Suggestions for Revamping Comments?

 

Well, the comments that followed my post on ‘A Week’ and the adjectives besides atheist that people choose kind of spiraled off into flamewars about gay marriage and other unrelated comments.  This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I’d like to get people to help me brainstorm some solutions, from the technical to the more honor culture-y.

Here are a couple things that have occurred to me:

Culture Changes

  • Periodic “Take it Outside” threads – when an off-topic conversation is heating up, I can paste the old comments in reply to the most recent “Take it Outside” thread, post the link, and all subsequent replies and sniping that are out of place will be summarily shot.
  • Periodic “Oh heavens, you’re going to fight about this anyway” threads – topic-specific posts on topics that people don’t seem to be getting better at fighting about, but are very intent on arguing about anyway.
  • The above, but with me feeling a bit snarkier/more helpful – Here, the long-running argument thread has a Meta Strategy Thread at top.  You need to reply to this comment with a link back to an older fight of yours, and add some thoughts about why it was unproductive and what you plan to change on this go-round.  No post in the meta thread means I’ll delete your comments in the general scrum that follows.
  • More structured threads – I could have said that the only relevant top level comments on the ‘A Week’ post were direct replies to my question.  We’ve had some really productive threads with tighter rules before, but I don’t know if that’s just because I only use them in special circumstances.
  • More of a general willingness to walk away from fights – We actually don’t so much have a problem with drive-by flamers.  But people to tend to take the bait when an unproductive fight is about to flare up again between regulars.  Having more of a culture of commenters saying “No one has had a productive convo in response to this jibe the last six times, so we recommend not replying” might be useful.  Or it might be a different way to flame.

 

Tech Changes

  •  Vote comments up or down
  • Ability to sort by these vote results
  • Ability to give an ‘off-topic’ tag to a comment – enough of these, and the comment drifts to the bottom of the thread
  • Ability to give an ‘on-topic!’ tag to a comment – enough of these, and the comment goes to the top of the thread
  • Ability for me to highlight a couple comments per thread as exceedingly awesome and worthy of discussion (instead of the boring smackdown you’re going to rehash).

I don’t actually know how to do any of the tech ones (and those changes go through Patheos), so I’d appreciate people’s additions to the wishlist as well as actual links to plug-ins that do these things.  And I think at least some of these are bad ideas, so do feel free to propose other bad ideas (best comment of the month gets a pony!) so people can tweak them to see if they spur good ideas.

(And if anyone turns this post into an unrelated brawl, I shall look at you most sharply!)

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

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  • https://foothills.wjduquette.com/blog Will Duquette

    On the blog The Online Photographer, Mike Johnston frequently adds “Featured Comments” to the bottom of the post. It’s a way of highlighting the posts he finds most useful or most interesting…and, I suppose, of drawing attention away from those that are not.

  • Matthew Morse

    I argue for comment moderation pretty much any chance I get. There are two or maybe three people who obviously degrade your comment section by routinely making off topic comments. Eliminate them and your comment section would immediately improve. They may be regulars, but by allowing them to post you are putting up barriers to people who might post and don’t because of the current makeup of the regular commenters.

    If outright banning isn’t your style, perhaps throttling comments would work. Identified problem commenters could be limited to no more than one comment an hour, for example. They wouldn’t be able to flood the comment section with off topic comments. Throttling could be either up front, not letting them post, or after the fact, so all posts go into a queue and are only released at the specified rate.

    The problem isn’t that the comments drift off topic and then run out of control. The problem is that certain commenters deliberately and routinely make off topic posts.

    • Emily

      If Patheos gives Leah a way to automate the once-an-hour throttling idea that might work well.

    • Theodore Seeber

      Rebecca over at public Catholic has gone to mandatory moderating to deal with an incursion into her commenters. It seems to work.

      • Darren

        Ho, ho, does it ever work!

        Our dear Rebecca makes good use of here moderating ability to:

        1. Ensure that arguments which are a little _too_ difficult for the faith of her readers never see the light of day; and

        2. That arguments from Atheists which are respectful, courteous, and engaging to her readers are also summarily deleted.

        (* based upon my own experiences, I have no way of knowing what mischief she works with the comments of others. If anyone would like to repeat my experiment, I would be glad to explain my methods and share data)

        Selectively deleting comments to make it appear there are no strong arguments against one’s position is not cool.

        Selectively deleting comments to instill and maintain an atmosphere of prosecutorial fear in her readers is actually Evil.

        A bit ironic, don’t you think?

        • Alex

          I’m curious about this could you give an example of a deleted comment?

          • Darren

            I will try and be brief.

            I was occasionally posting over on Public Catholic, mostly on the Hobby Lobby / HHS issue as I have rather strong feelings about Constitutional protections. Some good discussions were had. My postings were not extensive, but I began to notice certain of my comments going missing. Rebecca does moderate her blog, but the particular posts in question seemed odd.

            None of my comments were ever profane, none ever attacked Rebecca or another commenter personally, but most were contentious about the issues or about positions and beliefs. It began to appear that the contentious comments, the ‘attack’ comments, were still to be found, but the polite, personally engaging comments would disappear. It also appeared that the best made arguments, even when written mildly, would disappear.

            So, I ran an experiment. Over the course of a week I commented regularly. I varied the tone from mild to contentious to downright rude. All of those are still up, last I checked. I also, though, put up some comments that were polite to the point of obsequious, but contained (IMO) very strong arguments – one regarding the Catholic teachings on Damnation, another more personal discussion between myself and another Public Catholic reader who was in great distress about why evil Atheists were so against her, assuring her that Atheist were no such thing and generally being the Friendly Atheist to her. Both of those comments posted, and then were deleted within an hour.

            I might still have the comments saved on my other computer.

            It is the later comment deletion that offends me most deeply, though. Rebecca maintains a narrative that the Church is under attack, that she personally is under attack because she stands for the truth, and that any faithful Christian will suffer as well. It is a story I am all too familiar with. I do not doubt she gets her share of trolls, but it is my opinion, based on my small sample, that she also selectively deletes polite, reasoned, ‘friendly’ Atheists to bolster that perception among her readers.

            Deleting arguments she cannot refute is one thing, but fostering fear in her readers, fear as a means of control, that is quite another.

            My conclusions here, feel free to draw your own.

          • Alex

            Thanks, that was very different than what I was expecting (before reading your post I thought she just had a low threshold for inflammatory comments).

      • kenneth

        Virtually any post that contradicts the premise of her post is deleted. It’s not usually done for snark or off-topic or the reasons of tone and respect you would think. In fact, the more level-headed and cogent and politely persuasive your arguments are, the more likely they are to be deleted.

        That demonstrates to me that her comments section has nothing to do with debate or exchange of ideas. It’s and echo chamber where she can hear her own narrative (usually about persecution) repeated back to her with “hell yeahs” all day. Same deal with the “Get Religion” guy. He’s even worse. Any post that disagrees with his fact, premise or conclusions in any way becomes “off topic” and deleted.

        Moderation is fine to prevent spam or angry loons who are completely off topic and bring nothing but personal invective to the table. When you go beyond that though, it becomes an admission that the religion or idea system you’re promoting has no strength to stand on its own legs in a fair fight.

        • Darren

          Kenneth said;

          ” Virtually any post that contradicts the premise of her post is deleted. It’s not usually done for snark or off-topic or the reasons of tone and respect you would think. In fact, the more level-headed and cogent and politely persuasive your arguments are, the more likely they are to be deleted.:

          Thank you, you said it more clearly than I managed.

          • Mike

            Sour grapes anyone?

          • kenneth

            Sour grapes? I don’t know about that. It’s just disingenuous to invite people to debate when you have no intention of allowing debate. It insults the intelligence of your comment posters and it wastes their time. It also is a waste of time for Rebecca or whoever is deleting comments, and it’s a waste of time for any reader who comes in hopes of learning something from an honest debate on an issue. If you don’t want to host a real debate, don’t have a comments section. Plenty of bloggers have done that. I think it defeats the purpose of a blog, but at least they’re being honest in their intentions.

            As I’ve mentioned before, I think deleting comments just to avoid engaging debaters also reveals a lack of confidence in one’s own position. Say what you will about atheists, but I’ve never once had a comment of mine deleted by them just for disagreement. I’ve only ever encountered that in Catholic and Evangelical forums. If their faiths can’t withstand probing questions by a schmo like me, they certainly don’t have any chance of evangelizing the wider society.

          • Mike

            Yeah but sometimes it gets to be too much. AND LET’s BE HONEST here folks none of us are really here to be persuaded or to delve much deeper into these fantastically complex issues, are we? Let’s be honest, we’re here for a bit of ultra-violence, a bit of the old in-out in-out if you’ll excuse my CWOrange reference. We’re here to score points and to test our wits and to have some fun, no? Oh and of course to try to “WIN” Leah to our side! Look if nobel winnig scientists can believe and literary giants not believe than what hope do we have here? Well there’s always hope but you get what I am saying.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            AND LET’s BE HONEST here folks none of us are really here to be persuaded

            I actually thought Darren’s comment about Aristotelian metaphysical causation possibly being too implicated in discredited Aristotelian physical causation could have led me to reevaluate my philosophical commitments rather radically, if anyone had taken it up and either made or directed me to some persuasive arguments.

          • Darren

            Well, that is only fitting, as Leah’s conversion, your own patient engagement in the basics of Thomist thought, some supplemental reading, and a natural affinity to Aristotelianism comprised my own moderately-sincere reappraisal of the truth value of Catholicism.

            I doubt that I am sufficient to give you a true challenge on Aristotelian causality, but it was my conclusion that the weird and counterintuitive quantum mechanics playing havoc with this causality that took a great deal of the gloss off. Had I been on the inside, I doubt it, by itself, would have been enough. I am sure I would have abstracted it to the realm of metaphor or some such, but being on the outside it was enough to shut the door.

            And I must disagree with Mike. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to learn from others, as well as the opportunity to live-fire test my own thinking.

  • http://nopaniers.calepin.co Chucky

    This really is a very tough thing. If you moderate comments heavily and remove all insulting posts, people accuse you of being authoritarian. If you don’t, comments can descend into chaos.

    There’s a massive distortion on the internet: Building anything constructive is very difficult because to the disproportionate ease of insulting, misdirection and pulling down useful discussion.

  • deiseach

    I think that if you warn people “See this? This is my banhammer and you are getting really close to being whapped over the head with it”, that’s fair enough.

    I’m all too likely to go off-topic myself, but when we’re onto comment number three hundred and sixty-eight and it’s all degenerated into “Yes you are”, “No I’m not”, then you do need some way of saying “Take this elsewhere or shut up”.

  • http://ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca/ Randy

    Judging all comments will change the board. Inevitably some people will say you are biased against them. It might even be true. Besides it would need to be done in a timely manner. Not sure you have the time to read things that closely.

    Removing some offensive words would be a good step. Attacks on a person’s character kill discussion. They are not only a logical fallacy but most people can’t simply point out the logical fallacy and move on. Most people get angry and the thread is toast. I find if the moderator points out when someone is doing this and gently tells them it is out of bounds it works very well. Bans are normally threatened but almost never used. The catch is time again. Sites that do this well often have many moderators who are much more active that you seem to be.

    Often people match the tone of the least civil commenter. If a few bad comments are dealt with people will see nobody is throwing any mud so they don’t either. If they see one person getting away with it then they are much more likely to do it themselves.

  • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot Milco

    I don’t think penalizing people (i.e. heavy focus on what comments shouldn’t be like, lots of moderation, shaming [direct or indirect], etc.) is really the way to go. Structured commenting has worked well in the past, even on contentious topics. Specify what you’re looking for in top-level comments, and give people outlets for random ranting and digressions, and most people will probably fall into line.

    • http://paraphasic.blogspot.com Elliot Milco

      By the way, I think it’s really neat that you’re thinking about this. As I’ve said before, you are a great host for online discussions.

  • Alex

    I’d love to see a more productive comments section on this blog.

    If the goal is to dig deeper into the issues that people commonly argue about, then I think that structured threads are the way to go. “A reading from Henry VI, Part 2 4:2:73″ had some of the most stimulating discussions that I have seen. ( http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked/2012/08/a-reading-from-henry-vi-part-2-4273.html )

    Trying to improve the ability of the commenters in having productive discussions (actually changing the culture) is a much more difficult task . I love the idea of Meta-strategy threads for that purpose

    • Kristin

      I second this suggestion.

  • vandelay

    If you’re really concerned about off-topic comments and trolls then moderating comments would be the simplest solution, assuming that you’re able to review queued up comments on a fairly frequent basis during high traffic periods. When comments aren’t approved in a timely manner though, then moderated comment sections tend to have the life choked out of them. It’s pretty hard to have a discussion or argument when comments are only posted in large chunks two or three times a day.

    However, I do recall you mentioning a pretty laissez-faire attitude towards comments in the past, something along the lines of your non-response to contentious (and at times offensive) comments shouldn’t be interpreted as passive support. Moderating comments, and allowing those comments through, gives more ammo to critics who want to accuse you of tacitly supporting comments they find distasteful.

    Whatever you do though, I’d caution you to avoid giving your commenters tools for determining which comments are most and least visible. I’m even ambivalent on the “thumbs up-thumbs down” system. That might work in some comment sections, but I don’t think it would here. I very rarely comment here, but I enjoy reading the comments because the focus is most often on the strength of arguments, rather than their popularity.

  • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

    I’m puzzled why you’re looking for complex solutions. Just ban “Mike” and “Theodore Seeber”: “Mike” admits to being a troll; “Seeber” is either an elaborate troll or bonkers (sometimes hard to tell apart).

    • deiseach

      If you’re recommending a policy of banning the crazy people, Theodore isn’t the only one who needs to be shown the door; I do as well, since I am diagnostically suffering from a social anxiety disorder and my doctor is perfectly willing to prescribe me Xanax if I was willing to take it. Also, I can show you half my father’s side of the family on all kinds of long-term anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, and all over the scale on autism/Asperger’s and social phobias, as well as a few of us with mood disorders involving major depression, alcoholism, and other fun stuff.

      • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

        Well, if we’re getting all confessional, I’ve spent some time on anti-depressants too, so in fact don’t mean to suggest that anyone who has ever had mental health problems should be banned. I don’t think going all “TRIGGER WARNING ABLEIST LANGUAGE” is particularly productive for a mild insult like “bonkers” (which I deliberately chose instead of “crazy”, which I acknowledge is more “problematic”, as they say on Tumblr), but YMMV, I suppose. “Bonkers” in this case was meant to suggest someone with views which are just really odd.

        • Theodore Seeber

          It was, however, accurate, given my diagnosis of Asperger’s. I am certainly coming at things from a different direction than, well, everybody else on the planet, including fellow Catholics.

        • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

          “Bonkers” in this case was meant to suggest someone with views which are just really odd.

          I think anybody who cares enough to have opinions about the sorts of things Leah blogs about to comment here is almost certainly bonkers by that definition, given that “Who cares?” is the only non-odd view of many of these questions among decent normal folk.

      • Darren

        I prefer the term, “eccentric”. Remember, if you talk to your cat, you’re eccentric. If your cat talks back…

        ;)

    • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

      If Leah banned everybody who has occasional flamebait comments (starting with you for parent), poor deiseach would be left to run the show alone.

      And if Leah just banned the worst offenders, there probably would be a lot of disagreement on who the worst offenders are. For example, my list would have some atheists, who, strangely enough, seem to be lacking in yours.

      • http://blog.noctua.org.uk/ Paul Wright

        > For example, my list would have some atheists, who, strangely enough, seem to be lacking in yours.

        I was just thinking of how to correct what went wrong in the thread Leah referenced. If atheists start with the “you’re all evil/stupid/just want to screw around a lot (er, not screw around a lot? hate sex, I guess)/just hate God (er, science)” and the Stalin/Mao stuff, by all means, apply the same policy to them.

    • Mike

      Please don’t ban me; I am not a troll :) . Plus Darren would be lonely and I think I’d go crazy if I didn’t have this to occupy some of my time.

      • deiseach

        That’s your problem right there, Mike; you’re not crazy enough. Come over to the “weirdoes who smell a bit funny, not bad, just – funny – and talk to themselves” side of the bus with me and Theodore ;-)

      • Darren

        Mike is no troll, he just likes to f*ck with people, and who doesn’t now and then.

        :)

  • timothy

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” – Albert Einstein

    I don’t know enough about how the interwebs work to make a suggestion, but please know how much we love your blog.

    That’s it, just some encouragement:-) Love you sister, HALLELUJAH…HE IS RISEN!!!!

  • http://bensix.wordpress.com BenSix

    Vote comments up or down…

    I appreciate the potential value of this but there is something awfully passive-agressive about it. It makes me imagine talking with strangers in a bar, and whenever I crack a joke or make an observation they do the Ebert/Roper thumbs.

  • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

    Without any comparison testing to back it up, I think the quiz plugin is helpful. It basically allows you to attach a question to every post and then quizzes every commenter with it. It’s intended for spam fighting, but if you pick questions answerable from the posts that has the useful side effect of forcing people to read the post before commenting. I believe this affects trolls disproportionately. Perhaps it would be less useful with your high comment frequencies though, because a fight in a single post’s comments can go on very long and the reading cost is incurred only once.

    I’m very opposed to comment voting. That’s a reliable way to produce rigid group-thinks. That may be useful for people who want to discuss details rather than basics, but it would be totally counter-productive for a place aiming for ideological dialog. Off-topic labels masking votes would be a lot like Slashdot (For ye youngsters Slashdot:reddit::Myspace::Facebook), which is a bit better but still not great.

    For social solutions, I think it all boils down to heavy moderation of the regular threads. I don’t think it matters much if or what kind of alternative outlets are provided. Moderating your comments could be a lot of work though. Maybe if you applied moderation only to threads that have gotten out of hand and then set a limit on daily moderation time that would result in some throttleing and still be softer than closing them outright.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      I’m very opposed to comment voting. That’s a reliable way to produce rigid group-thinks.

      Indeed. I’d be particularly worried about a “Team Theist”/”Team Atheist” dynamic developing; while some folks might just upvote the most civil/incisive comments and downvote the trolls, I think many would just upvote the ones they agree with and vice versa.

  • jenesaispas

    Random comment (sorry): Happy Easter!

    • grok

      +1

  • Cam

    The thing I judge a comment thread on is the number of assumptions going unchallenged, such as a debate on the colour of bigfoot’s fur, from which a newcomer couldn’t even glean awareness of the possibility of, like, bigfoot being fictional. Which I guess contradicts the theory that old ideas shouldn’t be rehashed or mentioned. The cost of a tired thread is boredom and frustration, the cost of an overly fresh/specific debate is misinformation and ignorance. And I don’t think there’s any erudite scholars on Whatshisface-ian moral theory being scared off by the Great Unwashed driveling about the sexist/homophobic/colonial consequences and logical failings of the assumptions underpinnning his grand higher-order analyses, but that’s just my guess. Obviously “U SMELL” “NO U SMELL” debates are pointless, but I’m not a fan of this angle that the /topic/ of a debate can be problematic for reasons other than being OT, such as the argument being old or ineffective. People are naturally excellent at priviliging and protecting their ideologies and assumptions, why make that intellectual failing a systematic feature?

    Having said all that, ‘your blog your rules’ goes without saying, I like your blog, I appreciate being smacked-down when i’m silly, OT or wasting kilobytes, and thanks for all the stuff. Definitely second Alex’s comment about the structured debates, they’re awesome.

    • deiseach

      What do you mean, Bigfoot is fictional?
      :-)
      Okay, I give you Bigfoot, but not the Yeti.

  • Darren

    I guess it depends very much on what type of blog you want to have.

    How tightly do you want to focus the discussion on the topic at hand? Heading off topic, especially on the well-worn paths, can be a waste of bandwidth, but some seeming tangents can shed light obliquely on the topic du jour. The “A week” post being a great example. You state that the only comments which were topical where the straight-up “If I were a tree, I would be a…” replies. You got one of those from me, and other than as a check in a box, it was not particularly interesting. What was tremendously more interesting, to me, was the absolutely torturous tangential discussion about correlating belief with action and the moral obligation (or lack thereof) to resist heinous evil.

    Here we had a rather unpleasant debate, but at the end we had some really interesting data points. First, we had one Atheist claiming that if our actions do not correlate to our claimed beliefs, then our actual beliefs may diverge from our claimed beliefs. We had the designated Theist opponent saying “garbage”, we can believe a thing and yet have our actions not show witness to this and that’s’ just fine. Secondly, we had an Atheist claiming that everyone has a moral imperative to resist heinous evil to the fullest extent of their abilities. If they do not do so, this may not necessarily make them a Bad person, but it does set a very definite upper limit on just exactly how Good they can claim to be. The designate Theist again dissented, claiming that standing by while heinous evil unfolds and being concerned primarily with the preservation of one’s own skin is perfectly fine and does not in any way make one a Bad person.

    I mean, come on! I don’t know what kind of ‘ism’s those viewpoints correlate to, but if you think that data is OT from the “A week” posting, I think it is a H*ll of a lot more interesting than knowing that, big surprise, Darren is an Empiricist…

    That said, I am kind of a play by the rules guy (unless the rules suck), so if Leah’s vision for Unequally Yoked is “Knock that sh*t off and stay on target!”, well, I am willing to play by those rules.

    And so far as knowing when to walk away from an argument, that is always good advice. I don’t know what sort of readership the blog has that are not posting, though, and far more than 50% of the time I am not really talking to the other end of the line anyways. I will wring every good point or zinger I can get out of an argument, and yes that sometimes means I will reply to a posting from Ted if I think there is an outside chance that some unsuspecting lurker might actually confuse his incoherent ravings for rational thought, despite knowing full well that in Ted’s case I might as well make such arguments to my cat… Again, if you want to rule that sort of debating tactic out of bonds, put it in the policy and we will go from there: No playing to the bleachers.

    I personally would be fine with a policy that says something along the lines of:

    No abortion debates in non-abortion threads

    No SSM debates in non-SSM threads

    I won’t dredge up the long list of RCC evils if you don’t dredge up Hitler and Stalin and company

    I won’t harp on problems with the RCC worldview if you don’t harp on problems with the non-theist worldview

    Etc.

    • Kristen inDallas

      The above suggestions look pretty reasonable to me. If it were *my* blg, which it isn’t I’d just take a moment to really reflect on the things that bug me. The comments may share the property of being off-topic, but I’d wager that’s not the only thing they share. There have been a lot of really interesting off-topic conversations, that I’m glad to have read through. If you don’t mind the conversation so much as the location (dwarfing out the intended discussion) maybe you could throw those comments up on a subsequent post (with a note that they are not your thoughts but you found the debate interesting) and provide a link in the growing thread to move to the new location.
      As far as not taking the flame-bait… it’s a noble idea, but may not be beneficial in practice. Some of us arre fairly regular readers, and we get to know the personalities and quirk-factors of some of the regular commenters, BUT… I know that there have been several blogs which I find interesting and would want to recommend or link to. I consider myself a Catholic, but I have many many non-religious friends. Whether or not a pass along an article is usually more dependent on the overall tone the other christian commenters are setting. If a Mike or a Ted is flame warring with a Darren or a Jake, even when the initial statement is completely off-topic or provocative… I think it’s nice to leave it up just long enough for a Gilbert or a Desiach to chime in with a “Please note, does not speak for all Christians” type of comment. (If I have guessed wrong at anyone’s ideology mea culpa, just basing this on my best guesses for type of comment by frequent commenter).
      Yes sometimes the comments will go pretty far afield before they get reigned back in. And yes it can be tedious when the same things get rehashed over and over again… but you never know who’s reading. And for that matter, you never know when the most brilliant artculation of the same argument will occur. It’d be a shame to censor out the good with the bad. You have developed a pretty good following here, and I think most of this stuff will sort itself out.

    • Anonymous

      Let’s not kid ourselves. You’re not a play by the rules guy until you explain how your solipsism plays well with your humanism.

      I’ll skip a complete breakdown of how poorly you’ve fared at reading comprehension (though the high points are how you’ve just flatly gotten wrong where I come on the a/theist divide and how you’re somehow still massaging moral claims into my purely descriptive argument).

      Reading comprehension is most likely the most important problem across the board. I somewhat like Gilbert’s suggestion of the quiz plugin, but that only forces you to read the original post enough to get a handful of answers down. Once you’ve done that, spinoff discussions will continue to grow and drift regardless.

      • Darren

        Hey, Stalker #01, there you are!

        I was wondering if you were ever going to actually make good on your cyber-bullying threat. What kept you?

        I feel so hip now, like those teenagers on Facebook!

        • Jack

          Hey bullshitter who diverts attention from his bullshitting by accusing some one else of stalking, there you go.

          CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.

          • Darren

            Shall I take this to be your application for the post of Stalker #02? You really should come up with your own threats, though, copyright and all that.

            The potty mouth is a nice touch – makes you sound all extra angry and threatening.

            Har!

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Can I just point out the foresight involved in lableing someone as stalker #01 before stalker #02 showed up? Of course, you’re now limitted to a lifetime cap of 99 stalkers… might not be enough. That’s all I’m sayin’

            Seriously though, I’m looking forward to the thread about trollish flame war comment threads devolving into a trollish flame war… The internet, the show where everything’s made up and the OP doesn’t matter. That’s right, the OP doesn’t matter, just like a comb to Colin Mochrie.

          • Darren

            Jake said;

            ”Of course, you’re now limitted to a lifetime cap of 99 stalkers… might not be enough. That’s all I’m sayin’”

            You’re just jealous. :p

            The thought had occurred to me, but how many prefix zeros must one man assign? :)

            Two in one day, though, I may have to tone down my obnoxiousness; pace myself.

          • Anonymous

            I did get kinda busy. My apologies. I’ll try to pay more attention to you. Care to bother explaining your solipsism anytime soon?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            The thought had occurred to me, but how many prefix zeros must one man assign?

            I guess you haven’t technically committed to a radix yet… :)

  • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

    I think the idea of you (or anyone else) trying to moderate in real time is untenable, as is the idea of fundamentally changing the culture; this blog doesn’t have a culture problem, it has a troll problem.

    As far as I can see, the issue is that a few people (oftentimes the same few people, but occasionally otherwise good citizens/people I don’t recognize/possibly some guy named Jake) intentionally, deliberately, and brazenly derail pertinent discussion. _That_ is the problem that needs to be addressed.

    Manually ROFLStomping those comments would certainly do the trick, but is computationally expensive for the poor mod.

    Limiting a poster to a maximum number of posts per hour seems to have negative side effects (I’ve certainly posted multiple times to multiple sub-threads within an hour without the intention of being a troll). Besides, it doesn’t take volume to be a good troll (Ideological turing test idea: see who can successfully pass as a troll)

    Allowing people to tag a comment as trollish and default-hiding those that get enough negative votes seems to me the best solution. Some commenters have expressed concern that this will reddit-fy the community, but it seems like that would only be a problem if a) the community was grossly misusing the troll tag (in which case, you’re kind of hosed anyway) and b) the comments get ranked and displayed based on the troll tag (there’s no reason you would have to order posts by popularity; hiding the bad posts by default would be sufficient)

    It does seem to me that “off topic” is not the fundamental problem- lots of interesting stuff happens off topic. It’s the “exact same off topic as last week (and the week before (and…))” that’s the real problem.

  • PhysicistDave

    Leah,

    For heaven’s sake, just do whatever you want! It’s your blog, you bring people here, if they irritate you, delete ‘em.

    I irritated you once when I pointed out that some people were lying: it was pretty open and shut, but you didn’t like my saying it so baldly, so you complained. I decided you were a jerk for being annoyed by my complaining about lying, and so I disappeared for a while.

    The world survived. I survived. You survived. Your blog survived.

    What do you want for your blog? People who generally agree with you but are willing to debate details around the edges? People who timidly disagree with your basic views and are not too noisy about it? People who honestly think that the RCC is far worse than Stalin or Pol Pot and are willing to say so loudly and bluntly?

    Just decide and then delete away.

    The one thing I am pretty sure you cannot get is a general agreement on civility: a lot of the Catholics here really think they are being civil when they blindly claim that someone is an atheist because he rebels against morality or knows nothing of Aquinas or whatever (Fr. Sean recently posted something along the former lines, and he seems to be one of the quieter ones here). A lot of the atheists really believe that Christianity is built on a desire to see most of the human race suffer horribly, and will quote chapter and verse to back up that claim (e.g., Aquinas, ST Question 94 ).

    You are not going to get a consensus on behavior.

    So, use your power.

    (And, if anyone claims I am playing the role of the Adversary in Matthew 4, let’s just say that I always did think he was the real hero of Paradise Lost.)

    Dave

    P.S. I’m still betting that this whole RCC conversion thing is the final stage of your “ultimate Turing test,” and that you are planning to get a book out of it. In which case, do what you need to do to finish the experiment. CFAR, RCC conversion, etc.: the book oughta be a blast.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      a lot of the Catholics here really think they are being civil when they blindly claim that someone is an atheist because he rebels against morality or knows nothing of Aquinas or whatever

      That is a really fair point! The former claim drives me up the wall (there are far too many personally upstanding atheists for it not to be a stupid argument) and I may have been guilty of the latter myself.

  • Jay

    My thought is that some of the technical changes — specifically, voting comments up and down, sorting by votes, and possibly an off-topic flag (though that might be redundant with the downvote) — would go a long, long way toward fixing this problem. Without that kind of system, there’s too much temptation to offer a passionate rebuttal to a sincere but flame-bait-y comment, when really the best thing for all involved is just ignoring it. The downvote allows you to express your disapproval quickly and clearly, without much risk of the substantive conversation spiraling out of control. Of course, the commentariat would need to be careful about using their votes to signal how productive and well-argued a comment is, not mere agreement or disagreement, but you could set some initial guidelines on this, and I imagine most people would follow suit.

    I would also be supportive of more overt comment moderation if it’s something you feel comfortable with. I know you’re concerned (reasonably) that if you start banning/deleting some people, you will be seen as implicitly condoning everything else, but I also think there are a couple commenters here that have clearly transgressed any reasonable bounds of responsiveness and respect. Maybe you could at least warn them that they’re getting close to the line and need to rethink how they participate here. A voting system would also help in this regard, because it would presumably be much more comfortable for you to ban or warn someone who is consistently receiving massive downvotes. Someone getting such uniform, negative responses almost definitionally isn’t contributing to good discussion, so moderating such commenters couldn’t reasonably be viewed as “censorship” or whatever.

  • Steve

    Voting comments up or down lets the group self-regulate and doesn’t require 1 person doing realtime judging. If a particular comment falls below a certain threshold, it can be blocked or hidden. By doing this you might get a better idea of what the consensus is about a particular viewpoint, as well as serving as a gauge for the general effectiveness of how you might be in arguing your particular point (ie. are you articulating your views clearly and politely, or are you just rambling and acting like a jerk). I think that enough people can self-regulate in good faith, not dismissing a comment simply because they disagree and by the same token not rewarding comments that they might sympathize with, but are out of line or articulated poorly.

    An ‘off topic / on topic’ flagging system is also a decent idea, however there is a fine line between interfering with the organic evolution of a discussion, which might be served best by taking a tangent here or there, and putting the kibosh on a post about Harry Potter that’s responded to by blaming homosexuals for all the ills of the world. At the very least, if this is technically possible, it’s probably worth experimenting with.

    While it’s your blog and you’re obviously free to edit as you see fit, I’d suggest any ‘improvement’ that requires you to babysit is a waste of your time and won’t ultimately be effective.

  • Mike

    I like the strict approach to keeping the comments on the actual topic and the off topic tag. I don’t like votes though.

  • http://branemrys.blogspot.com Brandon Watson

    I think acting out a Politician’s Syllogism is a danger here, and the question to ask is what any of these means would actually do to minimize flamewars, which are not caused by ‘incivility’, off-topic comments, controversial beliefs, or even outright insults or taking offense, but by repeated active provocation, however rationalized.

    The actual flaming around here is pretty mild by any standard, given the diversity of readers; what makes it troublesome is that when it does happen it drowns out relevant arguments with irrelevant ones that aren’t even really arguments. This is why the more structured threads work reasonably well — it doesn’t necessarily address the problem, but it does make it less troublesome for everyone else. (Posts with a specific aim for commenting, like the ‘A Week’ post, should almost certainly be structured in some way.) I see no reason to think that a voting system, which just adds another layer of things that aren’t arguments or reasons and that aren’t necessarily relevant, will improve anything.

    • Steve

      Something worth addressing here isn’t so much the civility of the posts, which I agree by most standards are still overwhelmingly civil, but conversations that sometimes lack focus and fail to circle back to the topic at hand in any meaningful way. I feel that simple voting systems would end up being a rough, but effective indication of what posts are most relevant and contributory to the general discussion at hand. The ‘repeated active provocation’ should, in theory, be voted down and out if enough people feel it’s not a contribution to the conversation. In addition (making a fair assumption of the good faith of both the poster & voters) someone who gets numerous ‘vote downs’ might reconsider both their arguments & their tone. I think at the very least it’s worth an experiment.

      There should be a balancing act between

      A – allowing a controversial opinion in response to a proposed topic & the inevitable criticisms of said opinion

      and

      B – prohibitting conversations designed to, for instance, flush out a clearer picture of an atheist worldview from devolving into 300+ posts about god knows what

    • Erick

      Agree that structured threads work best out of all options put on table.

  • grok

    “This isn’t the first time this has happened, and I’d like to get people to help me brainstorm some solutions…”

    Well let’s take a step back. Is this a problem that actually needs to be solved? Is there anything out of the ordinary or “un-natural” going on with the comments process? I’ve done a bit of statistical analysis and it seems like a pretty benign natural process- so perhaps don’t “FIX” it? Here the analysis. First here are the # of comments for the latest 200 blog posts (starting with 111 comments for the March 21st blog post and then in backwards looking date order):

    111,42,331,7,12,71,74,12,21,22,116,56,66,85,95,87,28,176,32,508,44,19,33,182,26,17,28,196,23,17,12,34,14,60,19,89,58,37,16,28,321,22,93,21,7,18,9,69,13,61,6,5,6,21,9,22,38,60,15,8,4,60,52,18,50,46,320,19,41,33,26,272,146,26,103,23,13,54,2,12,43,221,32,30,20,28,94,13,16,53,158,19,45,33,5,44,20,13,34,51,8,12,23,16,7,38,72,2,47,98,169,13,94,155,14,3,44,117,49,42,78,1,19,12,30,13,41,49,31,38,21,6,58,17,36,14,41,76,14,1,70,43,25,29,32,110,89,42,9,27,102,37,30,5,53,13,50,57,98,18,31,14,24,17,71,51,17,43,135,17,18,9,158,46,73,6,6,16,16,7,27,17,3,23,49,58,8,124,4,38,28,24,24,13,15,194,12,7,17,172,

    For popular blog posts (greater than say 50 comments), the number of comments follows a power law with exponent roughly of 5/3. This means that, roughly, as the # of comments increases by a factor of 1.5x the excedance probability halves. Here the data vs. the fit:

    # of comments………observed excedance probability………..power law excedance probability
    80……………………………………17.5%………………………………………………..18%
    120………………………………….9.0%…………………………………………………9.0%
    180………………………………….4.5%………………………………………………….4.5%
    270…………………………………2.5%…………………………………………………..2.25%

    seems like a natural organic process to me. Perhaps leave well enough alone?
    cheers
    grok

    • Darren

      Thumbs up!

  • http://thinkinggrounds.blogspot.com Christian H

    1. Structured comments look fine to me. I also advocate the judicious use of comment deletion (not moderation because that would be too much work for you), but probably with warnings as deiseach suggested. The nice thing about warnings is they double as justifications; it would be clear to new-comers that deletion is not about a comment’s belief content but about unproductive and repetitive arguments.

    2. I am opposed to up-voting and down-voting. I have a few reasons: there is too much potential for the voting to be ideologically driven; on other blogs I have rarely found voting to really indicate quality, or at least quality as I see it; with nested comments it would be impossible to distinguish between a really good higher-order post and a flame-war that is parasitically attached to it; with non-nested comments it would ruin the order and make conversations hard to follow; I get really social anxious when there is comment voting because there is a public indication of other readers’ judgement, and while I don’t expect you to make decisions based on my anxieties, I suspect that this might prevent certain productive comments.

    • Darren

      Christian H touches on an important point.

      Two of the things I particularly like about the current structure of the blog:

      1. Comments are nested, making conversations traceable

      2. The side-bar ‘recent posts’ thingy. In fact, if there were a way to make that also work in a post-specific way, it would be mighty helpful in monitoring older posts…

      • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

        I also love both of those features here.

      • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

        If Patheos allows that much deviation from their design, the plugin to make the recent comments work by post would be Better WordPress Recent Comments. I’ll also take this opportunity to shamelessly plug my own user side partial technical solution to comment thread monitoring.

      • http://www.ephesians4-15.blogspot.ca Randy

        I would like more on the recent comments list. Just who commented is often not enough with many threads going on under one post. The first few words of the comment itself is one common piece of information that would help. The other thing I want to know is who is being replied to. There might be 5 replies by Darren and only one is directed at me. I don’t want to have to look at all 5 to find that one.

        • leahlibresco

          Can people suggest better plug-ins for wordpress for that side part?

          • http://last-conformer.net/ Gilbert

            Better WordPress Recent Comments will do the excerpting too, but not the in reply to thing. I don’t know if there is any plug-in doing that.

  • Guest

    I tend to lurk here rather than post. I read every comment so far (about 50) and I think the obvious is being missed. This blog is in the Catholic forum. You tend to pick topics that attract the quarrelsome atheists who like to hang out in the Catholic forum. They seem to come to pick fights (the same ones over and over, ad nauseum) and there are plenty of Catholics here willing to give them one.

    I think you are pretty much getting the results one would expect. So rather than moderating the comments somehow, perhaps moderating the topics is a better approach. I haven’t run across many atheists on this forum who are truly interested in a dialogue with Catholics where any actual learning takes place – just arguments. Just an observation.

    • Jack

      +1
      “there are plenty of Catholics here willing to give them one.”
      Oh, if only I wasn’t on a blog.

      Here’s a suggestion Leah. Go back to that godless dispersion you came from hauling all the idiot christians who supports you.

      • Kristen inDallas

        FYI Leah. This is literally THE only type of comment that will seriously bother me on your blog. Personal attacks, the kind against you. I can skim through 300 posts on random things, I can get over people calling an idea I care about stupid, name calling between commenters is unfortunate, but we all have the option of anonymity, or walking away. Maybe it’s te momma bear in me, but if a commenter is hurling personal insults at the one person who’s house we’re all in (so to speak), the one person who doesn’t have the option of being faceless or just leaving, well my hackles go up on your behalf.
        I do recognize that by deleting comments like this, you aren’t really spared from reading them, you’d just be sparing the rest of us from empathizing, which… doesn’t really seem right. I hate sounding draconian, but I’m not sure there’s a way to systematically correct it other than just banning folks who’ve gone over the edge.

        • Kristen inDallas

          Wow, I just read down to the bottom of the thread, and I no longer have a problem sounding Draconian. Jack’s comments are seriously creepy. Everything else feels like an argument. Arguments can sometimes be productive and sometimes unproductive. The best way to judge the productivity seems to be hidsight. Jack’s comments do not read like an argument. frankly they read like poking someone repeatedly, just to figure out where their boundaries are, for fun, like a psychopath would.
          If this were real life and you had invited us all over for a nice book discusion, the question of how long two let 2 ppl dominate the discussion with an argument about the meaning of the word “teapot” on pg 72 line 3… is completely up to you. At best I find it interesting, at worst I find it an ammusing example of the complexity of the human brain, or I find something else to hold my interest until the conversation comes back around. But comments like Jack’s, yeah, that’s when I’d be holed up in the kitchen with a group of the most reasonable looking folks trying to figure out how to get this guy out of your house as quickly and efficiently as possible.
          For clarity and data gathering purposes – I identify as Catholic. I often disagree with many of the same commenters Jack is picking fights with. So my comment here has very little do do with theology wars or what “side” I’m on, and everything to do with gut-level creepy vibes.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Agree with Kristen here. If you’re thinking about introducing a banhammer, by all means, start with Jack.

          • Jack

            I’ll make it easy for you. Enjoy your garbage.

  • Sam

    I’d suggest you tell us the kind of comments you would like to see and the kind you don’t want to see. Maybe make a set of guidelines in a post and then get people to reply to the post with a message signifying their willingness to follow the guidelines.

    Or maybe commentators can put something at the end of their posts indicating that they are willing to get into an arguement, or that they aren’t willing? Then only people who want to argue would be involved in long thread-wars.

    I personally like your site as it is, but I’m an irregular commentator.

  • deiseach

    I wish I could offer some serious advice, but since my only experience of moderating a discussion that went south involved a LJ post I did on the character of Irene Adler in one of the “Sherlock Holmes” stories and her portrayals in recent films and series as against the original story that somehow managed to inflame two commenters to fly at one another’s throats over race, racism and lived experience of same – I have no idea what to recommend in order to avoid such contretemps.

  • kenneth

    The guidelines for comments, whether enforced by moderation or community norms, should boil down to one question: Does the comment engage the topic at hand in some good faith way or a topic that logically flows out of the original debate? Is the person building some sort of cogent case for a relevant point, or just ranting? There’s room for some wise-ass humor and off-topic chatter. When the trolling and baiting rise to a level that they threaten to derail any productive conversation, that’s the time to step in.

    For the most part, I think the current system is pretty good. Almost anything goes, but what you say reflects on you. Leah also tends to engage issues at a high enough level that it tends to be unappealing to trolls and culture war brawlers most of the time.

  • Jack

    “Shall I take this to be your application for the post of Stalker #02?”

    Right, in the batshit crazy world of relativism, the bullshitter is the victim.

    ” You really should come up with your own threats, though, copyright and all that.

    The potty mouth is a nice touch – makes you sound all extra angry and threatening.

    Har!”

    I prefer a more personal approach, wanna go out for a beer? Until then,

    CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.

    • Darren

      Stalker #02 said;

      ” I prefer a more personal approach, wanna go out for a beer? Until then,”

      Hey, an actual physical threat! Making you look like a wimp, Stalker #01…

      • Jack

        What threat relativist? You’re bullshit doesn’t apply to me. Wanna go out fora beer?

        CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.

        • leahlibresco

          Jack, I’m not deleting your posts, but I would strongly prefer you knock it off. Your content warning is not persuasive (which I assume is your goal) as a causal/new reader has no more reason to trust you than Darren. All they see is a flamewar.

          • Jack

            I strongly suggest you stop supporting everything and the kitchen sink pretend christian.

            “Your content warning is not persuasive (which I assume is your goal) as a causal/new reader has no more reason to trust you than Darren.”

            1.The bullshitter/solipsist provided the link to that thread further up.
            2. Care to inform the casual reader yourself, since you’re already aware of the solipsist, or are you going to focus here.

          • Anonymous

            Your content warning is not persuasive (which I assume is your goal) as a casual/new reader has no more reason to trust you than Darren.

            Ahhh… that’s why the original version had a link to Darren justifying his behavior to himself via rewording, as well as a link to Darren condemning such Dickish behavior in the general sense. I, for one, think this is very informative (data and from the horse’s mouth and all that). However, the main goal is not to be informative. The main goal is to publicly shame such behavior. If we had a robust moderation policy, neither the Dickish behavior nor the shaming would be present. Of course, if you would simply like the shaming to stop, I will acquiesce (and would encourage Jack to as well). I would like to not upset you more than I would like to discourage newcomers from being taken in by the Darren Full Frontal.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            If we had a robust moderation policy, neither the Dickish behavior nor the shaming would be present

            This seems like useful data- this would not be my expectation in the hypothetical-world-where-UY-is-moderated. I’m not sure how much to trust my intuitions, since Darren and I tend to wind up on the same side of arguments, but I can only think of one thread where I would have tagged Darren as trollish, and it wasn’t the one Anon is talking about.

            Perhaps “troll” is not quite so well-defined as I would like to imagine, and I ought to reconsider my claim that a troll tag would be an effective deterrent to comment derailing.

          • Anonymous

            I wouldn’t venture to claim that Darren is always behaving in a troll-like fashion. It would be quite surprising if anyone was capable of that. However, it seems as though Darren simply made up the idea that he’s a solipsist in order to avoid the consequences that he didn’t like from his argument… and then proceeded to stick his fingers in his ears and scream, “YOU’RE A BAD PERSON AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD!” If this doesn’t fall under your definition of troll, I’d like to see your definition in a bit more detail.

            (Heck, in the link I posted above, he responds to the accusation of lying with the tone of, “Of course I’m lying! Haven’t you read these comments before? It’s clearly what I do!” How is this not useful data to a newcomer? Darren seems to expect that this should be well-known to all.)

            Of course, as I’ve requested many times, Darren could very easily explain his solipsism and reconcile it with his humanist manifesto. If he wasn’t trolling, why hasn’t he done this very simple thing (or at the very least, said at least a couple words about why it might not be terribly simple)?

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            My interpretation of that thread was that if Darren was guilty of anything, it was assuming his jokes would be understood through the limitted media of text (or of simply not caring whether or not they were). That doesn’t seem to me to be a terribly great offense.

            Of course I could be totally wrong. I wouldn’t wager too much on my understanding of Darren-the-human-being.

          • Anonymous

            I suppose there’s only one way for us to find out.

            Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know.

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”I suppose there’s only one way for us to find out.
            Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know.”

            Hmmm…

            Are we asking nicely? Because, as I tell my 2 y/o, we do not get what we want by threats…

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com Jake

            Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know.

            I actually quite enjoy the ambiguity. If you assume all the crazy-sounding statements other people make are jokes, the internet becomes a much friendlier place :)

          • Anonymous

            If you can identify a threat in, “I suppose there’s only one way for us to find out. Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know,” then your 2 y/o must speak a dialect with which I am not familiar.

          • Darren

            Tangentially Off-Topic

            Anonymous said;

            ”If you can identify a threat in, “I suppose there’s only one way for us to find out. Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know,” then your 2 y/o must speak a dialect with which I am not familiar.”

            I’ll take that as a “Yes, I am asking nicely”.

            I do sometimes despair of ever making a point with subtlety. Having failed, it always seems rather pointless to journey back and step-advance through; the moment has passed. I would have thought the reference to Voltaire would have been sufficient. Nothing to it but to sweep up and try again.

            Philosophy 108 – The Wisdom and Deeper Meaning of Darren

            Level 1 – the contention that a sovereign nation of some 25 million individuals is, in fact, imaginary, and thus any perceived plight of said people is no great cause for alarm is, yes, a joke.

            Level 2 – the assertion that our actions bear witness to our beliefs, and in many cases show that we do not actually believe what we may think we believe, stands. N. Korea is a poor example, in a post-Cold War world the best approach is to integrate through a de-escalation of tensions and the inculcation of an appetite for and dependence upon material comforts; we should advocate for such an approach (and to the extent that it matters because Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama care fuck all for what Darren thinks, my conscious is clear on this score). But that is another matter. Besides, there are numerous far more egregious evils afoot to which I (and most others, small comfort) make little to no opposition: Darfur, child brides, some 14,000 children dying daily for little more reason than being poor, 2.5 million orphans in the U.S. in need of homes, the depressing state of women’s rights in the Middle East and Central Asia, etc., etc.

            I would never step over a dying child on my way into my home, a child dying for the pitiful reason of not having money for $1.00 US worth of Amoxicillin. Nor would I press through a throng of starving people so that I can have my Big Mac, Lg. Coke, & Fries. But, I do actually do just this, or something functionally equivalent, every day, and so do all of us.

            Theism tells us we do this because we are Fallen, that we fail in our duty of Charity.

            Evo psych tells us we do this because our brains are poorly constructed to understand abstracts like starving children in Africa or N. Korea. That, in a very real way, those are not real people, not real like lying in the gutter real that I have to step over, not even real like “I sure am hungry, Taco Bell sounds good”, real.

            Level 3 – Wherein Darren solves the Problem of Evil and no one notices.

            Ah, the Problem of Evil. Some people seem to have no difficulty at all with this one, which puzzles me. I can only speculate that they fail to comprehend the scope and magnitude of heinous evil (which is understandable, see Level 2), or that they are exceptionally good at believing Dragon in the Garage excuses (Not a tame lion, GWIMW).

            Perhaps I am unreasonably sensitive, (that poor little ‘hang in there’ kitten gets me every time) but for me it is a very big deal indeed. I have chewed through all the theodicies, and they are all crap, so I invented my own. I quite like it. It is workable and it is logically consistent both with the observed events and with the claimed attributes of our favorite Man with the Big Beard.

            P-zombies. Any time anything really bad happens to someone, well, that person was not really a person, they only appeared to be a person, indistinguishable in every way from a real person, but with no soul, no consciousness, no subjective experience to be touched by suffering. In short, merely decorative, ornamental, part of the landscape.

            Six million Jews into the ovens? Not a problem. After all, assuming our designated genocide-ers to be real people, it would be a violation of their free wills to _not_ allow them to exterminate their fellow Man, but the violation of the free will of the exterminated must also be considered. Using divine omniscience, simply identify all those hypothetical people who would suffer heinous evil were they to exist, then contrive to place p-zombie homunculi exactly duplicating the hypothetical real people. Hitler has Jews to kill, Teresa has suffering Indians to fetishize, Hutu’s have Tutsi’s to hack apart (and vice versa), Bill and Malinda have Malaria victims to fret over, Jerry Lewis has his telethon, everyone wins!

            Now, a world populated with an indeterminate number of p-zombie red-shirts is functionally indistinguishable from a Solipsistic reality were only I, and as many other instantiations of whatever that thing is that thinks it is I, actually exist. This would, IMO, be a strong contender for the only ethically permissible way in which a simulated reality could be constructed, and would appear to add little to the overall computational complexity of the simulation (one could rely upon informed-consent of the sentient instantiated within, but that is a rather ghoulish solution, like living through a snuff film, and so I would classify it as a distant second choice).

            It just so happens to also solve the Problem of Evil for Theists as well. Someone alert William Lane Craig.

            We could only be so lucky.

          • http://thoughtfulatheist.blogspot.com/ Jake

            P-zombies. Any time anything really bad happens to someone, well, that person was not really a person, they only appeared to be a person, indistinguishable in every way from a real person, but with no soul, no consciousness, no subjective experience to be touched by suffering.

            Wow… I missed this level of subtlety, but this would be one of the best twist endings to reality ever.

            Of course I think reductionism lays waste to the P-zombie theory (since there’s no soul to be removing from said zombies), but I’m actually a bit shocked I’ve never heard this theory put forward by a religion before. Perhaps I am simply not well-read enough.

          • Darren

            Jake said;

            ” Wow… I missed this level of subtlety, but this would be one of the best twist endings to reality ever.
            Of course I think reductionism lays waste to the P-zombie theory (since there’s no soul to be removing from said zombies), but I’m actually a bit shocked I’ve never heard this theory put forward by a religion before. Perhaps I am simply not well-read enough.”

            I take that as quite a compliment! Just because it was in my head when I wrote the original thread, in that hot mess I call my philosophy, does not mean it came through in any way detectable by someone not also living inside my head… I did drop a hint about Solipsism being a workable solution to the Problem of Evil, but the p-zombie part was internal background.

            Yes, completely invalid in a Materialist world, yet completely undetectable in a Theist or Simulationist reality – thus its evil power.

            I have never seen it anywhere, and I have read a bit in the field, but I would be shocked if it had not been proposed by someone.

          • Anonymous

            This is quite interesting. You’re abandoning materialism and applied moral theory. After all, if you choose to do evil to others, they must have been P-zombies all along.

            I’m curious, still, about what you mean by “evil”. You seem to have constructed a universe in which “evil” cannot actually be done. Thus, it seems like nonsense to talk about if someone chose to do evil or if someone experienced evil. To ask a more direct question, is there any way that someone could do evil to you? What would that be like? Would experiencing something that you might want to describe as evil change your definition of evil (it must not have actually been evil, because evil can’t happen), change your opinion on whether you are a P-zombie (‘evil’ happening to you isn’t really evil), provide data to invalidate your theory (making it actually detectable), or something else?

          • Darren

            Anonymous said;

            ”This is quite interesting. You’re abandoning materialism and applied moral theory. After all, if you choose to do evil to others, they must have been P-zombies all along.”

            Not really. With root level reality unknown and unknowable, we are left only with proceeding according to apparent reality, which lands at Methodological Naturalism / Empiricism / etc. That means that more than likely the universe is simply a cold pit of Nihilistic indifference and all of us meat beings far more selfish and far less good than we like to tell each other and ourselves. Not everyone is happy thus, and so I have kindly provided a plausible alternative for their comfort.

            Now, if you will excuse me, I think we have run off topic long enough. I shall be happy to take up the discussion again if Leah is inclined to put up a relevant post. Perhaps you should approach her about a guest blogging stint, and then feel free to provide your own wisdom for our edification.

            Feel free to post a last word if you feel the need.

          • Anonymous

            Eugh. You introduce more questions than answers and then run off. I has a sad.

            I still can’t figure out what you think. It sounds like you’re personally a Nihilist who thinks that Nihilism is unpalatable for the masses… so you made up a maybe-plausible alternative (though I have major doubts concerning how plausible it is because of the evidence I inquired about above). Of course, there is no reason for actually talking about this alternative when describing your own views. The only reason I can think of is that you want people to like you. This seems strange given my understanding of your position is as well as being inconsistent with the data. (Clearly, the direct question here is, “Why in the world did you tell such a strange story rather than the truth?!”)

            Rather than having me guest blog, I’d prefer to have you present a reboot manifesto. It’d be enlightening to see the complete extent of how totally you’ve changed. It’s always more interesting when we have such massive and well-thought-out ‘conversions’ in belief being demonstrated in public. Some people will always freak out and merely count numbers. Others (like me) like data on state transitions so we can build dynamical models.

        • Mike

          Hey, I’ll stick up for Darren. Play nice dude. And tone down the anger. Sophists are people too afterall!

          BTW aren’t sophists different than solipsists? Because I think we might be confusing the 2? And yes I am too lazy to check wiki.

          • Darren

            Aww, thanks Mike, that is kind of you.

            Yes, Sophist and Solipsist are two entirely different things, though confusingly alike in sound and spelling.

            By my own definition, a Sophist practices Sophistry, which I like to think of as plausible sounding but false arguments. In other words, someone who will say anything, even a lie, to convince others and win the debate. It did not always have such a negative connotation, originally just being someone who was able to make an effective and persuasive argument. The Athenians tried and executed Socrates on the charge of (among other things) using Sophistry to corrupt the young.

            A Solipsist has varied meanings, depending upon the degree, but generally is someone who either believes that the only thing that can be certain is his own existence, all else being uncertain, all the way to someone who believes he is, in fact, the sum total of existence and everything else is either his own imaginations or different incarnations or manifestations of whatever that thing is that also thinks it is himself. Don’t ask me to diagram that sentence.

  • Darren

    Is tussling with stalkers on a post about comment moderation policy on-topic?

    I think it could count as gathering data, myself, but I do not wish to be looked at sharply…

    ;)

    • Jack

      What physical threats? It’s the bullshitter’s qualitative transfromation. This ain’t Stalking either relativist, it’s a public service.

      CONTENT WARNING: Darren is a known liar who will argue in bad faith. He prefers the term Evil Sophist. Expect shameless trollish behavior intended to obfuscate, insult and harm. The intent of these messages is to shame Darren into publicly resolving to change his ways and to be a Dude, not a Dick. These messages will continue until then.

    • leahlibresco

      Not particularly. What productive thing do you think is going to result.

  • Jack

    I suppose there’s only one way for us to find out.

    Darren, was your claim of solipsism merely a joke? Your buddy Jake wants to know.”

    Their shit makes me laugh. The constant bullshitting and excuses in trying to make it look like nothing happened.

  • Matthew Morse

    Just like the post on “A Week”, I think the exact moment where this thread went off the rails is clear, and I think it was deliberate. I’m not saying anyone should be banned, but I do think the discussion would be more beneficial for most participants if certain participants had to work harder to keep posting.