Civility, Good Table Manners, and Our Constitutional Rights

PugilistsOn Dymphna’s most recent post a bit of a food fight broke out between RtL and some of our other commenters.

As regular readers know, when comments degenerate into name-calling and insults to other commenters’ intelligence, we tend delete them. This is an attempt to preserve a framework of basic civility in which reasoned debate can flourish. As I told RtL, once upon a time such things used to be well-understood, back when reasoned debate was still possible. Unfortunately, we live in a degraded age.

RtL’s subsequent responses indicated that he considers our behavior to be censorship, and a hypocritical violation of our own professed principles of free speech. This reasoning reminds me of a twelve-year-old boy who has just learned about the U.S. Constitution, and insists to his parents that their demand that he display good table manners at dinner is an infringement of his constitutional rights.

Both RtL and the twelve-year-old are failing to distinguish between the public sphere — in which the Constitution obtains, and the right to free speech must not be abridged — and a private space, which one enters and exits voluntarily, and in which more restrictive rules may apply.

Censorship can only occur when the government suppresses the right of free speech. Within a private zone, any restrictions applied by the proprietors are known as “rules”.

Referring to rules in a private space as “censorship” is meaningless. People who dislike the rules may set up their own private zones and apply their own preferences. This is how true liberty functions within civil society.

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I bring all of this up because RtL decided to communicate with me by leaving comments and then immediately deleting them. Presumably he knows that I can read them as they come into our comment email account, and thus he could let his feelings be known without exposing them to public view.

So I’ll let him have his say here by reproducing his final (for now) deleted comment. Note: this comment violates our rules, and I would probably have deleted it in any case. But, given his delete-and-run tactics, I think it’s useful for readers to see what he had to say:

Baron Bodissey,

I never read Dympna’s reply to me, as it was not addressed (ad hominem attacks). I however replied fully to her as you see above. I am not a ‘leftist’ either, even though you like to paint me as one. You just don’t get it about freedom of speech Baron. In fact very few people on here do. You were all up in arms at Geert being refused entry into Britain and the OIC defamation of Religion Law and countless other erosions of our freedoms, yet you have rules about what we can write which, you state as editorial discretion.

The sad reality here Baron, is that you and many people in the fight against Islamisation are no better than those you fight. You simply cannot see it. You are having your cartoon turban campaign, yet is that not offensive to Muslims? I find it all laughable really(regarding the cartoons) but you still miss the point. You deleted a whole comment because I called someone a mindless drone, whom I would bet my bottom dollar, you’ve (and/or others) collectively called Muslims. There are many insults on here against Muslims, I’ve seen them with my own eyes, but yet, you still are totally unaware that your deleting of comments breaks every freedom of speech.

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If you want to defeat Islam, then you will realise that they want to destroy our liberties. You will also know as well that the MSM destroys our liberties by curtailing our freedom of speech, not forgetting reporting lies, if that is they report.

Baron, I’m afraid to say that this is sheer hypocrisy on GoV side. If you want to promote western freedoms then you have to allow freedom of speech to be sacrosanct. If you continue to believe that you want to set down rules then you are, again no better than those whom you are fighting against.

I am not leaving in a huff. I’m leaving because I really have no intention of being part of hypocrisy. And Baron, this precise thread has shown that it exists on monumental levels. All because I criticised TK over a woman who he thought was like a flower blooming in the desert? You cannot see the destructions of our civil liberties on a daily basis and restriction on FoS in case we may offend is riding at the front of the attack. We don’t need to worry about Islamation BB, as it seems our society will be ready for it when it arrives a our freedoms will vanish thanks to blogs like this who champion freedom of Speech yet continue to delete comments they find ‘unsavoury’. This is almost as laughable as Geert Wilders championing FoS, yet wanting to ban the Qur’an.

You just don’t get it do you? I’m not a leftie, far from it, although I am a right wing leaning centrist, who believes 100% in liberty.

Once again, RtL seems to have avoided a close reading of my reply — I would never take him for a Leftist!

What I said was he makes the same categorical error that Leftists often make: equating the enforcement of speech rules in private settings with “censorship”.

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This conflict illustrates once again a problem we see so often: the contentious and fissiparous nature of anti-jihad conservatives. It seems that we can’t help ourselves — we have to insult and denigrate those with whom we disagree, even when we’re all fundamentally on the same side.

Instead of saying, “I disagree. I think the United States should never have invaded Iraq, and here’s why…”, people say something like: “You’re a wrong-headed fool who has succumbed to neocon brainwashing, and I don’t know why you would say such a stupid thing!”

In its mildest form, this mode of interaction wastes time, produces needless acrimony, and fails to generate any movement towards productive action. At its worst, it leads to firestorms like the LGF/Vlaams Belang affair, which can divide the entire movement and do damage to our ability to resist the Great Jihad.

Civil SocietyAny arguable issue can be argued more effectively if civility is maintained. Minds are changed at the margin — nobody at one of the polarized extremes is going to alter his position easily, but people who are hovering at the edge of a decision may be nudged into one position or the other by an effectively presented argument.

This process — which is absolutely crucial to our success — is much more likely to occur in a civil atmosphere. When discussion becomes heated and personal insults are hurled, the participants tend to coalesce into two polarized camps from which they are unlikely to budge.

And then we’re all fighting among ourselves and doing our enemies a big favor.

That’s why I have made such a trivial incident into a topic for discussion — it’s a microcosm of a much larger problem, one which will yet be the death of us all if we don’t learn more effective ways of interacting with one another.

Note: Readers who think that reposting RtL’s comment here violates his privacy — as it would have if he had sent it to me in an email — should remember that posting a comment here, even for just a second, causes the comment to be included in our blog’s RSS feed.

So that comment was (and is) quite public for anyone who subscribes to the RSS feed for Gates of Vienna.

21 thoughts on “Civility, Good Table Manners, and Our Constitutional Rights

  1. I didn’t know that you received comments by email. Not saying that’s a bad thing–I just hadn’t realised it before.

  2. The sad reality here Baron, is that you and many people in the fight against Islamisation are no better than those you fight.Ugh, such a familiar quip. If he hadn’t specified, I would have taken him for a leftist on that basis alone – the idea that hypocrisy automatically makes you as bad as whoever you’re criticizing. Not that you’ve actually been inconsistent (rules are indeed different from censorship), but even if you had been … is this centrist really equating hypocrisy with stoning people to death for adultery? Maybe that’s where the center is these days, but if so, that’s scary.

    But what do I know – I’m as bad as an Islamist myself. After all, I haven’t eaten pork in over twelve hours….

  3. Formalities … like eschewing cursing… are not censorship, but are just guidelines for keeping discussions away from a descent into simplistic rancor.

    Baron, I completely agree that the LGF failure by C. Johnson was his inability to stand back, know the real aim of his allies, and have a sense of humor and proportion.

    Getting upset by mere minutae misses the big picture. and our side would have lost WW II if Churchill and FDR had been such uber-purist prima donnas as the blustering bike boy.

  4. Baron,
    Good for making the proverbial lemonade out of lemons! I will not go into any response to Rtl’s comments and just leave it that he and all of us are entitled to our various opinions. You, sir do not deal in wholesale censorhsip and try your best to let all opinions be put out there for comments and discussion. None of us can ever please everyone. Thanks for G of V!

  5. “Not insulting muslims” is the only reason we have problems with them.

    Since 1 001 points of islam are fully non-acceptable and non-negociable, we might have stopped them easily right from the beginning by telling them the truth.

    Their imams would have told them – “do not go there – you will lose your faith”.

    Their misculture is based on humiliating. They must be kept humiliated – preferably by telling them the truth.

  6. What a shame RtL has decided not to post at GoV anymore. And all because of an opinion on a singers merit. Good heavens, I’m sure there are people who dislike the voice of Pavaroti.

    However we must all, including RtL, bear in mind that the main threat we have to neuter is the Islamic one. And in this context, it is important that we make sure that we are not derogatory to Muslims, but only to Islam. Muslims, we must address as humans who are misguided, and then kept in the prison of Islam by the threat of murder.

  7. It would be neat if we just could de-program the muslims like any other cult member. The problem is they’re so damned many!

    Didn’t know I was as bad as an islamist either. Allah akhbar to you all then.

  8. I suspect he may have known that a RSS subscription to the comments would transmit his replies, and simply didn’t want to leave the comments here.

    I did the same thing when I knew I was being childish…when I was in high school….

    Must say, I never did get the “manners are censorship,” or the “any infraction is as bad as all of them,” or even the classic seeking perfection at the detriment of the good. (which isn’t to be confused with trying to improve the imperfect)

  9. One of the reasons I read this site and post comments is because I think my opinion will be treated in a civil manner.
    I thank our kind hosts for doing everything they can to keep the discussion polite. And, no, that isn’t censorship…

  10. I agree with the need for civil discourse. The want of it among those who comment is corrosive to the free exchange of ideas.
    For a good example, readers who follow The Brussels Journal — like this one, a best-in-class blog — will have seen the effects. There, in general, and in the particular instance of TS’s submissions, internescine warfare among commenters tends to tarnish the blog-entire. In the case of TS, since the Journal apparently does not have the capability or resources to moderate, their only option is binary: comments on, comments off. A shame, really.

  11. I keep seeing comments attacking Geert Wilders over his stance for freedom of speech and against the Koran as being hypocritical.

    It’s a serious crime right here in America to advocate the violent overthrow of our government. It’s a crime to foment a riot, to whip a crowd into violent action with speeches. It’s a crime to plot the commission of a crime with another person. All these are infringements on our freedom of speech, designed to help us maintain a civil society.

    The Koran advocates the violent overthrow of our government or any government other than Islamic rule. By any means necessary. The Koran itself demands death for anyone who says things the Koran says they can’t say. Like insulting the Koran, for instance.

    The difference between our limitations of FoS and the Korans is radical. We can speak out against our government or any of its leaders, or any of its policies. We can also speak out against any religion or any of its practices.

    We can do these things without the slightest fear of reprisal. Not so under the rules imposed in the Koran, which puts people to death for speaking their minds.

    The total domination of people expressed in the Koran is Fascism of the worst kind. In a free society such as ours, Fascism can’t grow and take over. The American Nazi Party proves that, they’re laughed at and despised. In Europe, where true Democracy has never really existed, it still can and this is why they have laws restricting FoS. It’s a crime to deny the Holocaust or to use speech inciting hatred. So in

    So in Europe, where Geert Wilders hails from, it makes perfect sense to want to outlaw a book that preaches a Fascist doctrine. There’s no hypocrisy in this and he’s not insulting or inciting against anyone. He’s trying to protect what Democratic values exist there. One Nazi Germany was enough.

  12. SO I am am islamophobe, eh?? Well that is all right because if some of us are not(more is always better) than this sick ideaology will continue to run over it’s weak minded and pacifist enemies. Isalm must be rendered impotent and be shown for what it truly is. I find very distasteful that BHO and his cabinet of fools has already been neuetered by his own actions and we may all be paying a very heavy price for this.

  13. On a side note, Baron, I’d considered pointing out the other day (so, obviously, I’m doing it now) that you appear to have been misusing the term ‘ad hominem‘ in reference to RtL’s post that set off the spat.

  14. Baron:Note: Readers who think that reposting RtL’s comment here violates his privacy — as it would have if he had sent it to me in an email …

    Another side note: Why not just reject the entire silly concept that the person who sends you a communication “owns” the content of it, such that you cannot disseminate it without his permission?

  15. That “silly concept” is the basis of copyright law. What you write belongs to you and it’s generally accepted that sending a letter to someone in no way constitutes a license to reproduce or re-send that letter to others without express permission from the original author – that is, from you. Comments posted on a public forum such as this are covered under a different idea, wherein the public nature of the forum itself constitutes an effective license for others to reproduce in whole or part your comments with suitable attribution.

    There are also moral issues involved in the use of ostensibly private conversations for public consumption.

    The ownership of property is a fundamental concept of western identity and law. So called “intellectual property” is a bit of a grey area but, generally speaking, anything you create (that ,s write, draw, mould out of clay, scrape together from cigarette butts, assemble from hydrogen atoms using the power of your mind etc and so on) belongs to you, and in the abstract you have absolute say over who does what with it. To breach that basic concept of ownership undermines the very essence of western juris prudence. Without ownership of property there can be no right to personal liberty as, in the ultiamte sense, the body is itself your own property. Without the right to own your own body you are deprived of any protection from a tyrannical government, who will essentially claim you are their property by right of superior force. Under this assumption of personal ownership of the written word, the publication of private correspondence without permission becomes theft.

    However, in law there are also mitigating circumstances. In the case of private communication, if someone makes a libellous claim about a private correspondence you have the assumed right to reveal what was actually said, as in effect the libel brings the private correspondence into the public sphere.

    As in all things the spirit and the letter of the law are similar, but not identical. To a certain extent it’s up to those involved to determine whether the legalistic interpretation of the written law should be set aside in order to fulfil the intention of the law – that being, justice. Sometimes justice requires that the precise definition of the law be interpreted. That’s why we have judges, who examine the law to determine the intent of the original writers.

    I could get ontofair use and all the compexities of copyright but I think I’ve said enough. Sorry for being so long. 🙂

  16. I worked on the assumption that you meant what you said, about rejecting the idea that a writer owns his work. If your side note was meant to be a sarcastic snipe or somehow ironic then I’m not sure what point you were trying to make.

  17. I always mean what I say — it’s a nasty habit I have.

    But, once again, you appear to not have given thought to what I said. Really! it’s only one sentence and it’s not a particularly complex sentence.

  18. The essence of what you said is that the person who writes a private correspondence has no rights over the words they write. You didn’t clarify to say whether this was in particular circumstances, just that a writer has no right to require permission for their private correspondence to be publicised. My reply was that this attitude breaches a fundamental principle of western law and culture.

    Good summary? If I’m wrong then perhaps you should try and explain what you mean.

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