Show me your commenting rules…
Blogosphere friend Michael of Oleh Musings sent me links to discussions on the blog of Robert Lindsay, who describes himself as an “Independent Left journalist in California”. I thought of joining the discussions, but Michael thoughtfully referred me to his commenting rules. As I quit commenting on Daily Kos for much less, this isn’t a blog I’m going to waste a single second on commenting. But I want to dwell on those rules and what they say about the blog owner.
There’s a good start:
1. Offensive comments will be deleted by me. If your comment is deleted, consider that a warning.
“Offensive”. The charge of “being offended”, as we know all too well from the Muslims, is inimical to free discussion. I think nearly every Israel/“Palestine” diary on Daily Kos offends me; I just grit my teeth and engage the important points here on my blog. The charge, “What you say offends me”, is usually a pretext to avoiding addressing the arguments.
He qualifies the adjective, “offensive” with a definition—a definition so wide that he can take any comment he doesn’t like and find something that fits in, and then use it as grounds for deleting the comment or banning the user. All in all, this is worse than not enabling comments at all (sorry for the Floydian slip): the blogger who disables comments is honest about his unwillingness to debate; the one who enables comments, but under such stringent rules, is virtually the same as the former, but falsely advertises a readiness to debate that he really lacks.
Let’s see some more of those definitions:
3.a. Calling me racist, sexist or anti-Semitic. All comments implying that I am racist, sexist or anti-Semitic will be deleted, absent any evidence that these characterizations are true. If this blog veers into racism or sexism, please call it to my attention via email, and I will look into the wording in question.
I agree if that if such appellations are all the comment consists of, then they’re a waste of time; however, if accompanied by substance, they often contribute greatly to the argument. Both posts Michael sent me bear out, to my mind, that the author is worthy of being called an anti-Semite (or an anti-Zionist, which is a subset of that). I’m sure that even if I showed him how he is one, he’d delete my comment. And it’s asymmetrical: he gets to call Israel an apartheid state, while he silences anyone who contests that name.
It reminds me of Norman Finkelstein with his canard that the “right-wing Zionists” are curtailing his free speech. It’s the other way round: I’m for his right to publish his vicious screeds and libels, but I also demand the right to call him upon those, including the right to call him a neo-Nazi for them, a right which he is against.
3.c. Spelling, grammar, blog style or post style (f)lames. (F)lames is right! Spelling, grammar, blog design or post construction flames in comments are ad hominem and will be deleted, unless you are very nice about it.
I agree in disliking comments with such a focus (i.e. on form rather than on substance); however, this rule is in place so that the blog owner can have a handy excuse to delete an entire comment that he doesn’t feel like responding to.
He continues in that same definition:
Truth is, my entire personal life is simply off-limits to this blog. I know that is horribly disappointing to lots of Bush supporters and hardline Zionist Jews out there. These people specialize in the politics of personal destruction and have made a fetish of using ad hominem attacks against all foes. [Emphasis original. —ZY]
If your entire personal life is off-limits, may I suggest you leave it off your blog yourself, like I did to the greatest extent I could. And by the way, what follows is an ad hominem and generalization going against his own rules.
4. All comments telling me, "America, love it or leave it", "If it's such a great country (foreign country), why don't you do live there?" or variations on these typical asinine rightwing rejoinders are not allowed. That includes statements claiming that I hate America or hate "the troops".
Not much to say here. It’s another widening of the grasp of the restrictive rules, another addition of opportunities to delete or ban the uncomfortable. Of course, he can say, “Just follow the rules and you’ll be OK”, which, when rephrased in the context of government surveillance (“If you don’t do anything wrong you have nothing to fear”), he doesn’t buy.
Final points from his rules:
7.The fact that I attacked you in my post (if you are a blogger) is unfortunate for you, but you need to respond to my attacks by firing shots across the bow of the blogosphere, not by counterattacking on my comments threads and polluting them up. Comments threads are neutral zones for warring parties. [Emphasis mine. —ZY]
All the above is proof that, at least in the case of Lindsay’s blog, comments threads aren’t neutral zones by any stretch of imagination.
8. Willful violators get banned. With Haloscan, it is trivial for me to ban commenters. I won't go into details so as not to encourage scofflaws. About 25 commenters have already been banned and I am prepared to ban many, many more. If you feel you have been banned unfairly, please send me an email and I will see about unbanning you. [Emphasis original. —ZY]
Lord of the manor, king of the castle, master of the domain… et cetera, et cetera, everything except the proprietor of a platform for intellectual discussion.
I don’t like ad hominems. I don’t think anyone does. But I’ll say this about ad hominems: they shouldn’t be an excuse to delete an entire comment, if that comment contains arguments that can be addressed. If there’s just one intellectual argument hidden in the thicket of the ad hominems, I keep the comment. I apply the filter, and in my response to the comment, I discard all the noise and address the signal. It is only when the comment is nothing but ad hominem that I see it fit to delete it.
The only exception to my “no throwing all the wheat away because of the chaff” rule is, as I stated, links to series of photos of dead bodies posted as propaganda. Because this is such a grievous sin, I have no mercy on such comments, even if they contain excellent arguments alongside. But it’s not likely to be a great loss, because those who use death porn as propaganda are highly unlikely to be capable of serious intellectual discussion.
Mr. Lindsay has effectively built himself an echo chamber. It’s his right. It’s my right to call him a coward for that. And I’m staying away from his and all other “neutral zones”, because I’m not in the mood for feeding the ego of an insecure blogger.