Thanks for your feedback on my draft of the comment policy. I’ve added it to the top navigation bar, but, it turns out I’ve added it one day too late. One of the writers at Friendly Atheist took umbrage at commenter Gilbert saying this in reply to the post where I asked readers to chip in to help the SSA deal with DDoS attacks.
Any chance of collecting the money on our side? ’cause I really don’t feel like giving the Puppy Kicking League my contact info and ending up on their permanent friend file. I already have enough regular fundraising spam from organizations I actually support.
(Adam Lee has since set up a Chip In widget for anyone like Gilbert who wants to help out but stay off the mailing list)
In the comment thread, some of the Friendly Atheists readers were rather teed off at me for aiding and abetting. To wit:
Calling your opponents ‘the Puppy Kicking League’ is not fine.
Completely ignoring that simple and clearly explained complaint to address some other issue in your half-arsed, self-serving, and utterly cowardly response, is also not fine. And it makes you look like just another routine Catholic stooge wilfully blinding themself to bad behaviour as long as it comes from someone ‘on your side’. It’s pathetic.
And provoking that reaction is mostly on me, since I was being a little lazy about getting the comment policy up, so the readers at Friendly Atheist didn’t have any guide to my approach and they didn’t have any reason not to assume the worst, I guess. I ended up trying to summarize the policy in that thread, and I ended up discussing a general approach I take to comments both here and on other people’s sites.
I reply to whatever seems the most interesting and relevant part of a comment to me. When people start a comment by calling me stupid, I ignore it and reply as though the entire thing was phrased respectfully if something interesting followed the insult.
I didn’t end up with this approach in a “turn the other cheeck” normative ethics way. I just gave it a try as an experiment, since I’d noticed that a lot of the time that if I commented on both the content and the tone, every one ended up talking about the tone and the thing that actually interested me got eclipsed. I’ve stuck with this strategy because I end up having more productive conversations, and your mileage may vary, but I’ve seen enough of an improvement to recommend trying it out for a week or so.
I have had a number of conversations on the blog about how using dismissive and sarcastic language gives your interlocutors an excuse to tune you out (you’ll find some of these under ‘Debate Tactics‘ and you can also check out some of the stuff I wrote while guestblogging at Daylight Atheism). When I address bad behavior, I prefer to do it at post length, since the bad approaches tend not to be unique to one commenter, and the discussions, which tend to grow like kudzu, don’t choke off everything else.