Given the influx of new readers and some questions , I’d like to add a Comments Policy tab to the top of the blog. Here’s my first draft, so let me know if anything needs clarification, if you know how to make a warning sound less hectoring, or if you have other suggestions.
I only delete comments that are obviously spam.
(Fun fact: the easiest way real comments get mistaken for spam is when they pay me an unspecific compliment).
I may make an exception in the future if a commenter relentlessly harasses or threatens another reader (I’m fair game), but we’ve never had that problem. There are a couple of reasons I let dumb, angry, or contentless comments through.
When you make an unproductive comment, the main person hurt is you. When you insult other commenters instead of explaining clearly and patiently why you disagree, you’re giving people an excuse to write off your argument. I’m not here to protect you from yourself.
And there’s another reason I make sure to let all that stuff through. Before they got nabbed by the feds, MegaUploads and other filesharing sites were very clear that they didn’t filter content. They’d respect takedown notices that were filed, but they wouldn’t do any preemptive screening. If they had committed to helping check for copyright violations, every video that made it through their filter would be assumed to be approved by them and they’d be liable for clearing them.
So, in the same way, I let every non-spambot comment through because that way you know not to assume that I approve of the content and/or tone when a comment shows up (as you might if I moderated comments). And my safe harbor policy goes one step further. Sometimes commenters ask me why I haven’t rebutted them or someone else in the thread. If the offending commenter is Catholic, someone might add that I have an obligation to respond, since otherwise people can’t tell if I agree with that person’s interpretation of doctrine.
I refuse to be held hostage by the most aggressive commenters. I respond to the comments that interest me or anything where I think I can help with a quick question or clarification. I read every comment, and, if someone brings up a weird claim about Catholicism, I tend to check it out offline with friends, or my RCIA class, or a priest. I don’t thrash it out online til I have data.
So when you run across an unproductive seeming comment, the most important thing to remember is that not every comment needs a rejoinder. It’s ok to walk away from a fight. In fact, the more obviously wrong it is, the less necessary it is for you to waste your valuable time rebutting it. Skip the troll and find the person who’s comment made you feel a little queasy about the strength of your philosophical system and ask them to expand, so you can start a productive fight.
If you think people are walking away from you, or you’re only getting quick, angry replies, try and figure out if you need to change your tone. Other commenters have no obligation to debate you specifically, so you need to play nice to get them to play at all.
That doesn’t mean you need to pull your punches, but you should think of the comment section as a bazaar. Everyone is pitching something, so if you want someone to stop at your booth, it doesn’t matter if you’re right, since everyone claims that. You need a reason for a passerby to engage. So make sure you understand your opponent’s arguments, and make it clear you’re not picking on a straw man. Don’t try to pretend that all the arguments for your side are so obvious as to not permit honest confusion. And try to assume neither malice nor stupidity on the part of your opposite number. After all, if they’re too dumb or too nasty to be persuadable, what exactly is your goal in trying to persuade them? Are you really trying to help, or are you just indulging your pride in baiting them?
I try (and sometimes fail) to stick to these guidelines in my own posts and comments, and every time I slip up, I give someone an excuse to stop listening to me or to disengage with the meat of my argument and lay into me about tone. Good commenting means making it as easy as possible for someone to engage your argument. Indulging spleen is disrespectful to my interlocutors and counterproductive to my goals.