "beta male" remark is a good example.)

  190. Robert White says:

    @Michael Hawkins — How you define the words you use, and your choice to use them is always relevant.

    All of life is -nothing- if it is not at least a vocabulary test. If you are using words for what they don't mean, what you say has no describable meaning. If you don't know what your words mean, your thoughts have no real meaning either, they become "feelings" instead of thoughts.

    What you can not express, you can not deal with or share to any useful degree beyond the animal outcry of pain or pleasure.

    Every time you back off from your positions by basically pleading ignorance, but then deny the value of instruction or distinction, you stymie dialog and empty your position of value.

  191. Ben says:

    Robert White,

    That would be awkward if when I die, there is an afterlife, but it's quality is determined by a vocabulary test.

    "You thought the point of existence was careful inspection of your environment? Wrong! You were supposed to be learning languages. How's your Prakrit? I'm just kidding, we will start you out easy with four of the Mayan languages."

  192. Martin says:

    Hi Ken,
    I apologise. I seriously misjudged the nature of this site. I will be moving on.

    It was funny to be suspected of being a hoax. That is a first for me.

    Hi Patrick,
    Thanks for the clarification Patrick. Just so you know I did not launch a personal attack on you and thought that while I said things that may be controversial or difficult (or even offensive) that I did not insult you personally. The personal attack on me was not necessary.

    Just because my first comment is only recent does not mean I haven't been visiting this site for some time. I visit many sites and it is very rare for me to leave a comment.

    "You're a dishonest hack, and you might be the best living example of the concept of "Beta Male" that I have ever interacted with."

    Firstly I am not a "hack", I was just making some comments on your blog. I don't blog myself or make a living from any form of published writing.

    Secondly I don't actually know what a "Beta Male" is so I can only assume you were slamming me with some sort of vicious insult. I am not a "Beta Male" and I am not an "Alpha Male" either. I'm just a guy with a family. I happen to care very much about certain freedoms which are being eroded on a daily basis around the world, speech is only one of them. I also play a lot of sport and I read an enormous amount usually about freedom, law, different technology topics, robotics, software development, electronics, chess, horology, physics, history, math, survival, preparedness and many more.

    To be honest what I am most unhappy about (and yes I get it that you don't care) is that you have behaved in exactly the same way as the people acted that got you upset about this whole issue in the first place. You got onto the comments board and ripped into someone in a nasty manner with a vicious personal attack, but it's okay 'cause you own the place. Maybe you should appoint someone to moderate your comments? (Pun intended.)

    Just so you know – I stand by what I said. If you disagree with me that's fine. My perspective and opinion of this site was formed from reading the content of this site over the last year or so. The content set a certain tone and that helped create my viewpoint of your site. I reacted based on that. I did not go and read the moderation policy as I never saw the link to it and if I did I would not have read it anyway. To me it's the same as reading the terms and conditions of my cell phone contract. A waste of time.

    So now that you know me a little better, see ya. Sayonara, hasta la vista, auf wiedersehen.

    Regards, Martin.

    P.s. @Robert White – it gave me great pleasure in not reading your overly long (probably) error riddled post.

  193. Robert White says:

    @Ben — I knew I recognized you. Some thirty years ago I was you. Do keep bookmarks to these sites, or print them out and save them. I regret not being able to find all those early USENET posts from back when I knew everything and had nothing left to learn…

    You insist on "cleverly" misunderstanding everything that happens around you in an apparent conflation of "witty pun" with "witless declamation." Ah to have back those years and be again amidst the halcyon days of certainty. To bathe once more in that sophomoric glee. To be still so sure that my knowledge knew no bound, and nobody, let alone those made so foolish by mere experience, could see past my masterful circumlocutions, that clearly must so dumbfounded all around me.

    To mistake so profoundly list-worthy fact for understanding…

    Since you believe yourself to be such a master of life and so willing to discount the value of knowing your own language, I'll leave you to the hands of time.

    Time does, after all, wound all heels…

  194. Robert White says:

    P.S. "Gestalt Empiricism", the idea that truth would be revealed merely by "examining ones environment" was a still-born movement. Data without context overwhelms and can thus be bent to appear to support any position. Do wait for your 400-levels in philosophy before settle on a final school of thought…

  195. Ben says:

    Uh oh. I am sorry. I am not good at being humorous. But I still try, for some unknown reason.

    As my brother often tells me, "If you have to explain the joke, it probably wasn't funny, and if you think it's a joke, you'll probably have to explain it." Which I find amusing. So that means it probably is not funny.

    I didn't mean to trivialize what you were saying or insult you. I was just trying to be funny. :(

  196. Nibor says:

    @Ben, out of my experience, (now I am writing on blog comments and forums more and more) when I try and fault at making jokes, or try and fail to be funny, I simply tell people that I just made a joke or that I was intended to be funny (sometimes only with the use of a smiling emoticon)

    b.t.w. I got that language one, and I found it funny, so maybe it wasn't an NT joke :-)

  197. alexa-blue says:

    @Sean: I don't suggest that ad hominem be employed as an infallible rule, but as a crutch to decision making under uncertainty. And I'm glossing over nuances. I tend to employ it on the internet, where opinions are plentiful and I have more good stuff to read than time to read it. In real life, my heuristic for socializing is mostly, "do you like Catan and will you play it with me and my wife."

    The beta male line is ad hominem, with plenty of insult thrown in for good measure. There's lots of chatter on this thread about how ad hominem is hurtful, unpleasant, and obnoxious. But as a purely argumentative form, it's not that bad. If Scott Jacobs had said, "look, Randy, you seem like a beta male, someone whose mating strategy is conciliation and deference to women when confronted by them, and that mating strategy makes your conciliatory, deferent arguments here suspect," it would have been ad hominem. It would have been absurd. But it wouldn't have been as obnoxious and objectionable as what was said.

  198. Grandy says:

    Martin, what Patrick did not say what he did because he owns the place and can "get away with it". What he did what he did because you are an insincere clown. It speaks directly to another rule of magic:

    "As above, so below", or "things look like what they are".

    The meaning of this particular phrase, in this medium, will probably escape you because you aren't really a good troll. But you are a troll. Michael Hawkins is being boorish and a little absurd, but he's doing it in earnest and that counts. Everyone else in this thread is engaged in earnest and that counts. You are not engaging us in earnest.

    We've have shunned and banned people for such things in the past and will again in the future. But not today, regardless of whether you leave or not. Because, inadvertently to be sure, you currently have use to me.

    To everyone who engaged Martin in earnest: I applaud you. It's always best to do so even if you are pretty certain someone is a troll. Still, sometimes people are just trolls. Ultimately there's a bond of trust that develops between a community and the people who are tasked to police it. For the most part, I think that bond is very healthy. It doesn't mean you don't question the actions of the doormen (so to speak), which this thread very clearly indicates (no matter what Michael Hawkins says). It's beneficial to understand how the thinking works behind the curtain, though, and you can see it clearly here.

    We have always, always, only ever wanted a little bit of effort and sincerity from people. This goes back tot he anonymity debate, but one reason we're pro anonymity is we recognize that a handle doesn't prevent someone from investing themselves in a particular online hangout (and indeed, under other handles in other places, we have done just that many times in the past).

    So question/argue/etc, just do in with a little bit of sincerity, and you'll be golden.

  199. Ken says:

    Gosh, Martin. It sounds like you've decided to censor us by not reading us any more just because you disagree with what we say.

  200. Sean says:

    alexa-blue, (Catan. Why didn't you say so?)

    I'm old enough to remember when a "beta male" was simply called "Phil Donahue". How much more complicated the world has become since then.

    Probably if everyone is totally honest, the real problem with Scott's remarks was less the use of personal attack as a style, more the douchey content – the whole silly notion of drawing a line between alphas and betas among human males. Maybe it wasn't even what he said, so much as what he seemed about to say. His comments did signal a sharp turn in the direction of T.J. Mackey, and no one but no one wanted to hear him describe how a real alpha lures the ladies.

    Still, I find it a bit sad: I always hoped the nerd-run world of the internet would become one of clear, knowable rules. But it hasn't and it won't. Here as everywhere, there is an invisible line that moves to and fro, leaving everyone to guess what's okay, what's not, etc. An individual still can't ever be sure he is working within the rules.

  201. Grandy says:

    Sean, fortunately that's not true. At every community I have been at that lacked what you would call "hard and fast rules" , the vast majority of folks have no trouble whatsoever getting along and understanding what's ok and what isn't. The vast majority of folks don't act in the fear that this post might be their last.

    "Loosely" defined rules are not defined thus because TPTB want to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we can already do whatever we want, whenever we want. Such power is uninteresting to us.

    The rules are defined as such because:

    1. We have better ways to spend our time than babysitting. It has been our experience that more rules/"firmer rules" leads to more babysitting. Without fail. The time we would be using to police more heavily and congratulate ourselves on how awesome authority is is instead used to fly around the universe and have adventures.

    2. Most people don't have a problem figuring out what is and isn't allowed even with our "moving invisible line, Super Genius" rules.

  202. M. says:

    @Grandy: I'm afraid that Martin isn't the only troll in this thread, though.

  203. Robert White says:

    @Ben — Ah… never mind… my bad.

    I had been speaking in deadly earnest about the "vocabulary test" thing since verbal jousting with someone willing to play the "well, the words don't have to mean what I used them for me to be right" stuff is just a waste of life experience.

    I missed your change of tone.

  204. Gretchen says:

    "the whole silly notion of drawing a line between alphas and betas among human males"

    In my experience, "alpha male" is a term assholes apply to themselves, and "beta male" is a term they apply to non-assholes. Sort of like people who say "I'm just keeping it real/being honest/telling the truth" when someone is bothered by their verbal effluvia.

    But apart from that, psychoanalyzing people in a comment thread is almost always a bad idea, even if you've been reading their posts for years. When you've read one post from them, well…

  205. Patrick says:

    I'm afraid that Martin isn't the only troll in this thread, though.

    Weak trolls are eaten by stronger trolls.

  206. Sean says:

    Grandy,

    I wasn't so much talking about clear rules in the sense of some hyper detailed comment policy, with a system of warnings: one, two, three and you're banned. Of course that would be an obnoxious burden on the hosts. I understand that, and I was never interested in challenging the "this is your living room" argument. I tried very hard to make that clear in my first comment (not hard enough, because I have still been twice reminded after my disclaimer went unnoticed).

    What I had in mind was to discover how your readers understand the rules of social interaction, and how they would describe the boundaries of acceptable discussion if suddenly called upon to do so. Specifically I was interested in what seemed (by blog standards) to be a strangely unanimous support for your decision to hit the kill switch on that little harassment debate – support that went beyond the simple recognition that you have both the power and the legal right to do it.

    The results were interesting. It's not that readers detest hostility on principle; on the contrary they relish it when funny. It's not that they are sticklers for logical argument, because impersonal sophistry is tolerated well enough. In fact, it's not clear what makes for a good discussion among the cool kids and what makes for an embarrassing faux pax. THAT is what I meant, when I spoke of unknowable rules.

    (And to M.'s point: a troll writes only to provoke, and has no sincere purpose beyond that. I swear that I am no troll, and as polite and as mild as I've tried to be, I swear equally I had no idea the questions I was asking would lead me to be told "love-it-or-leave-it". Hell, I just got here, that was the last thing I had in mind.)

  207. azteclady says:

    @ Gretchen:

    In my experience, "alpha male" is a term assholes apply to themselves, and "beta male" is a term they apply to non-assholes.

    I've mostly been an observer when this has been trotted out, but I tend to agree with it.

  208. leo marvin says:

    Sean,

    "Specifically I was interested in what seemed (by blog standards) to be a strangely unanimous support for your decision to hit the kill switch on that little harassment debate – support that went beyond the simple recognition that you have both the power and the legal right to do it."

    For what it's worth, I would have told Scott and maybe a couple of other people to cut it out, and not closed the thread. But then it's easy for me to be generous with Patrick's time, as monitoring the subsequent compliance would have been more onerous than just cutting his losses then and there. So I suspect the "unanimous support" you perceived was for the proprietors doing whatever they feel necessary to prevent the maintenance of this comment space becoming more trouble than it's worth. At least it was in my case. Or, to put it another way, it was simply reciprocating the courtesy the blog owners extend to us every minute they spend moderating these threads.

    "In fact, it's not clear what makes for a good discussion among the cool kids and what makes for an embarrassing faux pax."

    I don't think anyone is disputing the vagueness of the norm. I'd suggest it's largely a local rule of the road standard. For example, a lot of what passes for civil here wouldn't be tolerated at Volokh, another libertarian law blog with a similarly vague comment policy. But why should that be a problem for any reasonably intelligent reader of either site who spends the roughly 30 seconds it takes to browse a thread and get a feel for what flies and what doesn't?

    In my admittedly anecdotal experience, pretty much the only people who have trouble comprehending or complying with the local norms at any moderated blog are those who are offended at the notion of the world being deprived of a single nugget of their unexpurgated brilliance. In other words, people who object to any limitation on what they can say beyond what the government could prohibit under the First Amendment. And that, as has been amply explained, ignores the crucial distinctions between public and private property, and government and private rules.

  209. Sean says:

    leo marvin,

    "pretty much the only people who have trouble comprehending or complying with the local norms at any moderated blog…"

    Yes, but keeping up with norms is never a problem in fair weather. No one is likely to violate them by clumsy accident in the first ten comments, for example. But I do think that even people with no obvious defects of character are perfectly capable of losing sight of them once a heated argument has begun. The less those norms are explicable, the greater risk they will become obscured in that heat.

    "In other words, people who object to any limitation on what they can say beyond what the government could prohibit under the First Amendment"

    Here I'm afraid I disagree completely. I don't think many people are so confused as to think the first amendment applies to private parties (at least not among the readership here). That's one of the things that initially puzzled me. No one seemed to be making that argument, but many seemed eager to REPLY to the argument no one was making.

    In our culture, the words "first amendment" are not always used strictly as a legal term. Sometimes people use them as shorthand to invoke the values underlying that law. Sometimes they mean: "I appeal not to the law, but to all the reasons why the law is good."

    Same goes for "censorship". That term is first and foremost a legal term, but it isn't always going to be used in quite that way. Sometimes people who cry "censorship" are not saying "you have no right to stop me from speaking", but rather "why would you want to stop me from speaking, even though you have the right."

    If you look at Ben's letter, I think that's what he was trying to ask. And I don't think he ever got an answer to that question specifically.

  210. leo marvin says:

    Sean,

    "But I do think that even people with no obvious defects of character are perfectly capable of losing sight of them once a heated argument has begun."

    Sure, we're all human, but Patrick didn't lose it over a well-intentioned but confused commenter who did 60 in a 55 zone. Nobody leaves a comment like Scott's, or some of the others in that thread, without knowing they're violating every norm of civility.

    ""[W]hy would you want to stop me from speaking, even though you have the right. If you look at Ben's letter, I think that's what he was trying to ask.And I don't think he ever got an answer to that question specifically."

    Patrick and/or Ken and/or Grandy (I don't remember which — maybe all of them) gave at least one answer: unrestricted license to verbally abuse others attracts people and behavior most of us don't want in our living room. I (and maybe others) suggested a corollary: the flame wars that ensue from such abuse drive out the guests and discussion bloggers like these do want in their living room.

  211. Tamfang says:

    I wonder why I was so sure that peccari is a deponent verb.

  1. July 13, 2012

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