Making My Comments Rules Explicit: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”

First of all, let me thank you readers of the last three years for so many productive comments and vigorous debates. Your Thoughts have enriched this blog in more ways than I could chronicle. And unlike other blogs, there is, to my view, relatively little trolling that ever happens here. I caught a sock puppet once. I also banned an infamous troll who spams numerous blogs and e-mail accounts with minor variations of the same worthless repetitive rant over and over again. I blocked someone else who had a long history of trolling Ed Brayton and just wanted to use my blog to do that some more.

Beyond that, I haven’t banned anyone. The only severe trolling issues I have had came when Eric Steinhart was guest posting and there were commenters regularly haranguing and insulting him. They would routinely not let him move on to new topics without demanding he address their comments from previous posts. They would comment quickly on each new post to grind their axe against the entire project Eric was interested in exploring. They set themselves up as guard dogs and howled and howled to warn others away. They made posting here really unpleasant for my guest and they discouraged readers who were benefitting from Eric’s writing from commenting, in order to avoid the hostile environment that the commenters were creating. Some of them would write Eric or me directly instead.

I shouldn’t have let a few bullying commenters run roughshod over the blog in that way such that they effectively determined who felt comfortable speaking and who did not. They did not want to simply register their counter-arguments and be done with it but instead wanted to dictate to Eric what he had to blog about or how he had to answer them to their satisfaction. They insulted and harassed him for daring to explore the subject he wanted to in the way that he wanted to.

By being neutral as a moderator and not curbing their trolling behavior, I did not foster constructive, far reaching dialogue and philosophical debate but passively let a few bullies smother discussions by intimidating others into silence and make posting here too unpleasant for Eric ever to want to try to do again.

So, having learned from this experience and having thought for a couple years now about what the standards of constructive civil discourse require, here are two simple rules (in addition to rules that should be obvious like “don’t use sock puppets”, “don’t reveal people’s identifying personal information online without their express and verifiable permission”, “don’t make threats against other commenters”, etc):

1. No insulting people. This means not calling them abusive names or making insulting insinuations about them which according to my judgment unnecessarily demean them as a person or which I take to be intended to demean them as a person. You may charge that people’s ideas are false, harmful, irrationally derived, etc. You may substantiate charges that someone’s personal behavior deserves moral disrepute where that’s relevant. You may critique an individual’s standards of evidence or question their commitment to reason over faith. But when you do things like this, stick to substantiatable charges. Use words which clearly specify what specific thing makes a person or institution’s ideas, beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, etc. worthy of criticism. Abusive names (like “stupid”, “moron”, “asshole”, “jerk”, “douchebag”, “idiot”, “motherfucker”, “dick”, “cunt”, “nigger”, “Feminazi”, “shitbag”, “mental midget”, “twat”, “fuckwad”, “retard”, “homo”, “fag”, “tranny”, “bitch”, “nutcase”, “crazy”, etc.) are emotional expressions meant solely to hurt other people. They are social equivalents of physical assaults.

Words like these use emotional violence to coerce people with the aim of driving them into submission. These words aim to do that by demeaning them so that they feel worthless and hated. These words aim to irrationally gain leverage in an argument by making someone feel intellectually insecure and interpersonally rejected if they do not concede the other person’s debating point. These words try to drive people away with hostility. And, finally, these words try to coerce moral agreement by making the implicit threat of stigmatization and ostracism of any who differ. Some of these words threaten whole groups of people. Some of these words unfairly turn innocent groups of people into the standard of badness itself.

These words do not clarify any philosophical points and they make agreement between disputants less likely rather than more. They force people to tense up and become defensive, rather than loosen up and think more freely and courageously. Censoring words like these does not stop valuable expression. It makes it more likely. Everything philosophically true can be said without abusing people. Harsh truths can be said in ways that respect people, even when those very people are worthily being excoriated for morally condemnable behavior. We can criticize people honestly without crossing the line into expressing merely our hatreds and dehumanizing them.

That will be the standard I will explicitly hold you to on this blog. With fellow commenters and even when discussing public figures, let’s denounce in ways that are substantiated, subject to proof using evidence, and which at their core are respectful of other people’s basic humanity and their right to disagree without being insulted.

We may criticize public figures and each other with a whole host of harsh words if necessary. We can charge each other with severe moral failings like racism, misogyny, homophobia, if need be. Any charge which relates to a specific set of behaviors or attitudes that people can theoretically defend themselves against with evidence is fair game, as long as it is made sincerely. I cannot substantiate that you are an “asshole”. “Asshole” is just a word to say that based on your behavior I hate you. But if I can substantiate a charge that you are belligerent, passive aggressive, manipulative, self-serving, bullshitting, trolling, saying untrue things, etc. then those are all valid ways to accuse you. They are potentially informative and true. You may defend yourself against those charges. They can be critically analyzed. They can be leveled at you with respect for you as a person. To leap from disapproval with those or related behaviors to calling you an “asshole” (or any other strictly abusive term) is to cross the line from making a potentially valid moral charge to expressing my hatred for you. And that is the move that corrodes good will and civility unnecessarily.

2. Do not personally attack fellow commenters wherever avoidable. Give people the benefit of the doubt that they argue sincerely. Do not create an environment where dissenters and skeptics feel like they will be treated in a hostile manner simply for posing uncomfortable questions or for deviating from the general political and philosophical atmosphere of the blog and its comments sections. Charitably assume the best of fellow commenters and interpret their arguments in the most plausible and humane light wherever possible. This is a philosophy blog. Neither the commenters nor I should give the impression that it is a dogmatic place. There should be a relatively loose leash for speculation here. People should be able to honestly hash out difficult issues respectfully and sincerely without having their motives or their characters questioned simply if they raise unpleasant lines of inquiry.

There are some people who argue in bad faith. Some of them online use numerous pseudonyms to troll blogs that they designate as enemies. I have had unfriended a handful of Facebook friends who I spent a lot of time trying to reason with before I realized that no matter how philosophically charitable I was going to be, they were still going to utterly strawman me and treat me disrespectfully. So, yes, Virginia, trolls do exist. And sometimes what looks to a newcomer like a fresh faced new commenter asking sincere questions is a disingenuous partisan with an axe to grind, with no interest in listening to replies in good faith, but rather every intention to wage a propaganda war against his or her objects of hatred.

But, even granted the existence of trolls, and even while acknowledging your right to charge people with intellectual dishonesty when you feel like it is making progress in discussing ideas impossible, I request that you give others the benefit of the doubt as ignorant or confused and rather than malicious until proven otherwise. Optimally, it would be best if you directed your concerns to me if you think someone’s behavior crosses the line into trolling and harassing.

Consequences for Breaking these Rules:

Anyone who uses abusive names towards other commenters or starts making disputes about ideas and current events into occasions for other sorts of personal attacks and haranguing will be warned and have all their comments sent to moderation for an indefinite period of time. If the pattern keeps up, they will be banned. Anyone trying to circumvent moderation through use of sock puppets will be immediately banned. As a warning, putting each of a particular commenter’s remarks in moderation may also lead to comments addressing that commenter going into moderation as well. Additionally, other red flags (some of them which may prove innocuous) may send an innocent person to moderation, so do not take it personally if you wind up there even if you have not violated these policies.

Your Thoughts?

For further explanations and justifications of my philosophy of moderation for those who are uneasy with it, please read the following posts:

On Dealing With Trolling, Banning, and Uncomfortable Disagreements

I Am Not Against Emotions. I Am Against Insulting Epithets.

No, You Can’t Call People Sluts.

Stop Calling People Stupid.

“But Aren’t Some People Actually Stupid?”

I am not against “dirty words”. I am against degrading words that have malicious intent and functions built into them.

Do Marginalized People Need To Be Insulting To Be Empowered

Avoiding The Abuser’s Dialectic (Or “My Nietzschean Lion Stage of Indignation”)

My Philosophy on What the Best Freethinking and Free Speech Entail

We Need Both Safe Spaces AND Philosophically Open Ones

Debate is Not Pointless

The Truth, The Whole Truth, And Nothing But The Truth–But With No Name-Calling

Who Are You Calling Stupid

I Don’t Really Give A Fuck About Tone, Per Se

I Am A Rationalist, Not A Tribalist

How Atheist Reddit Doesn’t Get It

Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid.

Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms.

Love Religious People.

Can You Really Love Religious People If You Hate Their Religiosity?

My Thoughts on Blasphemy Day

“How Is It Fair To Question Other People’s Identity-Forming Beliefs While Demanding Respect For One’s Own Belief-Formed Identities?”

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    I actually welcome these rules. I didn’t speak to you personally, but I definitely avoided a lot of comment threads in the latter half of the Eric Steinhart guest blog series because I couldn’t take it anymore. The commenters there were making demands of Eric Steinhart to produce atheist bona fides and the whole thing got really tribalistic. I learned a lot from his series of posts, even if I didn’t agree with him as much, but the comment section here usually contains some decent points and some interesting directions that just didn’t happen then.

  • NewEnglandBob

    I like these rules with the one exception of the word “crazy”.
    James Homes is crazy. Everyone understands what I mean and probably most agree.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, you can call people who do psychopathic things crazy.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      Honestly we do not know that he is crazy. There isn’t any good evidence of this. We don’t yet know why he did it.

      Horrific acts of violence are also committed by people who aren’t mentally ill. Counting them all as definitionally crazy results in inflating the perception of the number of acts of violence committed by mentally ill people, and this is stigmatizing.

      It’s misleading to talk of “psychopathic acts”, unless this is only used to refer to acts by people who can be diagnosed with psychopathy. But psychopathy is a chronic condition, and therefore a single act cannot be sufficient to diagnose it.

  • christophburschka

    I’d say are people whose actions entitle them to “jerk” and/or “asshole”, since those disparage harmful behavior rather than disability, sex, sexual orientation or similar. But it’s your blog, your rules. (And explaining what actions make someone a jerk in your eyes is a better argument, in any case, than just calling them one.)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That’s precisely my point. If you think someone is being a jerk, then just spell out in specifics what you object to and the point will be made in a substantive and constructive way, rather than just in an emotional one. I don’t want to clamp down on all criticism. I want to make it substantive and constructive.

  • http://nojesusnopeas.blogspot.com James Sweet

    It’s sad people got so hung up on Eric’s posts that they sunk to that level. Now, I’ll be honest: I had almost all of the same objections to Eric’s lines of reasoning as the people who harangued him out of here. I registered my objections in some of the earlier posts (mostly before the transition to FtB), and tried to debate some of the points where I thought he was most egregiously out in left field. When I saw I wasn’t getting anywhere, I didn’t stage a vendetta, I just mostly stopped reading Eric’s posts. How hard is that? Very sad people felt compelled to do more than just register their disagreement and move on… :(

  • mikewelsh

    Good policy, Dan. Very similar to the way I’ve run my blogs over the years.

  • Tony the Parkour Kat [safe and welcome at FtB]

    Dan:
    I understand that Camels With Hammers is your blog and youcan dictate the rules as you see fit. However, I don’t agree with some of the words on this list. I also don’t like the way they’re grouped together. It can give the impression that they all carry the same weight.
    Fag, tranny, or cunt are examples of words that are absolutely off limits IMHO. They do harm to others by perpetuating a homophobic, transphobic or sexist culture AND are extremely offensive.
    Stupid, jerk and asshole though? These are NOT minority-bashing words that silence a marginalized group of people. They’re just offensive words (and even there, jerk and stupid are just mildly offensive, IMO). Sometimes the actions and words of others deserve to be called out for being stupid. Often, people act in certain ways that are indeed undesirable and they deserve the label of jerk.
    As for ‘social equivalents of physical assaults’, not every word on that list has the weight behind it to be a ‘social assault’.
    It just reeks of trying to *make* everyone play nice to the Nth degree.
    I’m disappointed in this rule and I don’t believe I’ll be back.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny does.

      And no, it’s not about “playing nice”, it’s about having mature, civil discussions like adults, not like playground bullies.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      “Stupid” is just not a word that smart people have ruining their self-esteem from the time they’re little kids.

      And even yet, it is a false and belittling word that is counterproductive to constructive discourse. Calling someone stupid tempts them to either slink away in shame or to fight back with equal emotional abuse.

      There are perfectly good words for telling someone that a specific idea is no good. False, empirically refuted, fallacious, absurd, illogical, unsupported by evidence, irrational, rationally indefensible, superstitious, biased. All these might work and many more. There’s no need to then personalize it by calling the person stupid or the idea stupid, which has the implication of bashing the person for thinking it.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      Stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny does.

      Even if Bob worries that he is stupid, it’s not clear that if Bob hears Alice called stupid, Bob is likely to feel personally attacked as well.

      An insult clearly referring to an oppressed group, like trans people, is different in this way.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Even if Bob worries that he is stupid, it’s not clear that if Bob hears Alice called stupid, Bob is likely to feel personally attacked as well.

      An insult clearly referring to an oppressed group, like trans people, is different in this way.

      First of all your example is bullshit. If you, as a smart person with big ideas, call someone stupid, I guarantee you people who were belittled as stupid growing up will feel that you are picking on all people you think have lesser intellectual prowess than yourself and will resent you for it.

      Secondly, while it is true that words which insult whole groups are worse than words that just insult individuals since there are more victims, an insult is nonetheless an insult and therefore disrespectful and incivil on that account. And disrespect and incivility have little place in rational discussions.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      I guarantee you people who were belittled as stupid growing up will feel that you are picking on all people you think have lesser intellectual prowess than yourself and will resent you for it.

      Hm. I don’t know. It’s possible but I’d like to see a citation. People have told me that I make them feel not very smart, and I try to be sensitive to this, but none of them have ever told me that my some other person stupid made them also feel belittled.

      But okay, if I could put that aside (or grant it, if I must) for the sake of argument, terms like “asshole” still are categorically different than terms like “cunt”. Would you agree with that?

      What I’m saying is it would be helpful if you would point out in your rules that slurs about oppressed groups have a different social effect than unambiguously individual insults like “asshole”. You may disagree with me on which ones are slurs about oppressed groups, but I do think it would be helpful if your rules made some delineation.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      In the original post, I listed numerous distinct ways that the different words were abusive, without demarcating which words had which effects. Since all the words, merely for being insulting, will be moderated the same, it is irrelevant to draw finer distinctions. Especially since such distinctions may be interpreted as implying not that some words are more harmful than others but that others really aren’t such a big deal by comparison. More Freethought Blogs readers understand the problem with the group insult words. I am making clear my stand that the individual insult words are seriously morally wrong too even if their severity is not as extensive in terms of numbers of victims.

      And I’m pretty sure, based on my knowledge of human psychology and what other less educated people have indicated to me, that when you belittle other people as stupid those who feel intellectually unequal to you are being made insecure and nervous that you would do the same thing to you. It’s bad enough they feel intimidated to begin with. It’s insensitive of you to carelessly use words that relate to their insecurity. They are likely to identify with whomever you’re denigrating and feel at least a twinge of anxiety over it. “Check your privilege” (as the kids like to say).

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      Typo: … that my calling some other person stupid made them also feel belittled.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      Since all the words, merely for being insulting, will be moderated the same, it is irrelevant to draw finer distinctions.

      As far as “they’ll both get you banned”, sure, but you could probably see yourself, if you weren’t discussing the blog rules right here, writing about how individual insults have different social effects than slurs about oppressed groups. It’s a thing worth understanding.

      So if you could see yourself writing about it in other contexts, I just wish you would mention it in the rules, as an aside (along with “and both will get you banned” or whatevs) — and I say this because I really have seen lots of people act like calling someone an “asshole” is equivalent in all relevant ways to calling someone “retarded” and so on.

      The bit of my critique that I still hope you’ll appreciate is that right now you have an opportunity for a bit of teaching on the matter of group oppressions, and I wish you would use that opportunity.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That’s fine, ixchel, but these distinctions you want me to stress are being regularly used by some to be unaccountable for their own harms because they’re not as bad as others. If people would stop clinging so hard to their “assholes” they would have far more convincing moral high ground to take a stance against all the anti-group abuses. That’s the lesson that the FtB community needs to learn.

      I’ll address the group-insulters as those cases arise. Obviously, I am not thrilled with them.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      That’s fine, ixchel, but these distinctions you want me to stress are being regularly used by some to be unaccountable for their own harms because they’re not as bad as others.

      Honestly, I think your failure to stress the distinction is making it more difficult for you to make a convincing case that there are any intrinsic harms in calling someone an asshole.

      I came over here to argue with you because I’m a gay man with loved ones who are stigmatized as crazy and it irks me to see these slurs lumped in with “asshole” and other individual insults. People call me an asshole at least on a weekly basis and it never bothers me the way these other terms do. So if you would say “asshole” is “no worse qualitatively” than these group slurs, I don’t grok whatever it is you mean by that; I mean I know what qualitatively means but I don’t know how the qualities are supposed to be equally bad here, and my differing reaction to being called “asshole” is I think evidence against any equal qualitative badness. And frankly it sounds not only like bullshit, but offensive bullshit.

      Tony, above, is also a gay man, and his critique is not too dissimilar.

      I’ve commented here before as sort of a fan (offsite I’ve been discussing why consequentialist perfectionism is, um, let’s pretend I said “absurd”, and utilitarianism is correct, but I have found some of your work interesting at least).

      This lumping, though — in that you seem to think it’s more important to “teach the FtB community a lesson” about calling people assholes, than to emphasize the social impact of slurs against oppressed groups — it looks like misplaced priorities and it damages your claim to any moral high ground in my estimation.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That phrase “teach the FtB community a lesson” has an idiomatic connotation not in my original. We were debating about what I should emphasize and my point was that in this environment where most people know the importance of not attacking whole groups and most commenters will already pummel people for doing that, the specific thing I need to focus on is the kind of abusive, uncivil behavior that is not as universally condemned at FtB. That’s all. You want me to stress what you already take seriously. I have in the past addressed those issues. You should know that if you read my post on racial sensitivity you just linked to. Here’s one against the word “slut”. Here’s another about the dangers of environments that make women feel uncomfortable and the need to have moderation to ensure safety for all participants. Here is a post about how attempts to “love” gays while hating homosexuality fail.

      I have written plenty of stuff digging into the details of the values issues you raise. I have conceded that many more people are hurt by insults that target whole groups. That’s what I meant by the problem being quantitatively serious. Qualitatively, my point was simply that an insult is an insult. Now there is something qualitatively worse about attacking someone for being gay than for being a bad person. But the word “asshole” says more than “you’re a bad person.” I permit the latter even, if it is couched in specific enough, substantiatable charges.

      The problem is that “asshole” is demeaning like “fag” is. They both insult and degrade someone. It does not matter if you are accustomed to the one but bothered by the other. They’re both uncivil putdowns. Neither has a place in rational, constructive discussions aimed at the mutual support of truth.

      I don’t need to make every moral distinction and rate every moral wrong against every other one in every post. I don’t need to use every post to explore every important social issue. I have other posts for addressing misogynists, racists, and homophobes. Read the links you and I have provided. It’s a derail to change the topic from the wrongness of calling people “assholes” to the wrongness of other things I have suitably addressed and will continue to suitably address. My moderation policy protects groups against abuse just as much as individuals. There is nothing controversial except your insistence that some insults are just hunky dory. It does not underestimate the importance of other problems to focus on this problem, the one that I know is important to establishing the kind of intellectually welcoming and rigorous and mature environment I want my blog to be.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      You want me to stress what you already take seriously. I have in the past addressed those issues. You should know that if

      No, precisely what I want is for you to stress is that slurs about oppressed groups are socially destructive in particular ways that individual insults are not. I am not in any way suggesting that you don’t talk enough about racism, sexism and homophobia. My critique is specific to this lumping, here in this thread. Your message here in this thread is muddled by that, and obscures rather than clarifies your message about calling people assholes.

      I have conceded that many more people are hurt by insults that target whole groups. That’s what I meant by the problem being quantitatively serious.

      Would it be too much of a pain to mention this up in the original post? Dollars to donuts this post is going to be used by some trolls elsewhere to “show” why people objecting to sexist slurs by calling the speaker an “asshole” are “just as bad” as those who used sexist slurs.

      The problem is that “asshole” is demeaning like “fag” is.

      No, it is not.

      There is no doubt that I could stop being an asshole if I wanted to.

      I can not stop being queer. It is part of my identity. Insulting me about my sexual orientation is demeaning not like “asshole” is.

      Calling me an asshole does not remind me of my second-class citizenship. It does not signal that I might be physically attacked simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

      They both insult and degrade someone. It does not matter if you are accustomed to the one but bothered by the other.

      Oh I’m accustomed to both. But, for reasons like the above, they’re not similarly degrading. I am not made to fear by being called an asshole.

      They’re both uncivil putdowns. Neither has a place in rational, constructive discussions aimed at the mutual support of truth.

      Again, I’m not arguing about what your rules should be. I think you’ve communicated your rules most in a most unhelpful way.

      I don’t need to make every moral distinction and rate every moral wrong against every other one in every post.

      This is a rather important one that you didn’t have to message offensively but you did. It wouldn’t be a big deal to fix it.

      It’s a derail to change the topic from the wrongness of calling people “assholes” to the wrongness of other things I have suitably addressed and will continue to suitably address.

      But you are failing to make the point you want to make, because you are the one who lumped together some ostensible “wrongness” of calling people assholes with the wrongness of slurs about oppressed groups.

      Call it a derail if you want but Daniel there is a reason why Tony and I were offended by this. Maybe, just maybe, your messaging here was off. Can you acknowledge this?

      There is nothing controversial except your insistence that some insults are just hunky dory.

      You know what? I haven’t said that. But I remain unconvinced, and one of the barriers to communication is the lumping rather than distinguishing, and in any case I think it would have been morally wrong for me not to have pointed out the problems with your lumping.

      It does not underestimate the importance of other problems to focus on this problem, the one that I know is important to establishing the kind of intellectually welcoming and rigorous and mature environment I want my blog to be.

      Please remember that I’ve been saying the issues should be separated, not that you shouldn’t have brought up any particular issue. I don’t imagine it’s my business if you want to moderate comments in which someone calls someone an asshole. But it is a social problem, an appropriate subject for public critique, when someone lumps individual insults together with slurs about oppressed groups.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      The people who want to equivocate wrongness have the following goal: they want to say that they are justified using group-insults because their opponents use individual-insults. They will get no solace from an honest reading of my post which denounces all abusive language the same and gives them no license to use group-insults (or their own individual-insults) because others are doing it too.

      NO, I don’t need to share your distinctions that abusing people in one way is not so bad because it’s not abusing people in another way. Sexual harassment is bad even though it’s not rape. It derails discussions of sexual harassment when people insist that copious qualifications be made that it’s not the same as rape.

      Same here. YOU may not be convinced that insulting people is morally wrong. But it is. That’s MY point. That’s what I am interested in getting across here. In plenty of other places I talk about the moral wrongness of other things. I am not obligated to pretend that one form of bullying is not such a big deal because it has different kinds and qualities and quantities of abusive effects from another.

      Bullying is bullying. Insulting language is bullying.

      All your other distinctions are jockeying for political advantage and self-righteousness. I don’t want any of it.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      The people who want to equivocate wrongness have the following goal: they want to say that they are justified using group-insults because their opponents use individual-insults.

      I assure you they have another goal, to say that those who call them assholes are “just as bad” as they. And —

      They will get no solace from an honest reading of my post which denounces all abusive language the same and gives them no license to use group-insults (or their own individual-insults) because others are doing it too.

      — because they want to say “just as bad”, they will get a great deal of solace from your post.

      NO, I don’t need to share your distinctions that abusing people in one way is not so bad because it’s not abusing people in another way.

      What? You’ve already made such distinctions here in the comments: “I have conceded that many more people are hurt by insults that target whole groups. That’s what I meant by the problem being quantitatively serious.”

      That’s what I said it’d be helpful to note in the OP.

      Sexual harassment is bad even though it’s not rape. It derails discussions of sexual harassment when people insist that copious qualifications be made that it’s not the same as rape.

      Calling someone an asshole is not like sexual harassment.

      Same here. YOU may not be convinced that insulting people is morally wrong. But it is. That’s MY point.

      Again, I think your failure to stress the distinction is making it more difficult for you to make a convincing case that there are any intrinsic harms in calling someone an asshole.

      I am not averse to the idea that insulting people is morally wrong. I might even be interested in discussing it, on a thread where you had not lumped all these things together.

      In plenty of other places I talk about the moral wrongness of other things. I am not obligated to pretend that one form of bullying is not such a big deal because it has different kinds and qualities and quantities of abusive effects from another.

      Rather, you already have admitted that it is not quite such a big deal, quantitatively.

      Quantities surely figure into whether a deal is “big” or not.

      You could make your point about calling people assholes much more readily by granting that, for instance, bullying someone for being queer is worse than calling someone an asshole. You surely aren’t reaching anyone who doesn’t already agree with your (sometimes) premise.

      All your other distinctions are jockeying for political advantage and self-righteousness. I don’t want any of it.

      Do you believe that responding to a sexist slur by calling the speaker an asshole is bullying the person who made the slur?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Do you believe that responding to a sexist slur by calling the speaker an asshole is bullying the person who made the slur?

      YES.

      That is the point. You cannot stoop to their level. PERIOD.

      I didn’t say calling someone an asshole is sexual harassment. Similarly, calling someone a slut is not rape. So what? All four things are morally wrong. There is an analogy where one’s being wrong in qualitatively different ways and having different specific effects and different quantitative harms, etc. does not mitigate the fact that both are wrong.

      I do not care about hypocrites who may want to spin my denunciation of the words “asshole” and “stupid” and of bullying incivility to somehow vindicate their own bullying campaigns and their own abusive treatment of individual women and their own usages of group-insults. They are lying to themselves. I don’t condone any of that bullshit. Nowhere will they find me endorsing any of their tactics or their rhetoric or their distortions. They can read me dishonestly if they like. They read everyone dishonestly. That’s not my fault.

      I am not going to refrain from saying that calling people stupid and assholes is bullying. This has been my position for a long time. I’m not changing it for a political calculation about what hypocrite misogynists might do with it.

      This is my blog. It’s going to be a civil place. It’s going to be one where people treat each other with respect or they do not participate.

      PERIOD.

      It’s going to be a place where we don’t decide who gets to be abused with impunity because they are from an oppressing class and not an oppressed class. NOBODY GETS ABUSED ON MY BLOG.

      It’s going to be a place where we don’t decide that since we’re the righteous ones we can dehumanize our enemies. NOBODY GETS ABUSED ON MY BLOG.

      If that is so horrible to you because it means you don’t get to live in a world where you can demonize and bully your enemies because obviously your enemies deserve it whereas when you get demonized it’s clearly always wrong because you’re on the side of the righteous, then this is not the blog for you.

      On this blog, the rules are applied to all equally. Nobody gets abused. Nobody gets insulted. Nobody gets harangued. We argue vigorously based on rational considerations and not on epithets. We criticize each other personally as a matter of last resort and do so as civilly and maturely as possible.

      That’s it. NOBODY GETS ABUSED ON MY BLOG. That’s my rule.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      By the way, for the record, this entire post had nothing to do with the rest of Freethought Blogs except insofar as I get some commenters here who do not understand my expectations since they are different than elsewhere on the site and take into account moral considerations disregarded elsewhere (but not everywhere) on the site. This is about my blog and I said what needed to be said for a moderation policy on my blog. This was not a political post and need not have been written like one. I am not here to speak for or to justify any other blogger’s views or policies or statements, etc. I am here to represent myself and to make clear to my readers what I need from them to build this into the kind of place this blog can optimally be.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, mec fâché en jupe

      That is the point. You cannot stoop to their level. PERIOD.

      I’m not at “their level” pretty much by definition, if they’re using harmful bigoted slurs that support a systemic problem, while I am using non-bigoted, non-structurally-harmful insults. Claiming otherwise is a false equivalence. propagating the “both sides do it” idea always works out in favor of those who do more harm.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m not at “their level” pretty much by definition, if they’re using harmful bigoted slurs that support a systemic problem, while I am using non-bigoted, non-structurally-harmful insults. Claiming otherwise is a false equivalence. propagating the “both sides do it” idea always works out in favor of those who do more harm.

      I never said both sides do all the same things. But bullying individually is still bullying. Is it participating in systemic bullying. Nope. But is it participating in school yard abusive behavior on a personal level. YES.

      I never said “both sides” do anything. I am saying bullying is wrong, no matter what side you are on. That’s it. Fighting for your right to use epithets, call people stupid, etc. is fighting for your right to be a mudslinger. This blog is committed to rationalism. Not mudslinging. It’s committed to acting like rationalists and debating like rationalists, not like abusive insult-slinging bullies.

      So you don’t commit a greater wrong. Fantastic. Don’t commit lesser ones either.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      That is the point. You cannot stoop to their level. PERIOD.

      But if sexist slurs are quantitatively likely to harm more people, then calling someone an asshole isn’t stooping to their level.

      What do you make of my points that being insulted regarding my sexual orientation is qualitatively worse than being insulted as an “asshole” because the latter does not remind me of my second-class citizenship or signal that I might be physically attacked simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

      For if slurs about oppressed groups are both quantitatively and qualitatively worse, then it appears your point would be better stated as “this is still not good” rather than “this is stooping to their level”.

      There is an analogy where one’s being wrong in qualitatively different ways and having different specific effects and different quantitative harms, etc. does not mitigate the fact that both are wrong.

      How about if I’m walking down the street at night and somone yells “hey faggot” at me? Am I bullying them by yelling back “hey fuck you, asshole”? Perhaps I am just negotiating my right to walk down the street.

      I do not care how hypocrites who may want to spin my denunciation of the words “asshole” and “stupid” and of bullying incivility to somehow vindicate their own bullying campaigns

      Obviously I do care, though. And here’s why, if you’ll hear me out: I fully expect to see citations to your post here cropping up on other blogs where you won’t be there to explain why they’re wrong. And that means more work for those who push back against them.

      I just think it would be helpful if you’d be clearer about distinctions in the OP.

      This is my blog. It’s going to be a civil place. It’s going to be one where people treat each other with respect or they do not participate.

      If that is so horrible to you because it means you don’t get to live in a world where you can demonize and bully your enemies because obviously your enemies deserve it whereas when you get demonized it’s clearly always wrong because you’re on the side of the righteous, then this is not the blog for you.

      Really, we’ll see how the enforcement turns out. But again, I’m not arguing about what your rules should be. I think you’ve communicated your rules in a most unhelpful way with this lumping.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      How about if I’m walking down the street at night and somone yells “hey faggot” at me? Am I bullying them by yelling back “hey fuck you, asshole”? Perhaps I am just negotiating my right to walk down the street.

      What you do on the street when threatened with violent assault is different than what you do in a forum designed for discussions of ideas. If someone physically throws a punch at you, you have a right to physically punch back if there is no other way to resolve the situation peaceably.

      On the internet, you have every means of peaceably and civilly denouncing bad behavior in clear and certain terms that good and decent people will understand without resorting to abusive language.

      And on the “stooping to their level” point—you are stooping to their level insofar as you use abusive, insulting language. Are you at their level in every respect? No. Are you on their level as often as they are? Depends! This is all hypothetical. We would have to know how regularly you resorted to insulting language, how vicious the language was, etc., etc.

      But yes being insulting to people is corrosive to rational discourse, even if you think you’re one of the “good people” and they’re the “bad people” and because “they started it”.

      Really, we’ll see how the enforcement turns out. But again, I’m not arguing about what your rules should be.

      I think you’ve communicated your rules in a most unhelpful way with this lumping.

      Unhelpful to whom? This blog post was about my moderation. YOU made it about other things it was not about. And as far as I am concerned you’re still not getting how it is not merely “lumping” to say that all insults and epithets are abusive and contrary to rationalism. So, I am convinced it was important to make that point that all abusiveness should be stamped out for the sake of civil discussion so everyone is crystal clear on that point and no one will bother trying to explain to me why their own individual wrong actions aren’t so bad because they’re not someone else’s and that person started it anyway. I’m not going to be adjudicating such disputes, so the policy does not give the impression that I will.

      As a moderation policy, it does the trick just fine. I am not nearly as interested in splitting off good kinds of abusiveness from bad ones.

      And, by the way, hardly all the people on Freethought Blogs who are accused of using insulting language do so. Those who do so defend it. Let them speak for themselves. It’s not my job to tailor my comment policies to exonerate what they do on their own blogs. They have their own blogs with their own policies. And those who defend insulting language, will have to make their case about whether the extent and amounts and qualities of their insults are as bad as their opponents. Something being the same kind of wrong (in this case—abusive insulting language) does not mean all people engage in that wrong behavior the same amounts or in the same ways, etc. I have not denied that. What I have denied is that some kinds of insults don’t go in the bullying category. They all do. That’s not “lumping”, it’s proper categorization. Almost anywhere but the internet this is the common sense, basic assumption.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      By the way, for the record, this entire post had nothing to do with the rest of Freethought Blogs

      I think that was clear, but, again noted.

      This was not a political post and need not have been written like one.

      You addressed issues which are inherently political — slurs about oppressed groups.

      So you don’t commit a greater wrong. Fantastic. Don’t commit lesser ones either.

      See, what I’ve been trying to get at is that some of us could be open to this notion of lesser wrongs if only they were clearly specified as lesser wrongs, rather than lumped all together, and then the qualitative differences only grudgingly admitted.

      Start from the premise that slurs about oppressed groups are categorically worse and I’d be very interested in the possibility that individual insults are also worth avoiding. I’ll be honest, I don’t expect I’d be convinced of that, but at least there’d be no glaring obstacle to that discussion.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      See, what I’ve been trying to get at is that some of us could be open to this notion of lesser wrongs if only they were clearly specified as lesser wrongs,

      I have acknowledged degrees numerous times. The problem is I don’t want the emphasis to be on “lesser” at the expense of “wrong”.

      rather than lumped all together, and then the qualitative differences only grudgingly admitted.

      I admitted that if you want to focus on certain aspects there are qualitative differences, of course, but my focus on their commonality had a reason.

      Start from the premise that slurs about oppressed groups are categorically worse and I’d be very interested in the possibility that individual insults are also worth avoiding. I’ll be honest, I don’t expect I’d be convinced of that, but at least there’d be no glaring obstacle to that discussion.

      And this is where you still don’t get it. This is the real disagreement. You would never kick and complain about a sexual harassment discussion trivializing rape by not making clear that they’re not as wrong as each other. But you want to hound me on this, because you do not accept that insulting people is abusive.

      And that makes you part of the problem as far as I’m concerned. And if my post antagonized you because it brought this to light. GOOD.

      I have in other places denounced systemic abuse. I have even done so repeatedly in this very thread with the word “stupid” that lots of ableist smart people like to throw around (while decrying “retarded” as a word that only assholes use of course).

      This policy did not need to unlump. For the purposes of a moderation policy and not an extensive social commentary, it was specific enough. Now I’m done addressing this. I have said all that needs to be said probably 50 times by now.

    • http://jadehawks.wordpress.com/ Jadehawk, mec fâché en jupe

      I never said both sides do all the same things. [...] I never said “both sides” do anything.

      of course you did. that’s what the phrase “stoop to their level” means

      look, I couldn’t care less about how you personally feel about insults and how you moderate your blog. But you are wrong when you claim insults are the same level of bad as bigoted slurs.

    • John Morales

      Jadehawk wrote to Dan:

      But you are wrong when you claim insults are the same level of bad as bigoted slurs.

      He hasn’t, rather his claim is that they’re both sufficiently bad to meet his threshold of unacceptability.

      Or, as he put it: “I have acknowledged degrees numerous times. The problem is I don’t want the emphasis to be on “lesser” at the expense of “wrong”.”

    • Steersman

      Tony the Parkour Kat (#6.0)

      Fag, tranny, or cunt are examples of words that are absolutely off limits IMHO. They do harm to others by perpetuating a homophobic, transphobic or sexist culture AND are extremely offensive. Stupid, jerk and asshole though? These are NOT minority-bashing words that silence a marginalized group of people.

      As you point out, that is in your opinion – i.e., no empirical evidence to justify the claim.

      In addition, there is absolutely nothing in the definition of the word “cunt”, for example, that states that it is applicable or being applied to all women. While it is certainly reasonable, or at least having some justification, for people to see transgressions against other people as transgressions against everyone, one can just as reasonably and on the same amount of evidence say that “stupid”, “jerk” and “asshole” qualify likewise. That you obviously “feel” differently is only an entirely subjective and idiosyncratic view that seems to be advanced only to take unfair and inequitable advantage in any conversations with people who might have entirely different ones. Looks rather hypocritical to me.

    • Steersman

      ixchel, the jaguar goddess … (#6.12),

      The problem is that “asshole” is demeaning like “fag” is.

      No, it is not. There is no doubt that I could stop being an asshole if I wanted to. I can not stop being queer. It is part of my identity.

      Looks like special pleading to me.

      Who says you “could stop being an asshole if [you] wanted to”? Maybe the form of behaviour you are using to justify that characterization is based on deeply held beliefs and is no more changeable than one’s sexual orientation.

      But taking your example as a starting point, I see that “fag” means: “n. Offensive slang; used as a disparaging term for a homosexual man”. Nothing there that I can see that says that all homosexual men are to be disparaged by the term, nothing that even suggests that homosexuality is intrinsically reprehensible and morally beyond the pale. Maybe something you are reading into it? Some personal feelings perhaps?

      And likewise with these other similar words:

      “asshole”: n. Vulgar slang; A thoroughly contemptible, detestable person.

      “cunt”: n. Taboo; Offensive slang; a mean or obnoxious person

      Your premise is that the words that you think are particularly offensive are ones that intrinsically and categorically apply to a whole class while the ones you don’t think are offensive, or are less offensive, apply only to individuals. But the facts of the matter are that the definitions do not in any way shape or form justify that conclusion: they all, or virtually all, apply to particular individuals who happen to be exhibiting certain objectionable characteristics – in an entirely subjective “eye-of-the-beholder” view based on rather idiosyncratic “feelings”. Not a good basis for having a discussion on objective truth …

      And if that latter is the case then it is just a little disingenuous if not decidedly hypocritical, to be allowing the use of some of those insults but to be anathematizing the others.

    • Steersman

      Jadehawk, mec fâché en jupe (6.17),

      That is the point. You cannot stoop to their level. PERIOD.

      I’m not at “their level” pretty much by definition, if they’re using harmful bigoted slurs that support a systemic problem, while I am using non-bigoted, non-structurally-harmful insults.

      Your idiosyncratic definition based on your entirely subjective feelings in the matter.

      Propagating the “both sides do it” idea always works out in favor of those who do more harm.

      And what specific harms would those be? In the context of a discussion I would say that both “bigoted slurs” and “non-bigoted non-structurally-harmful insults” have the same harmful effect of derailing a discussion. And in the context of a social problem – misogyny, for example – unless the word is explicitly directed at all members of a class – “all women are …”; “all homosexuals are …”; “all people are …” – then I would say it is, ipso facto, anything but bigoted – quite possibly wrong and quite likely rude, but not inherently bigoted: i.e., intolerant, biased, stereotyping, prejudiced – based on irrational suspicion and hatred and opinion formed beforehand without examination of the facts.

      However, I kind of have to wonder at the vehemence and tenacity with which people are arguing against Dan’s policy. Since it is to be applied uniformly I can’t see that you – and others in the same cohort – have to be much concerned about being targeted here with “harmful bigoted slurs”. In which case it looks like you’re more concerned about not having the same opportunity here to disparage and derail the arguments of other people against what they might style the various dogmas that your cohort happens to espouse.

      Doesn’t much look like cricket to me ….

    • Josh R.

      @Steersman Re:6.25-6.27

      I’m going to be making a lot of assumptions so I hope that I can be forgiven if any of them are wrong.

      I’m assuming that you thought, as I do, that Tony, Jadehawk, and Ixchel, among others, were missing the point of these commenting guidelines. The point, as I see it, was to promote an atmosphere of dialogue and conversation that relied on discussing thoughts and ideas, and not on discussing assumptions about the relative corpulence of an idealogical opponent’s maternal heritage.

      To put it another way, I’m not here to talk about you. I’m here to talk about your ideas. I want to discuss thoughts, positions, ideas, aguments, assumptions, assertions, and, quite frequently, semantics. I do love discussing semantics. None of these topics require me to even know anything about the person typing the words. Attacking their character will bring me no closer to dismantling their ideas. So, while it might be easier to say “Shut up and go away”, it’s much more satisfying to say “Your assertions have no basis in fact and this discussion would be better served by verifiable evidence. If you could please use some objective facts to make your point I’d be happy to consider your position further.” (just an example, not what I wanted to say to you, Steersman)

      Now, with that in mind, the degree to which a personal attack is insulting is moot. You could spend all day ranking the relative offense of all of the words on that list (and plenty of other words that didn’t show up but were there in spirit) and at the end of the day all you’d have is a very organized list of things that aren’t contributing to a reasonable converation. Certain words or phrases are more harmful to certain people; it can’t be avoided. The point is to not use any of them when commenting here. Dismemberment by chainsaw is worse than being shot, which is worse than being stabbed, which is worse than being kicked, which is worse than a papercut, which is worse than an insult but my preference is none of the above. A great discussion could be had about why I have ordered those injuries the way I did. Maybe you think that a papercut is not as bad as an insult, or that it is more severe than a kick in the shins. That isn’t what these guidelines are about. There isn’t a spot in the guidelines meting out different punishments for different degrees of offense so it really doesn’t matter which one is worse quantitatively or qualitatively for the purposes of these rules.

      That brings me to your (Steersman) comments. (6.25-27) I think that you might be missing the point as well. Not the general one of the main article but the topic of this sub-thread. (once again I’m assuming here) The point of differentiating between “group slurs” and “personal insults” isn’t to say that somehow a slur is an insult directed at multiple targets, the point is that a slur is a personal insult that has the additional characteristic of being highly emotionally charged and having a context that renders it offensive to an entire group of people. Such that a person reading that slur who is a member of that group would be offended, or angered, or hurt, even if they were not the intended target. It’s collateral damage. Terms like “jerk” or “asshole” differ from terms like “c***” and “n*****” (sorry, I don’t even like typing them) because the former set do not rely on any characteristics of the target to be insulting. If I were to refer to somebody as a vacuous, toffee-nosed, malodorous, pervert you wold be hard pressed to find a group of people who were systematically oppressed by that phrase and could rightly assume that the insult was directed at a singular individual.(redundant redundancies) If I were to say instead that “the whiny c*** shouldn’t talk like such a n*****” I would not only be showing disdain for the individual that the insult was aimed at, I would also be showing disrespect for two very large groups of people and anybody who belonged to either, or both, of those groups would be justified in thinking that the disdain that I have shown for my target extends to them as well because it is unlikely that I am unaware of the strong emotional baggage and historical oppression attatched to those words.

      So to give the definition of a few words is, in my opinion, just a tactic inteded to shut down an actual debate, albeit one that might belong elsewhere, without actually addressing the conflict inherent in that debate. And to, additionaly, make assumptions about the intents or persuasions of the people you responded to is uncharitable. (It occurs to me that now I am being uncharitable to you so I apologize. I don’t know what your intentions were so I should give you the benefit of the doubt. I’m leaving my original statement as a reminder to myself that I still have a lot of work to do in becoming a more objective debater.) (Someday, I may even be… a Master Debater……..) (ignore that last part. It makes me seem immature.)

    • John Morales

      [meta + OT]

      Re:6.25-6.27

      Josh R., that is a most excellent (and novel to me) way to refer to specific comments (or ranges of comments), and one I shall adopt henceforth and which I hope will catch on.

      Thank you!

    • Josh R

      Thanks John. But credit where credit is due. I didn’t really come up with that method. I just used the same method of reference that Steersman used in the comments that I was responding to.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      Whoops — I’m rather embarrassed now.

      Steersman, sorry about that.

      The sentiment remains, but the credit is yours (and no need to tell me if you in turn got it from someone else! :))

      (And thanks for the correction, Josh R.)

    • Steersman

      Josh R. (6.28),

      I’m going to be making a lot of assumptions so I hope that I can be forgiven if any of them are wrong.

      No problemo. I sort of look on assumptions as a set of framing hypotheses, like the axioms of various types geometry: they are just the necessary starting points in determining whether the conclusions that might follow from them have some correspondences in verifiable facts which would then either confirm or falsify those axioms or premises. Really only a problem if they are dogmatically insisted on in spite of any facts to the contrary.

      Although somewhat consistent with that and to reference a later comment of yours, I don’t see it as particularly “uncharitable” to be making “assumptions about the intents and persuasions of the people I responded to”, particularly since I think I made a reasonable effort to, as Daniel suggested, “stick to substantiatable charges” and to “clearly specify what specific things [were] worthy of criticism” and to provide some justification for them.

      That said, it seems that the crux of your argument is the following which I very much question and have a great many reservations about:

      … the point is that a slur is a personal insult that has the additional characteristic of being highly emotionally charged and having a context that renders it offensive to an entire group of people.

      First off, there is the question as to why “an entire group of people” is going to be offended by particular words directed at a single individual, particularly in light of the facts, as I noted, that the dictionary definitions clearly indicate or strongly suggest that they apply only to a particular person. While I haven’t run across any studies on the physiology of the process even though I looked [“The Cognitive Etiology of Insults, fMRI Elucidated”?], it is probably something along the line of various cognitive illusions – Necker cubes, spinning dancers and the like – and may be predicated on such things as mirror neurons and the degree of empathy we might manifest towards those exhibiting the same attributes that we do: buy a cowboy hat and you can be a cowboy too.

      But generally speaking, it seems likely that the more we self-identify with particular attributes – race, creed, color, sex, and nationality probably being the biggies – that are shared by other individuals who are attacked along the avenues of those attributes, the more likely we are to see ourselves in their shoes – so to speak – and to respond accordingly, if somewhat viscerally. And vice versa as illustrated by your amusing example of the “toffee-nosed, malodorous pervert”: that insult directed at someone might lead others to feel their noses and sniff their underarms and mentally review whether they had offered any candy to any young children recently, but very few are likely to so qualify and therefore very few are going to take umbrage at those insults.

      And if that is the case – again, as strongly suggested by the dictionary definitions – then there is nothing intrinsic to those insults themselves that necessitates anyone other than the individual targeted to feel offended – except maybe an uncontrollable reflex which seems not particularly commendable. And I can’t think of any other “reasons” offhand, except possibly an excess of self-indulgence – particularly self-righteousness, something we are all prone to in one area or another.

      However, I am not particularly in favour of such epithets as I expect there are very few circumstances that would justify them – they tend to be, or should be, the last resort and not the first one; sort of the “nuclear option”. But the point is, I think, that they are all really on the same footing – it is somewhat of a false dichotomy to differentiate between “group slurs” and “personal insults”: there is generally only an insult directed at an individual with a variable number of others who choose to be offended likewise, and frequently for not particularly credible reasons. For example, saying that someone is being obnoxious – as most of those insults seem to boil down to once the various “tags” are stripped away – really should not cause anyone else to be offended as well – unless they happen also to be acting likewise.

      And if that is the case then it seems that the only “reasonable” policy is either that all such insults are “acceptable” or that none of them are. Any “half-way house” – as a number of people have apparently suggested here – looks decidedly hypocritical at best and a rather odious case of the proverbial “in-group morality and out-group hostility”: hell of a way to run a railroad much less any forum that wants to be a venue for civilized debate.

      I could be wrong in that analysis of course, could be starting from invalid premises, but, as Yogi Berra said, I gotta call ‘em as I see ‘em.

      But, somewhat apropos, you also said:

      So to give the definition of a few words is, in my opinion, just a tactic intended to shut down an actual debate, albeit one that might belong elsewhere …

      Sorry if you thought that as I figure it is a necessary starting point, sort of like getting all of your construction materials together before you start building a house – and definitions are, I think, fairly important in laying the proper foundations. Really is kind of amusing, if a little disconcerting, to see how often conversations go off the rails because people have very different definitions in mind or in view.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      “Stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny does.”

      What?

      What?!

      WHAT?!

      I kinda just want to tell you and your sense of proportion and taste to go to hell.

      I hope that doesn’t torment you.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      “Stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny does.”

      What?

      What?!

      WHAT?!

      I kinda just want to tell you and your sense of proportion and taste to go to hell.

      I hope that doesn’t torment you.

      Transgendered people are fewer in number than the number of people harmfully called stupid by their parents, teachers, schoolmates, friends, etc. That’s the only point. And it’s a true one. It does not mean that calling someone a “tranny” is not despicable. Of course it is.

      And, no, I don’t appreciate your attempt to torment me. And it is one. And I do not deserve to be treated that way. Being part of a horribly treated group does not change that.

    • Steersman

      John Morales (#6.31),

      Steersman, sorry about that. The sentiment remains, but the credit is yours ….

      No problemo; thanks. :-)

      But I probably got it from Microsoft’s Outline schemas – who probably got it from …. nothing new under the sun and all that ….

      And I also hope, as you put it, that it will “catch on”; been trying to promote that as a feature that various purveyors of blogging software might want to add to their products. I at least find it somewhat tedious to have to search for the context of various posts without which many of them seem rather “non sequitur-ish” at best ….

  • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

    My critique is mostly like Tony’s, but not quite.

    While I’m sure most readers will understand there’s a difference of degree between some of these terms, I have seen apparently honest people misunderstand the categorical difference between insults against individuals, and slurs about oppressed groups.

    I do wish you would phrase this clearly as about two categories — not in such a way that can suggest they are all in the same category. And your lumping of all these terms, as phrased at this time, can easily suggest the latter.

    As I see it you’ve got two categories here which should be separated:

    “stupid”, “moron”, “asshole”, “jerk”, “douchebag”, “idiot”, “motherfucker”, “shitbag”, and “fuckwad” are individual insults;

    “cunt”, “nigger”, “Feminazi”, “mental midget”, “twat”, “retard”, “homo”, “fag”, “tranny”, “bitch”, “nutcase”, and “crazy” are slurs about oppressed groups;

    and “dick” is a grey area — it evokes a group (them who have penises) but that group is not oppressed as such. In that way it’s more like the first category than the second.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      No, ixchel, insulting groups is no worse than insulting individuals. And oppressed groups are not the only people who should not be insulted. Nobody should be insulted.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      And for the record, “stupid”, “moron”, and “idiot” are all denigrating to a group of people—people of lesser intellectual ability. This one little ableism that smart people feel entitled to is disgustingly self-serving.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, member of the Oppressed Sisterhood fanclub

      I think you ought to ask members of oppressed groups which is worse. Being insulted as an individual for an individual failing is far better (almost respectful by comparison) than being the object of an oppressive slur.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Okay, I will start asking those with those with less education and with correlate greater poverty, whether they would prefer a targeted criticism aimed at criticizing and correcting their specific mistakes in an educative and constructive way or whether they would like to be demeaned as belonging to the class of “stupid” people.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Being insulted as an individual for an individual failing is far better (almost respectful by comparison)

      But no being insulted is not nearly respectful, by any comparison. That’s downright Orwellian of you to even say that.

      What I think you mean is that it is more respectful to be treated as an individual than denigrated based only on group membership. But that does not make personal insults somehow respectful as long as one is being treated as an individual. That is, if you will, absurd. Personal insults do not accurately and respectfully criticize a true failing. They abuse someone using an overblown accusation of a failing as an excuse. For me to leap from “you made an intellectual error” to “you’re stupid” is irrational, arrogant, and uncivil. I have no place doing such a thing if I am a rationalist (or a decent human being).

      None of my friends or colleagues treat me so disrespectfully or they simply wouldn’t be my friends or (if I had any say in it) they wouldn’t be my colleagues either. And neither do academic journals or other serious discussion formats tolerate such corrosive behavior.

    • ixchel, the jaguar goddess of midwifery and war ॐ

      You do at least agree there is a difference of degree between calling someone an “idiot” and calling them a “nigger”, right?

      No, ixchel, insulting groups is no worse than insulting individuals

      Yes, it is. It signals to everyone in the affected group that they are not welcome, while an individual insult signals only that that person is not welcome. You as a consequentialist surely care about the number of people likely to be harmed by a particular instance. (While you may have a point that more people in the world feel personally hurt when they’re called stupid, you should also note that more people in the room are likely to be harmed by a single utterance of “homo” than “idiot”; only the one “idiot” is being targeted in the latter case, while all gay people are being targeted in the former.)

      And oppressed groups are not the only people who should not be insulted. Nobody should be insulted.

      Please note that I did not argue against you on this point. I said I wish you would separate the two categories. If you want to say both categories are off limits here, that’s not my business.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You do at least agree there is a difference of degree between calling someone an “idiot” and calling them a “nigger”, right?

      Of course. Though I’m sure the word “idiot” has as much damage to some people in their lives as “nigger” has to others. It’s just socially acceptable to abuse people for inferior intelligence and not for racist reasons and the consequences of racism have been more visibly appalling and wretched so we have a higher consciousness about the “n” word than about words like “idiot”. But in the relevant respect that I will be moderating by, they are both meet the minimal threshold of wrongness such that I feel no compunction to tease out the distinctions between them. Too many people around here are keenly aware of ways to distinguish them so that they can use abusive words when they like. My point is to emphasize their common wrongness because it is commonly serious, even if not as severely consequential on a macro socio-political level.

      Yes, it is. It signals to everyone in the affected group that they are not welcome, while an individual insult signals only that that person is not welcome. You as a consequentialist surely care about the number of people likely to be harmed by a particular instance. (While you may have a point that more people in the world feel personally hurt when they’re called stupid, you should also note that more people in the room are likely to be harmed by a single utterance of “homo” than “idiot”; only the one “idiot” is being targeted in the latter case, while all gay people are being targeted in the former.)

      I meant no worse qualitatively. Of course it’s worse quantitatively as you say.

    • smhll

      I disagree. Calling someone a c-nt insults every woman reading, not just the woman targeted. (I think you made this argument about flinging around the word “stupid”, and I agree.)

  • NewEnglandBob

    Ixchel, you are completely wrong.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, member of the Oppressed Sisterhood fanclub

    I’m not sure I understand the distinction between calling an idea stupid versus calling it absurd.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Absurdity means that there is a contradiction in the idea or that it is highly implausible. Those are specific charges. “Stupid” has the connotation of saying no one could think that lest they were stupid. Someone can think something absurd because they have not thought it through. It does not make the thought or the person stupid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.richardsfink Patrick RichardsFink

    “This one little ableism that smart people feel entitled to is disgustingly self-serving.”

    Bravo. I will be using this line (with accreditation).

    As someone with a few years experience moderating online forums (a couple of them in some rough, wild-westish corners of the internet, and with some informal research done on the dynamics) I support not only what you are doing (especially autobanning sock puppeteers), but the process of doing it. Explicit guidelines followed fairly are essential to the vitality of an online community.

    Anything that would lead to the end of valid conversation in real life, with people standing face-to-face, is equally inappropriate online. Passion and heat are one thing; ad hominem another thing entirely.

  • Josh R

    I’ll be honest here. I don’t think I’ve ever read your blog. Maybe once or twice when another Blogger here referenced one of your posts. So I can’t speak to the general atmosphere of your comments section.

    What I can speak about is the comments sections of some other blogs. (and Facebook and Twitter and YouTube…etc) Sometimes it is like trying to sift through dung for diamonds.

    I was looking through headlines on the FtB homepage and immediately loved this one. Don’t get me wrong, I love your freedom of speech just as much as my own. In certain contexts I am happy to flame the conversation until the whole venue burns down. But here at FtB I have always just thought that the topics being discussed were (usually) more important or at least more complex and deserved the sort of respect and careful consideration that one might bring to a formal debate.

    I guess, among other things, I have a feeling of entitlement. I try to put a lot of thought and effort onto my responses and I hate coming back to some personal attack masked as a criticism. I tend to expect from others the same respect that I give to everybody.

    I am highly in favor of these commenting guidelines and might just start hanging around here more often as a result.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you and welcome!

  • Robert

    I heartily concur with these guidelines. I’ve been online for several years now, and have yet to come across a situation in which I felt justified in addressing a complete stranger by any of these words. If someone is foolish or evil enough to warrant my calling hir an asshole, ze is certainly foolish or evil enough not to care about my opinion.

  • http://Templeofthefuture.net James Croft

    My respect for you only continues to grow.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s appreciated coming from you, James.

  • http://atheiststoday.com/ Skeeve

    I will enjoy reading your blog in the future…for the content of course, but also for the comments from neighboring blogs. I’ve noticed there are quite a few that can’t reply without a mouthful of profanity. It will be interesting to see if they can actually speak rationally and intelligently with the restrictions you’ve put in place.

    I do hope you’ll be enforcing these rules blindly, across the board.

    Cheers

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I will be enforcing consistently. Remember, though, I’m not promising outright bannings. But there will be automatic moderation for a number of words to make sure that I’m consistently screening and not just noticing when it’s people or ideas I don’t like.

    • John Morales

      Dan,

      I will be enforcing consistently.

      More precisely, you intend to enforce it consistently.

      (We shall see)

      I think I can comfortably operate within your strictures, and join those who commend you for this initiative.

      (Well done!)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you for your support, John. It’s appreciated. And, yes, I intend to enforce consistently. And I fully expect many commenters will be ready to help me rectify any inconsistencies I may fall into.

  • Horace

    Daniel,

    this seems a bit odd, but as long as it is enforced consistently it seems fair. Everyone will play by the same rules. I will drop by just to see how it works.

    Out of curiosity, what about calling someone a %#^(!)#& @%&* ?

    or suggesting that their idea is #@+) ?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It really shouldn’t seem odd at all. These rules are implicit in most of life. Classrooms, dinner parties, public debates, reputable publications, healthy interpersonal relationships, etc., all assume a certain level of civility and refraining from abusive insults when engaged in disagreements. To ask it of a blog commentariat should be nothing shocking. Maybe it’s just the appalling norm for blogs that makes the explicit enunciation of such rules for this kind of forum so odd sounding. But, really, in most of life the default assumption is the standard I just laid out. At least it’s the default assumption of the people I bother spending time with.

  • http://www.youtube.com/lilandrax lilandra

    I hope this works well for you.

  • Horace

    I hope that it works too. It is the way that things work in everyday life; the trouble is that the internet tends to attract @^*#(&$.

    Good luck.

  • Brad

    While “both sides” accusations on most of the issues discussed on FTB are terrible arguments, there is valid criticism to be laid for escalating and restricting vitriol should limit that, which is great.

    I hope nobody on the backchannel asshole trolls you about tone trolling.

  • http://www.mellophant.com The Flailing Rage Monkey: Caerie

    I don’t know how vigorous debate gets here as I’ve not spent much time reading your comments, but if you want to keep things productive as well as civil, enforcing the spirit of your comment rules over the letter of what you might lay out could be the most useful path to take.

    In other debate forums, I’ve seen a terrible, toxic atmosphere form because there was a list of words that couldn’t be used, rules against personal insults, and no one was allowed to call anyone else a liar, but dishonest tactics, manipulation, trolling and outright lies weren’t in any way moderated.

    This meant that those who would debate in good faith and abide by the rules would give up in disgust as those who gamed the rules and just kept plugging away with the same line of garbage, with little interest in having their preconceived notions challenged would stick around. The good faith debaters wouldn’t even have any real recourse against the latter group, since they couldn’t call them out on their lies. This may not be an issue with a small group of people, of course, but it is something to consider.

    Good luck with your policy and future comment debates.

    • John Morales

      This meant that those who would debate in good faith and abide by the rules would give up in disgust as those who gamed the rules and just kept plugging away with the same line of garbage, with little interest in having their preconceived notions challenged would stick around.

      This possibility is covered under Dan’s rules (§2), since there is nothing to prevent those arguing in good faith to note that their interlocutors are plugging away with the same line of garbage absurdity.

      The good faith debaters wouldn’t even have any real recourse against the latter group, since they couldn’t call them out on their lies.

      How so not, given that one doesn’t need insults to call someone out, and Dan allows for justifiable personal claims?

    • ischemgeek

      Elsewhere (I think it was at the Lousy Canuck’s blog), I had an argument with a troll, and as I was a bit tipsy since I’d just returned home from a drink with friends, I was ultra-careful on my wording. The troll ignored my points, straw-manned with gusto and generally made it difficult to have a meaningful discussion by arguing in bad faith. I told the troll that until he showed me he’d read the half-dozen public domain studies I’d cited, plus the additional articles and resources I’d linked to and formulated a nuanced and thoughtful response to my argument, I was not going to waste any more of my time with it as it seemed he was arging dishonestly and in bad faith.

      As far as my reading of the new policy here goes, such a take-down – even forcefully worded as it was – would not be against policy, as I attacked the trolls dishonest tactics, not the troll.

    • http://www.mellophant.com The Flailing Rage Monkey: Caerie

      How so not, given that one doesn’t need insults to call someone out, and Dan allows for justifiable personal claims?

      I was describing a specific debate forum, not what I see happening here (since I’ve yet to see anything happen here). In that example the letter of the law was followed, not the spirit.

      Dan’s rules seem sensible for what he’s going for, assuming the focus remains on his goal–civil discourse–and doesn’t get sidetracked by an attempt at an exhaustive list of which specific words are not allowed. A debate can still become toxic without a single personal insult or slur.

      Since the majority of comments here have been about the words themselves rather than Dan’s desire for civil discourse, I just thought I’d point it out.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I was describing a specific debate forum, not what I see happening here (since I’ve yet to see anything happen here). In that example the letter of the law was followed, not the spirit.

      Dan’s rules seem sensible for what he’s going for, assuming the focus remains on his goal–civil discourse–and doesn’t get sidetracked by an attempt at an exhaustive list of which specific words are not allowed. A debate can still become toxic without a single personal insult or slur.

      Since the majority of comments here have been about the words themselves rather than Dan’s desire for civil discourse, I just thought I’d point it out.

      Of course this is difficult to deal with. The letter of the law establishes basic fairness since it is easy to interpret the spirit of the law as not applying to one’s friends and applying especially harshly to one’s enemies. The law has to protect the unpopular as much as the popular. But, as my paragraphs explaining why I had to institute a policy and as rule 2 make clear, the motivating impetus to finally put up the policy was personal haranguing. I am sensitive to the ways that people make issues personal even without using insult words and want it to stop. That’s been more of a problem for me than actual insult words between commenters.

      Just the other day, I intervened to put a stop to personal haranguing and voila, fruitful debate resumed with the chastised party being a very valuable contributor again. So, this was actually a main concern.

      But, that granted, sometimes people will persist in what we should assume is good faith in advancing uncomfortable lines of thought that might even strike us as immoral or prejudiced. As long as the way those lines of thought are pursued does not create a hostile environment, they should be tolerated without being considered personal harassment. In one of my classes, a student asked questions and raised concerns about the ethics of homosexuality that sought clarification in comparison to the ethics of other sex acts. I am a pretty passionate defender of the full moral goodness (and not mere permissibility) of gay love and gay sex. And I am sensitive to foster a safe environment for everyone, with gays as no exception, in my lectures. But that did not mean I should have just declared the students’ sincere and probing questions as simple homophobia and said we will not entertain such lines of thought. Instead I took him seriously and reasoned about the issues with him. Another student made wild accusations about the implications of what I said. What I said was a defense of gay sexuality but because I used a buzz word often used against gays he was highly sensitized. So, I went over what my argument was, I held the class over, he acknowledged what I was getting at.

      It was important that in a philosophy class we could have that uncomfortable conversation when a student needs to have that conversation. This is one of the crucial appropriate contexts for that discussion to happen. But to do it you need to foster an environment of sincere, open-minded dialogue and rigorous dialectical investigation. You need to be willing to raise ugly hypotheticals if you are to thoroughly refute them. You need to let well-meaning skeptics who think that the truth is just ugly advance arguments for ugly ideas if you are going to be able to answer them to their satisfaction and really convince and not make them feel like they are being forced to be “politically correct” but dishonest when saying morally approvable things about reality. And to do all of this appropriately, you have to pay special attention to those who are vulnerable if certain ugly conclusions are the outcome of the debate and to make sure that they are not alienated and made into objects of discussion that harms their abilities to either participate in the discussion or to feel safe in it.

      To do all of that, you need to have a high standard of civility and rational sincerity. That’s what I need for this blog to function optimally as a philosophy blog, capable of accomplishing the kinds of genuine rational advancement in our values that philosophical discussion aids in a distinctive way.

    • http://www.mellophant.com The Flailing Rage Monkey: Caerie

      I am sensitive to the ways that people make issues personal even without using insult words and want it to stop. That’s been more of a problem for me than actual insult words between commenters.

      I’m very glad to hear you feel that way, as that’s been my experience elsewhere. It seems a common tactic.

      The policy you’ve laid out here and how you plan on implementing it sounds reasonable for your aims and I do hope it all goes well. I’ve long wanted an active debate forum online that managed to be stimulating and challenging without descending into personal feuds.

  • http://bannedatheists.us Banned Atheist

    Dig it. I made the mistake of suggesting something similar in a thread on PeeZee’s site — it was impossible to read the thread as nobody was bothering to make arguments, they were just trading insults.

    Needless to say, I was told to (a) “shut the fuck up” and (b) “fuck you”. Since I won’t debate an ad hominem attack artist, I found nobody to talk to there. Haven’t read one of PeeZee’s comment threads since.

    On DemocraticUnderground.com, they have a terrible enforcement of a decent policy which simply prohibits ad hominem attacks, period. Attack the argument, not the arguer. Clearly there’s plenty of trolls around FtB who would be unable to engage in a substantive debate with someone with whom they disagree, and these are unlikely to like your new policy. As for myself, it’s the only reason I read the comments thread at all. :D I’ll be back.

    • John Morales

      Needless to say, I was told to (a) “shut the fuck up” and (b) “fuck you”. Since I won’t debate an ad hominem attack artist, I found nobody to talk to there.

      Leaving aside that (a) and (b) are, respectively, a forceful demand and an insult each employing vulgarity rather than argumentum ad hominem*, some of us thrive in such an atmosphere; it lets people express themselves forcefully if required.

      Consider how it’s worked out for the best: you aren’t there, both to your benefit and to Pharyngula’s commentariat’s. :)

      In short, different blogs, different rules.

      (Polite visitors follow the house rules, rather than beseeching the house change its rules to accommodate their particular predilection)

      * (b) is, however, sententia ad hominem no less than “bless you” would be.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Banned Atheist, call him PZ and not PeeZee if you want to give the impression you are interested in civility and not in just attacking other people you might have a grudge against.

    • http://bannedatheists.us Banned Atheist

      Attacking the arguer, not the argument, is sufficient for a lazy definition of “ad hominem”. To tell someone to “fuck off” is an attack, not argument. Throw around all the Latin you feel like, but I think my meaning was understood without splitting semantic hairs in a dead language.

      Reasonable civil people understand what I meant by “ad hominem”, and I stand by it.

      As for writing PZ’s name “PeeZee” — no disrespect was intended. If anything, a cutesy nickname. I have no problem with PZ and read his blog daily.

      I just don’t read the comments. Maybe his pit is better for me not participating. But I don’t think so.

  • Steersman

    Sensible policy and one likely to improve the general tenor of conversations.

    And apropos of your comments about “abusive names”, I figure they don’t really do anything to advance the cause of civilized debate and obtaining what we might reasonably hope to obtain from it.

    And while I don’t have any particular objections to the use of those words – “sticks and stones” being, I think, an idea with some justification, although not everyone is so inclined – what I do object to are selective policies permitting some of them and anathematizing others – which tends to qualify as some rather egregious hypocrisy. I figure that if some sites are going to allow handguns into the bar – if not encourage their use – then I’m going to bring in a shotgun. Which, of course, tends to be counterproductive all around ….

  • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

    My whole attitude about this has changed in the last few months. I’m the guy who would jump to the defence of the person calling someone a douchebag. I’m the guy who would call you an asshole in a heartbeat.

    You know what though? Those comments don’t get us anywhere. They express our unwillingness to talk about what makes the other person’s argument unhelpful. Yes, I get it- some people make arguments that are beyond rational disproof. Some people even come in with comments seeped in hateful bigotry just to dump blood in the water. There are times when it is so very tempting to call them an asshole and move right along. It doesn’t help though. It lets us get some anger off our chest at the expense of more important goals.

    There is a huge difference between “asshole” and “faggot”, sure. That doesn’t mean that the one negates the other. Just because gendered or group insults are heinous does not mean personal insults are dandy. There is nothing so powerful about heinous insults that makes all other insults praiseworthy. I think that what some others here are saying is that horrible behaviour deserves poor behaviour- and what Dan is saying is that the expectation here is praiseworthy behaviour. The bar is higher here than a karmic blitzkrieg.

    Like a gay man walking down the street who gets catcalls of “faggot”, no-one is saying that a response of “asshole” is just as bad- but that response allows the “assholes” to high five each other and move on. Or it allows them to escalate. Explaining why they are wrong takes skill and effort- ignoring them when you are among friends is stripping them of their power.

    You are not going to have a meaningful dialogue if you hurl insults at your opponent any more than you can win an argument by punching someone in the face.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      May I suggest some additions to this list? Juvenile, adolescent, childish, infantile, puerile, immature.

      It seems to be still okay to insult the young by gratuitously using them as exemplars of undesirable behavior.

      This seems to me to be a fair point for consideration. I have made similar comments from time to time and the response is usually anger. I don’t see why the young should not receive the respect we now give to most everyone else.

      Are we not providing a negative object lesson to the young right in their faces?

      That’s a good question. My first instinct is to say that this is not an insult to the young, but a recognition that there are different behaviors understandable at different times of life. Children do engage in certain behaviors that we let halfway slide because of their age. We expect them to be less in control of their emotions, a little more selfish, etc. Of course we try to proactively guide them out of that behavior but we also don’t take it as personally and we fully expect and demand of them that that behavior gets put behind them by the time they are adults.

      So, I think that language is actually trying to say to people, “we all understand that at certain stages of psycho-social-emotional-cognitive development some behaviors are inevitable, but adults should be matured and should be held to higher standards.” It’s less a dig on the young than an insistence that those who have had time and years to learn self-control do so.

    • http://becomingjulie.blogspot.co.uk/ BecomingJulie

      [Those comments] express our unwillingness to talk about what makes the other person’s argument unhelpful. ….. There are times when it is so very tempting to call [someone] an asshole and move right along. It doesn’t help though. It lets us get some anger off our chest at the expense of more important goals.

      QFT.

      If you are genuinely in the right, then you will be able to support your case with a proper, reasoned argument, and not have to resort to personal attacks — be they against an individual or an entire group to which they belong. Don’t question someone’s worth, just because you disagree with them — say what you disagree with and why

  • B-Lar

    I read somewhere once that reducing someone down to a concept is a kind of violence, and reading your post reminded me of that.

    Ill be reading you more, although likley as a lurker.

  • steveschulers

    I had only recently started reading your blog when Eric guest-blogged his series of articles here. I remember feeling pretty badly for him sometimes due to the amount of what I considered to be incivility directed at him in some of the comments. I remember you interceding several times to encourage the commentariot, and specific commentors, to be more civil in their treatment of Eric.

    Overall though, I think that you have attracted a pretty level-headed and well spoken readership as evidenced by the overall quality of the comments here. Still, I applaud you instituting this comment policy and I am confident that it will help insure that your combox will remain a place I like to visit and occasionaly speak out.

    I’m a bit surprised to see the critcisms of your OP in this comment thread but think that you did a more than thorough job of dismissing them by explaining yourself.

  • jenny6833a

    Blog authors set the tone for blog commenters. Until you persuade FtB bloggers to clean up their acts, FtB will remain a cesspool of juvenile name calling.

    For that reason, I regard your comment rules as only a tiny, inconsequential step in the right direction.

    • John Morales

      Leaving aside your the accuracy of your characterisation of the FTB site, you seem unaware that it’s a collection of blogs, wherein the respective bloggers make their own policies regarding their particular blogs.

      Having regularly read a number of them, many since their inception here, I am of the opinion that bloggers here respect each others’ blogging autonomy; they don’t seek to persuade each other to change to suit them, and at most they may deny some particular blogger the use of the site for their particular blog.

      In short, I think your opinion is based on either misinformation or guesswork, and that its merits are therefore (at best) inconsequential.

    • jenny6833a

      @ Morales: That’s quite a huff. Like it or not, FtB is an entity and presents itself as such. Yes, FtB is made up of individual bloggers, but most of those bloggers adhere to the de facto style that Daniel Fincke deplores. I continue to think that the basic problem is with the example set by the blogger majority. If they change, the tone of the commenters will follow along.

    • ischemgeek

      You seem to be forgetting that there are already several authors who have enforced commenting policies: Natalie Reed, JT, Greta Christina, Chris Hallquist, Kylie Sturgess, Jen McCreight, Ian Cromwell, and Dana Hunter, off the top of my head. Still others prefer the flexibility of having no official policy, but will warn or ban posters and edit or delete posts they deem as they deem fit. Stephanie Zvan comes to mind there.

      Granted, Dan Finke seems to be going for the strictest policy yet and for a few of them (JT comes to mind) a formal policy is relatively new, but it’s far from as unprecedented as you seem inclined to portray it.

    • John Morales

      ischemgeek, pretty much, but Richard Carrier I think is the strictest, IIRC he runs full moderation.

      jenny6833a:

      I continue to think that the basic problem is with the example set by the blogger majority. If they change, the tone of the commenters will follow along.

      You are of course entitled to your preferences, and of course you have no one coercing you to go to those blogs that you find objectionable.

      I hope you agree that you, however, are not entitled to expect them to change their own blogging styles to your satisfaction, and indeed that it would be rude to nag away to that effect.

      In passing, I note you have had the opportunity to express your dissatisfaction and make your suggestion, so there’s clearly no censorship to that extent.

    • ischemgeek

      @John Thank you for the correction.

      I rarely read Richard’s blog which is why his policy didn’t come to mind, though I should probably correct that since I see a lot of people around here recommending his work.

    • John Morales

      I note that JT instituted his rules, they were

      So here are the new standards.  You can insult someone.  You can accuse them of being privileged.  But those things had better damn sure come attached to a response to what somebody actually said, not what you wish they would have said.

      I much prefer Dan’s rules, since I believe JT’s can be gamed much more easily (as I believe I stated and demonstrated in the comment thread that post engendered) and don’t really achieve what I think they seek to do.

      This also emphasises the reality that each blogger has and does exercise their autonomy in regards to their own blog, and that they can be quite dissimilar, indeed.

    • ischemgeek

      I think at the time I did argue to JT that his rules could easily be abused: Case in point, a JAQ troll (ie, someone who argues dishonestly while claiming to be “just asking questions” – though all of their questions are loaded and are often peppered with dog-whistle language) would pretty much be given free pass. JT replied that he doesn’t think JAQers are trolls. I do, because they’re like the obnoxious sibling who needles and needles and needles until the other sibling loses their temper, after which the first can play the victim. When you’re talking with someone, and all of their questions are as loades as, “Do you still beat your wife?” it’s pretty obvious they’re not interested in honest and meaningful discussion.

      IOW, yeah, B was wrong to lose hir temper, but A was also wrong to provoke the loss of temper intentionally through straw-manning and being purposefully obtuse. Further, such provocation does not lead to any worthwhile exchange.

      JTs rules as written (and as enforced) would penalize only the person who takes the bait, not the person who intentionally baits others, and for that reason, I rarely take part in the comment thread there anymore.

      However, my comment wasn’t about strict or well-written policies, simply about those who have formal standards in place at all so it’s all a bit beside what I was trying to point out.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Jenny, it’s been pointed out to me that calling a group of people’s work a “cess pool” is not qualitatively different than calling those people “assholes”. I tend to agree. Neither is your dismissal of John as being in a “huff”. Please criticize more respectfully.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

      For the record, my blog does not have a commenting policy, and likely never will.

  • ischemgeek

    I know this is a minor point, but I have to give a correction:

    “Stupid” is just not a word that smart people have ruining their self-esteem from the time they’re little kids.

    It is if you have a speech impediment, like I did. Then you get to hear people make fun of your speech impediment, and assume that because you take twice as long to say something, you take twice as long to think it. And later, when you stop talking in public so that people will stop making that assumption, they start making fun of how you don’t talk and joke about how you must be too stupid to talk. And even your teachers, siblings and parents get in on it because they know you get it a lot, it hurts, and they feel like being emotionally abusive that day. Sorry to be a nit-picker, but “stupid” always strikes a nerve for me.

    Other than that, your blog, your rules. I had an issue with a perceived self-inconsistency in your support for physical self defense above but not for what could arguably be considered social self-defense, then I realized that “self-defense” in a social setting isn’t really necessary if there’s an authority figure willing to enforce social norms, since unlike with a physical confrontation (where if someone starts assaulting you in front of a cop, it’s still a wise idea to block until the cop is able to pull the assailant off you), the authority figure can respond before serious damage is done. That only works, however, if the authority figure responds rapidly and consistently, but I’m willing to reserve judgement until I see how it works out. I think, however, that may be what some others here are getting hung up on.

  • joel

    This is good news indeed:

    ” You may critique an individual’s standards of evidence or question their commitment to reason over faith. But when you do things like this, stick to substantiatable charges. Use words which clearly specify what specific thing makes a person or institution’s ideas, beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, etc. worthy of criticism. Abusive names (like “stupid”, “moron”, “asshole”, “jerk”, “douchebag”,……”

    Gratuitous verbal abuse is wearying.

    May I suggest some additions to this list? Juvenile, adolescent, childish, infantile, puerile, immature.

    It seems to be still okay to insult the young by gratuitously using them as exemplars of undesirable behavior.

    This seems to me to be a fair point for consideration. I have made similar comments from time to time and the response is usually anger. I don’t see why the young should not receive the respect we now give to most everyone else.

    Are we not providing a negative object lesson to the young right in their faces?

  • left0ver1under

    There’s a word used in the text but not in the list of words deemed unacceptable.

    Ignorant.

    Most people use and see the word as a synonym for uninformed. Some don’t, and they equate it to mean stupid. They take it as a personal attack, especially when their ego gets in the way, a hole is found in their argument, or the person is just plain short on facts (or didn’t bother looking for them). One former FtB blogger could be accused of that, and not who you might think.

    Clarification on use of the word is necessary.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, I had a heated argument once with my mom over me calling someone ignorant. I insisted it was a specific criticism, she took it that I was disparaging them. I think there could be cases where it is used abusively, as a generalized insult. In other cases it could be a defense. (Like for example, “people are not stupid, they are just ignorant, so do not give up on them but educate them”. Or “look, the problem with your argument is not your reasoning but your ignorance, until you learn the basics of what evolutionary theory is, this debate will go nowhere”. Those are perfectly legitimate uses of the word.

      The challenging case is something like what I wrote the other week where I criticized “blithe and ignorant” Christians who treat me like I have never heard the Gospel before. The usage was perfectly delineated—I was not saying all Christians are ignorant, I was criticizing those specific Christians who didn’t take the time to figure out what I actually knew but acted from an arrogant and uninformed presumption that I must not understand their religion. I think the usage was defensible since it was targeted at a narrowly specified group and a specific aspect of them—their ignorance about how much atheists can understand their religion.

      Ignorance is a moral charge and a charge about lack of information or morally culpable lack of learning. It does not essentialize someone as “just” stupid/a douchebag/a moron, etc. It specifies a remediable problem.

      But I grant some usages can be dicey and will watch for cases that are clearly unproductively abusive to individuals or which disparage wider groups indiscriminately.

    • ischemgeek

      This may be a strictly regionalistic slang thing, but there are also those who use ignorant as a synonym for “stupid” when they insult people or things. Where my parents live, you’d more likely hear “That’s just ignorant!” than “That’s just stupid!” Stupid is considered too strong a word for polite company. Ignorant, used incorrectly, is used as a substitute.

      It’s likely that those who take it as a synonym for stupid come from areas where that sort of misuse of ignorant is common.

      On substitutions for stupid in my day-to-day speech, I’m fond of “silly”. Gets the point that I find the idea ridiculous, without being ableist by using “stupid”.

    • left0ver1under

      Related to the word ignorant, I sometimes (not here) use other words that some falsely claim are offensive. I don’t know if any of these would make the list for this blog, nor am I asking for a ruling:

      (1) inane, vacuous, asinine, fatuous

      (2) puerile, juvenile, jejune, petulant, infantile, pedantic

      (3) inept, feckless, incompetent, bungling

      (4) sociopathic, psychopathic, pathological, megalomaniacal, anti-social

      (5) overemotional, drama queen, attention starved (or a similar word)

      (6) uptight, anal retentive

      Many of them are mistaken or misconstrued by the less educated as actually being similar sounding words.

  • David Marjanović

    It will be interesting to see how your experiment works out. I’d only like to ask you not to equate rational discourse with civil discourse or even just with a subset of it. Also, I’ve been insulted, and I’ve been bullied, and I don’t understand why you think that’s the same.

    I have witnessed a discussion about paleobiology between two colleagues that are both quite famous in our small field; I watched it very closely, because it had… apparently bypassed insults and gone straight to a point where I thought they were going to become violent. I thought I was going to need to physically jump between them any second now. The situation suddenly defused when one of them mentioned evidence that the other hadn’t known. It has never once reminded me of bullying.

    I think you ought to ask members of oppressed groups which is worse. Being insulted as an individual for an individual failing is far better (almost respectful by comparison) than being the object of an oppressive slur.

    I agree.

    However, I see your point about “stupid”, “idiot” etc. not really being individual insults.

    Dig it. I made the mistake of suggesting something similar in a thread on PeeZee’s site — it was impossible to read the thread as nobody was bothering to make arguments, they were just trading insults.

    Was that really the case? Or was your reaction to the insults, which you weren’t used to, so strong that you didn’t see the arguments anymore?

    Needless to say, I was told to (a) “shut the fuck up” and (b) “fuck you”. Since I won’t debate an ad hominem attack artist

    Argumentum ad hominem doesn’t mean “insult”. It specifically means the claim that an argument is wrong because of a quality of the person who made the argument. Carl Sagan’s example in his Baloney Detection Kit (paraphrasing from memory): “X is a known creationist, so we don’t need to listen to what she says”.

    If you want to say “insult”, just do that.

    a decent policy which simply prohibits ad hominem attacks, period. Attack the argument, not the arguer.

    Again, not what it means. If you think that the argument casts such a bad light on the arguer that you feel it’s necessary to attack the arguer, that’s not an ad-hominem argument. If you think the arguer casts a bad light on the argument – that is an ad-hominem argument, and a logical fallacy if not handled very carefully.

    • John Morales

      [meta]

      David, your usual habit of responding to multiple people in a single comment is not confusing to those familiar with it, but might be confusing to those who aren’t.

      It would be helpful of you to name those to whom you respond, here.

  • David Marjanović

    Like it or not, FtB is an entity and presents itself as such. Yes, FtB is made up of individual bloggers, but most of those bloggers adhere to the de facto style that Daniel Fincke deplores. I continue to think that the basic problem is with the example set by the blogger majority. If they change, the tone of the commenters will follow along.

    But that can only happen if the blogger majority becomes convinced that there is a problem. That is not currently the case.

  • Makoto

    Seems like a reasonable policy to me – here’s hoping it works out well. If someone can’t make an argument or prove their point without using insults, I’m guessing they didn’t have much of an argument to begin with.

    It takes just a few seconds to realize (the generic) you were using an insult – if it happens, take a moment to figure out what you really mean there, and type that instead. Easy.

    • David Marjanović

      If someone can’t make an argument or prove their point without using insults, I’m guessing they didn’t have much of an argument to begin with.

      …which is why insults are so often tacked on at the end as afterthoughts or conclusions.

      To actually use an insult as part of an argument would be ad hominem, but not many FtB commenters actually do that.

      It takes just a few seconds to realize (the generic) you were using an insult – if it happens, take a moment to figure out what you really mean there, and type that instead. Easy.

      What if the insult actually is what you mean, and all other options just wouldn’t fit?

  • http://privatefacesinpublicplaces.blogspot.co.uk/ Corylus

    Very well done, Dr Fincke.

  • joel

    If you are not the owner of a blog and you criticize incivility you get labeled a tone troll as if that settled the question.

    I would like it if you added tone troll to your list of no nos.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Tone troll is a specific charge that I judge on a case by case basis. A tone troll is an ideological opponent who tries to persuade you to calm down so you will be more persuasive. The tone troll tries to come off like they are trying to reach out to an opponent and help out but really they are just trying to temper criticism of themselves/their group/their beliefs, etc.

      So when I once leveled some harsh but not abusive criticisms of Christians and Christianity, a pastor I grew up with tried to admonish me that I would be more effective if I dialed back my criticism. He objected to words that are in bounds and which I specifically defended to him. He ignored the substance of my arguments, just complained about the combative style. That was, to my mind, tone trolling. My language was not abusive, but I was being honestly critical and he insisted that either I weaken my criticisms in ways I thought were untrue or he would decide I was too acerbic for him. To me that was him trying to silence vigorous rational criticism, not to genuinely plea for civility.

      But, yes, some people use the term tone troll indiscriminately to attack anyone who speaks up for incivility. Despite my indisputable commitment to the atheist movement I have been wrongly attacked as a tone troll for arguing for civility, on occasion. It’s a misuse of the charge. Some kinds of tone matter. Anyone who does not understand that in the real world will not be able to hold a job or be in happy relationships with other people. It is not unreasonable to demand the same on the internet. What is unreasonable is to demand your opponents soften their substantive arguments because the honest criticism itself is so unpleasant for you. Calling for civility out of concern for civility is something people concerned with rational discourse do. Calling for civility as a cover for whining about a minority speaking up in controversial ways is something tone trolls do.

      I assure you, I will correct people who misuse the term tone troll as it’s something I find really irritating–about as irritating as I find actual tone trolls.

    • Brad

      On the subject of tone mattering, the fight against FGM in Senegal (I think? Rebecca Watson posted it a while ago, but I can’t find it right now) wasn’t really getting anywhere when (nebulous)we were telling the Senegalese that it was “barbaric” and they were terrible for doing it, but when instead when (nebulous)we explained how it’s not beneficial and more often is substantially harmful to the women it stated on the way out.

    • ischemgeek

      @Brad

      I like to think of tone as a tool. Sometimes, a calm and dispassionate tone is best. Sometimes, an in-your-face attitude works better. In my teenage years, I needed a few people to take in-your-face attitudes to me for me to pull my head out of my own behind and wake up to my own privilege. I also had to take an in-your-face attitude to my father in an argument once: I called some of his attitudes sexist. He didn’t speak to me for a week, and then he woke up to the fact that yes, those attitudes were sexist. He now makes fun of those attitudes using the argument and language I convinced him with. People on Dad’s side of the family tend to be rather oblivious to stuff that doesn’t affect us directly unless someone takes an in-your-face attitude to us. I try to be an exception to this rule, and unfortunately I succeed far less often than I’d like.

      On the other hand, some people would be turned off by in-your-face attitude. My mother, for example, was only convinced that gay marriage is a good thing when I stopped railing against homophobia and calmly asked her what harm gay relationships and marriage do anyone, and if they did any harm, did that harm outweigh the great good it did for the people in the relationship. She couldn’t give me a secular answer… It took her a year after that to fully come around, but that conversation marked the turning point.

      Different tones do different jobs. In your face tones shock people out of complacency, while calm tones help people who are emotionally attached to the issue step back and look at it rationally.

      That said, I think there’s a difference between being in-your-face (me calling my dad’s attitudes sexist) and being abusive (if I’d called my father a sexist pig). Abusive tones just put the person you’re trying to reach into emotional batten-the-hatches mode, I think. It’s counter-productive.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    Do people really think a racist won’t call a person of color an asshole? Most insults are tainted one way or another.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1159674804 robertbaden

    In instances where a person could be an abusive racist or just an abusive person, I always assume the former.

  • David Marjanović

    David, your usual habit of responding to multiple people in a single comment is not confusing to those familiar with it, but might be confusing to those who aren’t.

    I want to avoid littering the entire page with comments of mine.

    It would be helpful of you to name those to whom you respond, here.

    Why? I’m not responding to people, I’m responding to specific arguments.

    I would have clicked “reply” if that option existed under your comment, but it doesn’t.

    However, it’s probably a good idea to point out that our esteemed host said the following (because there is no “reply” option there either):

    Calling for civility out of concern for civility is something people concerned with rational discourse do.

    It’s something people concerned with civility do. Many people concerned with civility are entirely unconcerned with rational discourse – indeed, at the extreme, some consider rational discourse itself uncivil because “all truths are equally valid” and “what the bleep do we know” – and some people concerned with rational discourse have little or no concern for civility.

    The above is just meant as a statement of fact, saying that you’ve confused two distinct things. I’m not trying to tell you what consequences to draw from this for the way you’d like to design your blog.

    • John Morales

      I would have clicked “reply” if that option existed under your comment, but it doesn’t.

      Dan runs level-1 nesting: each comment is to the OP has a reply button, which opens up its own flat subthread. To continue responding on such a thread, click ‘reply’ to its root — i.e. the same ‘reply’ I clicked to respond to you will let you respond to me, and so forth.

      (I think it works quite well)

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It’s something people concerned with civility do. Many people concerned with civility are entirely unconcerned with rational discourse – indeed, at the extreme, some consider rational discourse itself uncivil because “all truths are equally valid” and “what the bleep do we know” – and some people concerned with rational discourse have little or no concern for civility.

      The above is just meant as a statement of fact, saying that you’ve confused two distinct things. I’m not trying to tell you what consequences to draw from this for the way you’d like to design your blog.

      No, I have not confused two distinct things. I have said that two theoretically distinguishable things go hand in hand in practice. I explained all about this here: http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/07/01/my-philosophy-on-what-freethinking-and-free-speech-really-entail/

      In reality, of course people concerned with rational discourse are concerned with civility. Here’s a fun experiment, write an article for an academic journal and use insulting language in it. See what the editors say.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      (Because, you know, academic journals are just about politeness and not disagreement. Your confusion is between conflict averse standards of politeness and civility. People who have excessively conflict averse standards of politeness put tranquility over truth. People who want civility are those who recognize that there will be intense disagreement but want it properly managed so that it does not undermine the spirit of respect in which civilized people do not use disagreement about ideas as occasions to physically or emotionally abuse each other, but rise above that.

    • eric

      Dan:

      People who want civility are those who recognize that there will be intense disagreement but want it properly managed so that it does not undermine the spirit of respect in which civilized people do not use disagreement about ideas as occasions to physically or emotionally abuse each other, but rise above that.

      I think a stronger argument can be made for civility than just wanting a ‘spirit of respect.’

      I want to solve problems, not just rhetorically beat opponents. Solving problems requires that I engage the intellect of the people I disagree with. I don’t want to distract them, push them into a digression, or provoke an emotional response that shuts off their higher brain functions. I want them to help me figure out the problem we’re disussing.

      Even at its most competitive, science (and other academics) have a strong cooperative component. I need your best feedback, not your worst. You need my best feedback, not my worst. We both win when we recognize that in the big picture, we work together, even if in on one problem or another we work at cross purposes.

      THAT is the argument for civility. Because being civil increases our ability to solve a problem together. It will help us develop new knowledge. Being uncivil may let me win the argument, but it is extremely unlikely that either of us will come away with any better idea than the ones we came in with. No new knowledge.

      Now, by all means, trash talk when you’re playing sports. Try and put your opponent on tilt in poker. Those are zero sum games. But academics, research, and discovery is not a zero sum game. We all win when our opponents are at their highest performance, and reducing our opponents performance will ultimately hurt the effort, not help it. That’s the real argument (or at least best argument) for civility, IMO.

  • joel

    I don’t understand the mechanics of the reply system. You appear to have responded to my comment as a reply to another. Not sure so will just copy it here:

    Daniel Fincke says:
    July 28, 2012 at 8:22 am
    May I suggest some additions to this list? Juvenile, adolescent, childish, infantile, puerile, immature.

    It seems to be still okay to insult the young by gratuitously using them as exemplars of undesirable behavior.

    This seems to me to be a fair point for consideration. I have made similar comments from time to time and the response is usually anger. I don’t see why the young should not receive the respect we now give to most everyone else.

    Are we not providing a negative object lesson to the young right in their faces?

    That’s a good question. My first instinct is to say that this is not an insult to the young, but a recognition that there are different behaviors understandable at different times of life. Children do engage in certain behaviors that we let halfway slide because of their age. We expect them to be less in control of their emotions, a little more selfish, etc. Of course we try to proactively guide them out of that behavior but we also don’t take it as personally and we fully expect and demand of them that that behavior gets put behind them by the time they are adults.

    So, I think that language is actually trying to say to people, “we all understand that at certain stages of psycho-social-emotional-cognitive development some behaviors are inevitable, but adults should be matured and should be held to higher standards.” It’s less a dig on the young than an insistence that those who have had time and years to learn self-control do so”

    My reply:

    I tried to make my point narrow; “It seems to be still okay to insult the young by gratuitously using them as exemplars of undesirable behavior.”

    Gratuitous use of the young as exemplars…” Narrower still; “Gratuitous use….”

    You, and many others have responded with the general sense we have of how the young differ from the mature. What you say is true, they are different, we cut them more slack etc.

    My point is the gratuitous use of them. There are many other ways of describing undesirable behavior. It is lazy shorthand to simply say ‘childish’.

    You said:

    “My first instinct is to say that this is not an insult to the young, but a recognition that there are different behaviors understandable at different times of life.”

  • joel

    OOps punched the send prematurely.

    Want to add, you apparently teach a number of young people. Perhaps you could ask them sometime how they feel about the common adult habit of using ‘childish’ ‘adolescent’ etc. instead of spelling out what behavior they don’t like.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I don’t teach people who are of the targeted ages and I have trouble really guessing what they would think. I know that for small children, “not being a baby” is important to them. It would in most cases be wrong for a parent to say “stop being a baby” to a child. (Though parents often encourage children to develop more mature habits by explaining what is not appropriate for a big girl or boy, etc.)

      They understand the imperative to grow up. I don’t think they are interpreting being a baby as a bad thing. They just know they should be maturing away from it. I don’t think anyone uses the term “childish” with them since it would make no sense. It’s really something adults say to each other and I wonder if kids worry about what such things say about them for being kids.

      Kids have their maturity routinely underestimated by adults and may resent that in general, though I’m not sure they are offended by these terms.

      It’s an excellent question. I will continue to think about it and appreciate the suggestion. All I know for sure so far is that it is appropriate to make different demands of mature people than immature people and that telling someone who should be mature that they are acting immaturely is a valid criticism since it is a charge relative to their own age even if it does not make reference to people of other ages being bad rather than just at different, well understood, stages of development.

    • Brad

      No issue with anything you said, but you forgot the part where you (try to) ask actual kids. If I were so inclined, which I’m not, I’d email an gradeschool social studies teacher and ask if they could distribute a short survey.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    No issue with anything you said, but you forgot the part where you (try to) ask actual kids. If I were so inclined, which I’m not, I’d email an gradeschool social studies teacher and ask if they could distribute a short survey.

    I didn’t forget it, I just don’t have the kids handy. Investigation into their views seems quite worthwhile to me though.

    • joel

      By young people I refer to those who identify as such but generally teens on down. The fact that there are teens, and perhaps younger, who frequent these FTB blogs requires, imo, that demeaning terms not be used.

      My question is are terms such as childish, immature, puerile etc demeaning? Or merely denoting. What does it feel like to them?

  • smhll

    Daniel -

    I think you can create a civil playing field, which does sound nice. I don’t think you can create a level one.

    Since I have been wishing for fewer trolls and less flaming on Pharyngula, I guess I should stay around here and open mindedly entertain the arguments, even the potentially offensive ones. (However, I am a bit pessimistic as to how things will trend. I believe the climate may become fertile for trolls. Yes, I understand that JAQing has an educational side-benefit, however I imagine that people will get tired of answering certain types of questions.) (Shutting up now.)

  • joel

    Thanks for your interest, that’s what I hoped for.

    These terms are stereotypes they are unfair to those who do not fit in them and often shaming to those who do fit in them. Many ‘adolescents’ are more ‘mature’ that many older people.

    You said: “They understand the imperative to grow up.”

    Indeed they do, we all do and still do and are never fully confident we have made it and that, I think, moves us to be alert for, critical of and ready to point to signs of immaturity in others.

  • Pen

    I’m convinced your new comment policy will promote freedom of expression. I’m really tired of certain comment threads on potentially interesting subjects getting mired in insults and people telling insulters to shut up. Really, internet discussions are more like a public meeting than a night in the pub. If you started insulting people or going way off topic at public meetings, you’d expect to get thrown out.

  • mas528

    I heartily applaud what you are attempting.

    I also fear it will drive you to distraction!

    You mentioned one thing (about how others will call attention to violation). This raises the spectre of derails based on call-outs.

    I would also like you to add ‘basement dweller’ to your list . I don’t know if it refers to the homeless, nerds living in their parent’s basement, or people who still live at home, but it still is an insult. Personal or group doesn’t matter.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Yes, I was thinking I should also have included “neckbeards”.

    • mas528

      I’m sorry. I do not know if you are making fun of me or not.

      The reason I said this was that used on an FtB blog comment to dismiss a person.

      I do not remember which blog or who. I do remember that this was a commenter that appeared to be against insults, and that I respected and then suddenly, this appeared. And other commenters thought it was just wonderful.

      I have been all three of the aforementioned classes, four if you count my unkempt beard.

      So this person used my *life* to dismiss another person. No need to engage. I got all I needed to know right then and there.

      I also may be stupid in the literal sense. . Most of the time I feel like a fraud.

      “I know computers and fooled you into giving me a job.” I never managed to get through college. (I appreciate your defense though), as I wonder how you manage to have the breadth of knowledge you and so many commenters on ftb have. I can barely manage to be a sysadmin! . Meaning, I have to focus hard to resolve some of the problems I encounter, and sometimes I have to read documentation exclusively for days before I try something. And then often, I have failed to make some connection about how y is influenced by x. And it is always an obvious connection.
      So I will probably not comment much.

      I still appreciate the attempt to reduce bullying.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m sorry. I do not know if you are making fun of me or not.

      No, I wasn’t making fun of you. “Neckbeard” is an insult I thought of including in my list and may as well have.

    • Felix
  • fmcp

    It looks like this is going to be another blog I feel comfortable commenting on, which is great, since I’ve only just discovered it. I’m a relatively newbie to the culture of various atheist, secular and skeptical blogs, and I sometimes find myself unable to ask questions in case I inadvertently poke the bear. Thank you!

    As an aside, I’m horrified that ischemgeek was called stupid by teachers. For kids who deal with emotional abuse at home, school can and should be a haven. Ischemgeek, I hope you were able to shake off the damage eventually. That’s awful.

    • http://almulhida.wordpress.com/ almulhida

      It can be a haven, but I’m not sure that it often is. As someone who had an abusive home life, I often used to wonder whether I preferred being at home or at school because I found them equally traumatizing.

  • mas528

    After I submitted, I reread the OP.

    You said, ‘insults *like*….’.

    The part of my comment about ‘adding to the’ was redundant.

    I apologize to you and the commentariat.

  • John Greg

    Dan Finke, I have three questions for you, but first some comments.

    Several of the FTB blog hosts have banned all people who post on the Slyme Pit just because they post there — it has nothing whatsoever to do with those commenters’s comments or socio-cultural politics / ideology; some commenters have been banned before they even posted a comment. Also, several of the regular FTB commenters encourage and actively pressure FTB blog hosts to ban any so-called Slimepit person simply for existing. Most of the FTB blog hosts and commenters frequently post comments about how dreadful ALL Slyme Pit commenters are, yet those same folks also claim to never read the Slyme Pit (apparently it is so dreadfully disturbing that some people feel physically ill reading the dialogue — I kid you not, that is what some folks have said), so how they know what we say is beyond my understanding.

    Myers has even gone so far as to pressure, and even demand, that some of the FTB blog hosts ban all Slyme Pit posters, even those who have not yet posted on any FTB blogs, just because he wants it that way.

    Now, in actual fact, if you go and read the entire Slyme Pit, you will see that we are actually much more reasonable, and far, far, far more polite and well spoken, as well as generally being better-read, better educated, and older, than a large percentage of the FTB commentariat, and even some of the FTB blog hosts.

    According to the network stats, and I have no no idea how accurate they are, the majority of the FTB commentariat are under 25 years old and are not particularly well educated, nor well employed. Whereas, so far as I can determine, most of the individuals at the Slyme Pit are over 25, university educated, and hold professional level employment.

    Now, in light of that, my questions for you are:

    1. Where do you stand on allowing Slyme Pit commenters to comment on your blog?
    2. Have you read any Slyme Pit posts?
    3. If PZ Myers or Ed Brayton asked (not demanded) you to ban all Slyme Pit commenters, what would your response be?

    I think those are fair and reasonable questions, and I sincerely hope you will give them a fair and just response, despite the fact that you are almost certain to get pressure from some of your commenters, and quite possibly from Myers himself, maybe even Brayton too, to delete my comment and ban me.

    Oh, and for the record, I disagree quite strongly with your diction policy, though not with your desire for civility — I feel you give individual words, as opposed to the sentence strings and the author’s intent far, far too much, near-magical, power, and if you aren’t careful, your plans will become terribly Orwellian and you will end up banning a rather large portion of meaningful and useful diction. However, I would never try to cross or sneak past your policy. After all, it is your blog. And while many FTB commenters may try to claim I do otherwise, I always adhere to an individual blog hosts’s comment policy when it is clearly stated.

    I wish you luck in your endeavour.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      John, your data on the average readers seems unreliable.

      As you can see from my policy, my blog opposes everything “the slyme pit” stands for with its anarchic conception of free speech. Here is my defense of my conception of what true free speech entails http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2012/07/01/my-philosophy-on-what-freethinking-and-free-speech-really-entail/ It is not Orwellian. It is in touch with reality and based on my experience as a philosophy professor and my understanding of how meaningfully free and democratic institutions function.

      The notion that you do not have free speech if you are not entitled in private settings to abuse people personally and not merely criticize them factually and morally is absurd. I would not tolerate abusive, insulting behavior or words from friends, colleagues, family, academic disputants, my students, or anyone else. I have no need to tolerate it from people on the internet. It is a perverse and clueless conception of freedom of speech that interprets it as free from all constraints of order and all constraints on abusive behavior. But, again, I have already written a post on this.

      There are “slyme pit” denizens who have shown me when I have observed them that they argue disingenuously and they make abusing and harassing various bloggers a matter of principle. Why should I give them the benefit of the doubt that they will not try to exploit any hospitality I offer to try to poison my blog when they have such hatred for my associates? I am not averse to banning people because I take into account their behavior at other places besides my blog. I do not have a firm policy on this yet. There are a few people I know (both slyme pit and from FtB) who I would have my eye on should they ever show up here because I do not want the trolling they represent.

      This is a philosophy blog. If the cost of keeping it that way is to make it more exclusionary in terms of who is permitted to participate in it, then sobeit. I wouldn’t discriminate based on ideological agreement but based on demonstrated sincerity and philosophical temperament or the total opposite of these things. Not everyone understands the principle of charity or other norms that philosophers respect in order to have such constructive discussions as we have. By far my favorite arguments have always been with philosophers because of the implicit good will and commitment to truth that most of them have that makes the most vigorous conflicts impersonal and as focused on constructive results over ego scoring.

      If I have to drastically prune the commenters here so that that temperament predominates, then sobeit. I don’t expect to have to go to those lengths but, given my experience with philosophers, I trust that those with philosophical temperaments will sustain far better, further reaching, and more genial arguments than a wider commentariat filled with any number of disrespectful people who mistakenly think that insulting people is integral to free thought and free expression.

      So this is what I have resolved. Commenters who don’t want to accept the kinds of norms which make free and rigorous philosophical debate flourish the most successfully and least acrimoniously are not necessary here and I need not have a long patience with them.

      I work very hard to provide blog posts of a certain philosophical quality. I have many wonderful commenters. I see no downside in cultivating them and if necessary pruning out unphilosophical, abusive people who needlessly personalize debates, if it means the result is a more philosophical comments section to match my posts.

      With all that in mind, I doubt I need the slyme pitters if they are as committed to personal attacks and to cultivating a hostile environment against their enemies as they have demonstrated themselves to be.

      In the meantime I am not preemptively blocking anyone. I am just watching everyone with a hawk eye and an itchy banning finger for people who are interested in wrecking philosophical discussion by personalizing every dispute and abusing other people.

    • http://AgnostiChicagOkie.blogspot.com D4M10N

      I’d just like to point out that people are not behaviorally consistent across online forums, just as they aren’t in real life. Context matters, and we are constantly tailoring our behavior according to setting. I behave differently in the boardroom than in the bedroom, and I’d be disturbed if people in one of those settings expected me to behave the same as I do in the other. The trash-talking my son and I do on XBOX Live would never be appropriate at the family dinner table. You get the idea.

      The same variation applies in online settings. If I’m in the mood for an anarchic free-for-all, I know where to go. If I’m in the mood to be told to do unspeakable things with porcupines, I know where to go. And now, if I’m in the mood for a purely substantive and consistently civil discussion on matters philosophical, I know where to go.

      Of course, everything I do and say reflects upon me as a person, but my point is that we should not assume that because someone behaves by one set of norms in some given forum that they cannot behave up to the loftier standards of another one.

    • carlie, who has nice reading comprehension

      some commenters have been banned before they even posted a comment.

      Who has been banned before ever commenting, from what blog, and what evidence do you have to prove that they were banned?

    • John Greg

      carlie said:

      Who has been banned before ever commenting, from what blog, and what evidence do you have to prove that they were banned?”

      Franc Hoggle was banned and sent to PZ’s dungeon without ever having posted a comment. Of course, according to PZ, he has now emptied his Dungeon, so that becomes irrelevant, I suppose.

      I was first banned from Ophelia Benson’s blog without having posted a comment.

      I think there may be another one or two people that PZ put in his dungeon who had never posted on his blog, but I am not certain about that.

      If memory serves, I was banned from Greta Chrstina’s blog after having posted only one comment, and her reasons for banning me had nothing whatsoever to do with my comment, but were because I had posted comments at ERV.

      Both Ophelia and Jason Thibeault (LousyCanuck) block-banned several people simply because they had posted comments on ERV; both of them publically stated having done so, but that was quite a while ago and I do not remember the post titles, and I am not about to do an extensive search just to satisfy your request. If you choose to disbelieve my claim, that’s fine.

      As for proof, what would you think is proof of such action?

      How can it be proved? First, there are no posts to point to. Second, in the case of PZ’s bannage, and my first bannage from Ophelia’s blog, there are no comments from the blog hosts pointing out that so-and-so was banned without posting. Third, PZ, and in several instances Ophelia, delete comments they don’t like, and in some instances actually go back and remove any and all comments made by commenters that have banned, and in the instance of banning people who never commented, they certainly weren’t about to post a comment saying “I banned so-and-so who never commented here because I don’t like them”, or something like that. It’s called revising history to build false consensus.

      As I say, what would you consider to be proof of such actions? How does one prove they were banned, especially in light of the editorial practices that are used by PZ and Ophelia?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      They were justified in doing so. You guys are declared enemies who make a standard practice of treating them with as much abuse as you can. They have no need to assume that you come to their blogs in good faith and not to troll.

    • John Greg

      Dan, that is an unfounded and unprovable gross generalisation.

    • John Morales

      [entirely out of topic]

      Franc Hoggle was banned and sent to PZ’s dungeon without ever having posted a comment.

      My recollection is otherwise.

      To my knowledge, PZ has only ever banned people after they’ve commented, never pre-emptively.

      (Unfortunately, NatGeo is still restoring comments on the SB site so I can’t link)

    • John Morales

      [addendum]

      Consider the mechanics of it: how would PZ know the IP or UID to blacklist without a comment from which to determine such?

    • John Greg

      Morales said:

      “My recollection is otherwise. To my knowledge, PZ has only ever banned people after they’ve commented, never pre-emptively.”

      I am quite certain that your knowledge is, so to speak, flawed. It is no longer possible to prove it, even if it ever was, but at some point in time, over the last year or so, PZ posted a comment that he had sent Franc to the Dungeon even though Franc had not posted any comments on Pharyngula — PZ said as much.

      Also at that time, Franc affirmed that he had not ever posted a comment on Pharyngula.

      As I say, there is no way to prove the point one way or the other at this point in time. PZ has deleted so many comments and entire comment threads, as well as changing his “dungeon” rules, that there is simply no way to any longer verify reality one way or the other. This is, of course, part of PZ’s intent: Revise history to make it follow his ideology.

      It should be noted that:

      1. Myers is very comfortable with deleting posts so as to revise history and support his claims to this, that, or the other thing.

      2. Myers is also well known for deleting any posts, and banning any commenters with whom he disagrees, or who provide specific citations, links, and any other forms of evidence that show Myers in a bad light, i.e., as a liar, or misrepresentor of reality.

      “Consider the mechanics of it: how would PZ know the IP or UID to blacklist without a comment from which to determine such?”

      I do not have the tech knowledge to answer this question but I suspect it is juvenile.

    • John Morales
      Consider the mechanics of it: how would PZ know the IP or UID to blacklist without a comment from which to determine such?
      I do not have the tech knowledge to answer this question but I suspect it is juvenile.

      Its purported juvenility doesn’t detract from its relevance and salience — indeed, unless you can propose a mechanism whereby such pre-emptive banning can occur, I put it to you that your claim contradicts reality.

    • John Morales

      Huh. NatGeo is actually restoring the old comment base at Pharyngula: I draw your attention to this one and to this one.

    • John Morales

      Oops; I thought it was on the SB site, but it’s on the FTB site. My bad; that exhibited a lack of attentiveness.

      Nonetheless.

    • Steersman

      John Morales (#46.12),

      Nonetheless. … at Pharyngula: I draw your attention to …

      Thanks for the links. Interesting that PZ explicitly states he is going to ban Franc Hoggle in #473 preceded by at least 3 posts from FH at #431, #462 & #463. So that would seem to put “Rejected” to John Greg’s claim that “Franc Hoggle was banned and sent to PZ’s dungeon without ever having posted a comment”.

      Although I noticed a comment (#138) by a John D which, I think, summarizes or illustrates the problematic issue described by Daniel:

      See – the problem with rude speech is that once you start doing it you have to let everyone else do it. PZ is the king of rude speech… and I am okay with this. The hypocrisy comes in when he makes special rules about what kind of rude speech is acceptable and what kind of rude speech is not acceptable.

      Although presumably a line has to be drawn somewhere – question is which is the most equitable; someone’s ox is likely to be gored in any case.

      But kind of a sad episode in the annals of Skepticism / Atheism – and other “isms”. I’m not sure whether the appropriate Hollywood remake should be the Keystone Cops, The Rape of the Lock, He Said – She Said, or The Gangs That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. While I tend to be quite a bit more sympathetic to the fairly explicit feminist bias of the Pharyngulites, I sort of have to wonder whether the “rude speech” there – and the hypocrisy – wasn’t a significant contributing factor in the escalation: somewhat of a bunch of pyrrhic victories all around. One is tempted to say “A pox on both your houses” ….

    • John Greg

      If that was actually Franc posting those comments, I stand corrected.

      Franc had said, or so my memory tells me, that he had been banned without posting any comments, so I took him at his word.

      So, that leaves, in my opinion, three possibilities:

      1. My memory is flawed.
      2. Franc either lied or made a mistake.
      3. Those comments were posted by someone pretending to be Franc.

    • Steersman

      John Greg (#46.14),

      So, that leaves, in my opinion, three possibilities:

      1. My memory is flawed.
      2. Franc either lied or made a mistake.
      3. Those comments were posted by someone pretending to be Franc.

      Seems like a reasonable hypothesis, a reasonable set of possibilities. I had sort of toyed with the idea that, considering the “aspersions” cast on PZ, he might have edited that thread. But that seems rather improbable given the context provided by the various comments – not impossible I guess, just improbable.

      However, as to your #3, I would think that is also quite improbable as if it hadn’t been Franc then, presumably, PZ’s ban would have only applied to that “ghost rider” which would have still allowed Franc to post again. But maybe that idea is also only just “juvenile” ….

  • http://atheiststoday.com/ Skeeve

    Just for future reference, I’ve never been involved with personal attacks or cultivated a hostile environment against anyone in comments at FtB.

    And I am proud to say I post at the Slyme Pit.

  • John Moriarty

    Dan, you have addressed a structural problem with t’internet. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-is-everyone-on-the-internet-so-angry

    I hope you succeed!

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

    Some very compelling points, Dan. Well done.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Thank you, Ophelia.

  • michael

    Great Post, excellant post!!

  • Dave Ricks [safe and welcome at a philosophy blog]

    As a point of reference, I’ve read this Talking Philosophy thread several times to study the masterful performances by Jean Kazez and Ophelia Benson. As epic as that thread is in length and heat, Jean and Ophelia countered their opponent’s every claim and maneuver without lobbing abusive names — not for decorum, but because they were working, countering their opponent’s claims and maneuvers.

    I also see Jeremy Stangroom appeared just once to tell someone,

    Please don’t ever say on here that people are lying.
    That’s absolutely non-negotiable.
    Thanks.

    That’s not just “his blog, his rules” — that’s a philosophy blog.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That’s not just “his blog, his rules” — that’s a philosophy blog.

      Yes. I have finally come to the realization that it is not enough to simply set a philosophical tone in the blog posts, I have to demand commenters be properly philosophical and behave according to philosophical virtues in the comments too if I am to truly take this blog where I want it to go.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/ Ophelia Benson

      That was an interesting discussion. That bit where Beale told me God does communicate with me and if I don’t realize it it’s just because God isn’t forcing me to. Heads they win tails we lose.

    • Steersman

      Dave Ricks … (# 51.0),

      As a point of reference, I’ve read this Talking Philosophy thread several times to study the masterful performances by Jean Kazez and Ophelia Benson. ….

      Thanks for the link. Although I can’t say that I’ve read it entirely once, let alone several times – a lot there to chew on. But, as you suggest, it is probably a fairly good example of a discussion that had its “testy” moments without, apparently, degenerating to gratuitous insults.

    • John Greg

      Dan Finke said:

      “… behave according to philosophical virtues….”

      Dan, I may have missed it in the initial post (if it was there), but could you possibly spell out what “philosophical virtues” are?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan Finke said:

      “… behave according to philosophical virtues….”

      Dan, I may have missed it in the initial post (if it was there), but could you possibly spell out what “philosophical virtues” are?

      That would make a very good blog post but I can’t make any promises about when or if I will get to it and I do not want to speak loosely on this subject because there are some important qualifications I want to make that could get knotty.

    • John Greg

      Dan Finke said:

      “That would make a very good blog post …”

      Ya, it would. I hope you can find a way to get around to it.

      “… but I can’t make any promises about when or if I will get to it and I do not want to speak loosely on this subject because there are some important qualifications I want to make that could get knotty.”

      Perfectly fair, but it kind of calls up the question, How can people adhere to some specific behaviour defined as “philosophical virtues” if the virtues are not spelled out?

  • khms

    Dan,

    I’ve read about as much as your discourse about what all insults are equally bad as I can stomach (which isn’t all that much).

    Your privilege is showing. Big time.

    It probably won’t mean much to you, but I just lost pretty much all respect I had for you.

    • Steersman

      khms (#52),

      I’ve read about as much as your discourse about what all insults are equally bad as I can stomach (which isn’t all that much).

      And you would have some handy-dandy “Insult-o-meter (t.m.)” that would allow us to decide which insults produce more pain than others? Maybe a chart to “handicap” the threshold levels – like golf scores – for certain groups of individuals because, obviously, some groups feel less pain than others?

      Your privilege is showing. Big time.

      How is it an abuse of privilege to emphasize equality? Seems to me that arbitrarily deciding which insults are worse than others is more likely to qualify as that.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      Privilege is USUALLY about “emphasizing equality” in that it ASSUMES equality and level playing fields exist where they don’t. One of the most common features of privilege is thinking everything works for everyone as easily, or just the same, as it does for you.

      To try to pretend everything is equal when it most definitely isn’t can very easily be a result of being blinded by one’s privilege. Failure to perceive, for instance, that a playing field isn’t level. Failing to notice, for example, that you have more opportunities for employment and housing than others, or that you’re treated as welcome and can feel safe in more spaces… or that the way insults don’t carry different levels of weight and hurt when applied towards you.

      To think that “emphasizing equality” is someone by nature divorced from privilege is to very much misunderstand the concept of privilege.

    • Steersman

      Natalie Reed (#52.2),

      Privilege is USUALLY about “emphasizing equality” in that it ASSUMES equality and level playing fields exist where they don’t.

      I’m glad you emphasized the “usually”, as I think we’re talking the differences between apples and oranges here. You are, I think, talking about situations in which “affirmative action” type policies are justified in tipping the “playing field” more onto an even keel – to mix metaphors. And something which I think has some utility even if it seems a little problematic in some circumstances – penalizing individuals of one class, for example, for the “crimes” of the ancestors of that class.

      The situation I’m referring to, as is Daniel I think, is one in which some people would apparently like to add a rather egregious amount of tilt to an already level field. As I mentioned earlier here, I really have some difficulty in understanding why some people would like to be able to use various epithets when the policy is already designed so that any epithets that might be used against them – here on this discussion board – are also likewise anathematized and obviated. Looks to me like an effort to seek an unreasonable advantage ….

    • http://privatefacesinpublicplaces.blogspot.co.uk/ Corylus

      Privilege is USUALLY about “emphasizing equality” in that it ASSUMES equality and level playing fields exist where they don’t. One of the most common features of privilege is thinking everything works for everyone as easily, or just the same, as it does for you.

      I am not sure I understand you here, Natalie. Why would someone take the time to “emphasise equality” when they “assume” that such a thing is already in place? How on earth would they know to do so?

      Now it might be that you are saying that some people disingenuously emphasise equality when they know that such a thing is not in place. This is fine, of course, but it strikes me that if you are going to imply this about specific individuals then some evidential support for this could very reasonably be requested.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      What I mean by “emphasizing equality” there is sort of how the other poster meant it. Like a straight person saying “I don’t see why everyone needs to get so hung up on ‘labels’ like gay and straight”, or a white person saying “I don’t see race, I just see people” or “I think affirmative action is just reverse racism” or “why is there no white history month?”, or a cis person saying “I mean, I don’t really think there IS such a thing as a ‘gender identity’, like I don’t really have one”… or someone saying “all insults are insults, and are all the same kind of bad, and bad for the same reasons”.

      “Emphasizing equality” in assuming a level playing field that doesn’t really exist.

    • Steersman

      Natalie Reed (#52.5),

      What I mean by “emphasizing equality” there is sort of how the other poster meant it.

      And I think you are misinterpreting what I meant by it (maybe it was poorly phrased), that you are seeing the issue through your own lenses and values.

      As I mentioned in a previous post (52.3) I meant it in the sense that everyone was to be restricted from using any insults on Daniel’s blog.

      What would you think if Daniel were to allow epithets that targeted only you, but was to restrict all others? Would you think that “a level playing field”?

    • Pteryxx

      What I mean by “emphasizing equality” there is sort of how the other poster meant it. Like a straight person saying “I don’t see why everyone needs to get so hung up on ‘labels’ like gay and straight”, or a white person saying “I don’t see race, I just see people” [...]

      “Emphasizing equality” in assuming a level playing field that doesn’t really exist.

      I posted a reply to 52.4 in this subthread that cited essays and research for the fallacy of “I don’t see race” and for the concepts of implicit bias (someone behaving in a biased manner without realizing they’re doing it) and stereotype threat (cues of marginalized status depressing performance specifically in the people of that status).

      All those cites can also be found by searching for: Pharyngula wiki feminist link roundup. They’re linked under the :Stereotype threat and :Implicit bias subsections.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Thank you, Dr. Fincke, I encourage your efforts in this, and without any sarcastic subtext, wish you the best of luck. May you lead by example at FtB.

  • Baron Scarpia

    I’m a post-graduate philosophy student, and I can see very clearly where Dan is coming from. Good for you on implementing these rules!

  • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

    Dan, reading through these comments, you have pretty epically dropped the ball here.

    You are NOT in the position to be dictating whether or not targeted insults are or not “as bad” as slurs. And you SERIOUSLY need to step back, and maybe try to listen to those who’ve been on the receiving end of both (the fact that you might think “stupid” hurts your feelings more than “cracker” does not count, by the way).

    You’ve said some amazingly insensitive, tasteless things here. Are you sure this is a hill you want to die on?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Dan, reading through these comments, you have pretty epically dropped the ball here.

      You are NOT in the position to be dictating whether or not targeted insults are or not “as bad” as slurs. And you SERIOUSLY need to step back, and maybe try to listen to those who’ve been on the receiving end of both (the fact that you might think “stupid” hurts your feelings more than “cracker” does not count, by the way).

      You’ve said some amazingly insensitive, tasteless things here. Are you sure this is a hill you want to die on?

      Your hostile, threatening attempt to silence me with emotional vitriol is not appreciated, Natalie.

      Everyone deserves respect. You, me, all of us. I have treated people with respect in these debates. Either treat me and others as equals, deserving the courtesy of reasoned arguments and respectful disagreements, or stop coming to my blog.

    • Pteryxx

      Your hostile, threatening attempt to silence me with emotional vitriol is not appreciated, Natalie.

      I look forward to seeing your clarified comment policy which forbids and objectively defines hostility, threatening, silencing, emotion, and vitriol.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I look forward to seeing your clarified comment policy which forbids and objectively defines hostility, threatening, silencing, emotion, and vitriol.

      The original policy warns against threatening and asks for debates not to be personalized if at all possible. The entire policy is designed to protect against silencing. Emotions and vitriol are permitted as long as they don’t derail the ability to make philosophical progress and debate constructively.

      All this aside, the comment was approved. I am allowed to express that I do not appreciate certain treatment from other people even in comments that are approved.

    • John Morales

      I don’t see Natalie’s comment @55 as trying to silence Dan, but it does seem both vitriolic and hostile.

      Its problem, as I see it, is that it’s a non sequitur.

      Specifically, this claim:

      You are NOT in the position to be dictating whether or not targeted insults are or not “as bad” as slurs.

      It is clear to me that Dan is not dictating anything but the comment policy, and has explicitly acknowledged there are degrees of badness to particular categories of insults (e.g. @6.11: “Qualitatively, my point was simply that an insult is an insult. Now there is something qualitatively worse about attacking someone for being gay than for being a bad person.”) — but his only dictum in that regard is that for the purposes of his moderation criteria.

      Or, as ecchymosis put it @56,

      It wasn’t about debating where particular words fall on the offensive continuum and what the cutoff is for what is permissible to post in the comments; it’s don’t insult people and don’t make personal attacks.

      As for the claim

      You’ve said some amazingly insensitive, tasteless things here.

      I see none such; rather, the contrary.

      Since no examples of such are adduced, and I see none such for myself, I consider this claim unsupported.

  • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

    No, Dan. Some of your comments here make it clear you don’t deserve as much respect as I’ve historically offered you. Particularly your decision to double-down on this. I try to initially offer everyone respect until they give me a good reason to think I shouldn’t. And this? Well…

    By the way, my strongly disagreeing with you, and asking you to try to listen to those perspectives that would naturally have a bit more to say on the matter, is not an example of hostility or threats or disrespect anyway. THAT comment your quoting doesn’t violate any of the rules of civility. The comment I left that WAS angry and uncivil you chose not to approve (which is a perfectly reasonable decision on your part, and I don’t mind). But that one? Not at all how you characterize it.

    It IS an attempt to “silence”, but not in the sense of ME POWERFUL YOU SHUT UP NOW, but in the sense of, “your talking is really getting in the way of your understanding. Please try to take a moment to seriously consider the viewpoints of those more connected to this issue, rather than focusing so much on your own points”

    Do you really think that you, personally, are an authority on the equivelance of such terms? Do you really not understand why some of the things you’ve said here could come across as enormously crass and small-minded?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      THAT comment your quoting doesn’t violate any of the rules of civility. The comment I left that WAS angry and uncivil you chose not to approve (which is a perfectly reasonable decision on your part, and I don’t mind). But that one? Not at all how you characterize it.

      Thus far I have approved every comment you have made. I have one more comment in the moderating queue, I’ll go see if it’s yours.

      Everyone on my blog gets respected, whether you think they deserve it or not. People who behave in reprehensible ways will be banned. I have not argued in a way that is crass and small-minded. I disagree with your characterization. I have argued in good faith. If you would like to critique my arguments, I am all ears. If you do not respect me anymore over this disagreement or over some choice of words you find unfortunate, that is disappointing. But if you are going to continue to engage me, please do so civilly, without insults and dictates about what I may or may not opine about. That is respecting me minimally as a person if you do not respect me morally as a particularly good one or intellectually as a particularly good thinker. If this is too much for you, then we shouldn’t debate. I have decided I am only debating with people who will treat me civilly whether or not they like or personally respect me.

      The choice is yours. I like and morally and intellectually respect you. So I am happy to have a civil and constructive debate with you. But I am not going to absorb your venting. I appreciate the sources of your passion and anger related to these issues are severe mistreatment by a whole host of people. But I do not have to absorb your hostility simply for arguing in good faith and civilly that we should treat all insults as abusive. I was not at all trying to minimize the wrongness of the treatment you receive. In the context of my original post, my entire body of work, and the full context of the debate you are commenting on in the comments section, this should all be clear. My concern is that the commenters objecting to me were pulling a “Yes, but…” thread derail to try to minimize their own abusive behavior by comparing to worse behavior. My point was that as far as the relevant subject goes–how to have civil debates this was irrelevant and an attempt to lobby for latitude for “lesser” insults when I am quite convinced they do not deserve more latitude.

      I understand your concerns about entirely unfettered speech contexts. I have already explained in my previous post (which you read) on proper freethought and proper free speech that there have to be protections against abused groups in discussion forums (such as moderator sensitivity to certain kinds of language or marginalization tactics based on those groups’ maligned or disrespected features). But that is not a license for members of those abused groups themselves to resort to epithets or hasty personalization of debates occurring in a civil fashion. And that was what I wanted to stress here since, among this crowd, this is the harder sell than the larger point (already argued elsewhere) that minorities have to be protected from abusive speech.

    • http://www.freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed Natalie Reed

      I’m not going to get in some big debate on tone with you, nor am I going to take it as my personal mission to convince you of the mistakes you’ve made here. If you can’t see why saying things “stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny” is insensitive and in poor taste, well, that’s your issue. You can figure it out yourself. I just wanted to express my disappointment, shock and anger. Whether that has any currency with you isn’t something I have any control over, but whether or not I respect your views, or continue to see you with much respect, isn’t something you have any control over.

      I’ve said everything I felt the need to say.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’m not going to get in some big debate on tone with you, nor am I going to take it as my personal mission to convince you of the mistakes you’ve made here. If you can’t see why saying things “stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny” is insensitive and in poor taste, well, that’s your issue. You can figure it out yourself. I just wanted to express my disappointment, shock and anger. Whether that has any currency with you isn’t something I have any control over, but whether or not I respect your views, or continue to see you with much respect, isn’t something you have any control over.

      I’ve said everything I felt the need to say.

      That remark came in a context. The criterion of consequences was explicitly raised to me for determining the seriousness of a word’s harm. My point was just to say that if the word “tranny” is to be taken seriously (as it should) for its harms to people, then so should the word “stupid” as it is a word that has been used to torment a great number of people. Does that mean that the harms are in every respect equivalent. No, but my point was that it is a word that has consequences for a lot of people, so many people even that it actually affects more of one’s readers or interlocutors than the word “tranny”, even though we treat it as a lighter offense. Plenty of people have grown up feeling worthless, dropped out of school, failed to develop their abilities, wound up impoverished, turned to drugs, become a bully themselves, etc. over being told by parents, teachers, and other people that they are stupid. It is a really harmful word. The severity of the word “tranny” as it contributes to the heinous murder and suicide rates killing transgendered people is not something to be minimized. That was not my point. That word has horrible consequences too. Does the intensity of the pain of transgendered people tormented by the word “tranny” in the fewer instances of transgendered people to be afflicted by it equal the cumulative intensity of the word “stupid” spread over more people? That’s a hard calculation to say which word has a worse net effect on the world. The sheer numbers of people worldwide abused by people who call them “stupid” is greater. The intensity of the torment case to case may vary from the intensity of the torment suffered by those called “trannies”.

      Those are difficult calculations. But they are, to me, also irrelevant to the wrongness of either word. They’re both abusive. They both torment people. They both insult. They are both destructive, Othering, and objectifying. They are both awful words. I am clamping down on both of them. I am as interested in protecting the intellectually insecure (for whatever reason) as I am interested in protecting transgendered people.

      The reason I made the comparison, understood in context, was not to minimize the wrongness of the word “tranny” or the awful consequences of it (and numerous other transphobic aspects of the culture). My point was that if a word which torments a small population can be considered to have serious enough consequences to be banned, so can a word which routinely torments a larger number of people.

      I think you are being uncharitably suspicious of my character, my thinking, and my intentions if you insist on interpreting that phrase in the most offensive way. Of course, it upsets me that you are upset and I would not have gone there had I known it would shock you so much. But I stand by the legitimacy of the analogy for the point that was being contested, in context.

    • http://outofthegdwaye.wordpress.com/ George W.

      Natalie @ 56.2

      If you can’t see why saying things “stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny” is insensitive and in poor taste, well, that’s your issue.

      Natalie, I think you missed the order of the words in that sentence.

      “stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny.”

      means something very different than

      “stupid is a serious word that torments people more than tranny”

      In a similar way, I could say “Obesity is a serious medical condition that affects more people than cancer” and I would be completely right, even though cancer certainly affects people’s health more than obesity. My sentence also doesn’t imply that we ought to stop trying to cure or prevent cancer merely because we accept that obesity is a problem.
      The order of words often changes the meaning of a sentence, and you can’t assume them to mean the same thing.

  • ecchymosis

    Too many people seemed to have either missed the point of Dan’s post or are choosing to ignore it. It wasn’t about debating where particular words fall on the offensive continuum and what the cutoff is for what is permissible to post in the comments; it’s don’t insult people and don’t make personal attacks. Not difficult concepts. Sort of sad that these concepts have to be spelled out on a philosophy blog; regardless, I’m glad it’s been done. Bravo Dan!

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    Daniel, you sound rather immature in your dealings with Natalie. What you seem to be saying is that you know that she is more than capable of presenting a valid argument, but the moment you see too much passion/’vitriol’ you’re going to ignore any argument she might make. That’s not a position that I can respect, or that I believe anyone should respect. It is like saying that you can’t respect arguments in German, or spoken with a French accent, or printed in the wrong font.

    Valuing things like tone and diction over truth and passion makes you wrong every time.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Daniel, you sound rather immature in your dealings with Natalie. What you seem to be saying is that you know that she is more than capable of presenting a valid argument, but the moment you see too much passion/’vitriol’ you’re going to ignore any argument she might make. That’s not a position that I can respect, or that I believe anyone should respect. It is like saying that you can’t respect arguments in German, or spoken with a French accent, or printed in the wrong font.

      Valuing things like tone and diction over truth and passion makes you wrong every time.

      No, Joe, this is not immaturity, it’s a mature understanding of my boundaries.

      I deserve civil treatment and I accord it to others. I do not deserve to have people displace their anger at others onto me. I do not deserve to have the meaning of my words read in the worst light. I do not deserve to be treated like a terrible person. This blog consumes a great deal of my thought and energy. I am a person with feelings too. I do not need people emoting at me in ways that are deliberately trying to hurt me.

      I am more than willing to hear out arguments that are presented without making being here a miserable psychological experience. If someone cares enough about persuading me of a true point, they should use arguments and not try to hurt me as a person unnecessarily. I am not afraid of arguments. I just know I deserve better in life than emotional outbursts aimed at hurting me. That’s a boundary I set out of self-respect.

      I can find plenty of challenging, dispassionate things to read that will make me think and help me to empathize with people’s pain, etc. There are plenty of serious books, plenty of serious articles, and a huge internet to go explore. There are also plenty of thoughtful, sensitive people to argue with constructively. I do not need to waste my time and my emotional energies on people who try to circumvent my reason with exploitative tactics that try to make me feel terrible instead of patiently trying to make me reason more correctly.

  • mas528

    I’m positive I read this on this comment thread, but I cannot find it. I apologize to the poster in advance for stealing the idea.

    On stupid:
    Even calling an idea stupid is implying that “only a stupid person could hold that idea And as we oh-so-smart people know, everything a person with less intellectual capacity is always, uniformly wrong. Haw Haw Haw it’s great being smart!”

    To shorten it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having lower IQ or lesser intellectual capacity or whatever you want to call it.

    So why do you want to call people or ideas stupid again?

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    Daniel, I don’t believe you accord civil treatment towards others. I think you avoid what you see as harsh language and rude affect, but those are not the same as civil treatment. I believe that you invest a lot of energy here, and it explains why you act in an incredibly emotionally fragile way… and I’m sincerely sorry you feel that way. But because you feel that way, you give too much weight to “dispassionate” but incredibly inhumane language, to the detriment of passionate and humane speech.

    You’re not a Vulcan, and neither is anyone else. To simply dismiss passion out of hand the way you are doing is to cut yourself off from most of what is worthwhile in human experience. And if you’re unable to connect with emotions the way most people do, you could at least accept that it is a valid thing for others to engage with. I’m not a fan of bluegrass music, but I can see the skill it takes to pick a banjo that fast. I don’t like opera, but I’m able to understand the level of training it takes to hit those notes consistently. Maybe you don’t feel the value of emotions, but you should be able to see how they work for everyone else. For most of us, issues aren’t academic, and we’re not willing to discuss them like they’re some intellectual puzzle that will score us points when we write a paper on them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Daniel, I don’t believe you accord civil treatment towards others. I think you avoid what you see as harsh language and rude affect, but those are not the same as civil treatment.

      Then how am I incivil with people, exactly?

      I believe that you invest a lot of energy here, and it explains why you act in an incredibly emotionally fragile way… and I’m sincerely sorry you feel that way. But because you feel that way, you give too much weight to “dispassionate” but incredibly inhumane language, to the detriment of passionate and humane speech.

      I am not emotionally fragile just because I respond to offensive treatment with offense. That’s appropriate. I keep my replies civil. That’s part of my emotional control.

      And where do I give “weight” to incredibly inhumane language? Do you have any examples of this “weight-giving” and this “incredibly inhumane language”? What I don’t even know what this means.

      You’re not a Vulcan, and neither is anyone else. To simply dismiss passion out of hand the way you are doing is to cut yourself off from most of what is worthwhile in human experience.

      I am not dismissing passion out of hand. I am dismissing unnecessarily personalized vitriol. I have plenty of passion and I argue with it but I don’t make debates personal when they don’t need to be. Or if I do, I shouldn’t and just point it out next time I am doing so. In the debate upthread, my interlocutors brought in a personal dimension insofar as they were arguing for exemptions (or lesser denunciation) for the types of insults they wanted to use or which were relevant to larger debates in which they had a vested interest. So on that point, without attacking them as people, I questioned the ethics of their choices. It is fine for Natalie to question the ethics of my word choice or my thinking or my policy, etc. It is not fine to just tell me what I can or cannot talk about and deliberately try to goad me and to vent emotions without actually demonstrating to me why, in context, what I did was wrong. Now, if she does not want to do that (as she has stated), then that’s her choice. She is under no obligation to answer my reply to her. But while her passion and anger for justice are fine, when turned into an uncharitable interpretation of me and an attempt to push me around emotionally, they are counter-productive to us reaching mutual understanding.

      And if you’re unable to connect with emotions the way most people do, you could at least accept that it is a valid thing for others to engage with.

      It’s not about connecting with emotions. It’s about responding to someone treating you disrespectfully or leveling insults or being incivil. Please stop falsely equivocating what I am talking about—emotional abusiveness—with emotions in general. It is missing the point entirely when you (and many others) do that. I use passion and I encourage passion. Passion=/=Abusiveness. Passion=/=Personalizing Debates so that they are hostile to one’s interlocutors.

      <blockquote?I’m not a fan of bluegrass music, but I can see the skill it takes to pick a banjo that fast. I don’t like opera, but I’m able to understand the level of training it takes to hit those notes consistently. Maybe you don’t feel the value of emotions, but you should be able to see how they work for everyone else. For most of us, issues aren’t academic, and we’re not willing to discuss them like they’re some intellectual puzzle that will score us points when we write a paper on them.

      I have thought and written plenty about the emotions. Emotions are good. They’re vital to reason even.

      But hostile emotions, unchecked by the bounds of civility, and hostile words are counter-productive to learning and mutually rewarding constructive debate. I am far more emotionally aware and knowledgeable than you give me credit for. Again, dig through my archives on the subject of emotions. I am not the Vulcan Strawman you want to paint me as just because I object to people trying to subvert my reasons (or minimally ruin my enjoyment) by treating me in a hostile manner.

  • ecchymosis

    @ Improbable Joe- Natalie joined the discussion with her comments set to ‘nuclear’ and yet Dan is the one that’s immature? All he’s advocating is civil discourse. All she persuaded me of is that I don’t want to read her blog, which is doing no favors to the causes that she finds important.

    • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

      Is he really? I don’t see it that way. He’s advocating for dispassionate discourse and treating all issues as though they were mid-term essay questions. Natalie is a real person, advocating for the real issues she faces to be treated like more than intellectual puzzles. Dan isn’t more right because he’s less invested.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Is he really? I don’t see it that way. He’s advocating for dispassionate discourse and treating all issues as though they were mid-term essay questions. Natalie is a real person, advocating for the real issues she faces to be treated like more than intellectual puzzles. Dan isn’t more right because he’s less invested.

      I am not advocating for dispassionate discourse. I have used the term in later comments but what I referred to was interpersonally dispassionate, not dispassionate about the subject matters.

      I have been attacking emotional abusiveness–insults, unnecessary personalization and character attacks aimed at people trying to express their sincere opinions. I have not called for the excision of all emotions from reasoning.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      All [Natalie] persuaded me of is that I don’t want to read her blog, which is doing no favors to the causes that she finds important.

      No, you should read her blog. It is excellent. I don’t always agree with her but I find her meticulously thorough and systematic and thinking about what she says is very fruitful. A lot of what she writes stays with me for days or weeks or months. I have learned a ton that I may not have otherwise and changed my mind on a number of things. Don’t hold her anger here against her as a person, it comes from a very legitimate place and she has a very important passion for vital issues that are poorly understood. Her anger is not a bad thing. I just wish she didn’t feel the need to personalize it against me, instead of direct her passion into arguments as to why I was wrong on the merits.

    • Steersman

      Improbable Joe (#61.1),

      He’s advocating for dispassionate discourse and treating all issues as though they were mid-term essay questions.

      I think you got the first part right but are very wrong on the second. Looks to me like the whole import and tenor of his post is simply an insistence on NO insulting terms. Period.

      You and Natalie – and others – seem to want to conflate that with a whole slough of social issues related to sexuality, feminism, and various types of discrimination. Looks to me like a serious red herring. Looks to me like an attempt to ride roughshod over a fairly basic and quite reasonable “rule of the road”.

      Natalie is a real person, advocating for the real issues she faces to be treated like more than intellectual puzzles. Dan isn’t more right because he’s less invested.

      But the “real issues” she is facing are unlikely to be improved much if at all by allowing some people to be insulted here with some words that she, and others, would apparently like to use while preventing others from using words that they might like to use that might well make her situation, and those of others, worse.

      It really seems very basic to me: it either has to be case of a free-for-all where all epithets and all language is permitted – for which there might be some justification from a “sticks and stones” perspective, even if not all are particularly enamored of the idea – or all such insults are restricted or blocked.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    Sometimes it is necessary for persons or groups to sit down and work together to achieve a common goal, even when those persons or groups hold serious animosity against each other. In legal situations this is sometimes accomplished by adoption of formal rules of order such as Robert’s Rules. In those conditions, members are strictly precluded from making personal attacks or denigration, not allowed to directly address each other (must address all comments to the Chair), and can only refer to other members by a limit set of respectful from of address. It sounds very restrictive, but I have worked in many situations where it was the only way to get an agreement.

    A forum environment is not that serious. People come to say their say and to hear and learn from others. Some amount of direct back-and-forth is good for efficient discourse. However, intellectual value drops rapidly as a slag-off develops. I agree that you get the most benefit if you can get every poster to address the meaning of the comments, and neither the character of the person who makes the comment nor the insignificant matters of form used. The words used can cross that line from insignificant to hurtful, or worse, and someone (hint: admin) has to make that call.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    Daniel,

    How do you expect people to react “impersonally” to things that affect them personally? That’s just ridiculous, and one of the ways that I find you to be engaged in uncivil discussion, in that you dismiss as meaningless and unreasonable the things that make these conversations useful. You irrationally expect people to pretend that attacks on them are simple academic exercises, when other people make attacks on the issues that matter most to them. It isn’t the fault of a victim of discrimination when they don’t pretend that a bigot is making an intellectual argument and respond by attacking the bigot personally. If someone makes a bigoted argument, they don’t get to hide behind polite language and the trappings of intellectual exploration in order to avoid being called out on their bigotry.

    … well, unless they post on your blog, which is apparently more interested in emotionally detached arguments than ethical ones.

    • Steersman

      Improbable Joe (#63.0),

      It isn’t the fault of a victim of discrimination when they don’t pretend that a bigot is making an intellectual argument and respond by attacking the bigot personally. If someone makes a bigoted argument, they don’t get to hide behind polite language and the trappings of intellectual exploration in order to avoid being called out on their bigotry.

      And I suppose you or Natalie are going to unilaterally decide when an argument has crossed the line from “intellectual” to “bigoted”? You think it might possibly be the case that there is no reasonable counterargument, that you are simply wrong and that insulting language in that case is only the response of a bully?

    • Pteryxx

      Steersman @63.1:

      And I suppose you or Natalie are going to unilaterally decide when an argument has crossed the line from “intellectual” to “bigoted”?

      Of course not. But neither does the other person get to unilaterally decide that their argument or statement is NOT bigoted; because bigotry is often unconscious, implicit, and without intent, another person’s external viewpoint is at least as likely to be “correct” (for correctness of interpretation) as that of the person making the statement. The reasonable, and honorable, action when accused of bigotry is to assume the other person is making that interpretation in good faith, and re-examine one’s own position.

    • Steersman

      Pteryxx (#63.2),

      But neither does the other person get to unilaterally decide that their argument or statement is NOT bigoted ….

      True enough. But an accusation of bigotry – particularly where accompanied by reasons as to why the “intellectual argument” is “worthy of criticism” – is one thing; an irrelevant insult – an invalid ad hominem – is something entirely different. Seems to me that an “honourable assumption of good faith” is the first thing jettisoned in the latter case. Much better to respond with the former than with the latter – even if one’s interlocutor fails to address the accusation at least the “jury” is more likely to side with you than in the latter case.

      While it may not be particularly easy, if at all possible, to determine the truth of the matter, insults I find tend very much to preclude any further efforts – vituperative language only serves to poison the well to everyone’s detriment. And consequential banning doesn’t help matters much either. Better, I think, to realize that “honest people can disagree” and to leave the question open for later discussion and other perspectives.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    Daniel,

    How do you expect people to react “impersonally” to things that affect them personally? That’s just ridiculous, and one of the ways that I find you to be engaged in uncivil discussion, in that you dismiss as meaningless and unreasonable the things that make these conversations useful.

    They can respond with personal feeling. But not with insults and abuse to other people.

    To the extent they should be impersonal is the extent that they have to distance themselves from the prejudicing of their own perspective just like all of us do and figure out ways to see how they also owe things to others and how they also need to respect others’ moral and intellectual rights to ask probing questions and to consider other factors that might weigh against them. If someone tries to shut down all inquiry or abuse all sincere inquirers because they are asking difficult questions then they are trying to stop an honest investigation into truth and ethics for personal reasons. If they are on the side of truth and justice then they should not be threatened by vigorous questioning and challenges of their positions. What they should not tolerate is abusive language, marginalization, disregard of the particular insights that their experience offers, etc.

    But they should also take seriously that human ignorance is endemic and socially caused, that in many respects people are more in need of education than they are evil, that their prejudices are often not the fault of some innate evil but from poor socialization and education, etc. In this context, they should be rational and separate the mistreatment they get that is cruel and malicious from that which stems from ignorance. They should work to patiently correct people rather than become abusive insulting emotionally out of control people too. I do not envy people in these positions. It sucks. I have a tiny bitty taste of it as an atheist in a country rife with religious privilege and it tastes terrible. But this is what being the bigger person requires. It does not permit sinking to the level of insults.

    You irrationally expect people to pretend that attacks on them are simple academic exercises, when other people make attacks on the issues that matter most to them. It isn’t the fault of a victim of discrimination when they don’t pretend that a bigot is making an intellectual argument and respond by attacking the bigot personally. If someone makes a bigoted argument, they don’t get to hide behind polite language and the trappings of intellectual exploration in order to avoid being called out on their bigotry.

    … well, unless they post on your blog, which is apparently more interested in emotionally detached arguments than ethical ones.

    I didn’t say bigots got to make bigoted arguments as long as they merely appeared dispassionate. I am not a bigot. I did not make bigoted arguments. I made a comparison about the sheer numbers of people called “stupid” and harmed in their lives by that to the sheer numbers of people called “tranny”. This was in response to consequentialist standards of evidence being evoked to argue “stupid” was not a big deal. I assumed “tranny” was a big deal. I denounced the word explicitly in the original post. I made the point that the word “stupid” is leveled against and hurts even more people in terms of numbers. That’s it. If “tranny” is an out of bounds word for hurting numbers of people beyond the insulted person, then “stupid” which hurts an even larger number of people is also.

    This is not a defense of the word “tranny”. It is an argument against “ableism”, against people who are called “stupid”. I have a PhD. I am a smart guy. I am not that susceptible to being hurt by the word “stupid”. This is not my personal grievance. I am advocating for a marginalized group—the intellectually insecure. I am arguing for civil discussions that respect everyone. So I should have a personalized attack leveled at me as though I am a bigot?

    That’s incredibly unfair to me. I in no way shape or form minimized the harm done by transphobic actions or language. I argued that we widen our moral disapproval to also include the victims of individualized insults and those subject to ableist attacks.

    Members of oppressed groups do not need to treat things as “merely” academic exercises. They can say, “here’s my experience or expected harms which your abstract calculations are not accounting for.” That is not antithetical to academic thinking, it is vital to it happening well. That’s the special place for the passion and experience of the minority. They can inform discussions in important ways by highlighting important truths and their moral urgency.

    I was trying to do that here by speaking for those who do not dominate our comments sections–those people called “stupid” all their lives. I have heard from them in real life. I am relaying into our academic exercise the relevance of their experience.

    And, finally, yes some people do not raise difficult questions in good faith and are bigots. The original post said as much. It said sometimes people argue dishonestly and can be called trolls. The original post gave a large list of harsh (passionate even) criticisms one could level. It just called for people not to aim their passion at each other unless they really knew it was necessary. Instead to aim their passion at the ISSUES so we can have debates that move forward instead of cut people down.

    And finally, when criticizing each other, I asked for it to be done non-abusively. Be passionate all you like. But don’t make someone feel personally insulted by using words that are inherently denigrating. That’s it.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    Also, I feel a little bad here because I didn’t make clear a couple of points:

    1) It is your blog, your house, your rules. I respect your right to play your game your way on your board.

    2) On principle, I respect your right to take whatever tack you want so long as I feel we share the same general goals, and I don’t doubt that we have at least some goals in common.

    3) (or maybe 2.5) I can think you’re wrong, or being a dick here, and not think you’re an enemy. Just so you know, I think you’re wrong on a bunch of levels. That doesn’t mean I think you can’t be reached, or that I think you’re behaving this way from spite or malice.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Also, I feel a little bad here because I didn’t make clear a couple of points:

      1) It is your blog, your house, your rules. I respect your right to play your game your way on your board.

      2) On principle, I respect your right to take whatever tack you want so long as I feel we share the same general goals, and I don’t doubt that we have at least some goals in common.

      3) (or maybe 2.5) I can think you’re wrong, or being a dick here, and not think you’re an enemy. Just so you know, I think you’re wrong on a bunch of levels. That doesn’t mean I think you can’t be reached, or that I think you’re behaving this way from spite or malice.

      Thank you. And thank you for treating me civilly in accord with all of the above. That is all that I am asking. Not that you not agree and not that you don’t argue passionately as you have. I have not even minded the personalization and critique of me individually, wearisome as it is, and as strongly as I have to disagree with it. I have not minded because even that was presented in a civil and sincere way. Though, again, I would rather have debates about the merits of my positions and not on whether I am “emotionally fragile”, and I do not think that is too much to ask of people. It’s the de facto assumption everywhere else I go in life. It should be also on a blog aimed at the discussion of ideas.

  • Tezcatlipoca

    I appreciate what you’ve done here Dr Fincke. It is refreshing to see comments and ideas addressed rather than people or personalities.

  • http://grimalkinblog.wordpress.com Anonymous

    Dan, what’s it like having so much privilege? You’re absolutely overflowing with it. And my, just look at that horse! That horse is so high, just how did you get up on it? A staircase made of minorities, I presume? Oh, just how does it feel to step over them? Good?

    Ah, sorry, I’m going off topic. Tell me more about how you understand how slurs directed at non-white, non-male, non-hetero, non-cissexual people feel. It’s fascinating, so fascinating. Oh, let me remind you again of how entirely interesting and okay your opinion is. I don’t want to insult you after all.

    Sorry, sorry, do go on.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I just banned grimalkin for flouting the policy laid out in the post. This is trolling personal attack behavior that insults me in an appalling way. I initially was going to just delete the comment but I leave it here as an example of the counter-productive, needlessly abusive behavior that I will not be tolerating on my blog.

    • John Morales

      I initially was going to just delete the comment but I leave it here as an example of the counter-productive, needlessly abusive behavior that I will not be tolerating on my blog.

      Wise move, I think, and also one without collateral damage, since it was entirely directed at you.

  • mas528

    Who would have thought that ‘no insults allowed’ would be so controversial?

    I certainly wouldn’t have believed it if you told me that.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Who would have thought that ‘no insults allowed’ would be so controversial?

      I certainly wouldn’t have believed it if you told me that.

      I find it incredible. The most amazing thing about it to me is the Orwellian way that numerous complaints are accusing me of being exclusionary, privileged, and bigoted simply because I am saying that no one can use insulting words.

      Apparently the only weapon of oppressed people are the words “stupid” and “asshole”.

      It’s tragic.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erülóra Maikalambe

      The most amazing thing about it to me is the Orwellian way that numerous complaints are accusing me of being exclusionary, privileged, and bigoted simply because I am saying that no one can use insulting words.

      Emphasis mine.

      Do you honestly believe this is the only reason people are calling you privileged? That is an incredible distortion of what has been said in this thread.

    • Illuminata, Genie in the Beer Bottle

      The most amazing thing about it to me is the Orwellian way that numerous complaints are accusing me of being exclusionary, privileged, and bigoted simply because I am saying that no one can use insulting words.

      huh. I was liking the whole idea until this point. Now, its looking a whole lot like “do as I say, not as I do” in terms of arguing against misrepresenttions of what’s being said.

      You’re not being called privileged for the reason you cite.

    • eric

      Yes, its very odd. Dan’s not asking for anything more unusual than fairly standard workplace behavior. Sure, not all workplaces are the same – but I doubt most of us misunderstand what ‘workplace behavior’ means, or think its particularly onerous.

      Use your public voice, not your private one. Its not rocket science.

  • http://notungblog.wordpress.com Notung

    Great policy – it should do the trick and hold the discussion to a much higher standard than you often see elsewhere on the internet.

    It’s nice to know I can politely disagree with things I see here without finding myself on the receiving end of a torrent of abuse. Commenters will be able to have a real discussion for a change.

    • John Morales

      True; however, that does not mean your contentions will not be subject to critique.

      Specifically, when you write “for a change” you seem to be implying that no real discussion has occurred hitherto.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Specifically, when you write “for a change” you seem to be implying that no real discussion has occurred hitherto.

      I prefer the more charitable reading, by which Notung’s comparison was to typical internet fare when saying “for a change” rather than to the previous posts on the blog.

      A quick search shows that Notung’s previous comment included symbolic logic notation and was a reply to you. So, you may have a sparring partner here, be more welcoming! ;)

    • John Morales

      Dan, as you may have surmised, I am somewhat familiar with Notung (not just from your site), and therefore admittedly biased. Nonetheless, your I shall endeavour to follow not just the letter, but the spirit of your commenting rules.

      I do appreciate you calling me out; you are perceptive.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Nonetheless, your I shall endeavour to follow not just the letter, but the spirit of your commenting rules.

      It’s much appreciated. I am always pleased I overcame your skepticism the first time (back in the fall) that I started writing posts at FtB that advertised my displeasure with personally hostile behavior in debates and kept you as a reader and commenter.

    • http://notungblog.wordpress.com Notung

      Daniel – quite right, that’s what I meant. “For a change” didn’t refer to this particular blog at all.

      John Morales – Of course, I don’t interpret Daniel’s policy as saying anything like that my contentions won’t be open to critique – I wouldn’t want them to be!

  • ildi

    Maybe I’m missing something, but Natalie’s comment

    If you can’t see why saying things “stupid is a serious word that torments more people than tranny” is insensitive and in poor taste, well, that’s your issue.

    has a strong whiff of “dear Muslima” to it.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

      You are definitely missing something. Namely, that this particular slur was brought up as being equally egregious as calling something “stupid”, or calling someone an “asshole”. Slurs aren’t bad because they hurt people’s feelings – they represent real power imbalances that cause real harm to real people. Nobody has been kicked to death or mutilated or denied housing or employment or basic human decency at the hands of a mob with the words “stupid asshole” on their lips.

      Dr. Fincke’s attempt to perform some kind of utilitarian calculus to equate a big group of people with bruised fee-fees to an entire segment of the population who are systematically denied not only their rights but the very basics of compassionate humanity (in those cases where their humanity is recognized at all) simply because their numbers are comparatively small is reprehensible. His decision to dig in his heels and continue to defend this bafflingly (and uncharacteristically) blind view is disappointing.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      You are definitely missing something. Namely, that this particular slur was brought up as being equally egregious as calling something “stupid”, or calling someone an “asshole”.

      Let me clarify in case I miswrote earlier. No, not all slurs are equally egregious. Obviously the “t” word under discussion and the “n” word, etc. are more egregious in certain respects. All I was trying to emphasize in the original discussion was that in the relevant respect–minimally being an abusive for mistreating another person–the words are all equally worth banning and denouncing and disassociating ourselves from.

      As I explained numerous times, yes, certain qualitative differences can be teased out in another context. But for this discussion, in the original post, I was trying to make clear their commonality and not give cause for people to think that just because the “n” word is worse than the “s” word, it is okay to try to get away with the latter. I didn’t think drawing qualitative distinctions was going to clarify. As I said above, it is like dismissing sexual harassment because it’s not rape. It’s also a “Yes But” and a “Dear Muslima”.

      Slurs aren’t bad because they hurt people’s feelings – they represent real power imbalances that cause real harm to real people. Nobody has been kicked to death or mutilated or denied housing or employment or basic human decency at the hands of a mob with the words “stupid asshole” on their lips.

      That is the way slurs in particular work. Yes. But insults have other wrongness involved. This is not a matter of simply hurting feelings, it is a matter of maliciously trying to dehumanize and denigrate an opponent in a debate, rather than acknowledge his or her full rights of participation even when they disagree. Insults are irrational since they try to circumvent reason and attack emotions instead. Insults are also irrational and anti-democratic/anti-free speech since they try to mark off opponents as not entitled to speech rights, as invalidated in their very person, etc.

      There are more ways that one that a personal attack can be wrong. They don’t have to be all the same as slurs. My opening post, again, distinguishes that some insults are wrong for different reasons than others. This was already laid out. All the pleading that I should have put further qualifications about degrees of wrongness in the original post were missing my point. My point was that the common thread of mistreating other people by trying to create a hostile environment for fellow participants is the relevant wrong. That’s it.

      Dr. Fincke’s attempt to perform some kind of utilitarian calculus to equate a big group of people with bruised fee-fees to an entire segment of the population who are systematically denied not only their rights but the very basics of compassionate humanity (in those cases where their humanity is recognized at all) simply because their numbers are comparatively small is reprehensible.

      This misrepresents what I was doing. I was being told that the quantitative difference with the insult of “stupid” in particular was limited to a single person. The consequentialist standard is not the only relevant one. It is a factor. It was appealed to not by me but by an interlocutor. So, my point was that contrary to the claim that “stupid” only affects one person, it IS an ableist term that affects others too. In fact, SINCE THE QUESTION OF QUANTITATIVENESS WAS THE CRITERIA BEING RAISED, in terms of sheer numbers more total number of people are abused with the word “stupid” in harmful ways than with the “t” word.

      That was not at all to minimize the seriousness of the “t” word. It was to say that on the quantitative terms we were looking at the issue from at THAT POINT in the argument, there was reason to consider the word “stupid” to have greater consequences than merely the insult against one person. If the “t” word affected more than the direct target (and it surely does and is reprehensible), then so does the word “stupid”. That was all I was saying. Nothing more minimizing of the harm of the word “tranny” than to say “there is a smaller set of victims of that abusive word than the other”. Does that imply that “tranny” is a less serious word and somehow discount the experience of transgendered people? Not at all! There are more standards here than the consequentialist one (I am only an indirect consequentialist as I have explained elsewhere—I take into account other factors than just a count of pleasures and pains). And even on the consequentialist standard we can talk about intensity of pain to individuals afflicted with a given word (which I did in my clarification to Natalie last night).

      His decision to dig in his heels and continue to defend this bafflingly (and uncharacteristically) blind view is disappointing.

      Hopefully you will take me as sincere in my explanation of my reasoning and understand how it did not come from a place of callousness or malice but was a matter of a debating point about a specific contentious point—whether the word “stupid” affected more people than just the immediate target. In that context I used analogy to say it even quantitatively affects more people than the “t” word does. That’s all. That was NOT an overall minimization of the harm of the “t” word. And saying we should treat all insults seriously does not trivialize the wrongness of slurs any more than saying we should treat sexual harassment seriously trivializes the wrongness of rape. And people who wanted to haggle about the differences in this context (not in all, sometimes it’s relevant to compare relative degrees of both intrinsic and consequential harms), were trying to lessen the appearance of wrongness of non-slur insults so they could use them with wider latitude. My point was to argue for the reason that that is wrong.

    • jehk

      Maybe. I don’t think Richard Dawkins acknowledged the counter point like Daniel seems to have done. However, I’m one of those stupids that needs stuff like this explained all too far.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/crommunist Crommunist

      All I was trying to emphasize in the original discussion was that in the relevant respect–minimally being an abusive for mistreating another person–the words are all equally worth banning and denouncing and disassociating ourselves from.

      Please don’t take my disagreement for lack of understanding. You’ve made your point quite clear – that there is a threshold of tolerable discourse, and that as far as you are concerned any and all insult is beyond that threshold. I think that’s silly, but it’s your blog, not mine.

      The point that others have tried to make to you, and against the comprehension of which you seem to be struggling mightily, is that your deeming all insult equally bad has the effect of putting disproportionate pressure on those who are most likely to be dehumanized and subject to attack, polite as it may be. The entirely reasonable (under the circumstances) desire to push back against egregious dehumanization by one side is being labeled as unreasonable simply because you have prioritized ‘civility’ above decency (or conflated the two). You are not the first to make this trade, which is why people are inviting you to check your privilege.

      Personally, this is an entirely academic discussion. I rarely spend any time on anyone’s comment threads, not even my own. I just understand where the criticisms of your policy are coming from, and they’re not coming from where you keep saying they are. Despite your repeated assertions, this is not about people misunderstanding your intention – it’s about your intention being irrelevant to the effects of your policy.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Ian, I understand people’s concerns. My point is that even though there is a greater burden on people more personally invested in issues to be asked to treat them abstractly, that is the only way that actual debates and dialogues can proceed. Unpopular and even ugly ideas and hypotheticals need to be on the table when they are offered sincerely, civilly, and without creating a hostile environment. To the extent that certain ideas have hostile implications and someone seems to hold them, anger is permissible as part of argument. But I am asking that that anger be aimed at the ideas and not at the people wherever possible.

      I have also said explicitly in the policy that you may call people bigots in egregious cases. You may make harsh charges about their characters. Even before getting personal you can do what you did yesterday and call my words “reprehensible”. There is plenty of room for marginalized groups to get angry at harmful ideas—even when they are sincerely articulated. And when insincere trolls or bigots emerge—in those severe cases personalizing language is permissible. I am just asking that it be specific and capable of substantiation and not of the merely epithet variety. That is all.

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Crommunist:

      The entirely reasonable (under the circumstances) desire to push back against egregious dehumanization by one side is being labeled as unreasonable

      The desire is not labeled as unreasonable at all. What’s unreasonable is using particular methods of pushing back that have the net effect of reducing discussion to a mudslinging match that makes everyone look dirty–which makes those methods damn useless against dehumanization in the first place.

  • http://atheiststoday.com/ Skeeve

    I’ve just jumped around looking at comments at other blogs from some of the posters here against this new policy. I think I can see why some may be upset.

    If you can’t discuss any topic rationally without slurs, profanity or personal attacks, then I can see why Dan doesn’t want you to post here.

    So, don’t.

    You have more patience than I do, Dan, and I really hope this works well for you.

    • Smhlle

      There may be some jumping the gun going on. It’s not yet clear what directions the probing questions are going to go in. IF one of the probing questions is whether Ian or Natalie or I are deserving of full human rights, then I’m not going to be able to open mindedly entertain that question for even a minute. If Daniel picks the questions, rather than loud but polite trolls shifting the discourse, then I have some confidence that the topics themselves won’t aggravate me right off of the bat. I’m hoping for some less incendiary topics, at least at the beginning of the civility experiment. (Note: it’s not personally at all easy for me to patiently explain my differing POV if I am outnumbered. I assume many other people expressing a minority opinion feel the same way. Challenging questions can come across as aggressive. Its an uphill battle for me if my position is radical or outside the norm, and I have to define and prove and defend every inch of my argument, while the opposing argument rests on common sense and general agreement and thus gets much less rigorously challenged.)

    • John Morales

      Smhlle:

      IF one of the probing questions is whether Ian or Natalie or I are deserving of full human rights, then I’m not going to be able to open mindedly entertain that question for even a minute.

      What’s to stop you from noting that human rights (definitionally) accrue to someone by virtue of their being a human and are fundamental and inalienable, so that the question is in essence one of whether the very concept of human rights has merit?

      You can certainly note that you find it an offensive question, too — that’s well within the rules.

    • Smhlle

      Hey, John, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “accrue”.

      I think I deserve human rights even if I can’t prove it to the satisfaction of others. And if someone philosophically considered removing or restraining my rights, or told me I should stay home a lot at nights, and that notion was given a serious hearing, I think I would be alarmed, which would tend to undermine my coherence. I know we are striving for coherence.

      I’m describing one possible path to achieving a discussion group with a very low level of participation of marginalized people.

  • John Morales

    Smhlle,

    I’m describing one possible path to achieving a discussion group with a very low level of participation of marginalized people.

    I understand your worry, but is it really such an impediment for marginalized people to be asked to avoid insults when expressing their dismay at some particular line of argument?

    Look at the title of the post, in particular “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”; your hypothetical case is indeed egregious, because it’s tantamount to denying the humanity of some people.

    You do raise an interesting point, though; frankly, I can’t see where Dan’s rules prohibit a response such as “that is a fucking offensive suggestion, and I find it fucking despicable of you to make it”, inasmuch as that is neither an insult nor a personal attack (though it is a personal charge).

    (Perhaps Dan will clarify)

  • carlie

    It isn’t the fault of a victim of discrimination when they don’t pretend that a bigot is making an intellectual argument and respond by attacking the bigot personally. If someone makes a bigoted argument, they don’t get to hide behind polite language and the trappings of intellectual exploration in order to avoid being called out on their bigotry.

    This, exactly. It isn’t an intellectual argument when it’s about your life. That’s the expression of privilege that people are talking about, that just because it’s a mental exercise for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real-world consequences for someone else. It’s like my blond self saying “I think everyone with brown hair ought to be thrown in jail because they are worthless”, and then when someone with brown hair strenuously objects, saying “Why are you so upset? It’s just a thought experiment! Doesn’t hurt anyone!”

    I find it incredible. The most amazing thing about it to me is the Orwellian way that numerous complaints are accusing me of being exclusionary, privileged, and bigoted simply because I am saying that no one can use insulting words.

    Partly it’s because I don’t think that method will have the results you desire. It appears that, under your rules, I could say “Obviously gay people don’t deserve to get medicaid assistance, because it’s their lifestyle that caused them to become sick in the first place and there’s no reason that we should have to pay for it.” But I couldn’t say “Wow, you’re an asshole.” The first sentence is much more harmful and damaging and attacks each gay individual reading it, whereas the second is a throwaway comment directed at one person. Banning the latter and not the former gets you… where, exactly, in terms of the tone of the conversation?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      It isn’t an intellectual argument when it’s about your life. That’s the expression of privilege that people are talking about, that just because it’s a mental exercise for you doesn’t mean it doesn’t have real-world consequences for someone else. It’s like my blond self saying “I think everyone with brown hair ought to be thrown in jail because they are worthless”, and then when someone with brown hair strenuously objects, saying “Why are you so upset? It’s just a thought experiment! Doesn’t hurt anyone!”

      Partly it’s because I don’t think that method will have the results you desire. It appears that, under your rules, I could say “Obviously gay people don’t deserve to get medicaid assistance, because it’s their lifestyle that caused them to become sick in the first place and there’s no reason that we should have to pay for it.” But I couldn’t say “Wow, you’re an asshole.” The first sentence is much more harmful and damaging and attacks each gay individual reading it, whereas the second is a throwaway comment directed at one person. Banning the latter and not the former gets you… where, exactly, in terms of the tone of the conversation?

      I understand all these concerns. But it is right there in the original post that you can make severe character charges in egregious cases. If someone is saying bigoted things, you are explicitly given permission to make a charge of bigotry. You can say that they are callous, malicious, privileged, harmful, as the case seems to be. I am just asking that you do not resort to epithets. Did I say you will be automatically banned if a disreputable person causes you to lose your temper? No. And I did not say say you could not use harsh language that did not involve epithets. John Morales understands me when he clarifies the following:

      I can’t see where Dan’s rules prohibit a response such as “that is a fucking offensive suggestion, and I find it fucking despicable of you to make it”, inasmuch as that is neither an insult nor a personal attack (though it is a personal charge).

      See! It meets the rules. In an egregious case you can say that a suggestion is fucking offensive and it is fucking despicable of someone to make it. Ian Cromwell yesterday called my word choice reprehensible. That’s a harsh charge! I didn’t like it but it was civil and so I had to totally respect it. He did not attack me as a person or try to bully me as a person but spoke out passionately and honestly about where he saw wrongness. Perfectly acceptable.

  • http://momoelektra.blogspot.de/ Momo Elektra

    J. J. Ramsey says:
    July 30, 2012 at 10:16 pm

    The desire is not labeled as unreasonable at all. What’s unreasonable is using particular methods of pushing back that have the net effect of reducing discussion to a mudslinging match that makes everyone look dirty–which makes those methods damn useless against dehumanization in the first place.

    Who are you to declare them useless?

    In my experience it works exactly the opposite. Academic, theoretical discussion sometimes helps dehumanizing people (because they are treated as an academic, theoretical thing).

    Showing anger, hurt and sometimes even hate can work extremely well towards being perceived as a human person.

    Because human persons have feelings and academic theoretical things do not.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Who are you to declare them useless?

      In my experience it works exactly the opposite. Academic, theoretical discussion sometimes helps dehumanizing people (because they are treated as an academic, theoretical thing).

      Showing anger, hurt and sometimes even hate can work extremely well towards being perceived as a human person.

      Because human persons have feelings and academic theoretical things do not.

      Showing anger about the ideas, the proposals, behaviors, etc. is fine. But directing the anger directly at the interlocutor immediately puts most interlocutors on the defensive and encourages them to stop listening and start defending harder because their person has been attacked.

      I am all for passion in arguments and also for using one’s experiences and how they make them feel as evidence too. It’s the turn to attacking the other person that makes things emotional. Some times it is important even to question another’s character but even then to do so in a civil way, with charges that can be substantiated, so that you are not just answering abusiveness with more abuse.

    • J. J. Ramsey

      Momo Electra:

      Who are you to declare them useless?

      It’s more an observation than a declaration. If I see someone spewing out a heap of abuse–whether it’s aimed at me or someone else–I’m more prone to suspect that this person as unhinged. Calling someone a “lying fuckface” or suggesting that one put a porcupine up one’s butt does not burnish one’s credibility.

  • http://momoelektra.blogspot.de/ Momo Elektra

    Showing anger about the ideas, the proposals, behaviors, etc. is fine. But directing the anger directly at the interlocutor immediately puts most interlocutors on the defensive and encourages them to stop listening and start defending harder because their person has been attacked.

    Well, I get what you mean, but I disagree that that is a bad thing for the person being angry. If I am angry it is much healthier for me to express that anger, than repress my anger and remain civil to someone who then might be inclined to not dehumanize me or belittle me or dismiss me. It’s not always worth the effort. Sometimes a nice insult is instead liberating and empowering.

    Why should I care that a person agrees with me when I have to get out of my way (literally) to convince them? If they even can be convinced? It’s fine for debating a topic theoretically, but it’s extremely limiting when debating a topic that involves me personally.

    I’m not arguing certain topics to educate others. That’s a welcome side effect, but not exactly my goal. I argue the have my voice heard and to push hard against celebrated stupidity and wrongness.

    I am all for passion in arguments and also for using one’s experiences and how they make them feel as evidence too.

    Good.

    It’s the turn to attacking the other person that makes things emotional.

    Er, no. It makes it emotional for the attacked. It already is emotional for the person who is personally involved or affected. I am not the first person to mention this. It levels the playing field, so to speak. Or can at least do that, certainly doesn’t always.

    Some times it is important even to question another’s character but even then to do so in a civil way, with charges that can be substantiated, so that you are not just answering abusiveness with more abuse.

    Well, how do you call someone who acts like a misogynist and says misogynist things a misogynist in a civil way?

    Again, I get your point, but there is a level of unfair expectation involved. It’s easier to remain civil when you are not the one who is being dehumanized and belittled and dismissed. You have yourself mentioned that, IIRC.

    The point is: I don’t know if there’s the same saying in English, but when I used to debate in my old forum the phrase “you can’t convince someone with arguments who didn’t reach their position because of arguments” comes to mind in this debate.

    That’s why the display of emotion can have such an impact (and if I read you correctly you know that and support that). I know you want people to lose the insults, and your blog – your rules. No one has said anything against that. I am all for diversity in tone, and many readers and lurkers will like that approach (and many others will not and not debate here (as much)).

    But insults are not useless.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Er, no. It makes it emotional for the attacked. It already is emotional for the person who is personally involved or affected. I am not the first person to mention this. It levels the playing field, so to speak. Or can at least do that, certainly doesn’t always.

      This is an excellent observation. I can see the point that if an issue, even in the abstract, creates a hostile environment to a member of an affected group, their attempt to personalize the dispute against someone who benefits from that assymetry is an attempt to create a counter-hostility. This can be a warning that the marginalized group can and will cause retaliatory pain to the unaffected and/or benefiting group. “This issue causes me emotional pain and if you will not acknowledge that, I am going to start making it cause you pain so that you start worrying before you open your mouth.”

      I see the point and will think it over. In the meantime my reasons for not immediately agreeing that this is a valid tactic are the following considerations:

      1. I still think there are ways to convey anger about the ideas that send a message to others that they need to take it seriously and that the stakes are high for you.

      2. I think that there are non-epithets which carry emotional charge and are in-bounds. “Bigot” is a much more severe emotional and moral charge than “asshole”. And it is expressly permitted in my policy. Bigot has potentially enormous social costs. People’s careers or reputations are routinely ruined over the public perception that they are bigots–not over reputations of being assholes. So, I think the playing field can be leveled in this way. And I think your voice can be heard in this way.

      3. Let me use an analogy to physical violence. It is basically, prima facie wrong to hit people. We regularly say, things like “it is wrong to commit violence against others” without qualification. But of course, or at least “of course” to most moral reasoners”, there are the rare exceptions that most people agree on. If you are being physically attacked, then you need to fight back as a matter of protecting your dignity and your safety if nothing else. Similarly, if the state is committing systematic violence, revolution may be permissible. However, insofar as you can get away from a physical threat, it is better to do so than to return violence. And insofar as you can take legislative and judicial recourse to stop systemic violence, that is better than bloody conflict. I think similarly, that while there a moral right of verbal self-defense that means I would forgive certain lashings out and not ban them, peaceful but harsh words that are not interpersonally abusive are preferable and should be the norm.

      4. Even though the issue is rightly personal and infuriating for the individual affected, in many cases, their interlocutor is not malicious. They may be part of the problem implicitly by participating in a system that has negative consequences. But insofar as they are not motivated by any kind of cruelty and insofar as they are honest inquirers they should certainly be “forced” by arguments and appeals to emotional experiences and information about emotions, etc. to empathize with the marginalized and step into their shoes vicariously. But if they are not people of ill-will and their harmful effects are only those of “the average person in a systemically unjust system” and so not intentional then they should not have to absorb the anger that is directed at the unjust system. If they individually and deliberately perpetuate harm, then they need to be excoriated. If they are part of the problem implicitly and accidentally and are honestly trying to debate because they are ignorant or unconvinced, then the presumption should be that they do not deserve personal attacks. The system they passively perpetuate and are a product of can be emotionally excoriated. If they start exhibiting vices that show that their own character is corrupt, this can be addressed. But resorting to epithets seems unnecessary for all these goals and unfair.

      5. While you are not personally interested in debate or dialogue but with being heard, this is a philosophy blog. I can understand the creation of “safe spaces” where certain values are off limits to questioning and people of shared moral conviction and painful experiences can empathize, reason, and coordinate among each other, free from having to justify themselves to those who do not understand them. That’s great. But I think there also need to be forums for civil engagement between philosophical enemies. This is one of those environments and so it has to allow for those debates to happen and it is more constructive that those engagements happen in ways that are not personally malicious and that do not involve some interlocutors assuming the worst of what others in disputes say where more charitable interpretations are plausible. Nonetheless, of course I think that certain kinds of hostile behavior needs to be curbed. My post on Reddit (linked in the original post) notes that behaviors like talking about someone who is present as though they are merely a sex object is hostile. Numerous other behaviors that do not involve direct insults are clearly incivil and impermissible. Even in an abstract debate, interlocutors should not create hostile environments and I will not let them. But insofar as issues are matters of fact or ideas, even ugly ones, there is some latitude to float queasy hypotheticals if they have a legitimate intellectual purpose. And, of course, as I have tried to make clear, sometimes those can be met with arguments that involve passion and appeals to emotional experience, etc. Sometimes they can even involve strong moral words. I just don’t think they need epithets. I think epithets are prima facie wrong and usually enough corrosive.

  • http://momoelektra.blogspot.de/ Momo Elektra

    While you are not personally interested in debate or dialogue but with being heard, this is a philosophy blog.

    I kind of overstated that point. Of course I am also interested in debate and dialogue, but in the very specific case of arguing against someone in a position of privilege when I am personally involved (even if it is because of empathy for someone else) I do not consider it my responsibility to educate them, but more to defend myself and others. The debate then is not for their benefit, but for, well, let me say “ours”. That doesn’t mean education is out of the window, but if I make that my priority, I am again in a weaker position and the person of privilege is again in a stronger position. I want someone to give me something (humane treatment, no dismissing, no marginalization) and have to do that by trying to get them to give me something (understanding, acceptance of my point of view).

    Do you see the problem?

    I just don’t think they need epithets. I think epithets are prima facie wrong and usually enough corrosive.

    I don’t think it’s really possible to maintain that position outside a theoretical, academic debate. Technically, yes, maybe.

    But as soon as real people with real issues are involved… No, I don’t think it works.

    If violence is prima facie wrong, then violence as self defense is also wrong, if excusable.

    I know that doesn’t explicitly mean that self defense is wrong, but what when someone doesn’t see another way to defend themselves or has no other means?

    Think about what Aristotle said about slaves. That they choose to be slaves, have the mind of slaves. If you grow up like that knowing you are a slave because that’s how your mind works, how do you get out of this mindset? It’s not really feasible for slaves as a group (individuals maybe) to think or debate themselves out of slavery, also because most of them won’t have the means (i.e. philosophical and rhetorical education). Include the economic issues that come with slavery and imagine Aristotle debating a slave in ancient Greece, telling him violence is, as such, wrong.

    It will, in this context, be taken as “you rebelling against the natural order of you being a slave is immoral/a sin”, whether or not violence is even intended. And considering the rare slave that is able to think or debate themselves out of slavery, wouldn’t condemning violence and praising those former slave’s thinking and debating skills reenforce the mindset that most slaves really want to be slaves?

    So then it does sound very much like self defense is wrong (because there is, technically, another way). Remember that social injustice works the system into making it difficult for the oppressed and marginalized to work against it. Kind of like depression (circulus vitiosus).

    It’s like saying: Yes, of course you are allowed to defend yourself, but only by the means I – an unaffected person whose interest in this topic is mainly academic- deem acceptable. And that’s where your privilege comes into this.

    Even though the issue is rightly personal and infuriating for the individual affected, in many cases, their interlocutor is not malicious.

    Well, probably. Considering my experience in my old forum when Elevatorgate was debated, it kind of didn’t matter that they weren’t malicious. To be honest, the one malicious probably-rapist didn’t bother me as much because I could handle him. The not–malicious moderators and other forum users who defended him and EG and the whole “you’re misandrist/sexist for being wary of men who behave like predators” were what really made me sick. I’m still not over it. That all was the emotional equivalent of a kick in the kidneys, a kick in the stomach while lying on the floor in pain and people telling me if I’d debate my point more rationally they’d maybe award me with agreement.

    And you got a lot of push-back from commentators who know and debate this kind of person very often. They aren’t rare. Malicious or not, the result is the same.

    You are right that this is a philosophical blog so of course a more academic approach to stuff makes kind of sense. I’m sure you don’t intend it, but sometimes this academic approach to certain topics (and that includes saying “stupid” is categorically as bad “T…”) can feel like a metaphorical slap in the face, because (from my point of view) not only does it make me painfully aware of the not-theoretical position I’m in (it’s very real), it also raises the bar concerning how I am allowed to fight back when fighting back in the first place is difficult even in the best circumstances – all on behalf of those who contribute to hurting and harming me.

    And considering my “only” problems are being a woman and being an atheist, in a very rich industrial country, I cannot fathom how bad this might feel for people of color and trans* people, who most likely face adversaries with a much higher frequency and much more impact on themselves and their lives.

    TL;dr: Debates like these tell me to consider the feelings of the person of privilege, when I am extremely preoccupied with my own bad feelings in that situation.

    But I should probably mention, that I don’t advocate for people swearing and insulting others all the time. I consider it a genuine, non-violent form of self defense in certain circumstances in a “punching up” kind of way. And it works well BECAUSE it rattles the other, who then cannot treat it as an academic topic anymore.

    • Steersman

      Momo Elektra says (#76.0),

      Of course I am also interested in debate and dialogue, but in the very specific case of arguing against someone in a position of privilege when I am personally involved (even if it is because of empathy for someone else) ….

      I’m beginning to think that the whole concept of “privilege” is looking like “conventional wisdom” and dogma. While there are, no doubt, some reasonable principles and issues surrounding the idea, it also looks like far too many are using that as a bully pulpit to take unfair advantage – like wrapping themselves in the flag and “motherhood”.

      In the context of rational discussions – which we presumably all aspire to be part of and promote – we should be able to agree, as skeptics and rationalists, that all ideas should be addressed on their merits without biases and tendencies to self-aggrandizement getting in the way. But to allow some individuals to use some epithets that they think they are entitled to while preventing others from doing likewise, is only to instantiate another level of the very “evil” you seek to anathematize and extirpate.

    • John Morales

      Momo:

      But I should probably mention, that I don’t advocate for people swearing and insulting others all the time. I consider it a genuine, non-violent form of self defense in certain circumstances in a “punching up” kind of way. And it works well BECAUSE it rattles the other, who then cannot treat it as an academic topic anymore.

      I don’t think that’s necessarily true, or even generally so.

      (Anecdotally, for me people’s personally insults are basically line noise in terms of their arguments, and merely exhibit agitation)

      Please consider that it may be possible for the person to whom the insults and anger are directed to actually receive satisfaction from the anger of their interlocutor; if this were the case, then might such a reward not actually reinforce the behaviour that causes them such satisfaction?

    • smhll

      @ Steersman

      Are you saying that you consider the word “privileged” to be an epithet or similar to one?

    • Steersman

      smhll says (#76.3),

      @ Steersman, Are you saying that you consider the word “privileged” to be an epithet or similar to one?

      Good question; I hadn’t actually thought of it in that sense, but it certainly seems to be an attribute that has acquired more than a few pejorative connotations. One might even argue that it is at least somewhat analogous to various physiological and behavioral attributes over which we have very little control or choice and which therefore can’t really be used as a basis for granting or denying various civil and social rights.

      However, what I had in mind was that it seems, on admittedly limited evidence and much of that in the context of Elevator-Gate and feminism, to have become somewhat of a stumbling block, an artificial or ambiguous distinction, the uses of which tend to be more problematic than not. For instance, Daniel’s original comparisons of various insults led to accusations that the unilateral banning of all of them constituted an abuse of privilege, i.e., “a special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste”.

      And in the case of the comment policy, the only privilege, the only advantage, in play and of any relevance that I can see is the one that follows from being a blog (or website) owner: he who has the gold makes the rules – a simple intrinsic privilege which no dialectical prestidigitation is going to obviate: just part of the nature of the beast. But the only abuse that seems possible is in making the policy inequitable which, of course, raises the further question of that definition and its scope. However, I can’t see that there is any obligation on the part of a blog owner to be adjudicating any disputes between the people who happen to be commenting thereon or, through an asymmetrical comments policy, to be favoring one over the other as a method of redressing any particular grievances or imbalances – a totally impractical and intractable idea even if one wanted to make any serious stab at doing so. Hence, I think, the justification for the “no insults” policy.

      In addition, the discussions here, there and about, on privilege have a faint air of some silliness. It reminds me somewhat of various discussions between the religious over who gets to be called “Real Christians ™” – with all of the sects running about, some have argued that “the definition of Christianity crumples to absurdity” which means there’s no gold standard so the whole exercise becomes a bit of a fool’s errand. Similarly with privilege: apart from the difficulty of pinning down who has more privilege than whom and in which circumstances, there is the fact that as those with various attributes – who might happen to be on the low end of the totem pole – organize they tend to wind up with additional privileges which tend to be open to further abuse.

      But it seems that privilege is only an aspect of the broader conflict between individual and group rights, something I find an interesting topic, not that I have a particularly great handle on it, although one that seems to have some serious and far-reaching effects.

  • http://notungblog.wordpress.com Notung

    As for the worries that having an academic discussion about a topic that concerns people’s real lives ‘dehumanises’ them, I don’t agree that it does. Their experience, if it is indeed relevant, ought to be brought up as part of the discussion. It comprises an important part of the debate.

    Let me give an example. I’m a ‘free speech absolutist’, and so I disagree with ‘hate speech’ laws. When I argue for this position, I frequently find myself on the end of insults, about how I’m ‘enabling racism’ (or similar) or even that I am a racist myself. I’m called things like ‘idiot’ and told that I’m not in a position to comment since I’m not a member of a minority. Unsurprisingly, I don’t find any of these retorts convincing.

    At the moment I’m reading philosophical texts about hate speech. The one I’m reading at the moment, by Jeremy Waldron, is probably the most convincing defence of HS laws I’ve read. His style is calm, reasoned and polite. Far from ‘dehumanising’ those subjected to hate speech, his defence is based on their dignity. Yet this is an academic book complete with citations and footnotes, and without a single insult directed at opponents of HS laws. In fact, he applies the principle of charity, and finds the best defences of free speech to argue against. He sticks to the point, concentrating on the arguments themselves rather than on those putting them forward.

    All this without calling anyone an ‘asshole’ or pretending that all people who oppose HS laws are just trying to justify their own HS! I must say, even though my position on free speech hasn’t changed, this book has come the closest to changing my mind on the subject. Maybe after thinking about it further I will change my mind.

    So my point is that insults and personal attacks do not get us anywhere. They aren’t helpful, they aren’t convincing. Academic discussion can take into account the plight of minorities, and discussions following principles like the ones outlined by Daniel are far more likely to convince people who are unsure, or even disagree with you outright. Surely that is the goal, and I don’t see how calling them names will serve as a means to that end.

    • John Morales

      So my point is that insults and personal attacks do not get us anywhere. They aren’t helpful, they aren’t convincing.

      I think you over-generalise and discount that people vary widely in temperament and personality; I submit that your proposition is true for some people, but not for all people.

      There have been numerous testimonials at Pharyngula to the contrary over the years, generally to the effect that it shocked them out of their complacency and opened the way for them to reassess their beliefs.

    • John Morales

      I note with some amusement that your contention is basically the complement of Momo Elektra’s @76.2, and in both cases my criticism is that they are over-generalisations.

    • http://notungblog.wordpress.com Notung

      There have been numerous testimonials at Pharyngula to the contrary over the years, generally to the effect that it shocked them out of their complacency and opened the way for them to reassess their beliefs.

      Ok, perhaps that’s something I didn’t consider. There might be some people who need to be called an ‘idiot’ in order to change their mind. I myself am not convinced in this way – to me if someone is just calling me names it shows me that they do not know how to argue their case properly, and are getting frustrated.

      So my question is this: how do you know whether to argue rationally or call your opponent names? It seems that if you pick the wrong method, then you’re unlikely to convince them.

      I have a feeling though that even if I could detect that an insult would get someone to change their mind, I would still be reluctant to insult them. Just as I would like to win a game of chess by sound strategic play (rather than by cheating, say), I would prefer to win a debate with strong arguments.

      I’d rather fail to change someone’s mind by them not agreeing with my arguments, instead of employing other psychological methods (like verbal abuse) successfully.

    • http://www.atheist-faq.com Jasper of Maine (I feel safe and welcome at FTB)

      Ok, perhaps that’s something I didn’t consider. There might be some people who need to be called an ‘idiot’ in order to change their mind. I myself am not convinced in this way – to me if someone is just calling me names it shows me that they do not know how to argue their case properly, and are getting frustrated.

      If I may jump in for a second…

      I’d point out that it’s fairly rare (as I’ve observed) for people to go straight to name-calling (unless they’re not interested in having a discussion in the first place).

      You’re right, it typically starts when one gets frustrated. My point would be that if civil discussion hadn’t worked by that point, it probably won’t succeed later, so it starts to be a change of tactic – to emotionally rattle the other person.

      As a tactic, harsh words do have their place. If someone gets offended because I call him/her a “bigot”, that person may stop and wonder why I think that – something that may not ever occur if I was just politely trying to explain it to them.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      I’d point out that it’s fairly rare (as I’ve observed) for people to go straight to name-calling (unless they’re not interested in having a discussion in the first place).

      There are some lines of suggestion that can get immediate hostility and an assumption and accusations of bad faith on the part of the inquirer. A lot of people are on a hair trigger when it comes to any of a number of sensitive issues.

      You’re right, it typically starts when one gets frustrated. My point would be that if civil discussion hadn’t worked by that point, it probably won’t succeed later, so it starts to be a change of tactic – to emotionally rattle the other person.

      As a tactic, harsh words do have their place. If someone gets offended because I call him/her a “bigot”, that person may stop and wonder why I think that – something that may not ever occur if I was just politely trying to explain it to them.

      I have permitted the word “bigot” and others as harsh but still civil.

      But as I have made clear, such charges should be highly capable of substantiation and they should come after much charitable benefit of the doubt has been offered. The first time someone says something that sounds upsetting, it’s best to just ask, “What you are saying sounds like ‘x’, which sounds very insensitive and prejudiced to me because of ‘y’. Could you please clarify what you mean exactly?” Gestures like that can warn people in a far more constructive and subtly persuasive way long before things get ugly and acrimonious. If at certain points, harsh moral accusations are necessary, that’s understandable and within the bounds of civility. Some people are going to really cross lines that deserve moral condemnation. I have been consistent that that is fair. But in those cases, I am saying you can use perfectly harsh morally specific, substantiatable words (like “bigot”–which is to my mind clearly potent enough since it is actually more damaging than “asshole” in our culture). You just cannot use epithets or personalize disputes until people have exhausted the assumption of good faith disagreement.

    • Steersman

      Daniel Fincke says (#77.5),

      A lot of people are on a hair trigger when it comes to any of a number of sensitive issues.

      Quite true. Although I would argue that many seem to be rather self-indulgent in that regard – if not actually self-righteous. You might be interested in the discussion that Massimo Pigliucci had on that topic here. Also, somewhat surprisingly, this pastor discusses that all too common behaviour pattern and characterizes the problem, in St. Augustine’s phrasing, as a Lust for Domination ….

      You just cannot use epithets … until people have exhausted the assumption of good faith disagreement.

      Somewhat problematic, is it not? Who is it that decides that there is a total lack of good faith in the discussion? Maybe there should be polling buttons attached to all of the discussions and when the negatives cross a certain threshold then and only then can various epithets be used … or maybe there could be a scale correlating various ones with the magnitude of the social censure ….

  • smhll

    Similarly with privilege: apart from the difficulty of pinning down who has more privilege than whom and in which circumstances, there is the fact that as those with various attributes – who might happen to be on the low end of the totem pole – organize they tend to wind up with additional privileges which tend to be open to further abuse.

    I’m not mad, but I want to point something out for the record.

    Your phrase — additional privileges — brings to mind the phrase — special privileges — which many people supporting same sex marriage rights do find provocative. It’s one of those phrases that suggests an idea (like ‘this right is wrong’) that threatens certain peoples’ ability to live their lives and be treated in a way that they think as fair. (That is, to marry the person they want to marry.)

    So, this is the setting that first comes to my mind when reading your comment. I think it would be more fair, if we pursue this discussion, to talk about the context that was in your mind as your wrote your statement.

    Can you give an example of a group organizing to get additional privilege(s) that can be abused?

    • Steersman

      smhll says (#78.0),

      Can you give an example of a group organizing to get additional privilege(s) that can be abused?

      Offhand, the least emotionally loaded example I can think of is the case of unions. Obviously in the not too distant past the nature of the capitalist system allowed some rather egregious abuses of the proverbial “working man” which led to the development of those unions and various laws allowing their development. Which one might reasonably argue constitutes a privilege: “a special advantage, immunity, permission, right, or benefit granted to or enjoyed by an individual, class, or caste”.

      But it doesn’t take much thought to realize that with the power to unions that those laws provided has also come some equally egregious abuses. For instance there is the argument that the contributions by unions to various political parties, contributions that come from union dues that everyone is obliged to pay, constitutes an abrogation of the rights of those union members who might not happen to subscribe to the principles of the party supported and is therefore an abuse of privilege.

      For another example, this time a little closer to home, there are the laws surrounding the institution of marriage. While one might also reasonably argue that some of the associated laws have some justification – support for the raising of children, for example – some of those laws, particularly in the absence of children, give unfair economic advantage, as with tax laws, to heterosexual couples that are denied to homosexual ones: a “special advantage” that has manifested some abuses.

      And, finally, there is the somewhat more nebulous and problematic case of feminism in general. While I have no difficulty defending the general principles of that “movement” – and have been banned at A Voice for Men for doing so – it seems to me that there is more than a little justification for arguing that the power that the movement has acquired has also led to some significant and equally egregious abuses. For instance, at least one “radical feminist” has given some support to the idea that not all MRAs are, ipso facto, misogynists with her acknowledgement that “the few isolated good points that MRAs have are indeed good points”. But that premise, that argument, seems to be a very common trope among feminists – as a group – and which has led, I think, to some significant “abuses of privilege” – discounting of counterarguments based simply on “class”, for example – and to some consequential and problematic poisoning of the well.

      While the scope of that latter problem is a moot point – really a bit of a Gordian Knot compounded by a whole lot of “He said; She said” going on – I think it anything but a foregone conclusion that there are no abuses that have arisen as a consequence of the power – and privilege – that women have acquired as a result of the evolution of feminism.

      P.S. Just as a thought or as a suggestion, it seems to me that the design of this blog is set up to promote the collection of sub-topics into numbered sub-sections. You might want to consider maintaining that grouping ….

  • http://momoelektra.blogspot.de/ Momo Elektra

    @

    In the context of rational discussions – which we presumably all aspire to be part of and promote – we should be able to agree, as skeptics and rationalists, that all ideas should be addressed on their merits without biases and tendencies to self-aggrandizement getting in the way.

    This is a wonderful example of the problem. You are arguing a hypothetical, extremely theoretical situation. It’s not realistic and frankly, considering you responded directly to me, very much off topic and derailing.

    Most skeptics and rationalists, not to mention other groups, do not all “address [arguments] on their merits without biases and tendencies”.
    It’s extremely frustrating to have to keep making this point.

    What do you do when people don’t play fair?

    But to allow some individuals to use some epithets that they think they are entitled to while preventing others from doing likewise, is only to instantiate another level of the very “evil” you seek to anathematize and extirpate.

    False equivalence. Difference between punching up and punching down. The playing field is not leveled.

    Let me rephrase:

    “But to allow some individuals to use certain force that they think they are entitled to in order to defend themselves while preventing others from using violence to hurt and oppress them, is only to instantiate another level of the very “evil” you seek to anathematize and extirpate.”

    See it?

    @John Morales

    Please consider that it may be possible for the person to whom the insults and anger are directed to actually receive satisfaction from the anger of their interlocutor; if this were the case, then might such a reward not actually reinforce the behaviour that causes them such satisfaction?

    I am very well aware of it.

    What you mention is certainly possible, I have seen it. But when there’s enough push back from others of the in-group it’s not really that big a problem. Hence me saying that the most harm was done by those I thought would have my back. But this rare case of attention trolling is something I would consider, for me, collateral damage. That kind of person is not to be convinced in the best circumstances.

    Why should I bother to engage them at all? Why should I be civil?

    Is it so easy to forget what exactly the issue is, isn’t it?
    How do I fight back when people dehumanize, belittle, dismiss? What means do I have and how do they serve me? And remember how certain bloggers don’t debate certain creationists to not give them the appearance of acceptability.

    When one as a moderator or maybe blog owner has to deal with a situation like this, anything they do will alienate or offend someone. There is no good solution that benefits everyone, no matter how much we all wish “debating civilly and academically” were such a solution. It isn’t. It just takes the debate into an ivory tower.

    • Steersman

      Momo Elektra says (#79.0):

      Let me rephrase:

      “But to allow some individuals to use certain force that they think they are entitled to in order to defend themselves while preventing others from using violence to hurt and oppress them, is only to instantiate another level of the very “evil” you seek to anathematize and extirpate.”

      See it?

      Sorry, not at all. Seems to me that you are very much comparing apples and oranges; the analogy really doesn’t hold any water. For one thing, I am talking about the context in which ideas are being advanced, defended or criticized; you are talking about one manifesting physical violence in which one’s physical person is being defended or attacked. Some serious conflation going on there.

      In addition, it seems to me that you are asserting that you alone have an arbitrary and unilateral right to decide at which point you think an argument has crossed the line from “intellectual argument” to “not playing fair” which you apparently feel then justifies certain epithets. But, considering the quite reasonable principle of “sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander”, why should that argument of yours not permit me in, say, this argument to let loose with a bunch of gendered insults if I feel you’re “not playing fair” – conflating terms, for example?

      P.S. Just as a thought or as a suggestion, it seems to me that the design of this blog is set up to promote the collection of sub-topics into numbered sub-sections. You might want to consider maintaining that grouping ….

    • John Morales

      Momo,

      Why should I bother to engage them at all? Why should I be civil?

      To the first, because if you don’t, they will stand unopposed unless others do bother; to the second, in this blog, because they’re the rules — Dan is not telling you to be civil anywhere else.

      Is it so easy to forget what exactly the issue is, isn’t it?
      How do I fight back when people dehumanize, belittle, dismiss? What means do I have and how do they serve me?

      In order:

      No, I’ve not forgotten; the issue is you’re objecting to Dan’s rules on the basis that it will cripple your ability to express your anger and emotion if you cannot employ personal attacks and insults to do so, and that therefore this will advantage those you dispute.

      You can fight back with convincing arguments, solid facts and any amount of passion you care to put into them.

      The same means as anyone else under Dan’s strictures, no more and no less.

    • John Morales

      Re:

      It just takes the debate into an ivory tower.

      Well, it could, but it certainly needn’t — there is nothing to stop people from discussing relevant real-world concerns in a philosophical and civil manner.

      (Which I think is another reason why those who care should engage if they want to make a difference)

  • smhll

    False equivalence. Difference between punching up and punching down. The playing field is not leveled.

    Even if we don’t use the verb “punching”, we could say that in debate there is “proving up” and “proving down”, because many social norms are taken for granted, giving the status quo a lot of inertia. Another was to say it with a battleground metaphor is to say that the current culture has an entrenched position. The opposing force is going to have to swarm the battlements in great number to overcome an entrenched position.

    Setting aside the idea of abstract discussion (which is the goal here), in the realm of politics I believe that social commentary has to be “disturbing” in order to accomplish anything. Very mild stuff doesn’t rock the boat or change any part of the status quo.

    • John Morales

      Very mild stuff doesn’t rock the boat or change any part of the status quo.

      Never?

      Ahem: “Guys, don’t do that”.

  • http://momoelektra.blogspot.de/ Momo Elektra

    @smhll

    I agree.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com Quine

    I fear I am going to see “Privilege-Gate” materialize at any moment.

    • John Morales

      I don’t understand what it is you intend to express or what it has to do with the topic at hand, but perhaps I would if you were to be less elliptical.

  • http://messychaosofreality.tumblr.com/ MCOR

    Excuse me if I am misinterpreting what is being said, but I feel the idea that less privileged people are unable to make an argument without using insults is rather infantilising. I think it’s very possible to communicate emotion without resorting to abusive language. I’m not sure why the unprivileged are apparently incapable of doing so. And, frankly, if they (we, whatever) are unable to refrain from insulting people in any discussion, why should anyone listen to them?

    I’ve been to debates where LGBT speakers have been able to express anger, sadness, exasperation, the whole range of emotions using eloquence, tone of voice and facial expressions. “SCREW YOU ASSHOLE” would only cheapen things. In any case it makes for a poor debate. What can people learn from it apart from that at least one side really hates the other?

    I’m interested to see if this policy will work out. I hope it does.

    • smhll

      Excuse me if I am misinterpreting what is being said, but I feel the idea that less privileged people are unable to make an argument without using insults is rather infantilising.

      I’d like to make the distinction that saying people are coming from a weaker position is not the same as saying that individuals are weaker. (Reiterating what I said just above here.)

      People who are in the minority position may get tired of arguing before the group of people arguing against them runs out of steam.

      To be more on point with what you said, people who are already upset about a topic, like people who are rape victims or are close to rape victims, start off fairly upset when a discussion about “common sense” rape prevention takes place. People who have been hurt or harassed or discriminated against can be more easily provoked into lashing out. Trolls like to provoke. I am concerned that clever trolls can fly under the radar and say things that Dan doesn’t find particularly provocative but that are insulting, menacing or upsetting to me or another marginalized person.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Trolls like to provoke. I am concerned that clever trolls can fly under the radar and say things that Dan doesn’t find particularly provocative but that are insulting, menacing or upsetting to me or another marginalized person.

      If anyone feels like they are being trolled they can talk about why that is, firmly assert their boundaries, disengage with the unproductive interlocutor, and explain to me (whether publicly or privately) anything that they feel like I am not grasping that will help me create a welcoming environment for all. Again, all of this is accomplishable without epithets or personalizing disputes as a matter of first recourse.

  • Momo Elektra

    @John Morales

    Why should I bother to engage them at all? Why should I be civil?

    To the first, because if you don’t, they will stand unopposed unless others do bother; to the second, in this blog, because they’re the rules — Dan is not telling you to be civil anywhere else.

    -
    To the first: Onus is put on the oppressed to educate their oppressors to not oppress them anymore. Also a very well derailing tactic. “Educate me, or how else will I learn”.
    -
    To the second: Another expample of relevant stuff being left out for a theroetical approach instead of actually debating the real problem.
    -
    Dan’s comment policy is not in question. His position that all insults are always bad is.
    -
    Debating in a civil way is not in question. Debating civilly with someone who dehumanizes, belittles, dismisses, is.
    -
    Trying to convince someone with facts and rationale is not in question. Trying to convince someone who isn’t interested in facts and rationale is.
    -
    Trying to educate is not in qeustion. Having to educate someone – for their benefit – who is in the stronger position of not having to care is.
    -
    Reframing: Is having a diet consisting only of one type of gtain bad for your health?
    Probably.
    Still a stupid – not sorry – thing to say to a starving kid in Africa who doesn’t have access to anything else.
    -

    It just takes the debate into an ivory tower.

    Well, it could, but it certainly needn’t — there is nothing to stop people from discussing relevant real-world concerns in a philosophical and civil manner.

    Again your theoretical and hypothetical apporach hinders the discussion. I am not talking about what can or could happen, I am talking about what to do when it DOES happen.
    -
    What do you do when someone doesn’t play fair?
    -
    Who the one is who gets to decide that is irrelevant and in my point of view nothing but a try to undermine and question the validity of my position by derailing into a completely different topic.
    -
    What will you accomplish when the debate already takes place in an ivory tower because other debators favor it that way (if only at that time)?
    -

    (Which I think is another reason why those who care should engage if they want to make a difference)

    You do not get to decide for me or others what constitutes “making a difference”. Standing up for myself is not bad. Maybe that’s enough for me in certain situations.
    -
    You are again arguing for behavior that primarily favors the dehumanizer, belittler, dismisser because it focusses on THEM and what THEY want or need.
    -
    You keep missing the point I and others have made for the sake of a theoretical, hypothetical approach that is nothing but an intellectual excercise for your amusement.
    -
    Others don’t have the privilege of talking about certain topics that way.
    __________
    This is yet another example of why this rational, civil way of debating not always yields the wanted results. I certainly didn’t get what I wanted, which is a bit of compassion and empathy, and perhaps in the future a bit more understanding.
    -
    It’s exhausting when in an already emotional debate with someone who dehumanizes, belittles, dismisses or someone who makes excuses for it, I have not only to debate that but also the one who wants all my attention bceacuse THEY suddenly have the need to debate my way of debating. That’s also a way a theoretical, academic approach is not alwys the best thing, if only because then it is used as a derailing technique – intentionally or not.
    -
    Thank you Dan for talking with me instead of at me, like John Morales has done. It’s noted and appreciated. I still disagree with you on the question of “Are insults always bad?”
    -
    I will not continue this debate here.

    • Steersman

      Momo Electra (#84.0),

      To the first: Onus is put on the oppressed to educate their oppressors to not oppress them anymore. Also a very well derailing tactic. “Educate me, or how else will I learn”.

      Unbelievable. I suppose you think it less “derailing” to actually respond rationally to the assertions of your interlocutor, rather than to let loose with a torrent of irrelevant verbal abuse?

      Dan’s comment policy is not in question. His position that all insults are always bad is.

      That seems a rather questionable argument. His analogy with violence seems relevant: if one is physically or verbally attacked then there is some justification for responding in kind. Not particularly helpful to respond with physical violence when attacked with verbal violence. But then again it is not particularly helpful to respond to logical “violence”- i.e., reasoned argument – with violence of either the verbal or physical kind.

      Debating in a civil way is not in question. Debating civilly with someone who dehumanizes, belittles, dismisses, is.

      Aye, there’s the rub: who decides whether some statement actually “dehumanizes, belittles, [and/or] dismisses”? You? Looks to me like a rather egregious case of privilege.

      Still a stupid – not sorry – thing to say to a starving kid in Africa who doesn’t have access to anything else.

      There is a difference between calling an action or behaviour “stupid” and calling a person that: one is particular, the other categorical. Although I would think that “ignorant” or “callous” might be more appropriate and accurate in that case.

      I will not continue this debate here.

      Maybe because you are annoyed or offended that no one is prepared to genuflect to your claimed right, your privilege, to arbitrarily and unilaterally insult while being protected from similar responses?

    • John Morales

      Momo,

      This is yet another example of why this rational, civil way of debating not always yields the wanted results. I certainly didn’t get what I wanted, which is a bit of compassion and empathy, and perhaps in the future a bit more understanding.

      You did get honest and direct answers to all your questions in a civil manner.

      It is unfortunate that this upset you, but I cannot feel sorry for it as I don’t think I did anything wrong.

  • Momo Elektra

    Forgot to add: Thank you for bringing to my attention the classist elements of “stupid”. I wasn’t as aware of that as I could have been.
    Doesn’t mean I won’t find use for the word, but I will then have to consider this issue, too.

  • ildi

    Crommunist:

    You are definitely missing something. Namely, that this particular slur was brought up as being equally egregious as calling something “stupid”, or calling someone an “asshole”. Slurs aren’t bad because they hurt people’s feelings – they represent real power imbalances that cause real harm to real people. Nobody has been kicked to death or mutilated or denied housing or employment or basic human decency at the hands of a mob with the words “stupid asshole” on their lips.

    I’ve thought about this, and I disagree that ‘stupid’ and ‘asshole’ fall into the same category of individual insult. Calling someone stupid is an attempt to marginalize them. The power imbalance is the assumption that everyone has had the same social background or educational opportunity that embraces the life of the mind. Part of it is classist, part of it overlaps with sexism or racism. Unexamined privilege? In my opinion, yes. Equally egregious? How egregious does it have to be before it becomes unacceptable?

  • smhll

    From comment #26

    But taking your example as a starting point, I see that “fag” means: “n. Offensive slang; used as a disparaging term for a homosexual man”. Nothing there that I can see that says that all homosexual men are to be disparaged by the term, nothing that even suggests that homosexuality is intrinsically reprehensible and morally beyond the pale. Maybe something you are reading into it? Some personal feelings perhaps?

    Is this a good argument? Is it congruent with reality? I’d appreciate some help in assessing it.

    • Steersman

      smhll said (#87.0),

      Is this a good argument? Is it congruent with reality? I’d appreciate some help in assessing it.

      Although I was the one who originally made that argument, I too wouldn’t mind seeing the opinions and arguments of others on the point as I’ve advanced it more as a hypothesis than as a dogmatic assertion, particularly since I’m not totally convinced myself.

      However, to add some grist to the mill, you might be interested in the Wikipedia article on the term “cunt”, in which one of the more salient and cogent points, I think, is illustrated by this:

      During the UK Oz trial for obscenity in 1971, prosecuting counsel asked writer George Melly “Would you call your 10-year-old daughter a cunt?” Melly replied “No, because I don’t think she is.”

      Which highlights the argument that most people, most men in any case, are going to see the word less as a criticism of all women and more as a criticism of one. In addition, I think the analogous situation with the word “prick” emphasizes the problematic nature of the first interpretation. I certainly find it curious, and more than a little amusing, that most men when they hear someone – male or female – call some other man a “prick” their response is likely going to be something along the line of, “Really? What did he do?” and not, “HOW DARE YOU CALL ME AND ALL MY BROS PRICKS??? YOU … YOU … MISANDRIST!!”.

      Maybe an innate difference in the sexes, although that seems decidedly questionable as not all women react that way, but I don’t find that argument – that an epithet directed at an individual is necessarily being applied to the whole class – particularly credible or showing much in the way of skepticism. And to the extent that it is advanced by women with some exasperation if not anger, to that extent I tend to see it as a somewhat egregious example of feminist dogma.

      However, in broader terms, I think the interpretation of those particular words illustrates some intriguing and problematic aspects of insults in general. Personally, I tend to the view illustrated by the aphorism “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”, something that the comedian Lenny Bruce argued rather convincingly, I think, in one of his routines.

      But while I don’t necessarily think that gratuitous use of insults helps move the conversational ball down the field all that effectively, I also tend to think that sometimes the situation certainly calls for them – depending on the circumstances. However, it seems to me that if some are going to be considered within the pale then pretty much all of them need to be considered likewise.

      P.S. Just to clarify, my original post was 6.26 and not 26.0 … maybe a “feature” to be added to the system (hint, hint) …. :-)

    • Steersman

      smhll said (#87.0, #88.0),

      I truly do not understand why, if you wish to convey that someone is vile, the best way to say it is to say it with female genitalia.

      Maybe, but then one might also ask, as I suggested, why is “prick” acceptable, or more so? And, somewhat analogously as it pertains to our “privates”, why is “asshole” then given a pass, if not actually encouraged in some benighted backwaters?

      However, I think you are seriously missing the point, actually several of them. For one thing, it seems to me that the mechanism in play is little more than synecdoche – saying that one sees 3 sail to refer to 3 sailing ships. And that the particular facet used is selected largely based on the shock value, i.e., the degree to which it is not used in “polite” company as, of course, they are “shameful” features of our anatomies. Hence they are, as in the joke about the recalcitrant mule, more likely to get our interlocutor’s attention.

      In addition, I think that part of the psychology of such insults, is to reduce the target of the epithet to only those features without that necessarily being applicable to all individuals who happen to exhibit them and without that necessarily saying that the features are particularly “vile”. Though I wonder, as Lenny Bruce said, precisely where the “power, the violence, the viciousness” comes from. For example, someone could say of me “you ignorant follicle-challenged person!” without that necessarily implying that every such “challenged” individual was ignorant or in any other way particularly deserving of any opprobrium. However, just the tone of voice or the vehemence of the phrase, along with some repetition, is what seems to be source of any force.

      But it is that assertion, more dogmatically than factually based, that all such insults apply to the whole class which I find particularly problematic, particularly since policies that allow some manifestations of such insults but anathematize others are, I think, decidedly and egregiously hypocritical – regardless of who might be championing such policies.

      P.S. Is it so difficult for you to respond in side threads? There are Reply buttons for just that purpose.

  • smhll

    I truly do not understand why, if you wish to convey that someone is vile, the best way to say it is to say it with female genitalia.

  • http://bully khaleah

    hey stop bulling people


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