A comment on commenting

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It’s an unfortunate truth, but a truth nonetheless, that unmoderated discussions on the Internet tend to spiral into the sewer. I allow comments here at Erotic Mad Science and for the most part I have been pretty well pleased over the years at the civil tone people here have taken both with me and with one another. The comments section on a recent post, however, generated to my mind what is a bit of a minor tsuris. Not a big tragedy by any means but certainly an occasion for a gentle reminder and a brief statement of some commonsense principles for commenting on this blog, or any of my other blogs, for that matter. I’m not calling out anyone in particular, but I do think that now is a good time to say what follows.

I don’t object to being criticized, even if I think the criticism is harsh or possibly even unfair, and I don’t mind others joining into a critical discussion. Encountering the opinions of others, even if they are unfavorable, is part of the price of being an author and an editor. I do, however, hold it as cardinal principle that commenters should criticize ideas and not people. You don’t like what’s going on with the content here? By all means feel free to say so, as long as you do so in a coherent and civil fashion. (As a necessary aside, though, if you consistently don’t like what you see here you might want to ask yourself whether being here is a good use of your time. It’s a big Internet. Heck, it’s a big world.) But discussions about what people are like? Well, the thing is that I don’t know very many of you personally, and I strongly suspect that many of you don’t know each other personally. So as I see it no one has any business commenting or even really speculating as to the moral character or private lives of myself, my contributors, or other commenters. That way lies pointless and bitter conflict. As with so many other things, good old Thomas Hobbes put it well:

And because all signes of hatred, or contempt, provoke to fight; insomuch as most men choose rather to hazard their life, than not to be revenged; we may…for a Law of Nature set down this Precept, “That no man by deed, word, countenance, or gesture, declare Hatred, or Contempt of another.” The breach of which Law, is commonly called Contumely.

If you think someone (especially me) has bad ideas, say so. But if call someone here a bad person, I will take measures which might include putting you into moderation or, in the case of significant or repeated misdeeds, I’ll ban you entirely. The same applies to anything that I think is just an insult or name calling.

Now of course doing this moderation will involve some judgment calls on my part. Sometimes drawing the distinction between the mere expression of a controversial thesis and outright trolling, or that between the ideas and the person, or that between a misfired witticism and an insult, will depend on my making a judgment of the good faith of the commenter, and I’m as fallible at that as the next guy. I call them as I see them. Sometimes I’ll get it wrong.

Now if I make a mistake I’m sorry. But I will not argue the point with you if I do. If I had an unlimited amount of time to devote to comment moderation I might do things differently. But I don’t have unlimited time. This site is not my job. I don’t earn money — not a dime — from it, which is fine with me because as a purely self-financing content creator I have greater independence than I would if I did have to earn money from my writing. I have family and professional obligations in my meatspace life, and they come first. This site fits into time that I have left over from these, and any time I spend arguing with a commenter means time I don’t have for writing or editing (and is also usually a source of weariness and cynicism besides). In major league baseball, if you argue balls and strikes with an umpire you will be ejected. I take it the rationale for the rule isn’t because umpires are infallible, but to prevent games from devolving into litigious chaos. A similar rationale applies here.

Be decent to one another. I know you can.

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