On Dealing With Trolling, Banning, and Uncomfortable Disagreements

There have been many objections to both the wisdom of my comments policy and my general stand against the use of epithets and incivility and what I see as hasty personal attacks that derail philosophical discussions. I am writing 8 posts to address 8 major objections. I have already written my own summaries of all the objections I am planning to address. This is my reply to the first objection.

Objection 1: My policy against the use of epithets is legalistic. It censors words when the real problem is not particular words but dishonest arguments. Dishonest trolls will be able to game the rules by not using insult words but nonetheless goading sincere debaters into lashing out harshly such that they unfairly get banned.

Reply 1: The post spelling out my new moderation rules was framed with two discussions of trolling. The post did not actually begin (or end) with a discussion of insults. Derailing, haranguing, and silencing behavior was what I explicitly described as making me realize the need for enforcing strict posting rules and the second rule targeted personalizing behavior that contributes to trolling.

So while I can understand that strangers who have little experience with me enforcing rules on them are not immediately trusting me, the post should make clear that I am aware of, and specifically motivated to stop, trolling behavior. Moderating insulting language is entirely consistent with, and I think in many ways essential to, meeting that goal.

Because of my second rule, trolls will not get away with goading people by personalizing debates and belittling them over irrelevant factors. Since they also will not be able to use insulting language or implications, they will also be monitored from using forms of marginalization that involve both direct insults and malicious insinuations.

I will say more about this specific point later on, but let me stress that I am aware (and will listen to explanations where I am not) of the ways that certain kinds of language or discussion undercuts marginalized groups in subtle ways that make them quite rightly more likely subject to certain kinds of abuse. I will ask people to be appropriately sensitive as I did when I  scolded atheist Reddit for its laissez-faire allowance of a hostile environment for women and as I did when I sternly criticized an American Atheists’ group for its insensitive use of shorthand argument on a billboard about slavery in the Bible.

I know that hostile environments can be created without just insult words. The background to the moderation policy post was one I wrote a month earlier that spun off into its own post out of initially being part of the first draft of my moderation policy which makes clear that I am not talking about a totally unregulated free speech environment in which people’s feelings don’t matter.

My problem is not indifference or obtuseness about how hostile environments work. I just think that the prevention of hostile environments is an inclusive and civil speech environment, not epithets and personal attacks that just make everything acrimonious and encourage the worst in people. Commenters who do not respond to being politely alerted about the reasonable ways they need to rephrase things or to generally treat other commenters as people in order to be more sensitive to them, will set off red alarms with me that they are not interested in treating other people as people. When you make a point of showing how much you disregard other people’s feelings, you flag yourself as unconducive to constructive dialogue. But, in my mind, not only marginalized groups deserve to always have their feelings respected. Marginalized groups just have certain abuses they suffer which requires certain sensitivities to stopping particular abusive behaviors related to them.

I should also stress that the policy does not call for immediate bans in the case of every insult but talks about a “moderation first” kind of approach.
Sometimes someone may arrive in the comments section right away indicating that they are at my blog to personally attack and demean me or other individuals or groups and I will swiftly ban them. But all that a garden variety insult or personalization will initially merit is an explanation from me about why what they are doing will be moderated and why they will be banned if they do not stop.

Now, let me assure people who are subject to an unprovoked attack that I understand that when someone else personalizes a dispute, the first reaction for most of us is to lash back personally as well. I request you not do so, but that you respond as I try to when someone attacks me emotionally and personally rather than with arguments, whether in person or online. I request that you calmly tell them that you refuse to be treated with incivility, that you have more dignity than to let yourself be treated like that. If you think what they are doing is creating a hostile environment, then explain that to them as rationally and clearly as possible so that they will have no excuse for escalating their behavior or being ignorant of how it is affecting you. This also alerts me, so that I can consider your complaints and know how you are feeling.

And if you want a specific person who has personally attacked you or created a hostile environment to stop engaging you out of respect for your boundaries, say that and I will back up that insistence even in cases where I might not agree that what the other person did was so bad. They may have one chance to reply to any charges you made for themselves that they would like to dispute but after that they should leave you alone.

Or if you would like to give them another shot, tell them that you will continue to debate them when they return to making substantive arguments and stop trying to make things personal. If you do either of these things or if you are silent to them and just contact me with a complaint, I will take note (if I have not already) and step in to adjudicate the dispute.

If you lose your cool and just tell the person off, then I will look to see if you have been provoked (if I had not noticed already). If I see clearly that you have been goaded, I will make a point to acknowledge the justification for your anger and request that you try to express it civilly and that you please return your focus to debating the points under contention. If your interlocutor’s provocation was egregious, your interlocutor will either be moderated for an indefinite period of time or banned for everyone’s sake, depending on how severe what they said or did was.

If you charge that someone has made things personal or insulted you and I am not convinced you are right, then you and I can dialogue about that and see if we can come to some common ground about what is or is not fair play in arguments. Maybe I will learn something, maybe we will respectfully disagree. And for the time being, I will request that you and the poster upsetting you stay away from each other and not derail the overall thread.

I will not be shy about banishment. I am going to pretty rigorously enforce civility. It is no longer important to me that as many people as possible participate on my blog. It is now more specifically important to me that participating on my blog are as many as possible civil, honest people with something constructive to add to general understanding. I have come to the begrudging conclusion that these are sometimes incompatible aims.

There will be some latitude before banning for people who lose their tempers only due to goading–especially if they are new and unfamiliar with the rules, or if they have established credibility as typically a civil person who normally controls their temper. And if people are having a long, constructive, and civil debate that just starts to really frustrate the participants such that their decorum begins slipping, I will be relatively gentle in reminding them to keep their eye on the prize of truth and off their irritation at being disagreed with. I will be satisfied if they take these warnings graciously. If not, they may be banned.

Basically, if a constructive debate will be less likely to happen because of whatever you are doing, I will not feel much compunction in banning you. That is my ultimate criterion. This may mean that some people on the side of the righteous may be banned because they do not want to have debates but rather only to vent their anger at other commenters rather than at the general injustices they have every right to be angry about. This is necessary not because I want the marginalization of their viewpoints or their feelings. It is simply my judgment that their perspective will be more effectively and constructively represented by people likeminded to them who also are interested in treating people they debate with civilly and convincing them with reasons and not with attempts to personalize disputes and bully opponents with the wrong kind of emotional leverage.

In future posts, I will explain the numerous just accommodations for emotions and for marginalized groups that will be present to minimize anyone feeling the need to lash out in frustration as much as possible, consistent with running an open debate forum hospitable to severe disagreements about fundamental values.

Also, let me remind you that you may level personal, substantiatable moral charges against each other in those cases where attempts to give them the benefit of the doubt have failed. You can use much harsher words than the epithets I am disallowing. You can level as serious and damaging charges as bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, etc. (And that’s a major part of why I am at a loss to think anyone is deprived for not being able to use merely abusive words like “douchebag” or “stupid”, etc.–but more about that in follow up posts.)

I do request though that before you impute to people whole philosophical positions they may not hold—especially poisonous ones—or attribute to them nasty character traits, that you first patiently ask for clarifications. Please say things like the following:

“When you say ‘x’, that has connotations of ‘y’ and ‘z’ that I (or a lot of appropriately sensitized people) are going to hear, and are going to think are bigoted in the following respects. Do you mean to stand by those implications? If not, how might you like to revise what you said to avoid implying such things unnecessarily?”

Or you might say,

“I am going to assume for charity’s sake that you are not a person of ill-will, but what you just said is something that manifests and perpetuates a cultural attitude that harms people in the following ways. Do you see why I think you should reconsider that idea or that phrasing of ideas?”

If in this sort of way you address what you see as the apparent ignorance of your interlocutors first, it is far more charitable and honest than if you launch into potentially false, counter-productive, stifling, and potentially damaging attacks on their entire philosophy or their entire character based on hasty assumptions about who they are and what they mean.

Treat people as individuals and give them space to make non-malicious mistakes. Charitably assume the best of them and you can help bring out the best in them and in yourself. Explicitly give people the opportunity to retract or qualify their statements before meting out social penalties and you may find that they are more willing to moderate their positions than if you had personalized things and triggered them to dig in their heels out of their natural reflex of self-defense.

I know that the above discussion does not address every complaint or challenge others want to make against my pro-civility/anti-epithet stance. I have already acknowledged other objections that people have and that I will be addressing.

In the meantime, in the comments section of this post, let’s please address the main topics of this post, which are (a) how I will moderate specific disputes to prevent trolling and (b) what kinds of strategies for conflict resolution I am requesting commenters adopt in order to have the most constructive disputations possible.

If there are other issues you would like to take up in the meantime, I refer you to my original policy post to read and comment there. I have already written many replies on a range of topics and you will see a range of criticisms of my positions there too.

Your Thoughts?

Below are numerous posts on the ethics and practice of civility, many of which address common objections to my views like those in this post.

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

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.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    Dan, I wish you luck in your future endeavors. I might drop in if you have a headline which catches my eye but I probably won’t be commenting since you appear to be going out of your way to accommodate “polite” trolls and coming down on people expressing honest anger at being trolled.

    See you around campus. Maybe. Perhaps.

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

      Dan, I wish you luck in your future endeavors. I might drop in if you have a headline which catches my eye but I probably won’t be commenting since you appear to be going out of your way to accommodate “polite” trolls and coming down on people expressing honest anger at being trolled.

      It’s a shame you interpret a no epithets and no personal attacks policy as troll friendly.

      You will be missed.

  • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

    But, in my mind, not only marginalized groups deserve to always have their feelings respected.

    I feel like you’re responding to an argument that was never made. I don’t think anyone proposed that marginalized group deserve unilaterally to have their feelings respected, nor that people generally not marginalized don’t.

    The point is that it is a very different experience for me to be called a faggot, for example, than for a straight person to be called an asshole. It isn’t about how my feelings always have to be respected. It’s about how the different insults function. And chances are, if someone calls me a faggot, I’m not going to respond with your recommended “I’m going to charitably assume you mean no ill will…” statement, chances are I’m going to infer that they are an asshole.

    And I understand that you’ve emphasized taking provocation into account. I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with not responding charitably to something which, frankly, does not deserve a charitable interpretation.

    I’ll wait to see how you respond to the following objections, many of which also overlap with this discussion. Honestly, though, I’m a little tired of participating in spaces which consistently ask me to be extremely charitable in interpreting slurs.

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

      if someone calls me a faggot, I’m not going to respond with your recommended “I’m going to charitably assume you mean no ill will…”

      The policy does not say that. At all. It rules out insults unilaterally. To interpret it as giving licence for anyone to call you a “faggot” is to read it as saying the very opposite of what the words say.

      What I said was that if someone says something with implications that strike you as offensive and make you angry but might not be meant in a hostile way, first check to see if they are ignorant.

      If someone calls you a “faggot” I’m suggesting you just civilly and firmly assert your boundaries and your right to be treated with respect. Assert that the language is morally reprehensible, whatever. I won’t ban you if you resort to an epithet but I would rather people here not meet abuse with counter-abuse if they can help themselves. Just say what they said was bigoted and you won’t stand for it and tell them whatever else they need to know.

      And don’t worry, as soon as I see someone called someone a “faggot”, the person using that language will be gone. It’s one of those egregious cases already mentioned in the post where people will get banned asap for coming in sending the message they are here to harass.

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

      The point is that it is a very different experience for me to be called a faggot, for example, than for a straight person to be called an asshole.

      Of course these are different experiences. Neither are to be tolerated though. A while back a black commenter came on my blog offended that I compared discrimination against gays to discrimination against blacks. Are they different? Well, yeah, they are. But does that make one right? No. Calling people names is wrong, even if they are wrong in different ways. But again, that’s for a scheduled future post on the relative ways that “stupid” is offensive regardless of whether it is the same or different from the ways slurs against groups is.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      My apologies for misrepresenting your policy — it wasn’t intentional.

      I have some other questions, but I’ll try to save them and see if you address them in the upcoming posts.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      I won’t ban you if you resort to an epithet but I would rather people here not meet abuse with counter-abuse if they can help themselves. Just say what they said was bigoted and you won’t stand for it and tell them whatever else they need to know.

      That seems perfectly reasonable. Thanks for clarifying.

      What I said was that if someone says something with implications that strike you as offensive and make you angry but might not be meant in a hostile way, first check to see if they are ignorant.

      Again, this seems perfectly reasonable, and I certainly don’t have any problems with it as such. I’m a pretty civil person, so I don’t usually use epithets or insults anyway. But there’s an unfortunately common phenomenon (which you may be dealing with under one of the other related objections) of people consistently saying things with x-ist or x-phobic implications, often under the guise of “just asking questions.” How long do you think this needs to go on before responding charitably is clearly not producing anything productive?

      I will say more about this specific point later on, but let me stress that I am aware (and will listen to explanations where I am not)

      I think this is important — you’re clearly willing to have these discussions. I do fear an increase in the tendency of comment threads to turn into meta-discussion from this, though.

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

      Thank you for hearing out my clarifications, aleph. Yes, I fear meta-discussion derails too but I would rather those than just meltdowns of the whole discussion.

      The “just asking questions” folks may sincerely be asking questions. But that’s where you have the right to inform them that, “these sorts of questions have certain implied beliefs. So, can I ask you if you actually hold these beliefs? Can I ask you if you are worried about me having full equality?”

      In other words, there are civil ways to push back and put them on the defensive before leaping to assume they are a troll.

      I cannot tell you how many questions or challenges to feminist ideas, for example, that I only had answered because someone asked a question that offended a feminist but still got a legitimate answer from that feminist and taught me something.

      One of the ways you can do that is by turning the tables and politely just asking questions back. “That question has certain implied assumptions. Let’s clarify if you really think them before I answer it.”

      A great example of this. A friend of mine went to a discussion group to talk about race. A white man asked the black people there, “Would you take a job that you got just because you were black?” and one of the black people there responded “Would you take a job that you got just because you were white?” The white guy’s question would have been a bit hostile for me here and I wouldn’t mind if people thought it was marginalizing. But the reply was spot-on and educational (though i saw it coming when the story was told to me–because I have read variations of the point before and they were illuminating to me).

      My point is, simply, there are ways to be civil and force people who ask questions with irritating implications to clarify their goals and assumptions and to interrogate those things without epithets or personal attacks. It’s not easy, but no good arguing is.

  • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

    Honestly… I’ve never felt offended by being called stupid, but it’s irritating that “bigot,” “racist,” “misogynist,” and other terms are allowed. At least when someone calls me stupid, they aren’t wrong.

    People who aren’t bigots don’t like being called that just because they don’t lovingly kiss the ring of… who is it who decided what we are supposed to believe, anyway?

    I’m not asking for those terms to be thrown on the sacrificial fire to the great PC gods, but I’m curious what cruel thing a person can say to someone who barely even knows them and thinks they’re a hate monger. Or, are hate-themed epithets sacred and must be handled gently with polite response?

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

      I’m not asking for those terms to be thrown on the sacrificial fire to the great PC gods, but I’m curious what cruel thing a person can say to someone who barely even knows them and thinks they’re a hate monger. Or, are hate-themed epithets sacred and must be handled gently with polite response?

      I would prefer usually that the harsher moral charges be leveled at ideas and attitudes and behaviors before aimed right at people’s characters but if someone uses an abusive epithet or says clearly callous and prejudiced things, then they are fine charges. Rush Limbaugh is a misogynist. No doubt about it. Anyone who made the kinds of arguments he did, it would be clear. But also he wouldn’t last very long at Camels With Hammers.

    • http://anythingbuttheist.blogspot.com Bret

      Does it bother you that Rush “wouldn’t last very long” here? I only ask because if I were, say, a conservative, I wouldn’t take pride in creating an environment hostile towards liberals.

      What am I saying… if I was a conservative, of course I would take pride in that… but hopefully you know what I mean.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      That’s a false equivalence. That the environment here will be hostile to Rush Limbaugh does not mean it will be harsh to conservatives.*

      It seems fairly obvious to me that, if for no other reason, this environment would be hostile to Limbaugh due to his well-known penchant for using slurs both against people and groups.

  • Jubal DiGriz

    I don’t post hardly at all, but read often. So far this seems like a very rational approach, making the lines clear but allowing for circumstances that people may with good intentions step over them.

    My main concern is that this is going to require far more work from you, Dan, and you’re going to be spending far more time moderating and policing then genuinely responding to comments and writing new content. The best forums and chat rooms I’ve been in have had a despotic “Will of the Mods” style that was usually no more complicated than “If you’re an ass, you will be banned”.

    I like that you’re trying to have a nuanced policy, and trying to craft rules that make it clear what the expectations are, I just hope you can balance modding this complex policy and your essays.

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

      Thanks Jubal.

      The problem is the last month, my mind had already been more on the comments sections and less on writing new things. So it was inevitable I come up with standards whereby I could just lay down a law that was clearly spelled out already and move on.

      Fortunately, skirmishes and insults and trolling is not the norm at Camels With Hammers and so this should be manageable. And now having a clear policy for banning means that anyone who starts making my life hell gets moderated quickly and the boot soon after if they don’t stop. In the long run, I think this will put my mind at ease and get me writing new things more again.

    • John Morales

      It is not impossible that, once certain norms become established, at least some of the work would be done by the commentariat itself thus reducing Dan’s load.

      (This is a dynamic I have seen elsewhere)

  • gAytheist

    Long time lurker here. I have never commented on your blog before but I read it regularly. I think this will be an interesting experiment and I applaud you for it. If it turns out that things get deadly dull you can always open things back up.

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

      I doubt personal attacks have ever been what kept this place interesting.

  • Contrarian

    I laud the call to discuss implications before leaping to conclusions about character or beliefs. One of my pet peeves with the internet rank-and-file of the atheist movement is its seeming inability to separate consequences implied by a statement from consequences implied by the conjunction of a statement and the reader’s own cultural perspective. I have taken pride in making such prima facie reprehensible yet perfectly defensible statements in an attempt to draw attention to the assumptions people make in reading them — hence my pseudonym. I am glad to see I won’t have to adopt similar tactics here.

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

      I have taken pride in making such prima facie reprehensible yet perfectly defensible statements in an attempt to draw attention to the assumptions people make in reading them — hence my pseudonym. I am glad to see I won’t have to adopt similar tactics here.

      That’s pretty dubious and sounds like trolling. There are reasons people find implications in words that are not necessarily there and they have every right to interrogate you to make sure you don’t mean what you are implying–especially if what you are implying hurts a segment of society (including them themselves even).

      It is weasely to try to say something that someone has reason to mistrust and then try to accuse them of being irrational for drawing the untrustworthy implication. “What? What I said, sounded racist to you? What are you just on a hair-trigger to call someone a racist, you reverse-racist?”

      That would be a really disgusting thing to do to people who are trying to articulate their experiences with real bigotry. It would be essentially trying to convince them they are paranoid. Now maybe you only limit this behavior to atheists and not to other groups, but nonetheless, it’s dishonest, not contrarian. A contrarian takes experiments with unpopular viewpoints to see what value they have. A troll tries to make legitimately worried people look paranoid by exploiting the ambivalences in words, as you have just admitted to.

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      One of my pet peeves with the internet rank-and-file of the atheist movement is its seeming inability to separate consequences implied by a statement from consequences implied by the conjunction of a statement and the reader’s own cultural perspective. I have taken pride in making such prima facie reprehensible yet perfectly defensible statements in an attempt to draw attention to the assumptions people make in reading them

      So you consider it more important to try to catch people out in making what you consider unjustified assertions than actually engaging honestly in a discussion? This comes as a total and utter surprise to me.

      As Dan said, that’s not being a contrarian. That’s being dishonest: you are explicitly engaging in behavior tailored to be indistinguishable from reprehensible behavior in order to attempt to “educate” people about drawing proper inferences.

      Without, of course, ever justifying your implicit claims that:

      (1) It is possible to determine “objective” and non-culturally-influenced implications of statements
      (2) These “objective” implications are the correct implications, and the only ones it is rational to respond to

      Please cite literally any study from the past decade of linguistics research supporting your claims.

    • Contrarian

      There are reasons people find implications in words that are not necessarily there and they have every right to interrogate you to make sure you don’t mean what you are implying–especially if what you are implying hurts a segment of society (including them themselves even).

      Absolutely. I agree completely with this, which is what annoys me so! People do have that right, and they should interrogate, but they DON’T. They skip right to the accusation without bothering to interrogate me, without acknowledging the (rational?) inference they’ve made (“I only hear this factoid/claim from racists, so he must be racist”), and without being able to pinpoint later what assumptions they have tacitly made to conclude that I am racist/fundamentalist/misogynist/MRA. As I said: people often, in my experience, bring cultural assumptions to debates which they seem to not realize they use in drawing conclusions.

      This isn’t exploiting ambiguity in language for lulz, or stirring up argument for my own amusement (well, usually not … I’m no slimo). This is rather being incredibly annoyed that people make inferences about unstated beliefs and character, seemingly without realizing they are doing it.

      Anyway, perhaps I wasn’t clear — it’s that set of unacknowledged assumptions that bothers me and provokes me to articulate contrarian positions I hold to provoke debate that (hopefully) illuminates those non-sequiturs. (I have other motivations, too, for trying on unpopular opinions, I guess, so I can’t say this is the only one. But it’s a big one, from lots of personal experience.)

      So again, I laud that you are taking steps to encourage rightful interrogation and discourage people from making that tacit leap in the first place.

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

      Contrarian, why do you assume that these unstated assumptions that they are acting on are unacknowledged ones even internally in their own minds such that they somehow need you to get them to understand what they think? Coming to consciousness about bigoted or harmful implications actually requires consciousness raising in many many cases.

      I will grant you that religious privilege often makes people assume atheists said things they didn’t (“you’re wrong” is unfairly assumed to mean “you’re stupid”) and that atheists often assume the wrong thing when religious people say “atheists have no justification for morality” and atheists interpret that as “atheists cannot be moral” instead of as a metaethical challenge.

      But the racist, homophobic, sexist, or transphobic implications of language are things you have to be educated to pick up on in most cases. They’re not default assumptions.

  • qbsmd

    I used to comment on Pharyngula relatively often but stopped reading comments threads due to the number of responses that were only “you’re stupid, go away and [stock violent or unpleasant image].” Often such statements were directed at creationist or religious trolls, and I can remember being disappointed that I never got a chance to work on my debating skills. I’d recommend the rule “if you’re sick and tired of making an argument, ignore that commenter and let someone who isn’t sick and tired make the argument”.

    Secondly, I’ve frequently seen comments on various blogs that I’ve agreed with, or questions that I’ve wanted to the answer to, or even my own comments answered as if those comments said something totally unrelated to their actual content. Some people seem to assume the absolute worst and react accordingly. It reminds me of the religious people who think atheists can’t be moral, so all atheists must be terrible people. I think atheists have an obligation to assume the best motives in each other, consistent with the available evidence, so we can have a break from the attitudes of religious people.

  • Pen

    I can’t wait to read your whole series Dan, and you have my total support for what it’s worth.

  • Contrarian

    So you consider it more important to try to catch people out in making what you consider unjustified assertions than actually engaging honestly in a discussion? This comes as a total and utter surprise to me.

    Please observe that I make no assertion regarding justifiability, only regarding hidden assumptions.

    • John Morales

      [meta + OT]

      I find your response evasive, amounting to your implying that aleph has asked the wrong question.

      Furthermore, you had not mention hidden assumptions at the time the question was posed, rather you’ve referred to cultural perspective and people’s assumptions; it seems to me you’ve made the hidden assumption that when you speak of assumptions without qualification, people will read that as hidden assumptions.

      (In passing, I note that unacknowledged assumptions need not be hidden assumptions)

    • http://alephsquared.wordpress.com aleph squared

      Contrarian:

      No. You are implicitly making a judgement call here, that assumptions not influenced by cultural perspective are more valid than those influenced by cultural perspective. If, in fact, you do not make any claim that the former inferences are more likely to be justified than the latter, why on earth would you be so very proud of trolling people who read your posts in the latter frame instead of the former?

  • http://www.ministryoftruth.me.uk Unity

    Daniel:

    I’m really just a lurker here but having acted as a moderator on a number of online forums ranging from complete bear pits where almost anything short direct threats were allowed to tech forums with very strict rules on civility towards other users, maybe I can offer one or two tips based on my own experiences.

    First, whenever anyone introduces a farily stringent moderation policy there are usually two main concerns that come to the fore from regular commenters :-

    1, Will I get in trouble over an inadvertant/unintentional breach or a comment made in the heat of the moment?, and

    2. Will the rules be applied impartially?

    Strict policies can work, and work well, as long as users have confidence that such policies will applied in a fair and even-handed manner while nothing destroys that confidence faster than :-

    a. Hair-trigger moderation – jumping in and removing comments for minor breaches of the rules without adequate warning,

    b. Excessive moderation – removing comments entirely when only part of the comment breaches the rules when the rest of comment makes useful point and adds to the debate, and

    c. Partial moderation – clamping down harshly on rule breaches where you disagree with the users argument while letting other breaches slide when they’re made by users you agree with.

    It can be difficult to avoid making these mistakes if you suddenly find yourself in the middle of a multi-user flame war, so when I was dealing with those situations I used a couple of simple tactics to give myself the breathing space I needed to make fair and considered decisions.

    The most important tactic I used was what I used to refer to as the ‘Ask, Tell, Ban’ rule – unless a user was behaving in a complete egregious manner, I’d tackle their behaviour by, first, asking them to tone it down then, if that didn’t work, by telling them to tone it down and then, if they still didn’t get the message I revoke their posting privileges for while.

    The other tactic I used to use quite a lot what that of trying to avoid removing comments in their entirety where the contributed to the debate on some level, so rather than hit the delete button, if the user had made a point worth debating but also crossed the line in the same comment, I’d take out only the offending section and add a note to the comment stating that part of it had been removed, and why. Although this can be quite time-consuming, I also found that it helped to take the heat out of potential awkward situations because users could see that they were being dealt with openly and transparently and because it avoided creating unnecessary frustration – there is nothing worse that taking the time to put together an argument only to see the whole thing disappear because you got bit too snarky at one point.

    With the exception of the occasional persistent – and deliberate – troll, I always found that the users I used to moderate quickly got the message and adapted their behaviour accordingly without getting too put out about the fact that I’d stepped in to stop a debate drifting over into personal attacks and abuse. In fact, once the regulars had got used to the rules and felt confident that they’d be applied fairly they usually did most of policing for me by politely reminding anyone who was getting out of line that their were rules and that it was to everyone’s benefit to stick to them.

    • http://bannedatheists.us Banned Atheist

      Dig it, Unity. Similarly I’ve moderated many the forum going back to the BBS days (and hope to again, within the year) and find your advice to be practical and, more to the point, practicable.

      I do hope nobody jumps to any conclusions about my username. I wear my Banned Badges with pride — I earned them, and I’ve never been banned from an atheist site.

      Every time it was thanks to the privilege granted to believers on the sites from which I was banned. Debating believers on Hannity.com can get an atheist banned regardless of how civil one writes. Just start to win a debate and one gets the tombstone.

      This site — hell this whole network — is nothing like Hannity.com. Dan’s policy of civility raises CWH an extra notch in my book to the kind of place I would rather be.

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

      Thanks, Unity for the advice, it’s much appreciated and I will keep it in mind.

      So far I have not dipped into the realm of comment editing besides to add a trigger warning to a post. I realize I may be wading into those tricky waters soon enough. So far, I have just let comments stand but only approved them simultaneous with warnings.

  • http://www.jafafahots.com Jafafa Hots

    Quaint.

    • John Morales

      Vacuous.

  • Robert

    Longtime lurker. Just wanted to say bravo, Mr. Fincke.

    Not to imply agreement with the whole megillah, but the sheer intellectual industry the attempt represents makes my brain sweat with admiration.

    Oh, and the explicit commitment to civility! That, too.

  • MroyalT

    So, unfortunately this does not do a whole lot to quell my fears about this policy. However, you have said you are giving some thought for ways to deal with the marginalized such that they feel welcome here – that is a good start. I guess I eagerly await what you think will be done to make this a marginalized friendly forum – I will comment more when the time comes. Until then….

    Let me press something here. The idea is that your approach may be too even handed. That is, that because it seems to lack a fundamental understanding of the feelings at play when we talk about social issues… that it is not that this will give an unfair advantage to trolls, – your policy does not do that upon clarification – it is that it will give an unfair advantage to the privileged. As such the effect of this policy, despite its intention, will make this a forum dominated by privileged people while alienating minorities.

    Why is this? Because of the fundamental power relationship at play here. The privileged have social power, and that power is still here on this forum – though to a different degree. As another poster said on a different forum, what most privileged folks do not fully understand is that there is an unequal emotional burden at play. The amount of emotional investment minorities have to take on certain topics when talking to ignorant privileged people, even the ones that mean well, is.. damn exasperating.

    That is the idea… When we talk we are making ourselves particularly vulnerable, and a lot of the times this is not responded to well. What this does is it infuriates us, even if the poster is well intentioned and just ignorant, and we can not hold back our emotions because racism is real. This is not some damn intellectual debate, it is not an exercise in ethics, this is real hardcore real life sht that fcks me, and other, up in the inside. I can not say this clearly enough, whatever the outcome of the debate on that social issue.. it is always the minority that loses emotionally. Even if we succeed in persuasion, we have taken a heavy loss in emotional damage when talking to either trolls or more importantly well meaning ignorant privileged people.

    We know the risks we take when talking about things like racism, sexism, homophobia etc… and we take that risk for the good of the other person. However, we suffer damage.. real life damage. These issue hits too close to home to too many minorities. You can not reasonably expect most minorities to respond the way you like. Some minorities can respond that way, but you are alienating the ones that do not.. and guess what? That is probably most minorities.

    Why? Because we already coming in here with an emotional investment, along with the goal of persuasion. Sometimes we will lose ourselves, we know this. Yet, if this is a forum in which we are actively punished, or told to calm down, for losing ourselves… than the risk is not worth the reward – even moreso than it is already sort of not worth it for many.

    When we come here, and then you tell us to not respond this way, and respond the way you dictate us to respond, because it is not only for our own good, but for the good of the other person…. this.. this is not a good start. This, this indicates that you may not understand to the extent you think you do. I will give you an example… if I was talking to a rape victim, even if what they say is fundamentally irrational, is my response going to be calm down and talk to me properly with civility? NO.. no it is not. To do so is to display a remarkable sense of insensitivity, even if well intentioned. It also displays a remarkable level of ignorance when it comes to basic human psychology – that fact is that you are likely to make things worse. What you have here is victims of societal discrimination. Now, you have told us, told them, to only respond in the way you want.. well that has the same effect as the example above.

    Now you said it yourself, no matter how justified that furry may be.. you don’t want it here – you want a more civil discussion. Well with this policy, you will get that, you will change minds… but that will come at a cost. You will also alienate a large portion of minorities if you don’t do it right.. and because of your privilege, you need to check yourself – cause that might be the reason you don’t get it right. The confidence you have in this policy, may not be well placed, and the effect it can have may not able to be corrected easily.

    With all that said.. I understand you have more to say on this specific issue, and hopefully you do get things right.. you are certainly open to correction – at least it seems that way at this point. So I wait.. I will wait to see what happens.

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

      I understand your concerns. To some extent I will be accommodating them but in others I will not be able to for reasons I will explain. The only (inevitably unsatisfying) sneak preview to tide you over for now that I can give is this: minorities (and everyone else) will have full right to both explain and to express their emotions as long as they are directed at ideas and not persons. They will not have to argue without passion or hide stories about how what is being talked about affects them. They will not have to feign utter detachment in any way. I am just asking them not to personally attack other people and use epithets. When someone else’s line of reasoning has implications that are upsetting and even dangerous, they can passionately interrogate that person and turn the tables on them and try to reassert their power and dignity in the conversation that way, but not by personally attacking their interlocutor.

      I admit (and will explain) that this limits the ability of the blog to be a place where marginalized groups can just force people not convinced of their viewpoints out. It will not be the kind of total refuge from having to justify their fundamental values and beliefs and identities that many people need to find somewhere online. I am really glad there are such safe spaces where people can go and have their perspective assumed and they are given a long leash to police against dissents that they find offensive. There is definitely room in this world for places like that. But this is a philosophy blog. This is a place for debates about fundamental values and metaphysics. Here we debate whether morality is even real or not, whether rights exist or not, and other such foundational questions. While the atmosphere will remain inclusive and Othering language and innuendos and treatment will not be tolerated, and no one will be subject to explicit or implicit personal attacks or marginalization, the debates will have to be ones where even people unconvinced of our values can argue for theirs.

      Much more later.

    • MroyalT

      @ Daniel Fincke,

      Actually, you probably will not have to elaborate further – at least not for me. I have been skimming your posts about issues and comments and stuff to get a round about assessment of who you are as best as I can. I can see in this response who I am dealing with – for the most part. I will await more clarification, but from what I sense, I can gather your position. I have actually had these types of conversations many times over before – with one fellow who is a philosopher actually, and he pretty much has the same stance as you.

      This ultimately, as you even hint, will end up just being a sort of respectful disagreement on how to handle an inherently fuzzy situation with no real concrete solution. Yet, I think that the dialogue here is beneficial to me, and hopefully to you as well – even if we know that at the end, there may not be a big shift in positions. I am under no illusions there.

      I just want to clarify a few things for you and anyone who might be reading this, so that they do not take this the wrong way.

      1) This is your blog, and philosophy is the main interest, not social justice issues. This is, in fact, a perfectly legitimate position – I would think. We all have our individual priorities and a sense of what is more important – and I believe this can be accommodated in a mature fashion. (This is not to say that social justice issues is not a concern, as your writing clearly indicates it is!)

      2) I of course am not here to tell you what to do! Nor could I even if I wanted to. My primary purpose here is to highlight a particular point of view that I feel has not enough emphasis to it. Even if I agree with some of the things you say, a lot actually, I want to highlight a very different perspective such that you can widen your view of things and act accordingly. This may seem combative at times, but only because I want to emphasize this very important issue to me.

      3) The idea I emphasize here, is that despite your best efforts.. You will end up alienating a block of minorities. The emotions they have about these issues can not be contained in many instances – with good reasons I might add. Why this is bad is because minorities are already out numbered and if the objective is diversity, you need as many as you can get and you would not want to alienate certain blocks. So I am saying that, because your interests are elsewhere, this will in fact be a bit incompatible with the diversity presence in your forum – even if you do a phenomenal job at handling it. As long as you understand the negative impact, which I will continue to press in your later posts, than your decision here is at least based on good information – even if I disagree with it.

      4) No one is asking this man to cater to minorities in any unfair or over protective way. I, and many others are just working hard to inform him the negative things this policy might end up causing. Which, he looks like to be doing a good job at at least trying to understand. The idea is that the power structure dynamic in society, which is present on this forum, needs to be addressed and not over looked.

      With that, I will just wait for your future posts and just comment there. I leave you to your business.

      Small note* I do love your blog. I like philosophy a lot. I, personally, and I can not speak for all minorities, do not mind if the primary purpose of this blog is philosophy – though metaphysics is pesky I say, pesky! I can not turn every forum I visit into a forum primary concerned with my needs – this is fine and I do not believe anyone wants this. Philosophy does deserve a place in the larger scheme of the skeptics community… because god dammit.. not enough of you know a lot about it. The bashing it regularly gets from rather ignorant skeptics is shameful! This place has priorities of its own, and there are good benefits to that – even if it comes with certain negatives I try to highlight here. What this argument really is about, I think, is just exchanging different perspectives and trying to understand where each other comes from.

      With that all that said … good day!

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

      Thank you MRoyalT, I really really appreciate all your contributions so far and that you are willing to read my motivations and thinking charitably here. Understanding my goals, it is enormously helpful that you can provide as much as advice as you can so that I can make as many marginalized people feel safe here as possible without compromising the forum as a place of relatively open-ended philosophical debate. I regret that I cannot accommodate everyone but my hope is that the members of marginalized groups who do feel comfortable in philosophical spaces will be able to have a kind of impact made less possible in more values-partisan ones that sacrifice broader outreach and education for the comparably good but nonetheless differently valuable aims of mutual support, coordination, post-marginalized worldview development, etc.

  • B-lar

    This looks like its going to be an awesome series. I dont think I will have much to add as it seems you are quite thorough, but thanks for keeping the space reasonable in case I do have something to contribute.

  • Pen

    I think I have seen more accusations of trolling leveled unfairly than I’m sure I have seen trolls, and I think the only way to detect unreasonable behaviour is to see how a person responds to polite engagement.

    Here we have Contrarian admitting to behaviour probably intended as an argumentative strategy that might be counted trolling and BannedAtheist who has tried to engage Christians in their self-declared space – a type of activity I’ve also seen referred to as trolling.

    Then we have the idea that the ignorant are automatically trolls, because whatever question they asked was already answered way back when. This is akin to skiing like a lunatic on the only run back to the bottom of the mountain while claiming that the beginners you sent flying just shouldn’t appear on the slopes till they’re ready. New people are coming along all the time. Reasonable attempts to familiarise themselves with a blog’s prominently displayed policies or intentions can be expected, but not much more.

    You can’t ban trolling because people don’t agree on how to recognise it. It refers to an intention, not an action. You can ban identifiable behaviours, permanently or on particular posts.

    • Pen

      Whoops – please scratch the words ‘like a lunatic’ and substitute ‘dangerously’… ahem…

    • smhll

      Then we have the idea that the ignorant are automatically trolls, because whatever question they asked was already answered way back when. This is akin to skiing like a lunatic on the only run back to the bottom of the mountain while claiming that the beginners you sent flying just shouldn’t appear on the slopes till they’re ready. New people are coming along all the time. Reasonable attempts to familiarise themselves with a blog’s prominently displayed policies or intentions can be expected, but not much more.

      I agree that deliberately running people down, to work within the skiing metaphor, is irresponsible. It may be helpful to look at what is done at ski slopes to prevent collisions. Physical segregation is part of the solution. I haven’t skied in a long time, but some slopes are steep and people move fast on them. These are marked as expert trails, “black diamond runs”. Very inexperienced skiers are encouraged to take a class to learn basic skills, so they have some manuevering ability before they try the beginner slopes. (I’m attracted to your metaphor because my son just started learning to drive very recently. He’s still doing parking lot driving, and I know any of you that live near me are relieved that he isn’t out on the road, yet.)

      In a virtual space, like a discussion board, people are also basically invisible, before they start posting. Avoiding verbal collisions with them is like avoiding a car in the dark with no lights on, or a skier who is wearing a white ski suit that is well camouflaged on white snow. I’m bending the metaphor too far, but in internet conversation a new, slow-moving skier can pop up suddenly in the middle of some fast skiing (debating) and this can force the discussion to swerve or stop. There is some obligation for both actors to avoid creating collisions.

  • http://www.empressive.com.au Michelle

    Hi Dan,

    You have created a lot of work for yourself but it is for a fantastic cause.

    All reasonable adults are capable of civil behaviour and sentences. No one is going to molest your child or kill your partner on here. Reflexive animal instinct is not required.

    It is not that difficult. We don’t need to swear or belittle other people. We can say that arguments are inappropriate, hurtful, illogical, biased and distasteful. We don’t need to get personal.

    We would expect five year olds to be polite to their grandmother pretty much no matter what she says, and we can expect adults to be civil to other adults.

    If someone is unreasonable, hurtful, unduly hostile and irrelevant – that is all that needs to be said. The best way to stop rude people is to confront them with their behaviour and refuse to engage with them until they behave better.

  • http://livewareblog.wordpress.com/ AdamTM

    I appreciate the effort you are trying to make, but I see it as unenforceable in a fair manner and in the long term.

  • machintelligence

    Rather than removing comments, I prefer disemvowelment. You can, with some difficulty, see what was said, and it doesn’t screw up the thread numbering.

  • PatrickG

    I find this series very interesting, and will continue to follow it, but I do feel there should be a Ninth Objection, namely:

    “My proposed system may work very well in the confines of my blog and other forums, but cannot be generalized to an ethic of behavior across a wider spectrum.”

    To wit, the rules for moderation outlined in this post are fantastic and will work well in specific cases, but in my opinion, there is an dauntingly large number of cases where moderation of this type just won’t be possible.

    A general call for this level of discourse seems to include a corollary that if you can’t moderate, perhaps you shouldn’t host a forum for discussion. I may misinterpret, and you may have addressed my concerns elsewhere (in which case, I am truly awful at searching).

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

      Thanks PatrickG. That is a distinguishable objection which will be partially addressed in others but I am not sure is important enough to me or my commenters to make into its own post. There will be comparisons between my policy goals and the goals of self-conscious safe spaces and I will concede at least some differences in our goals which are legitimate and warrant different practices.

    • PatrickG

      Thank you for replying Daniel. I appreciate you taking the time.

      I’ll add that one thing I was a bit disappointed not to find in this post is a more distinct separation of:

      - This is my espoused ideal for CWH
      - This is my espoused ideal for more general use.

      A good example of what I’m trying to get at is in your response to another commenter above:

      I am really glad there are such safe spaces where people can go and have their perspective assumed and they are given a long leash to police against dissents that they find offensive. There is definitely room in this world for places like that.

      In some of your earlier posts on this subject, there was a more general assertion (which I will now paraphrase badly, apologies) that your proposed rule could/should be applied in greater scope than simply your blog. I’ll admit that’s the part that attracted me*, so it’s a bit disappointing to see that Part 1 was very tailored to your proposed moderation rules.

      Thanks again for taking the time to respond!

      * Mainly because I have no doubt that you’ll have little difficulty in establishing the community you’re aiming for here. As an exercise, I find that part less interesting, but y’know, that’s just me. :)

    • PatrickG

      One quick clarification: I may have missed a shift in emphasis in previous posts, from calling for a general shift to a specific goal of reshaping your forum community specifically.

      Now that I look back on your previous posts, I realize a lot of this impression of a call for a general shift came from various comment threads. Your original post on this subject was rather specific towards your blog.

      Perhaps I’m raising objections to a question you’re not really asking? Unsure.

  • Kilane

    I’m surprised by your desire to seemingly bend over backwards to allow ‘justifiable abuse’. Not being goaded into abusive replies is a good trait to possess.

    Your positions are usually extremely well thought out so I’m curious – why must you make exceptions for people who fly off the handle over perceived, or actual, abuses targeted at them? Why is it okay to respond to someone calling them an asshole but not okay for the first person to call someone an asshole? Is there some intrinsic difference?

    The first person is clearly responding to something they perceive deserves abuse. The second person is responding to the first who they perceive deserves abuse. The 2nd can be justified but the first cannot?

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

      I’m surprised by your desire to seemingly bend over backwards to allow ‘justifiable abuse’. Not being goaded into abusive replies is a good trait to possess.

      Your positions are usually extremely well thought out so I’m curious – why must you make exceptions for people who fly off the handle over perceived, or actual, abuses targeted at them? Why is it okay to respond to someone calling them an asshole but not okay for the first person to call someone an asshole? Is there some intrinsic difference?

      The first person is clearly responding to something they perceive deserves abuse. The second person is responding to the first who they perceive deserves abuse. The 2nd can be justified but the first cannot?

      It’s not that I see the retaliation as justifiable but that I see it as a natural human response. I am still saying “don’t do it” in both cases. I gave a detailed suggestion for a better approach to being treated that way (calmly asserting boundaries, affirming your dignity and right to civil treatment, saying you refuse to engage, calling out the behavior morally, telling them information about the ways that what they said is damaging and unacceptable in cases where they used a slur or something equally demeaning, etc.)

      I am trying to clarify that I grasp we are all human and all make mistakes. I grasp that newcomers may not be accustomed to holding themselves to my standards. I am also aware that as civil and restrained as I usually am, deep into an argument when someone switches things to personal mode, I can lose my temper and lash out. So I am trying to say that newcomers unaccustomed and old timers with solid records of civil behavior should not be banned for a natural human flawed response. Old timers who regularly flout the policy any time someone calls them a name despite my previously letting them off with just a slap on the wrist and a “don’t do that again”, may be another issue.

      Rules have to account for human weakness and be practical about how to deal with it, not just demand ideal behavior.

    • Kilane

      So, I guess my question then is: Is it not also a natural human response to switch to personal attacks after your long held beliefs have been challenged and you no longer have a non-personal defense but you’re still not ready to accept you’re wrong?

      I’m not defending the switch, I’m merely saying that both are natural responses. You’ve overcome one natural response but not the other. You say one has mitigating circumstances but fail to see the mitigating circumstances in the other.

      I do support what you’re doing here, I’m just disappointed with the number of people who feel it’s more okay to be abusive in one situation than in another.

      Just don’t call people names, it’s really not that hard. No matter how racist my grandma is, I haven’t ever felt the need to verbally abuse her in person (my grandma isn’t actually a racist, just an example).

    • DavidM

      “Is it not also a natural human response to switch to personal attacks after your long held beliefs have been challenged and you no longer have a non-personal defense but you’re still not ready to accept you’re wrong?”

      Maybe, but that should really be beside the point. If you do this, then you kind of really *are* an asshole. And that’s the intrinsic difference you first asked about: the first person to derail an intelligent discussion with disrespectful personal remarks IS (being) an asshole; the second person who points this out is making a justified observation about the first person.

  • Anonymous

    (liberal airhead) Wow, that’s an awful lot of words to rationalize the authoritarian method by which you shut down free expression. It reminds me of how a certain kind of people used to be called “savages” because they expressed themselves differently and had different cultural values. Not everyone expresses their feelings or ideas in the same way, so it’s rather dubious to impose a single uniform standard, especially if it’s governed by a single subjective individual, who has all the prejudices and biases that an individual, by virtue of being an individual, has.

    Due to the subjective nature of opinion, having anyone at all dictating or moderating debate leads to institutionalized prejudice against those who dare express differing opinions than the moderator, while those who agree are at a distinct advantage. It’s simply a form of implementing ideological inequality, and is hardly in any way just, polite or civil. Dishonest and self-serving, maybe.

    But your use of the word “troll” fails to account for its ascendance as a widely used epithet to shut down discussion. Trolling refers to the intention of the individual, not how one perceives another’s behavior. Using it as the latter is just as bad as calling someone a nazi fascist, or a misogynist pig, or a feminazi, or any other such term whose main purpose is to discredit and silence the opposition, while providing a faux justification for taking action against them. The only person who can rightfully identify someone’s trolling is the person doing the trolling. And if they don’t identify as that, well, it’s ridiculous to assume you know exactly what someone else is thinking, and even more so when you act upon that assumption. Especially if what you perceive to be trolling might just be the individual actually trying to make a valid point that’s simply so radical, so beyond your immediate comprehension, that, if you don’t reasonable take the time to consider it, you can only assume to it be “trolling.”

    The point is, using epithets to condemn epithets completely and utterly undermines any valid points you might have, as the basis, the foundation, for making those points is comprised of falsehoods and hypocrisy. Or, to put it in a “trollish” manner, “YO DAWG I HERD U LIEKD EPITHETS SO HERE’S SOME EPITHETS FOR YOUR EPITHETS!” It’s alright to condemn epithets, but you have to be careful not to fall down into the slippery slope of becoming speech police or thought police, the latter happening when your assumption of someone’s intent starts to trump the intentions they actually profess to have. Sadly, the Internet has given rise to rampant speech and thought policing. Through the use of hierarchal organizational methods, such as having moderators and administrators with unchecked power, everyone is, of course, allowed to equal discourse. It’s just that it’s little more than an illusion, as those with authority get the final say and have free reign to impose their ideology regardless of the whims of the people.

    By placing banishment on the table as an option, all debates from then on are disingenuous. There will always be the subtle fear of consequence, which, intentional or not, places restrictions on the free exchange of thoughts and information without any regard for the relative nature of cultural values. At one time, it was “trolling” to suggest a revolution against the British Empire was possible, let alone necessary. It used to be trolling to imply that maybe, just maybe, those of a different skin color should not have their labor exploited. It used to be trolling to argue that minorities and women should have voting rights. It used to be trolling to dare question the validity of the belief in an almighty god, even if “he” has given one no reason to have such faith.

    By using “trolling” to police people’s thoughts and intentions, it subtly implies that the standards of today are static, that they have never changed and won’t in the future. It’s a fallacy that ignores the dynamic always evolving nature of society as a whole. The notion of dictating based on personal morality is, at its essence, a bourgeois tendency inspired by political and moral tunnel vision, as well as what Ayn Rand might call “the radiant selfishness of one’s soul.” The idea that any one person knows better than the rest is, ultimately, why we as a species continue to repeatedly make grave mistakes across the globe. Because those who believe in absurdities can easily be persuaded to commit atrocities. Not that the moderation of a blog is an atrocity. But the underlying rationale for it speaks to the part of human nature responsible for our long history of oppression, the idea that there is one set of truly righteous beliefs in defense of which all questionable ideas and behavior are excused. Unfortunately, those who don’t learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them. While this may be an inevitable truth, it would dishonest to assume that the inevitable truth is self-justifying simply by virtue of being inevitable. Ultimately, unless coerced into taking action by the social darwinist forces of the market or a populace beholden to it, a person still should take responsibility for their own beliefs and actions, including the hypocrisies inherent in them.

    In the end, civility and dissuading the use of epithets needs to be a bottom-up exercise. Otherwise, you’re just fighting a lesser evil, the hurting of feelings, with the greater one of imposing your own feelings upon others, regardless of how many it offends. It also provides a pseudo-validation of those who use epithets, as they can paint you as one who doesn’t simply hold opposing beliefs, but wants to force those beliefs upon others, and as such your beliefs must be wrong by virtue of the heavy handed methods you use to express them. It’s counterproductive to the cause you claim to champion. Unless you work to change the hearts and minds of people through the expression of your ideals, instead of demanding people acquiesce, you’re doomed to fall into the same trap the advocates of minority and women’s rights fell into. By prioritizing their own beliefs, instead of democratizing them, they shut down debates and lead some to think racism and sexism no longer exist. It forces opponents into the closet and, because they can’t freely express themselves, they continue holding those beliefs. They’re dissuaded from ever having an honest discussion about them, even when an honest discussion might be the only way for them to realize the error of their ways. And as a result, we are society are worse off due to the ever looming threat of a discriminatory shadow that we’ve marginalized instead of continuing to confront it. Such is the folly of limiting freedom of expression. All we end up with is code words that provide plausible deniability, which fool those not mindful of history into thinking those words are meant to be taken at face value. Which wouldn’t be a problem if we didn’t limit expression and shut down debate to the point where detractors can’t freely voice their actual opinions for fear of ridicule, demonization or being exiled from the debate by well intentioned but clearly misguided moderators.

    That’s not to say that there isn’t such a thing as disruptive expressions of speech if it does, in fact, interfere with others’ expression of it. But that’s more like spamming advertisements, or nonsensical comments completely unrelated to the discussion, rather than simply expressing a controversial idea that some might disagree with. In fact, there’s a case to be made that opposing views are far more valuable to discussion than those one agrees with, lest it become an echo chamber devoid of new ideas. (/liberal airhead)

  • Fuck all yall

    Fucking epithets. And fuck you.


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