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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On blog comments

Rod Dreher considers the problem of blog comments:

Ross Douthat has given up the comboxes on his great Atlantic blog, I hear because policing them to keep the foulmouths and the trolls out became too burdensome, and good people who wanted to have an honest debate/discussion quit coming around because of the atmosphere there.

Today I've heard personally from several of you regulars that the tone in the Crunchy Con comboxes has gotten uglier of late, and you hate it. A couple of you have even said to me that you're disinclined to come around because of it. This really bothers me, not least because you are among the more balanced and intelligent commentators, the kind of readers who make this blog an interesting and pleasant place to talk about ideas.

Not long after this blog started, I decided, after beseeching my Bnet bosses, to start being a hard-ass about comments here, precisely because I was hearing from so many of you who said you hated the spiteful, screechy atmosphere in the comboxes. After I started pruning trolls and being more intolerant of uncivil discourse, the blog numbers started taking off.

Now, I'm not terribly concerned about the blog numbers here, but I'll admit that when I first considered a request to add comments to this blog, I was somewhat skeptical about the concept. Being fully aware that most people are idiots, I correctly anticipated that most comments posted would be idiotic. This has certainly proved to be the case. If anyone happen to find that statement insulting, so be it, feelings can't change the observable fact that most of the comments here are juvenile, off-topic, illogical demonstrations of self-obsession when they are not feeble, illogical, and error-prone attempts at criticism of one sort or another. And then there's those that somehow manage to combine both....

The fact that the discussion in the comments here is nevertheless of a higher intellectual quality than can one usually find elsewhere is a potent practical argument against democracy.

What people often forget is that the commenters on a blog make up a small fraction of the readers of that same blog. A few people may read blogs for their comments, but the vast majority do not, the self-inflated fantasies of some blog commenters notwithstanding. Moreoever, a blog's commenters tend to be the most outspoken, fractious, and emotionally troubled portion of its readership. They inevitably cause problems; the notorious trolls are actually much less irritating than the revenant-stalkers who are so socially inept that they cannot refrain from showing up where they know they are not wanted. Add to this the emotionally incontinent fanboys who respond inappropriately to everything from criticism of the blogger to criticism from the blogger and you've basically got a worthless morass of wasted time in the making. It doesn't help when people feed the trolls and revenants by responding to them either.

This is a real problem for many bloggers and I don't blame those, like Ross Douthat, who have decided that it's simply not worth the trouble trying to manage the unmanageable. Fortunately, it's not a problem for me, for three reasons. First, as I have repeatedly stated, most people are idiots - functionally if not literally - and that applies to most commenters here. Until you demonstrate otherwise, rest assured that I hold you in all the intellectual regard you have merited to date, which is to say none. I therefore need not concern myself with your ramblings. Second, while I definitely do care what some people think, you almost certainly aren't on that particular list. I might like you, I might find you amusing, I might even regard you as a positive mutation and a distinct step forward in the evolution of Man... but that doesn't mean that I care what you think. Third, as a libertarian down to the bone, I don't believe that it is possible to manage people for an extended period of time, so I'm not inclined to waste my time trying.

So, no one need be concerned that I'm going to ditch the comments. They are often useful, occasionally amusing, and always completely avoidable. I've even heard more than once from bloggers who envy the way in which substantive and intelligent discussions erupt here from time to time. One of those justifies fifty comment threads containing nothing of any more intellectual import than one of Jamie's wigger atrocities.

That being said, there are certain things I'm not inclined to tolerate. Serious criticism isn't just okay, it's appreciated. Silly and superficial criticism from people who are constantly looking for any angle to attack me isn't; it may help some critics to keep in mind that I have a perfectly functional memory and if you've made several spurious attacks about some tangential triviality that evades the main topic in the past, I'll treat your future "criticism" with the respect you've shown it deserves. Which is, again, to say none. Foul language is frowned upon, even if I happen to use it myself from time to time. In general, the fact that I do something does not confer permission for anyone else to do so. And you may not like that Spacebunny can pretty much get away with behaving however she likes, but this is hardly the only place that smoking hot blondes have carte blanche. Above all, if I ask you a direct question, then I expect a straightforward and unevasive answer. I've done you the courtesy of taking you seriously and paying attention to you, so the least you can do is to accept the consequences of obtaining the attention you were seeking. If you simply want to preen, posture, and play transparently dishonest games, there are hundreds of thousands of other blogs out there and I'm sure a few of them will tolerate you. I won't.

If you've got something to say, then say it. Just don't think that you can avoid being called out if you happen to say something stupid. A considerable amount of embarrassment can usually be avoided by the simple expedient of a) being civil, and b) thinking for five seconds before posting your comment. And if you've posted more than three comments in a single thread in which you are not engaged in a substantive discussion, you should strongly consider taking advantage of the opportunity to stop listening to yourself talk.

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