We get letters.
I don't know whether you read fanmail and questions. Probably not. I am not the kind that generally sends such things. All the same, I started visiting your blog just after the whole Carreon thing came into the picture. (I had also never read 'The Oatmeal' before a friend directed me to your site and an article about the brewing conflict)
Reading about the comments thread that your associate closed – and then subsequently reading through the comments that apparently warranted that – I came to wonder about what you consider the individual's role is in moderating speech on private (or at least privately owned) forums.
I am no legal expert, by any means or metric. I'm just a programmer/software engineer fascinated by the interface of a legal system rooted in tradition and the our brave new 'digital age'.
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?
Obviously, in that comment thread, we are talking about a long chain of stimulus/response. Someone posts an opinion, another posts an opinion about an opinion, someone posts an opinion about the opinion about another opinion, et cetera, et cetera.
But you (in the royal sense) seem to have an expectation that if people are going to engage in a dialog with or on Popehat, they must adhere to a certain level of… decorum. It seems like a schism to me; like "do as I say, not as I do". I understand full well that you are a private venue and nobody should be able to compel you to host speech you dislike.
Yet it nonetheless seems disingenuous to exercise such brute force control over a line of discourse while decrying other peoples expectations of – essentially – the same thing. We can say that Matthew Inman has every right to say or write or draw what pleases him, to get angry at a perceived injustice and to express that anger.
What cannot be supported is an assertion that Matthew Inman acted out with empathy or that Mr. Inman acted within the societal constraints of polite discourse and 'good taste'. As a response, measured against the responses in the thread you (again, in the sense of popehat.com) deemed unacceptable, it was far worse – both in content and intent.
So in the end, I am curious as to what value you see in the freedom of expression – for myself, it is the gateway into people's inner selves and the only mode to truly interact with that. If people can not say racist, sexist, derogatory or inflammatory things it does not mean that they do not think them – so it seems superior, again perhaps only to me, to have them feel like they may express these ideas. Then we can discuss them, follow back the lines of thinking until we discover some objective pathology and root it out. Suppression only drives the pathology deeper.
Thank you for any time you have taken to read my entirely non-legal question and critique.
Your kind email was forwarded to me. As it was I who chose to curtail others' freedom of expression, as you put it, allow me to answer your questions.
You and I proceed from different assumptions regarding the purpose, and nature, of this website. I will say at the outset that I appreciate your concession that Popehat is a private venue, and that as its proprietors we are under no obligation to host speech with which we disagree.
Unfortunately, the remainder of your letter undercuts that concession. You go on to speak of the freedom of expression, in terms very nearly implying that it is a right, and that it was somehow wrong for me to put an end to a comment thread that I had begun to find odious.
I view Popehat as property: my property, held in common with three friends. For me, the inquiry stops there.
I choose to invest my time into Popehat for one reason, and one reason alone. I enjoy what results from it. I believe that Popehat is a great website, and I gain personal satisfaction from knowing that I have done my part to make it so.
Let me be clear. I recognize that others also enjoy this site. It gladdens me no end when others praise the writing here, whether it is Ken's, or David's, or Grandy's, or my own. On days when the hits are coming, I am excited. When another blogger links to one of our pieces, I always read that link. I read comments from our audience with pleasure, even those with which I disagree. I am thankful that this site has readers; that many of those readers are thoughtful, informed, and witty; and that they choose to share in the labor I put into Popehat. I take pride in being master of what I believe to be a fine house. I enjoy having friends, and I consider many readers here friends though I've never met them and don't know their true names, over to visit at this fine house.
But if I were forced, by compulsion or out of assumed moral obligation, to allow others to use Popehat for purposes I find repellent, the joy that I gain from this site would turn to ashes in my mouth. I would no longer be the master of this house: I would become a slave, working for no reward.
Writing and maintaining this site is a lot of work, for all of us. None of us is paid in any coin except satisfaction. The instant Popehat becomes a drag, I'm gone.
So it is imperative, if this site is to survive, if our readers are to continue enjoying it with us, that we enjoy the site.
On Sunday night, I was most displeased to read comments of this sort:
OH shut up, Randy.
Just because you've been beaten down and trained to accept that you are WRONG simply because you are male doesn't mean that the rest of us have devolved into spineless pansies hoping for whatever the women of the word might deign to grace us with.
Some of us – and you most certainly are excluded – understand that while some women are so frail and delicate as to need to be protected from every-fucking-thing in life, most are actual adults, capable of coping with a world that does not caret to their every whim.
My girlfriend is a rape survivor. Anyone who suggests I don't have sympathy for women (or men) who have been sexually assaulted is a fucking fool. That does not mean, however, that I will stand by and let some jackass a) tell me that I – for all she knows – be her next rapist simply because I have a dick or b) stand here and listen to some otherjackass say to me – without any detectable sense of irony – that having some older dude say something perverted to her IS SEXUAL ASSAULT.
Because it fucking isn't, and if that event is all it took to break her little spirit, then it was to be broken eventually because at SOME point in her life mommy and daddy wasn't going to be there to comfort her when someone said she did poorly at something, or was less than completely supportive of whatever damned fool thought danced through her largely vacant skull.
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.
especially coming from a reader I consider one of those friends I've never met, but one I've had to warn in the past not to test my patience. I closed the thread, because it became painful for me to read it. I have not banned the reader from this site, because my anger had cooled by Monday morning.
But I wouldn't work on a website that makes me angry, unless I am being paid obscene amounts of money. Since that will never happen, I will not allow Popehat to make me angry.
If it's a choice between you and me, you will go. So that I can stay.
Incidentally, I found your comparison of my closing that thread to "brute force" a bit overwrought. When I think of "brute force", I envision pain, blood, and shattered teeth. Would you like to know what happens to a reader who crosses the invisible line? No bones are broken, I assure you. All that happens is that when that reader visits this site, he or she is greeted with this message:
You have been banned. You might have been banned because you are a spammer. You might have been banned because you're a troll of some sort. You might have been banned out of sheer malice. Perhaps you just caught one of us on a bad day. If you believe that you have been banned unjustly, drop us a line.
Rex non potest peccare!
That's not so bad, is it?
In closing Ben, I would like to thank you for your thoughtful mail. I hope that I have answered all questions to your satisfaction, and that you and I will enjoy Popehat together for many years to come.