Rediscovering Civility

I have reluctantly closed the comment threads on “Conservative Swede’s Challenge”, its predecessor post, and its follow-up post.

ThrashingIt seems that publicizing the Swede’s challenge was a mistake on my part. Not only was there no serious engagement of the issue, but some of the commenters have descended to unfortunate levels of vitriol and invective, creating a poisonous environment which may well be contributing to the dearth of comments on subsequent threads.

I don’t know what it is about Russia, but the topic seems to be too radioactive for people to handle in a civil manner. Many posts that I consider important and valuable — VH’s translations, fiskings of the OIC, reports from Malmö, etc. — attract few or no comments. But let Russia be discussed, and dozens of comments immediately appear. Many of them are nasty, unpleasant, and without significant factual content. Nobody learns from them, and people who dislike ill-tempered rhetoric are discouraged from further participation.

I’ve been lax in my oversight of the comments, because the behaviors in question frequently violate Gates of Vienna’s Rule #1 (“Comments must be civil”).

Here’s a partial list of uncivil argumentative techniques that I have observed recently:

  • Bullying
  • Name-calling
  • Insulting the intelligence of someone who disagrees
  • Charging guilt by association
  • Questioning an opponent’s motives
  • Mind-reading
  • Categorical denigration of a point of view

I could continue, but you get the idea.

These behaviors are counterproductive. If someone disagrees with your position, you won’t convince him that he is in error by calling him an idiot or questioning his sanity. I’m forced to conclude that people who use these techniques are not interested in winning the argument or convincing their opponent to change his mind.

Even in the best of circumstances, most people will not change their minds, especially old folks like me. On the rare occasions when I find myself conceding my interlocutor’s point, it’s invariably because he has argued with me in a careful, reasonable, and friendly manner.

People sometimes seem to think that the depth of their emotion — the pure righteous flame of their fury — is self-evident proof that they are right. But I generally remain unconvinced by the Argument From Passionate Intensity.

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I’ll use a three-pronged strategy to try to improve the discussion environment here:
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1.   Enforce Rule #1 strictly.

I have very little spare time, and monitoring comments already takes too much of it. Therefore I will be deleting uncivil comments without any explanation. If your comment disappears, you’ll know why.

My deletions may seem unreasonable and capricious. Deal with it.

2.   Refrain from posting about Russia, at least temporarily.

This is unfortunate, but necessary. Many people are unable to stay within the bounds of civility when discussing Russia. I’ll avoid adding fuel to the fire for the time being.

It’s too bad, because Russia is a fascinating and timely topic.

3.   Close comments threads.

When things really get out of hand, I’ll close the thread. It’s easy, and only takes a moment.

Once upon a time, Gates of Vienna comments sections were a joy to read. But nowadays I get up every morning with a double load of dread in my heart: first because of what nastiness may have accumulated overnight in our comments sections, and second because of the emails I face from disaffected readers who complain about what some of the commenters are doing.

I’m tired of it, and I don’t have the time for the hassle. I’m going to be prompt and ruthless in an effort to cauterize this wound before it gets any worse.

Needless to say, this post is not open for comments.