“Lowest Difficulty Setting Follow-Up” Now on Kotaku + Comment on Comments

Hey, remember that time I wrote a piece on how being a Straight White Male means you’re running through life on the lowest difficulty setting, and that piece was republished on the video game news site Kotaku? Well, now Kotaku has also republished my follow-up piece, minus one section that relates specifically to how I administer comments here on Whatever (which is totally reasonable, since, hey, different web site entirely). The Kotaku republished version is here.

Let me also take a moment here to comment on comments. A lot of people have noted the really astounding amount of bile that’s come out of the entries, both here and at Kotaku, and have suggested that the vitriolic nature of the comments suggest that rather than furthering the conversation, the piece fell on its face and/or showed just how unreasonable straight white men generally are on the subject of having their unearned advantages pointed out to them.

Here’s something to consider, however. Between Whatever, Kotaku and the various other Gawker sites that ran the post, the “Lowest Difficulty Setting” post and followup posts have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people to date. The number of people who have commented is probably about one percent of that overall audience; the comments run into the thousands but people often comment more than once. Not everyone who comments is antagonistic to the piece, and even many of those who disagree with the post or have specific complaints express them in cogent and reasonable manner.

All of which is to say that it’s probably not wise to assume that the foamiest of commenters, either here or over at Kotaku, are necessarily representative of the overall readership of the pieces. What they are, however, are the ones most motivated to comment, because of their own basket of personal issues/neuroses/hobby horses/whatever, and many of them have linked in from sites where people of similar personal issues/neuroses/hobby horses/whatever congregate and then set forth to make their views known to people outside their own respective man caves. In this respect, they are like many commenters on many comment threads for pieces on contentious topics.

Shorter version: Don’t freak out at the jackasses in the comments. They’re not representative of the whole crowd. They’re just loud. Outside of that tiny minority, there are lots of other people, many of them straight white males, reading without comment. Some of them are probably coming away from the piece thinking in whole new ways about the issues raised in the pieces. Which is not a bad thing.

180 thoughts on ““Lowest Difficulty Setting Follow-Up” Now on Kotaku + Comment on Comments

  1. A quick primer for this particular comment thread:

    1. This is NOT the place to continue conversation/debate about either the original “Lowest Difficulty Setting” piece OR the followup. If you want to comment about the follow-up piece, follow the link to the Kotaku republished version and comment there.

    I’m going to be policing (i.e., Malleting) this one pretty seriously because at this point I think we’ve had a decent run of discussion on both pieces here.

    2. This IS the place to comment about the phenomenon of comment threads and whether they are representative of readership of articles, either generally or in the particular case of the two pieces above (so long as you’re not using that as a Trojan Horse to talk about those two pieces in more detail; please see point one).

    3. If you’re a racist and/or sexist and/or homophobic sort of person, don’t even bother to comment; I’m just going to delete your ass as soon as it shows up. Please note that on this side of things, having dealt with a whole clutch of racist/sexist/homophobic jackasses over the last week, I have a hair trigger on the Mallet, and I’m going to err on the side of caution. So, yeah, back to your holes, fellows.

  2. Exactly right. Those who feel strongly about something are more likely to comment on it. To wit… I’m a straight white male. I read both pieces. My reaction was “Yeah, that’s about right.” I didn’t comment on either of them because I was, well, not really moved to do so. All I’d be saying is “Yep. I agree.” And that isn’t very interesting. I imagine the majority of people like me reacted in the same way.

  3. I commented. What about me? Looks like black females don’t matter. Supports your case perfectly . Male white blah blah blahs get all the notice.

  4. The original post also appeared in CNN’s Zite app and I’ve seen it crossed reference in more than a few other places outside of Gawker…

  5. I notice the same thing in the online version of the two local newspapers. The most vitriolic (and usually the most wrong) are the most likely to comment and the least polite about it.

  6. One of the reasons I enjoy reading the comment threads on Whatever is because most of the time, the dissenting comments result in an engaging and often educational discussion, even if utlimately the disagreeing commenters aren’t going to come to any kind of consensus. Anyone paying attention to either of the previous threads would have seen that the comments being Malleted merited it not because they disagreed with the OPs, but because they violated the (pretty damn visible) comment policy.

    If anything, the sheer amount of vociferously dissenting comments means that the posts touched a very raw nerve, but it doesn’t really say anything about whether or not the OPs were “successful at changing minds.”

  7. I comment just to see my name on a major blog because my life lacks meaning in almost all other respects and this is the only way I can feel that I accomplish anything. Too honest?

  8. Yes Kilroy. It is the only way I can verify not only my existence, but the existence of others as well. Of course it may still all be a dream, but I have to believe in something. Don’t I? Damn you world. Are you real?

  9. People make comments on online blogs? And they still write letters-to-the-editor in Newspapers?

    About the only way to get a REAL rise out of me is to LIE or get the facts wrong, especially about History, but, the thing that I noticed lately is something called “Cognitive Dissonance”. It appears that this disorder (if it’s such), is prevalent in our society today, and is fed (?) by a Mass Media delusion. Or at least I think so… ;-)

  10. I’m one of those who didn’t comment on any of the original pieces. Speaking as a Straight(-seeming) White Male, my reaction was, “Well, that was entirely obvious (though well stated) and should in no way be controversial; however, I have faith in the Internet’s ability to spawn frothy idiots and I will therefore avoid the comment section entirely for the sake of my blood pressure and/or sanity.”

  11. I agree with Arclight. I am a SWM and have been happily reading Whatever since the Omelas State University piece. However, I rarely comment because I can’t recall when I’ve seriously disagreed with John Scalzi’s mini-essays; I’m more likely to be inspired. This, unfortunately, makes for uninspiring comments.

  12. I almost never read comments sections for the reason that they tend to be filled with the most extreme views instead of the mushy middle where I like to reside. It just ends up being upsetting, so I avoid looking altogether unless something in particular motivates me to do so. Sometimes things call for bluster… but mostly not.

  13. There are times when I read Kotaku comments I think that the people who are commenting don’t necessarily believe what they’re posting, but are just competitive by nature and see comments as another multiplayer combat game.

    Some are just emotional button mashers. Others seem to have a limited repertoire of moves and often seem surprised when you block their finishing moves.

  14. i’ve got to say, i agree with you wholeheartedly. your base theory, and the analogy you use to describe it is great. i’m a straight white male, and while my life is by no means as easy as i would like it to be, i get to skip over a lot of obstacles others often face.
    one question, where does nationality fit into this? a friend of mine is a straight white male, who moved here from russia when he was 9. he appears to face much more obstacles than one would think, given your theory.
    also, i’m going to pick up redshirts.
    the book, not an actual red shirt.
    maybe one of those too.
    it’s a big mall.

  15. But why all the self-loathing from majordomo Scalzi? From reading all these articles, you’d think he was a black lesbian from Ecuador and not a straight white male living in a modestly large house in Ohio?

  16. You make a good point here. I particularly like how you mentioned where the people who left the most incoherently angry comments were coming from – that they have their own issues, and often spend a lot of time in places where they’re used to thinking and acting a certain way. Which doesn’t make flame-rant comments okay, but it’s too easy (at least for me) to just think of people who do that as 2D hate monsters, when really they’ve got a whole story just like everyone else, and dealing with their own issues or whatever.

  17. Kilroy:

    “But why all the self-loathing from majordomo Scalzi?”

    There hasn’t been a single ounce of self-loathing in any of these particular posts. I dig being me.

    Also, Kilroy, you’re attempting to backslide the discussion into things I’ve asked us not to backslide into for this comment thread. Stop it.

  18. I’m not sure if this is the right place to put this, but I was musing on the vitriolic responses the other day, and realized that one of the core issues might be that men are conditioned to evaluate their worth by their success (I don’t want to get into semantics defining success, I suspect that most people will know what I mean because it there is a stereotype for success that is central to most cultures). Pointing out that one man’s successes were more easily won than another person’s is basically an assault at the core of what men are conditioned to think of as their worthiness.

    This isn’t a defense of such primitive thinking, it’s just an observation that helped me understand why it was such a sore point. For a white heterosexual cis-gendered man, accepting the premise to this article is akin to a woman accepting that she isn’t as pretty as she thinks she is, except that men don’t even have the intellectual infrastructure of feminism to point out that measuring yourself by such things is sexist and outdated.

  19. It’s interesting that certain comment threads are notorious for being pits of swill: Youtube and newspaper story threads are particularly redolent. I wonder why?

  20. I completely fail to see where there is any self-loathing in any of John’s posts.

    Pointing out that I have an easier time in life than a black person in my exact circumstances does not have anything to do with how I feel about myself.

  21. As previously noted, didn’t seem that controversial when I read it so the response was a surprise to me. Interesting that small communities tend to value politeness, but that standard gets chucked aside by large crowds. Obviously not limited to online comment threads, same thing happens in physical space at many large gatherings. Also interesting that the same online community can host both small polite groups and large unruly ones. YouTube can be both a festering pit and an arena for polite discourse, depending on what you’re viewing.

  22. From what I could tell, most of the commenters (at least at Kotaku) were also ones who either didn’t actually read the articles and/or didn’t get the idea that there are exceptions to every rule and that doesn’t mean the general rule is wrong. It was also pretty obvious that the worst of them were either trolls or had absolutely no interest in discussing the issues brought up. You can’t force someone to be open minded, so it’s their loss, and they’re the ones who look like asses. *shrug*

  23. I wasn’t surprised that some people don’t get it. I wasn’t surprised that some people with privilege go ballistic when public attention is brought to their privilege; that violates the rules of privilege, which should not be seen and never spoken of.

    What surprised me was how quickly and completely the thread was hijacked. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I know there are people who think every discussion should be about themselves. But I was impressed by the degree to which any discussion about privilege in general was swamped by discussion of one person’s unsupported anecdotes. That’s some fine trolling.

    I’ve been spoiled by Whatever and other sites where moderators block attention whores.

  24. You got a lot of traffic because a lot of people thought that it was condescending and stupid. You can see the same phenomenon if you make a “violent video games create murderers” piece. It doesn’t mean you convinced anyone of anything. And frankly I doubt you did when you called SWM ‘Easy mode’.

  25. I’m generally optimistic about the future, the arc of history, and all that. But check out the English Diablo 3 forums when non-English speakers post there (esp. Chinese or Koreans) in their own language. I’d thought that kind of gleeful, open vitriol was, if not gone, at least out of vogue. Apparently not.

  26. So this is sort of a meta-discussion about the nature of comments, rather than the specific things being commented on? Fair enough.

    It reminds me of something I read back during the Republican primary season, when Ron Paul was drawing huge crowds of enthusiastic supporters and losing every single time. People wondered how that could possibly be, and the answer is that when you see a huge Ron Paul crowd somewhere, that represents almost literally every single Ron Paul supporter who was physically capable of attending. Being enthusiastic and energetic and organized doesn’t have anything to do with the percentage of the overall population who agree with your position.

  27. Sorry, Ultragotha, leaving the self-loathing observation alone…

    I do tend to think the more active commentators are those that have the least opportunity to voice their opinions in TRW. Deez Internets give the lonely, the voiceless, the shy, the fringe the opportunity to express themselves and maybe obtain positive or negative feedback (whichever they crave the most) when they often don’t get that opportunity elsewhere.

  28. Well, the Kotaku comments, like most news and commentary site comments, are a cesspool because no one from the site participates nor are they moderated in any meaningful way. Look at the original post here… 800+ comments and there were what, 40 of them malleted? Why? Because John regularly participates in the comments and, while he gives us a lot of latitude, will mallet out of line comments. Anyone who comes here much knows this so even if we aren’t seeing a lot him in a thread, we know he’s there usually (travel etc excepted).

    To use the house analogy, of someone comes into your house and starts making a mess or abusing other guests and you kick them out, others will get the idea pretty quickly. Kotaku and most sites like it do the equivalent of leaving the door open and then going on vacation.

  29. I’ve learned over the years that the quality of comments varies wildly from site to site (which is better than what I expected would happen: that all comments everywhere would reduce to the lowest common denominator). In terms of comment quality I find single-author blogs tend to be the best and newspaper/news station sites (NYT, CNN, etc) tend to be the worst and go from mediocre for national/global sites to illiterate key-mashing for local sites. Slashdot tends to have decent if pedantic and ideologically rigid commenters, reddit is pretty much worthless for anything other than cheap laughs, Wonkette commenters are inconsistent but range from OK to hilarious, the ones on Consumerist are awful, and the AVClub are incredibly self satisfied and cliquey but often clever and/or insightful. Group blogs like FreeThoughtBlogs and ScienceBlogs are a mixed bag as well.

  30. In my mental model of the internet, every comment thread begins with Eris throwing out a golden apple (or maybe a golden Apple, given this is the Internet) with “For the Foamiest” engraved on side.

  31. Agreed. I read the piece, and I liked it, and I thought it was really interesting and thought-provoking, but I wasn’t really compelled to comment on it, simply because that’s generally not my style. I’m one of those lurker types you hear about, I guess. (It’s also an issue of time—I’d rather not spend a lot of time and energy reading and responding to others’ arguments. Mind you, that’s not a slam against commenters; it’s just not my scene.)

    Case in point: despite having been a fanatical Whatever reader for years, the only other times I’ve commented have been either to (a) enter contests or (b) post Smeagol dubstep videos.

  32. Based on my skimming of the comments in several forums (here, Kotaku, Facebook) there is a broad misunderstanding of the difference between “you’ve got it easy (as a SWM)” and “you’ve got it easier than someone who’s not a SWM in your exact same circumstances.” Maybe this is a subtle distinction? I don’t know, it doesn’t seem that hard to grasp to me.

    If what John were actually saying was, “you’ve got it easy (as a SWM)” then some of the disagreement would be fair and understandable. But of course he’s not, and I was surprised how many people missed that- willfully or not- and argued against a position that totally was not being made, even after the not-so-subtle distinction was pointed out.

  33. I’d just be careful with the steroetype. I’ve done enough time picking up the pieces in the minefield (literally and figuratively) to know, regardless if us white males have it easier (and up to a point we probably do, in the USA) it still isn’t easy and promoting what could be (or is) a steroetype doesn’t help.
    Regards

  34. I have found that most commenters seem to have a very large amount of time on their hand and seem to be able to come up with the most amazing (meant most sarcastically) vitriol about the most benign articles/topics/blogs/etc. What’s worse, is that there is an equally larger group of people who haven’t learned the basic rule of “Don’t feed the trolls.”

    I do have on occasion read comments on the more “touching” stories in the hopes that people will be sensitive. Unfortunately it usually takes less than 5 posts for me to realize that we humans, as a group, have a tendency to suck.

  35. “one question, where does nationality fit into this? a friend of mine is a straight white male, who moved here from russia when he was 9. he appears to face much more obstacles than one would think, given your theory.”

    I think the theory applies to SWMs born in the US and other Western nations who are in their nation of origin. By moving to a different country, their status as white is legally identical (in the US at least) but perceptually different. Ethnic bias is real across similar skin tones. So he may have been born at default, but he changed servers and the natives on the new server can tell he isn’t One Of Them. Difficulty setting is thus changed.

  36. Your readers suffer from a dearth of confirmation bias. We don’t feel the need to post saying that we agree with you. This biases the comments with people who disagree for one reason or another.
    If we were able to click a button for the article (strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree) you would have see a more accurate measure of what people thought of the article.

    I would bet that if you posted an online poll asking where people stood in regards to the original posting that you would find the the majority agreed with the article.

  37. Lysana:

    Let’s keep the conversation focused away from the first two posts, please.

    Peter Cibulskis:

    “I would bet that if you posted an online poll asking where people stood in regards to the original posting that you would find the the majority agreed with the article.”

    Until a group of motivated people decided to troll the poll, yes, possibly.

  38. After extensive study, I have come to the conclusion that The Comment Section exists entirely for they willfully obtuse to get their metaphoric rocks off saying things only the willfully obtuse could say. Our good and great friend scorpius comes immediately to mind; anyone that pathologically dense could not possibly have survived adolescence. Nobody can be that big a dick that much of the time. Even Karl Rove has some redeeming qualities, although none spring immediately to mind. Call them trolls, call them the scum of the Internet, call them what you like, but remember; they are here for your amusement.

  39. [Deleted because it's about the previous posts I mentioned that I did not want have as a focus of discussion in this thread. This is what happens when you don't read directions, David -- JS]

  40. thatpotteryguy:

    While not disagreeing with your overall point, let’s not use this to take potshots at other specific commenters here, please. Especially ones who, as they are currently in the moderation queue, cannot directly respond.

  41. “Self-loathing” is a term I see most frequently applied to American Jews who don’t happen to side with the current policies of Israel’s Likud government. In most contexts it’s a cheap (and false) shorthand for an ad hominem argument one is too lazy to formulate. It could possibly apply, say, to a homophobe who is unaware/ashamed of his own hidden leanings, but it’s still a pretty fraught term.

    This whole experience provides strong support for good moderation (one reason I read Whatever, Making Light, and Crooked Timber with pleasure).

  42. One of the confirmations of the “basket of personal issues/neuroses/hobby horses/whatever” theory of commenters is that some number of them are so wrapped up in going on and on about their pet subject that even in the face of repeated explicit warnings to stop derailing the discussion, they just can’t help themselves. It also reflects a larger issue with a certain type of commenter who comes looking for an “argument,” but is unwilling or unable to read, understand, and internalize the comments that people make in response to them.

  43. An engaged commentariat that’s been trained on the house rules also seems pretty good at keeping the worst offenders from swamping. I never post at Kotaku because I know I’m not gonna get much in the way of support when I post from a feminist lens, and what responses I do get tend not to be helpful. But at a blog like Whatever (or more recently, Pharyngula the Freethought Blogs version) if I make cogent points, other folks will expand, correct misinformation, offer their own take, riff humourously, link to helpful resources…in other words, the interaction is more meaningful than a pissing contest or popularity for that sphere. Even if there is disagreement, the conversation thrives as long as there is substantive and thoughtful contributions across the board. You get malleted for being bigoted or unuseful, but not for disagreement. At Kotaku, conversations just tend to get swamped or shutdown with insults and villages of unopposed strawmen.

  44. I’ve seen a couple of comments of people (read: white straight male people) saying that, as a response to your article, they’re going to avoid buying your books as some kind of idiotic, laughable moral stand.

    My counterpoint to this: I’m going to START buying your books as a result of the article. Beforehand, you were never really on my radar (despite being a sci-fi fan) but you really engaged me with your article and I agreed with it totally, so now I’m interested in reading your work. I know that it doesn’t make much of a difference, but at least it cancels out at least one idiot’s boycotting stance.

  45. Considering how quickly the comments piled up, I’m positive some people who would have commented (perhaps in support, perhaps not, perhaps with their own self-proclaimed clever extensions of the analogy [NOT DESCRIBED DESPITE TEMPTATION])… didn’t get a chance. C’est la Closed Thread.

    Of course, the people who felt a need to post in favor of the position would probably be outnumbered by those who felt a need to post (or continue to post) against it, for the obvious and stated reasons. Still, depending on how the Mallet was applied (“you! you’ve posted twenty times! shaddup and let someone else have a turn”), the percentages might even out. Maybe. Eventually. Considering that it’s not meant to be a poll or a popularity contest, opening up the post to further comments is unlikely to be worth the effort of playing whack-a-troll.

    At least I got to post my self-proclaimed clever extension of the analogy in a different venue entirely. :)

  46. Oh I read the directions. I made a clear, concise response without trolling you or the article.

    [The rest deleted because -- surprise! -- David is once again trying to drive the conversation where I don't want it to go for this thread -- JS]

  47. In terms of comment quality I find single-author blogs tend to be the best and newspaper/news station sites (NYT, CNN, etc) tend to be the worst and go from mediocre for national/global sites to illiterate key-mashing for local sites.
    Don’t forget YouTube, which is the secret test site for DARPA’s most advanced Auto Troll.

    So assuming that single-author blogs are the best and news sites are worse, what is the difference? Is it the feeling that you are interacting with the author directly, or at least the regular commenters? I assume that the people who scrawl graffiti in public rest rooms, don’t usually do so when they visit private homes. The analogy isn’t quite right, because people visiting your house are usually less anonymous.

  48. People tend to think of the comment sections as a “freedom of speech zone”, and I think a lot of commercial sites buy into that. I don’t, for instance, ever bother to read the comment sections of large on-line newspapers, because I know that the moderation will be light and trivial, and people – both on the mod team and among the commenters – have the idea that moderation is an attack on freedom of speech.

    I couldn’t disagree more. Freedom of speech only apply to governments. Governments can’t stop people thinking and speaking certain ways. For private individuals or indeed corporations the principle should be “you can think and say whatever, but I/we aren’t required to give you a megaphone to enable what you think or say.”

    And that means that mallets are good. Mallets are proper. I employ them on my little blog, although so far it has extended only to not publishing some comments at all, and obviously it happens here on this blog. I wish more news-sites and major sites would buy a big shiney ban-hammer sometimes too.

  49. I think it’s interesting how the whole discussion sort of highlights what we’ve known for years in terms of eyeballs on the Intarwebs. Stuff catches traction and catches fire and it’s like the tide rolling in. Not for nothing did places like Slashdot and Penny Arcade fear to popularize a small website they’d discovered, when it became apparent that highlighting them was like turning the eye of Sauron upon their server.

    I think many of the foamiest comments come from non-community members (and I do consider Whatever a community of sorts, perhaps more pub-night than secret society) who see a link posted on some place they frequent and it’s like Fozzie Bear in a mustache and apron yelling “Hey, Everybody! DRINKS ARE ON THE HOUSE!” [cutaway shot: all bar patrons on roof: "Hey! There aren't drinks up here!"] Our hosts dissection of their tired arguments and weak sauce ad-hominems, logical fallacies and straight-up asshole behavior is of no small appeal.

    Even when I disagree with our host (almost never) or certain posters, the moderation of the Loving Mallet of Correction makes the Whatever what I’d like to imagine the old Salons of the Gilded Age might have been like, discussion-wise.

  50. David McGreavy:

    “Oh I read the directions.”

    Then you purposefully ignored them, because you apparently think the rules don’t apply to you. Speaking of privilege.

    You don’t get the privilege of being an asshole here, David. And ignoring directions makes you a troll. You don’t get the privilege of that, either.

  51. This is sort of an example of the 80-20 rule: 80% of the comments in a given online community are made by 20% of the members. IME, the people who get the most value out of these discussions aren’t the participants, but the lurkers. And because they’re not commenting, there’s no way to know what they’re thinking.

    But some of them will come around in four months, or four years, and realize they really do agree with what you had to say last week, even if they can’t even identify when their opinion changed.

    Big online arguments never result in big changes, just small incremental progress. That’s why we have these conversations, not because we think we can convince [name withheld] or [name withheld], but because there’s a chance we’ll get to John Smallberries from Grover’s Mills, who has never thought of these issues before.

  52. @luna: I have no time to converse with you, I must be first to register my disgust on the internet regarding the new McBane film. The action was dismal and the nudity was frustratingly fleeting. I barely got going.

  53. I’m another agreer who stayed out of it. I was actually impressed with how not-aweful the comments were.

    Obviously there are a hefty chunk of comments on the original post that were obtuse, either willfully or otherwise. But there were also a lot of people being really awesome–not just the ones Getting It but the ones who had already gotten it and were explaining it to others.

    Every time I ran into a comment so Wrong On The Internet that I was tempted to wade in, other commenters had already gotten there to point out its wrongness. Warmed my heart, it did.

    That’s only regarding the Whatever comments–I didn’t even look at the kotaku ones (for the same reason I don’t generally submerge my head in bleach).

  54. [Deleted because this asshole doesn't understand purposefully ignoring directions is a sign of being an asshole. Whining about being called an asshole after he's been deleted after purposefully ignoring directions makes him a whiny asshole. Hey, David, fuck off already, will you? You've trolled here quite enough -- JS]

  55. John, do you have a rule-of-thumb that you use to determine (or guess) how many readers actually agree with something you write? Obviously, not everyone that agrees with you leaves comments but, likewise, not everyone that disagrees does either. Or can it be assumed that the people that leave comments are actually a pretty good sample?

    Also, thank you for providing a good, meaningful, thought-provoking topic of conversation. Even if a lot of the comments aren’t any of the above, this has certainly made me think about my own SWM life.

  56. The problem with comment threads, just like the problem with your essay, is that they make assumptions and generalizations that they shouldn’t. First, so none of yall assume, I am a straight white woman from Texas who is about 19 years of age. Unfortunately, nobody on Kotaku knew that and assumed that I looked like you, John. So instead of taking my comments as coming from a woman who literally just dealt with the racist and sexist crap involved with getting scholarships (you can’t get crap from UH if you aren’t a South Asian woman), they thought I was a 40-something male who was just whining about life being unfair. This really points out a flaw in the internet: the lack of empathy and understanding that facial expressions incur. I do find it interesting, that not seeing someone at all when discussing a topic causes as many problems as being able to see someone’s different skin color. It all boils down to what I was taught in 6th grade science: NEVER ASSUME ANYTHING. You make assumptions, you skew your hypothesis, results, and credibility. Such a simple philosophy, but not many people realize that the scientific method is a pretty good method to live by, especially when dealing with anonymous members of the online community.

    To Theophylact: Good moderation is difficult: what one sees as keeping the conversation civil, another sees as banning the arguments that support a different point of view. I can’t speak for how John runs his comment section since I’ve been following the events on Kotaku instead of here (though I’ve read his comment policy and I’m pretty sure the former was in full effect), but in Kotaku’s forum-style atmosphere, zero-moderation is much better, as it allows us to see who the idiots are and better appreciate the well-thought-out arguments, no matter which side of the argument they support. I can’t help but think the DocSeuss’s counter-essay would get moderated outside of Kotaku’s wilderness (probably not here, but anywhere else it could have been reposted), and the conversation that resulted was brilliant.

    To anyone saying “Don’t Feed the Trolls”: Again, I point to DocSeuss’s thread on the Kotaku repost of the first article. He replied to almost every single troll (there were many) along with every serious rebuttal. It lead to some interesting insights. So I say feed the trolls with caution, and know when to toss them into the cornfield (or swing the banhammer). Sometimes the most compelling arguments begin by baiting someone of profound stupidity.

    Finally, something that I noticed about my comments that I probably should have avoided: cussing. It helps nothing, it makes people angry, and, even in DocSeuss’s post, it just lowers the IQ level of the conversation. I think the conversations would have been a lot less troll-y if there was less cussing and better punctuation. Which, if I understand properly, is why people got whacked with the Mallet here, but some people were really upset about that.

  57. Well, for my part, I thought about commenting on the original. I had some issues with it (it felt condescending to me). I think this is because I prefer to understand things without resorting to metaphor (you know, unvarnished truth, just give it to me straight, etc.), but whatever. On the other hand, I agreed with everything in the article.

    Ultimately, I couldn’t figure out if John *was* being condescending, or if it was just me being stupid. Being I’m comfortable with the matter either way, I figured I’d call it a draw, and give up my space on the lifeboat to someone else.

    Regards,

    Hans

  58. We don’t feel the need to post saying that we agree with you. This biases the comments with people who disagree for one reason or another.
    There were many posts that were variations on “I agree completely”. Those posts may constitute a smaller fraction of those who agreed compared to the fraction of those who disagreed that posted, but there was still a large pile of them.

  59. I happen to believe that the majority of comments on any site will lean a particular way based on those who are most fired up. That being said, I like my mellow to remain un-harshed, and un- malleted.

    A note: I find that reading others’ posts and/or commentary allows me to understand their train of thought and why they think what they do. Sometimes not….Those that post aggressively in argument are, in my opinion, in need of someone to listen to them, to validate them, and have not yet found a solid, well formed footing for their life views. I mean absolutely no disrespect. I only think that the broadening of one’s understanding leads to the firming of once’s stance as well as the ability to allow another to believe what they do, using that personal filter when necessary, not posting every single thought. I expect the same in return. Or, as it has been written, the mallet will descend.
    XX

    P.S. “For the foamiest” is causing me mini bouts of giggling today. Thanks for that.

  60. A.J. Bobo:

    “John, do you have a rule-of-thumb that you use to determine (or guess) how many readers actually agree with something you write?”

    Not really, no. I don’t tend to worry too much if people agree with me, although I occasionally learn something when they don’t (see: Racefail).

  61. [Deleted because now David McGreavy, trolling asshole, is just boring the shit out of me. Poor, poor David McGreavy. How awful for him that his golden emanations are not appreciated! Into the moderation queue with this one -- JS]

  62. I think a comments section will be “foamy” in direct proportion to the number of people commenting on it. Long comments sections disproportionately deter moderate commentators.

  63. John,
    Did you REALLY have to bait the Jackass hook to troll for so many ??????? especially the ones that DON”T get it ?????
    I think I’ll disappear for awhile…. hehehehehe

  64. [This was a genuinely good comment but as I noted I don't want to have a discussion on the previous two posts in this comment thread. I did save it and will e-mail it back to the poster so it is not entirely lost. But, please folks, seriously -- I want to focus on comments, not the previous pieces. Thanks -- JS]

  65. Even on a thread in which the discussion is ostensibly non-controversial (e.g. the phenomenon of certain types of comments) you easily find people who have something they HAVE to say and are utterly unconcerned if their comments are relevant, constructive, or coherent.

    @Mike (May 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm)
    I try to pretend YouTube comments don’t exist. They are an entirely different category of comments all their own. I think that the personal nature of single author or small group blogs does lend itself to a different commenting style in general. There are real discussions and people get to know each other in some limited capacity and with that perceived reduction in anonymity they become more polite.

    On the big news sites that engage in no/useless moderation pseudonymity/anonymity is supreme and the Greater Internet Dickwad Theory is validated once again.

  66. Kilroy:

    It rather proves my point that some people will go out of their way to make comment threads unrepresentative, although my active moderation in this case of at least two fellows who are currently acting like eight-year-olds in moderation queue is a mitigating factor for this.

  67. I find when reading the Whatever comments (when I do), I tend to skip to where I see a green box… that’s where I know I’ll find the most interesting stuff. Oh, and the square brackets. Those are fun to read too. :)

  68. (sorry for the follow-on)… Come to think of it, I do that with almost any blog I read. If the post was interesting enough that I think there might be some continuation of the discussion, I’ll always look to see whether the original poster has responded to a comment. That’s what I use as a starting point to find the best parts of a discussion.

  69. I’ll note this Daisuke fellow has just now declared in the moderation queue and in an e-mail that he’s found my phone number and address and plans that I should expect phone calls and letters. And he wonders why he’s lost posting privileges!

    (He’s almost certainly not the actual Daisuke Suzuki, for those of you keeping score at home.)

  70. Aw, letters? I’m thinking nice calligraphy, high quality paper, maybe a little watermark of bunnies in the top left corner?

  71. I don’t get comments in comments threads that take an article that basically says, can we acknowlege we have an easier time of it than someone else in the exact same cirucumstances except for orientation, race or sex and turn it around to “You’re a racist, sexist homophobe”.

    Is reading incomprehension a prerequisite for foamy commenters? Does a prediliction to foamyness cause some kind of internet dyslexia? (Dysessayia?)

    I mean those comments are reacting to 180 degrees of what the original essay actually said. It’s like foaming about something the author didn’t say will make the truth of what he did say … go away? Or what?

    It looks to me like a form of The Big Lie. Foamy commenters for Truthiness!

    ETA After refreshing: I have this vision of little bubbles of space/time drifting around with raving posters trapped inside banging on the walls unheard (at least by us).

  72. Send him a link to the “How to send me hate mail” post. Maybe it would help him, and possibly you.
    On a less silly note, I’d say neither thread seemed to be especially weighed down by the ignorant few. i followed both pretty closely, and enjoyed most of the discussion. I did step out of line a bit near the end of the second one though, and I apologize for that. Shouldn’t have tried to encourage someone to stop talking about something. That is, as I know, your perogative John.

  73. Do comments tend to be foamy, in direct proportion to how personally someone takes them, and by how far they miss the point?

  74. @Scalzi

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many banned comments in a row. Your Malleting wrist getting sore? Jeebus.

  75. I agree that the comments tend to be overrun with folks who have Really Strong Opinions, and even more so when those Really Strong Opinions run counter to the thesis of a given post.

    I read and enjoyed the post, and lost about an hour of my life reading the comments it garnered, but didn’t bother commenting because I didn’t feel that “nice analogy!” would really further the discussion. My SWM fiance also read the post, thought it was clever, and didn’t comment.

    One of the things I love about this site is that the comments don’t generally make me want to stab myself in the eye with a fork. Even the folks who disagree with you tend to be polite and reasoned in the expression of their dissenting viewpoints. Every once in awhile I forget that the rest of the internet isn’t like that, and end up in the comments section of a Yahoo article. *Shudder*

  76. A post where the only valid comments are about comments. This might be the most meta Whatever.com has ever been.

  77. If he sends ones with watermarks, as Gregory Douglas suggests, I vote they be scanned and allowed in the comment section. Anyone who goes through that much work to derail a comment thread should at least get a gold star.

    I have to agree with Scalzi, this thread is a brilliant object lesson in the very point the post was making.

  78. Foaming in the moderation queue seems like a poor strategy, unless the intended recipient of the vitriol is the moderator. So perhaps it is the perception of a personal connection with the author that affects the character of comments to single-author blogs.

    Actual physical poison pen letters– and they say people don’t take the time to write letters anymore.

  79. It also occurs to me : for a particular class of respondent, it’s immensely easier to comment on a thread than send a letter. They don’t have to find a newspaper, scissors and glue…

  80. I’m thinking John should make sure any phone calls coming in from numbers he didn’t recognize get recorded.

    So he can grade them, y’know.

    I’d also like to see the transcripts or letters (with grades and teacher’s comments, natch) get posted, but that’s just my craving for more of our gracious host’s writing. Redshirts isn’t coming out for another couple of weeks.

  81. @Matt Yarbrough Way too late, as this is the thread about the comments about the thread about the thread. I think if we go one layer deeper, we’ll be dealing with Balrog.

  82. Any chance of you releasing a compendium of what was written in the deleted comments? I really enjoy reading the word vomit of the stupid, and with people like Daisuke getting the mallet and then recommenting, I wanna know just what they think was so important.

  83. Aviana:

    At the moment, mostly just cursing and threats to publish my home address and phone number in the Kotaku thread so that people over there will call and be mean to me.

  84. @ben I’m trying to figure out what Balrog maps to in this metaphor. I’d be tempted to go a layer deeper just to find out.

  85. I for one am sorry that John closed the comments on the follow-up piece. I was going to note that “The Legion of Chronological Snobs” was going to be the name of my first band.

  86. What about Gay Feminine Gender Neutral Minorities? Thats the most hard of core. I have a gen-neutral friend that friend has it hard.

  87. Aviana Knochel:
    Basically, John said “Please don’t smoke in my house.” And not only did one of the guys smoke in the house, he went up to the baby’s room and blew smoke in her face, then followed it up by seeking out people who are allergic to smoke and blowing smoke in their faces, too. John booted him before he could, metaphorically speaking, grind his cigaretts into the carpet and toss the butts into the punch bowl.

  88. @John: At the moment, mostly just cursing and threats to publish my home address and phone number in the Kotaku thread so that people over there will call and be mean to me

    … because that’s a proportionate response to (oh, the horrors!) being moderated on a private forum?

    FSM forbid he ever encounters real pain in his life.

  89. Now I’m curious. Do authors get physical fan mail, hate mail, offers to share water, etc. anymore?

  90. There is no such thing as “proportional response” on the Internet. There is only “Open fire!!!” and ” your ass is moderated”.

  91. I’m sorry, John, if that sounded as idiotic as it looks now. I was thinking of commenters, rather than OP’s. I find your moderating policies to be remarkably lenient and easy to follow.

  92. cofax:

    “because that’s a proportionate response to (oh, the horrors!) being moderated on a private forum?”

    Some people are just special snowflakes, apparently. This particular one doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not the one who gets to determine whether something is on-topic to a thread, I do. Of course, the non-stop cursing and threatening that this silly person is now offering rather makes the point that punting him off the site was the correct thing to do.

    thatpotteryguy:

    No worries.

  93. They’re up to around 700 comments and around 19,000 views over at Kotaku.

    One thing, some seem to think that both the original and follow up were written for the site even though it says republished at the top of the article. I think they’re really not spending a lot of time reading the articles and just going straight to posting enraged comments/responses based on the headline.

  94. I have to say, I’m usually more inclined to comment on inane, meaningless topics rather than heated political or social ones. Usually people (either individually or as a group) beat me to expressing my opinion, and without anything new to add, I stay silent. Plus, the issues that I care most about are the ones I could get carried away with, which is another reason not to speak up.

  95. Nice comment thread on you over at Taki where you’ve come in a strong second on the list of last week’s betas: “The second male scribe to fire a flaming Roman candle into his own crotch last week was the profoundly unhandsome sci-fi writer John Scalzi, who apparently attracts legions of profoundly unhandsome fans who could pass for the bastard sons of Roger Ebert, all of them swinging their flaccid lightsabers of righteous self-abnegation in agreement. Scalzi, who claims he’s in the process of writing a video game, used his undoubtedly well-manicured fingers to peck out an essay called “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Since he apparently spends much of his life lost amid fantasies, he likened American social hierarchies to a video game where being born a white male makes the game easier than it is for anyone else.”

    http://takimag.com/article/were_white_were_male_and_we_suck_jim_goad/print#ixzz1vXcm6Flr

  96. I’ll note this Daisuke fellow has just now declared in the moderation queue and in an e-mail that he’s found my phone number and address

    My God, the Google-Fu of that man! Oh, wait, haven’t you posted all that right here at Whatever at some point?

  97. Caitlin Kiernan posted a similar conversation about trolls, and whether it was more effective to ignore or respond to them, on her Facebook page. Several authors chimed in, and the consensus on response was pretty evenly split. Most of them agreed with your basic premise, though: that there’s a small portion of every group that will be trollish/freaked/narrow-minded/etc, that they tended to cluster with like-minded others, that through frequent posts they make themselves appear more numerous than they truly are, and that the rest of us shouldn’t allow our feathers to be unduly ruffled.

    I thought it was interesting that two fairly different starting points led to such similar conclusions.

  98. Of course, the non-stop cursing and threatening that this silly person is now offering rather makes the point that punting him off the site was the correct thing to do.

    Indeed. It’s also worth noting that if I received such angry threats regarding my moderation policy on my LJ/DW, I would probably go to the police, or at least I would feel seriously threatened. Especially since the language aimed at me would have a lot more sexual violence in it, since that’s what happens to women who dare to talk about sexism or racism on the internets. Your Easy setting includes not having to worry about teh kind of death threats you are going to receive for having an opinion in public…

  99. “They’re not representative of the whole crowd. They’re just loud. Outside of that tiny minority….” LOL, I have to tell myself that about the stuff I read here.

  100. I feel I’ve been challenged, since I posted in the other two threads. Part of the problem is some “don’t get it”. They didn’t get it in the original thread, not in the followup thread, not in the other threads, probably not in this one. It’s a form of psychic blindness. And then something happens in their life, maybe not even related, and “Aha!” They get it. They think “How could I have been so stupid!” Sometimes there’s a saving throw when they do, sometimes it’s too late.

  101. whatever indeed:

    I realize you’re attempting to be snarky, but yes, in fact, the admonition that the comment participants may not be indicative of the entire readership applies here as well. It also particularly applies when an entry goes far and wide, as this one has, and has more readership than the day-to-day Whatever audience.

  102. I avoided both of those comment threads due to all the absurdity going on in them. That said, if you look at the median household income stats, there are actually many lower “difficulty settings” than white males. I mostly just object to white males being the lowEST difficulty setting, when the evidence disagrees with you.

  103. I read and happily loved both posts, and read much (but not all) of the comment threads. I did find myself noting that although there has been much foamy hatred, there was a remarkable lack of direct threats. There was the idiot today, and one on the follow-up thread who made insinuations about Knowing Where Scalzi Lives OMG. But the legions of screaming wacko morons (SWMs) didn’t threaten to rape him to death. Not even once! (Unless they did it on Kotaku.) Nor did they threaten his family, his home, or his pets. I found this a very sad illustration of the point. All the more thanks, Scalzi, for stepping up and saying it all, and dealing with the spitting.

    And I’m going to be giggling over the ‘For the Foamiest’ image every time I see a frothy thread now.

  104. As a compliment to you and your site, with very few exceptions, your comment threads are some of the most cohesive, usefull ones I’ve found. They build on the post in a coherent manner, and are generally worth the read.

    I don’t know if this is due to the commenters you attract, or the fact that it is so stringently moderated. But hats off to you, sir.

  105. I think memory can be pretty selective in these kinds of discussions. People are apt to remember hyperbolic comments that disagree with their views as egregious and hyperbolic comments that they agree with as maybe a bit much but necessary given what the OTHER side was saying. So, I don’t have a lot of faith in people’s ability to be objective in characterizing the discussions on comment threads since it was always the other side that was being unreasonable.

    I think the reason you see a lot of ridiculous comments on the internet isn’t so much because mild-mannered people don’t participate but because everyone participates. In verbal or dead-tree or television discussions, there’s no way for *absolutely everyone* to have the floor for a minute. The people that post the ridiculous things on the internet, transposed into these media, just cheer or boo, clap or hiss. The problem with internet comments threads is that there’s no non-linguistic way to do that. Sure, on FB you can “like,” but there are no degrees to liking – nothing analogous to clapping louder, or laughing, or whistling or whatever else. So it has to come out in words. Predictably, when it does, they don’t sound like they mean much outside of raw emotion.

    The way out of it, I think, is just to make a rule that you only respond to intelligently-stated things. But of course that’s easier said than done.

  106. I posted this article to Facebook and managed to have totally respectful conversations in the comments thread with two straight white men who felt uncomfortable with what you wrote.

    On Facebook everyone knows you’re a dog, and they can unfriend you. Gawker is the other end of the spectrum – very anonymous, and therefore very full of assholes.

    I have a strict personal policy against ever reading comments threads unless they are heavily moderated, like this one. I need the top of my head where it is, not stuck to the ceiling. Thanks for all your work.

  107. I think the combination of moderation and strong community norms is also what’s driving the fact that Jezebel has the most engaged commentariat of all the Gawker sites (read this somewhere I can’t remember a while ago). And you can always tell when a controversial Jezebel article gets cross-posted to Gawker or Gizmodo or Kotaku because the quality of the comments goes down. Although even there, apparently the pink unapproved comments (that are only visible to starred commenters; I’m not one) can get pretty vitriolic on certain articles. It interests me though that sites using the same Gawker commenting infrastructure can have such different types of comments.

    (Additionally, I’m one of the people who read the original post, generally agreed, shared it even, but didn’t comment because I didn’t feel like feminist-splaining that morning.)

  108. Comments. Boy.
    The internet is apparently just full of people who walk around the world silently hording their vitriol deep inside until they can safely release it into a forum that can’t slap them for their stupid.

    In a way this is a good thing. Because it makes it all the more rare to actually have these people speak in public, where you can’t just skim over or scroll their idiotic remarks away.
    I admit, it brings me great satisfaction to click over to a new site or just WHISK right on by some bigoted notion.

    I used to get quite up in arms over comments. I even used to reply under youtube videos(shudder). Then one day when I was in a heated flame war with some cat somewhere I realized the complete pointlessness of arguing with an idiot. They are not going to suddenly see the error of their ways in my well worded (or even more so my blind range induced keyboard-facebangings) carefully thought out responses. They were going to think whatever they wanted to think, logic be damned, because if they had used logic to begin with it’s probable we wouldn’t be arguing. I was just wasting my time and blood pressure on something worth neither of those things.

    Admittedly sometimes I still find myself typing a reply to a troll, but I’m better about catching myself about moving on now. I think this is one of the reasons that negative posters can outnumber the positive ones. It’s useless to refute those who only want to shriek and never listen.

    On this particular subject that is commented on: I think that SWM privilege can be offten difficult to observe by one enjoying it. It’s easy to get caught up in your personal hardships and overlook your own advantages in the face of that. And when it is pointed out to someone a lot of the time all they can think of are those particular hardships they have faced and continue to. It was pointed out before ( I forgot by who, sorry) that the point many people miss is the difference between ‘Your life has been easy because you are SWM’ and ‘You don’t face the particular challenges that those not SWM face in addition to the normal hardships of life; thus your’s is comparatively easier.’

    Also @Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff: I’ll have you know I am in fact devilishly handsome and charming. My Granmommy told me so. So trufax=P

  109. I read the original post, thought “that’s nice, but it won’t fool the people who foam at the mouth about privilege”, then started reading the comments. It was sort of like getting the chance to watch a summer movie with lots of explosions, but without the gore, since it was going to be well-moderated. Plus, it helped that Mr. Scalzi is a SWM, so nobody was going to threaten to rape him or even talk about how ugly he was and how he just needed to get laid. I did not venture beyond here to read any other comment threads – I didn’t want the gore.

  110. Fun fact! Someone DID call him ugly (and all of us too!)! But on another site. Never fails, when provoked some people tend to retreat to grammar school insults dressed up all fancy. I loves it^^

  111. As a straight white man, I didn’t comment previously only because the comments were irrelevant. The piece was a good read that led me to ponder on my own, and didn’t need me clapping you on the back. So, you know, silent majority I suppose (or certainly hope, anyway). Or optionally, I just try not to feed the trolls.

  112. John, I have to tell you, I have long struggled as a SWM explaining SWM privilege to other SWM’s. I felt your essay would make sense to many SWM’s who simply don’t speak the language of sociology. I shared the essay with a lot of friends because it not only featured such an astute metaphor, but it was also fun and charming. On the strength of the piece, I bought Old Man’s War on iBooks. So far, it is equally fun and charming. Despite the usually vocal critics, I know that a lot of people, SWM’s included, enjoyed your essay. And at least in this one case, it sold a book. Hope that maybe brightens your day a bit.

  113. If you ever want to see true commenter scum and villainy, try a blog or a webpage for sports. The true believers, the trolls, and the pedants all go at it in one giant battle royale that never ends for almost every sport and team.

  114. I came here to say the same thing as the first reply – me, being a typical educated SWM Scalzi fan, read the articles, went “yup” and left it at that. The usual loudness & certainty vs usefulness & insight anti-correlations apply.

    Besides, you think comments here are bad? Try reading the comments page on a Murdoch newspaper sometime.

  115. I considered posting, but wanted to take time to reflect. Then comments were closed and much of what I wanted to say, had already been said by then. As someone who has previously put my foot in my mouth many times (from being socially clueless), I have learned to stop and reflect before talking or writing. I think some trolls have never learned this lesson. Hopefully, some of them are just clueless, young and awkward and will learn in the future — but then you won’t hear from them. Moderate, reasonable people are less vocal in general. I like to remember the Carthusians, the order of silent monks, who had fewer (if any) doctrinal and organizational internal arguments and splits, than the Franciscans or other orders of Catholic monks. Probably because, they had a rule of silence (they did have talking with hands). I don’t know if they are still around, but their example inspires me to remember that it’s easier to get along with others with your mouth closed.

  116. As a GWM, I read it all before commenting (which took hours I was supposed to be using to do something else, silly me). Most of what you said in the initial essay applies to me as well. Some of the people on there were just the usual kind of internet trolls; one was cogent and well-written, albeit deeply wrong. That was at least interesting. Still, it was wearing.

    It’s interesting how different the Whatever moderation style is from that on Making Light. On ML, if you say something sufficiently intemperate, likely your comment will lose its vowels. Comments replying to yours will generally remain intact, unless they quote it, and then the changes will be limited to disemvowelling the quote. Usually.

    It’s very different, and it’s led to a different kind of environment. Most commenters have been on there a long time, and know the rules; ML gets relatively few internetlopers coming in to trash the place. This is partly because writers are more popular than editors!

    Also, when something’s disemvowelled, it can still be puzzled out, with difficulty, by people who want to read it. That means that if the jerk claims never to have said it, the evidence is still there, and people can see it. OTOH here, while I admit to some curiosity about some Malleted comments, we don’t have to see the stuff at all, and the vile language (or whatever) isn’t there, even vowelless. I would be tempted to respond angrily to someone whose comment read “Kll ll th fggts” even though I can see that the moderators have already disapproved of it.

    So the two techniques have different effects. John lets people get away with a little more here, I think (that is, he lets some things stand here that I think might lose their vowels over at ML); and I think it may be partially because the penalty is that your words vanish entirely. Let’s not forget that if your comment is Malleted, no one searching for your posting name on Google™ will find your obnoxious comment; but if it’s disemvowelled, they can still read it and see what a jerk you are…or were, when you posted that. (Hear that, Phlp Shrpshr?) In that sense, John is actually being kinder to the bad commenters than the ML mods are.

  117. I can’t be the only one who visualizes the Scalzi Moderation Queue as a dark room, much like the warehouse at the end of Raiders, but filled with tiny, 1’x1′ cages, each with a jumping, screaming leprechaun inside, can I?

  118. I am so truly grateful I missed all this. Overall, no, commenters are not, I think, truly representative of the reading audience for a piece. The bulk of comments in a controversial comment thread tend to be from ten to twenty people — one person who decides he or she is going to ignore the topic and either relate personal experiences or nitpick about how other people are commenting, followed by those who decide to play tennis lobs with that person explaining things like statistics and systematic norms that usually get ignored, and another handful that form a cheering section for the person. That continues until everyone gets tired of batting lobs around or the person whose site it is shuts down the thread. If the person who ignores the piece originally is persistent enough, the conversation can go on for a long time and involve waves of people. Occasionally that role gets handed off to another person who tries to take the conversation on to another tangent.

    This is of course only in moderated or sort of moderated sites. Free for all sites like newspapers, etc., tend to just be screaming mobs. I think a lot of the issue is that in the real world, people are often in very isolated circumstances. We all come on the Internet and encounter people who are fundamentally very different from us, with completely different experiences and living environments — and also people like us when we’re in alienated circumstances. And we do have a lot of very troubled people who are then exposed to a lot of different stimuli, and even if you’re not troubled, technically, it’s addicting. So some people develop an overly quick sense of rage and threat. I don’t think, though, that this response is really typical of the thousands or millions of people who may be reading a written piece.

  119. Wow, I just went over to Kotaku and started to read the comments. That was a mistake. People who use the word ‘objectively’ to modify an adjective are smirking trolls in my opinion. The first time I saw this was on LGF years ago, where they were saying that someone or other was “objectively pro-fascist.” That was for opposing the invasion of Iraq, I think. They want to say “objectively” to deny that it’s just their own crackpot opinion. It’s objective, see, because they’re utterly free of any prejudice or bias themselves, and see only the pure, abstract Truth.

    In this case, the idiot commenter was saying the original piece was “objectively pointless.” Which is a really stupid thing to say. But perhaps he’s a highschool kid; they’re objectively callow, you know. (Callow yes, but the ones I know wouldn’t put something that stupid in writing, and probably wouldn’t say it.)

  120. “Don’t feed the trolls.”

    It seems to me we’ve run that experiment internet-wide for about twenty years now. I don’t think the results support a blanket policy of not feeding the trolls. When “trolls” meant the gang from Karl Malden’s Nose, whose idea of fun was cross-posting something offensive to twenty disparate usenet groups in hopes of fireworks, ignoring them was indeed the best response.

    But even back then, they weren’t the only bad actors. “Trolls” also includes a collection of bullies and sadists whose goal seems to be forcing everyone who isn’t one of them off the internet. “Not feeding” them often works out as
    “Mysogyny.”
    “Feminist rebuttal.”
    “Hey, Feminist, stop feeding the troll!”
    So women, tired of the abuse, leave; the bullies and sadists stay; and the decent guys who just wanted peace are left wondering why they haven’t seen Sheila around the forums in a while. And just try telling the decent guys that she bailed out because the decent guys made a choice and they didn’t choose her. Talk about fingers-in-ears-la-la-la refusal to hear it…

    I suggest that the best response to the bullying trolls is *not* to ignore them and let their poison flow unchecked, but to push back, every time. In a space like this, with an effective and engaged moderator, individual posters can afford to not respond to the trolls. Over at Kotatu, though, what do you think it would look like if, every time the foamy crew started spewing, the decent guys told them off? Can we try that experiment?

  121. Well, in today’s media the talk-show circus where the “guests” and host spend their time shouting over each other to get their talking points out there has become the normal discourse. It’s set a tone that the only response to someone you disagree with isn’t to understand their original point, determine where/why you disagree (and maybe end up reconsidering your disagreement), and then attempt through logic and fact to pursuade the originator where they’re wrong. Instead, the correct way to respond is to shout over them with some form of “You dumb slut, Jane!” Then add to that unmoderated comments sections, and you get people trying to shourt over each other with insults. Not to mention that good feeling that comes from a well-placed insult to some anonymous stranger on the internet…and you end up with a widespread belief that anything goes, insults and bile are the way to interact, and no one acts differently.
    The only sites that I find comments useful on are heavily moderated ones, such this one and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ site on theatlantic.com. I learn from these sites, have my views questioned and challenged, and enjoy the time I spend in the comments section. Otherwise, I don’t waste my time.

  122. “People comment more than once…” Well, that’s gold plated understatement: I’d say that ONE whine-meister on the Kotaku site uber-whined a good 3% of the comment thread. And he was of the “my life is harrrrrrd, so you Scalzi is 1,000,000gazillion percent wrong.

    For a site supposedly for smart people, they sho’ nuff seemed a little dim about statistics.

  123. I consider myself a member of the Kotaku community and I find this whole thing embarrassing. This isn’t the first time the commenters have beaten a social-awareness article to pieces–everytime an article comes up about how women should wear more clothing in comics/movies/games, you could win Internet Thread Feminist Bingo in a random sampling of five posts. Commenters may not be indicative of the whole of the community, but they can fill that role when the need arises like say when the all-but-inevitable article comes along using that comment thread in conjunction with the “EA Voted Worst Company In America By Gamers” poll from March makes us all look like politically blind manchildren.

  124. Christopher Hinkle said: ‘I find when reading the Whatever comments (when I do), I tend to skip to where I see a green box… that’s where I know I’ll find the most interesting stuff. Oh, and the square brackets. Those are fun to read too. :)’

    I do the same – I love to watch the Mallet at work. :)

    For the record, I read the original piece and thought ‘Yep. That makes sense – no argument from me.’ The only thing I’d note from my perspective as a Straight White Male in Australia is a suspicion that for me, the game setting here is fractionally even easier than it is for SWMs in the US of A.

    I won’t try to articulate why – that would be off-topic.

  125. As a long-time lurker here (and first-time commenter), I’ll add a vote for vigorous moderation as a conversation enhancer. This site is one of a small handful I find worth reading the comment threads on, because the level of discussion is uniformly high, even on the silly threads :-)

    Format may be a factor in keeping the trollage down, also. The straight-line chronology of posts here, apart from being easy to follow, seems to keep everyone engaged in the main conversation, rather than splintering into a bunch of frothy sub-threads as happens on a lot of other sites.

    May your malleting arm be ever strong, John!

  126. To think, all we used to have was the letters page of the newspapers!

    I am moderately astounded by the number of people who missed the point. But then again, missing the point of things on the internet seems to go back a long way.

  127. As an exceptionally tall straight white male with Scandinavian facial features, I’d just like to say: Up up down down left right left right B A. Thank you.

  128. I do some work in talk radio (yup) and the statistic there is one in a thousand listeners will call (and most of those will hang up before they get on the air.) That speaks well for the listening audience of the gardening show, to be sure.

    I much prefer comments threads where the moderation policy is explicitly described and reliably enforced. I do NOT appreciate trolls (my toleration dropped to zero during the online equivalent for a funeral of a friend of the family.) I don’t much care for willful idiocy, either. So I’ve limited my commenting to single-author blogs and larger forums with heavy moderation such as Making Light. It’s the only way to keep my sanity.

  129. my initial drafts of comments to Whatever, when I feel strongly enough to comment, are usually rude enough that I am concerned they won’t pass muster. so I delete and walk away.

    In other news, this thread has officially ruined the word “foamy” for me. Thanks a lot.

  130. Being enthusiastic and energetic and organized doesn’t have anything to do with the percentage of the overall population who agree with your position. — Improbable Joe

    This. This. This. This.

    I would also add that I think any comments thread is a good look at what I would call biased sample. The thread participants are not randomly plucked from the street, as with a survey or poll. They are self selected. Ergo, they have to actively seek out a specific blog or site to begin with, then they have to actually read enough to get excited (or angry) about what they’re reading, then they have to actually feel like they’ve got something they simply must get off their chests, then they have to make the effort of typing it all out, and… and… and…

    Thus an article that gets maybe as much as 500,000 unique hits, will experience a few hundred individual commenters, at most. An article that gets 20,000,000 unique hits will get a thousand or two thousand individuals, etc. What these people may or may not have in common is anyone’s guess. Perhaps there is a psychology thesis in it for some enterprising grad student?

    For myself, I’ve commented at Whatever specifical, and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because John flat-out pisses me off. Sometimes it’s because I actually agree with him and think he’s made a good point. Sometimes it’s the other commenters who piss me off, or with whom I am in agreement. I suspect it all ties back to when I haunted dial-up BBSs in the (very early) 1990s. Pre-WWW. I love on-line fora and I love a good on-line argument, even if I am a yellow belt going up against brown and black belts.

    Though I do feel my enthusiasm for the project flagging as I approach 40. And I can only suffer boots to the head so many times before this Ed Gruberman decides it’s time for him to consider other options.

  131. I tweeted a link to the original article. (I didn’t post it on Facebook because I didn’t feel like having an argument with some of my FB friends who are otherwise nice people but who would have taken rather severe umbrage at having their difficulty setting pointed out to the world. I’m related to some of them.) I also posted a couple of side comments, but didn’t post the one substantive thought I had because I couldn’t articulate it as clearly as I wanted and because it wasn’t going to sway anyone by that point in the conversation. And, I confess, I found myself skimming both comment threads toward the end because new points were thin on the ground. I may or may not have done a search on square brackets.

  132. I didn’t comment on the original article, or read the comments, because prior experience of discussions of privilege have convinced me that *discussing privilege is fundamentally pointless*; it seems to be a subject that attracts the foamy on both sides of the aisle, who drown the rest of us in froth. Nobody gets convinced to change their minds … it’s just shrill at the top of their internet lungs. I have no patience for shrill.

    The article itself I did read, and found to be an interesting take on the subject and a clever analogy. So props for that, Scalzi. I just think that *the subject itself* can’t lead to enlightened discussion. There are probably other subjects in this category – 9/11 conspiracy theories, perhaps?

    As for why internet comment threads trend towards froth … there’s a lot of variables. The reach (in terms of general applicability of the topic, and in terms of how widely it gets spread) of the subject is one; a topic on railroad gauges is unlikely to attract wide interest/be widely disseminated, while a topic on a Hollywood celebrity railing against sexism has much broader appeal.

    Another variable is the culture of the site in question; YouTube is a different place than Whatever.

    This links into a third variable; shrill flourishes when there’s no moderation to enforce … well, moderation. People get louder and louder to try to shout out their opponents. Style of moderation counts too; how willing moderators are to swing the banhammer will affect the quantity of shrill on a site.

    If the site moderation is biased in favour of one side or another, this can lead to one side being silenced (save for the oblivious and trolls) while the other side gets louder and louder trying to outdo their fellow believers.

    Another variable is how long the thread goes on for; longer-running threads will select for people with the intense interest in the subject/frothy rage about the subject necessary to gain sufficient stamina to stay in the thread.

    And another variable is how the thread has gone to date; if it’s full of froth, more moderate posters are likely to get turned off; I’ve very little patience for internet arguments myself these days, so people behaving intemperately is a big “don’t bother expending energy on this” sign to me.

  133. I know that the froathy commenters are usually a miniority, the problem is, minority or not, they tend to still dominate the discussion – meaning many of the silent people are reading it and slowly learning that this kind of crap is okay and that maybe, MAYBE the froathy ones are right.

    Froathy begets froathy and that’s what worries me.

  134. The most striking aspect for me is the sheer incredulity of the dickheads at the discovery that they do not have the inalienable right to froth at the mouth wherever they choose.
    The second is their failure to grasp that they are unlikely to persuade anyone of their genetic superiority if they are incapable of mastering basic punctuation…

  135. I have to confess, John, that I’m a little puzzled by the all vitriol as well. In fact, I would suggest that very few people actually understood your brilliantly subversive piece, as if one actually troubles to consider the metrics you utilized in your game metaphor, you actually managed to demonstrate very clearly that it is white women who are playing on the easiest difficult setting. Very clever of you, but you see, since I am a game designer and grok the metaphor in its fullness, you could not sneak it past me.

  136. One of the purposes of this kind of enraged mass response is to suppress discussion by making people afraid to bring up the subject again. We now know never to mention anything remotely related to white male privilege on Kotaku.

    That’s the virtue of iiii’s suggested response, that it conveys that we can’t be cowed. But I’m afraid it’s not a solution, in and of itself. There are also people who get their fun precisely by provoking an angry crowd; they’re the ones who, when they get an enraged mass response, will always come back with “Ha, ha, I must have hit a nerve! The truth hurts, right? Bring it on!” and spew twice as much invective, and soon the thread is nothing but a shouting war with this one person.

    Sadly, I think that heavily moderated fora are fundamentally needed to have any kind of intelligent discussion of these things. And it helps for the forum to be something like a single-person blog where there’s no implicit obligation for the moderator to bend over backwards to be even-handed.

  137. Brad R. Torgersen:

    “Though I do feel my enthusiasm for the project flagging as I approach 40.”

    I think in a general sense as one gets older, one starts to re-evaluate what’s the best use of one’s time, and that includes commenting on the Internet. There are only one or two places I regularly comment at aside from here these days.

    VD:

    Interesting interpretation, although venturing further with it would be straying from my stated goal of keeping this comment thread focused on comment dynamics and not the two previous entries, so let’s go ahead and snip off that potential conversational thread here. Thanks.

    Matt McIrvin:

    I do try to be relatively even-handed, although of course I make no promises in that direction. That said, I don’t think the solution in the case of Kotaku or any general site is to never bring up the stuff that enrages a certain class of commenter, since inevitably there’s going to be someone horribly enraged about just about everything. And it’s pretty clear in this specific case that there’s a chunk of Kotaku-ites who need some new ideas jammed into their faces every once in a while.

  138. What amazes me most is that your piece drew so much vitriol out of the web. It was a clever metaphor and well-suited to its audience; but it didn’t actually say anything that hasn’t been said a scallion bouillon times before. So why is it such a hate magnet?

  139. @Stevie “The most striking aspect for me is the sheer incredulity of the dickheads at the discovery that they do not have the inalienable right to froth at the mouth wherever they choose.”

    That’s not quite what they are upset about. What they are upset about is not having the right to do so *with no consequence*. There is a subset of people, not representative of readers of a given site or (I hope) people in general, that believe that they should be able to say whatever they want with no repercussions whatsoever. Note that these people would never consider allowing anyone else to do the same.

  140. Surfed on over from TBogg’s shop (where your first post was linked to in a comments thread), in case you’re wondering about the arrival vector of this particular comment. :-) (Here’s the entry point: http://tbogg.firedoglake.com/2012/05/22/angry-boo-radley-is-angry/#comment-100230 )

    My one note on the original topic: I might have a quibble with regard to how wealth should be addressed, but as most of the world’s richest people are (surprise!) straight white males, this is probably a moot point. (About the only way I can think of to make it non-moot is to consider how much wealth out there is inherited rather than “self-made”.)

    Quick aside: The fact of growing up wealthy (or hyper-privileged) may tend to make one less empathetic towards those who aren’t: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/12/20/rich-people-less-empathetic-than-the-poor-study/

  141. [Deleted because fellow seems to be aware I will delete racist comments, and he's right! -- JS]

  142. I would be vaguely curious to compare a thread about the “privilege” metaphor compared to the recent “game difficulty” metaphor. I got the impression that both probably bring out the same number of bigots ut the game difficulty metaphor had fewer people confuse the systemic metaphor with individual advantage. Clearly there were folks who still see it as some sort of individual level of measure. The guy on Kotaku seems totally unable to get the difference between his personal disadvantages and systemic discrimination.

    But it felt like the game metaphor communicated better than the privilege metaphor. Maybe because game difficulty is pointing toward system level settings and “privulege” is personal/individual.

  143. Improbable Joe (5/21 3:28 pm)
    May 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm
    “It also reflects a larger issue with a certain type of commenter who comes looking for an “argument,” but is unwilling or unable to read, understand, and internalize the comments that people make in response to them”

    I don’t think it’s any of those inabilities, but a belief that “argument” means, bully-like, noogying someone until they agree, if only to be left alone. They’re not interested in a classical rhetorical argument, where one works to uncover and understand the truth through reasoned discourse, they’re looking for a brawler’s argument: We fight, I win.

    Colin (5/21 3:37 pm)
    May 21, 2012 at 3:37 pm
    “Freedom of speech only apply to governments. Governments can’t stop people thinking and speaking certain ways. For private individuals or indeed corporations the principle should be ‘you can think and say whatever, but I/we aren’t required to give you a megaphone to enable what you think or say.’ ”

    I agree with all that. I think there are two things that are happening instead however. (Well, OK, technically three, but “They’re lazy and moderation’s hard,” seems fairly self-evident.) On one side, some (few) newspapers are still attempting to operate on the journalistic assumption of impartiality, and feel the need to keep arguments from both sides out there to reflect it. On the other side, corporations aren’t putting comment strings out in service of “the Truth,” or to garner interesting and well-thought out rhetoric. The comments sections are there to boost their ad revenue, so their ideal is a comment stream that resembles a car-wreck, and will attract lots of lookie-loos.

    cofax (5/21 3:41):
    “Big online arguments never result in big changes, just small incremental progress. That’s why we have these conversations, not because we think we can convince [name withheld] or [name withheld], but because there’s a chance we’ll get to John Smallberries from Grover’s Mills, who has never thought of these issues before.”

    1) Yes, and I think that’s the other reason they get mobbed and trashed by the Old Guard. If they can get enough negative threads in there, and drive people away from reading about the idea, from thinking about it, then that incremental change will take longer to occur, and be a smaller change when it comes.

    2) “John Smallberries from Grover’s Mills”
    I saw what you did there. Very nice! Remember: No matter where you go, there you are. ;)

    I think there is one other . . . effect … of the foamy posters which is perhaps overlooked. If there is a ‘John Smallberries’ who has never thought about the idea before, or who is only now finally coming to a new ideation of the concept, reading through the tasteless, vulgar, and utterly logic-challenged comments may well make an association between those qualities and the position they hold, driving the tabula rasa to the opposite camp.

  144. Despite the postings that did not contribute to the discussion, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of some of the comments, either in praise or dissent. You get trolls, John, but you also elicit further thought in your readers. Keep up the good work.

  145. As someone who used to administer a virtual-community site, I sympathize. Commenters will generally do as they damn well please, and lash out bitterly if you attempt to enforce any sort of standards.

    The most egregious example I can remember is when I was accused of being racist by someone who was posting on a thread which was an ongoing Star Trek-universe story, just because I made a post asking people to refrain from using foul language, as he had been. I mean, what was racist about that? It’s Star Trek, for crying out loud, they almost never use the “Seven Dirty Words You Can’t Say On Television,” right? (Well, there was that one time when Data said “Oh, shit,” but (a) he was under the influence of his emotion chip, and (b) the Enterprise-D saucer section was about to crash-land on Veridian III, so that was a pretty fair assessment of the situation, actually.) I never deleted any of his posts, nor would I have, but the guy wound up scribbling pretty much everything he’d posted in the topic anyway. Not that it was exactly pro-quality writing, but still, it broke the continuity of the story.

    I guess all I can really say is, “Good luck.”

  146. “[Deleted because fellow seems to be aware I will delete racist comments, and he's right!] ”

    That’s pretty funny – in an ironic sort of way.

    [The rest deleted because it makes an assertion that the reasonable way of looking at advantage is biological, which is ridiculous on its face. And racist! Quite literally. So no, not ironic in the least. Also, as this comment thread's topic is about comments, not about this fellow's particular hobby horse regarding race and biology, so there's another reason to punt it out of the queue -- JS]

  147. Concerning even-handedness, I was thinking of my long-ago stint as a Usenet moderator on sci.physics.research. The remit of a sci.physics.research moderator was basically to keep out (1) crackpot screeds and (2) flamewars. But the charter had been concocted by optimistic folk who didn’t even allow eternal banning of known nuisances; that would have been far too ad-hominem.

    So we spent an unreasonable amount of time poring over nonsensical screeds to be fair to people who should have been banned ages ago, as they evolved into clever rules lawyers who could elliptically imply their crackpot theories in posts whose individual paragraphs seemed almost legitimate.

    But that wasn’t the worst: the worst was when the actual physicists got into the Great String Theory War, and they’d post mathematically dense six-page theoretical expositions that had a bunch of personal insults aimed at the other posters inserted somewhere on page four. And then the targets of the insults would insist on their moral right of reply, charter be damned. And there was no way to say “to hell with all of you”.

    I suppose part of the problem there was technical. When everyone’s reading a forum on a Web server, you can delete or disemvowel something and the change will actually take. It was there for a while, but it’s not there any more. But on Usenet, you really couldn’t do that. You could send out a delete action for a message (we’d do this when people tried to forge moderator approval), but it was in the nature of a request that probably wouldn’t propagate or be honored everywhere. Moderation on Usenet is/was a pitiful spit-and-baling-wire construct in the first place.

  148. [Deleted because no matter how politely phrased the racist theory, it's still racist. Please stop trying, Robard, although I do appreciate the civility. Thanks -- JS]

  149. Maybe it’s a mistake to have a comment box headed “speak your mind”? Would “Considerate comments only” provoke a slightly different range of responses?

  150. Actually, I am having fun reading your commentary on the comments that you’ve deleted! It’s interesting to see that you have to delete the comments of certain posters more than once. You do an excellent job of keeping the comments from descending into craziness and allowing civil posters to disagree with your premise. Keep up the good work.

  151. I was, for a number of years, a sports editor. Thankfully the publication was small and my stay was before all the stories were posted to the Internets and open to commenting. Once, I believed that sports fans posting on message board threads and ESPN.com articles had a special little pedestal for online banality. This is not true.

    The Internet commenter is a meteor that flames out brightly (some more than others) and seldom actually makes a dent in the ground. At least the folks making jackasses of themselves over games and teams can be forgiven because “fan” is just short for “fanatic.”

    John, I think you’ve gained some new “fans” with SWM.

    (For what it’s worth: I’m SWM with a gay brother… From my perspective you’re spot on.)

  152. I’m glad you’re not letting them get you down Scalzi-Lord. They got me down. Don’t worry, though, WE definitely still love you. And we’re the important ones! ;)

  153. While I can’t be nearly as entertaining as you — “Curse you, Scalzi!” — I am seized by a sudden impulse to put in half a post, followed by my own set of half brackets, followed by some odd and hopefully humorous series of abstruse reasons for deletions, something like ‘Deleted because it takes too much bandwidth, is illegal in 12 states, cannot be initiated without a Congressional quorum, and is just not the sort of thing you do with a first-printing Vonnegut hardcover,’ followed by your initials.

    I am able — barely — to resist temptation, largely because I fear forging such a malleting would result in my eternal banishment from this Nerdvana.

  154. Scalzi, you’re incredible! Have you ever noticed how straight, white, liberal men are always right about everything? How your logic is so flawless that it demands no explanation?! And how if I do not agree with you that I am beneath you; a pitiable unwashed, uneducated rube suffering from the deepest poverty of the mind?

    You’ve got me sold, sir.

    Where do I sign up?

    I want to give people excuses so pin their lack of effort upon. I want them to hate and resent me more than they already do. Then, I want to tell them that I have the key to their enlightenment and prosperity! Yes, I want them to vote for me and my enlightened ideas!

    I got this stuff figured out!

  155. James Rustle, your comment is a whole drinking game’s worth of clueless. Sadly, I do not drink.

    Otherwise, a reminder to folks to keep posts on topic, please.

  156. I’m one that rarely comments, though I do tend to read through the comment thread to see the responses of reasonable people (because they reassure me that someone on the internet is willing to stand up to trolls), as well as to pick out those entertaining green boxes and the fantastic, bracketed deletion comments.

    I find that I enjoy John’s use of the Mallet so much because I’m a firm believer that “don’t feed the trolls” is NOT the correct philosophy to promote in this kind of forum. “If you ignore trolls, they’ll go away” is a common chastisement I’ve seen but it’s wrong. They won’t go away. They build up steam and get so full of themselves and their own cleverness that they turn into the kind of super-troll that gets moderated or banned.

    Sadly, they have inundated the internet because it’s the perfect place for them to spout their nonsense and feel smarter than other people. I feel that these people NEED to be told that their way of shoving their opinions so forcefully upon others is wrong. It’s my opinion that ignoring them is just enabling them to continue with their bad behavior.

    As we’ve all seen in the various comment threads of John’s more “controversial” posts, people can disagree in a reasonable manner. This is how conversations and debates and discussions are born. Trolls aren’t reasonable, they’re bullies… and dammit, bullies need to have people stand up to them, or they’ll just continue to stomp around, beating their chests and feeling superior. So thanks for wielding your Mallet so splendidly, Mr. Scalzi.

  157. I think more useful and conducive to a discussion might be to invert the focus of the sentiment – that genders, ethnicities, orientations other than SWM are akin to playing on higher difficulty modes, or (and I want to stress, in the context of gaming only) like playing with extra handicaps. In the end, I think the sentiment is a provocative generalization, but that seems to be what you were going for. It’s ultimately not as insightful a slogan as the subject deserves, but it keys into something real and painful that a lot of people overlook. So maybe it’s a good place to start, to engender further awareness of social disparity based on these factors, even if the immediate result is (partially) to feed into the venomous victimhood mentality of some single white males. This discussion isn’t going to get anywhere positive without ripping off some of the band-aids we’ve put over it.

  158. I suspect that people are not very good listeners.

    My idea is, we separate the world into a series of, essentially, stereotypes. And we expect everyone to fall into those stereotypes. We tend to pick the loudest, most unpleasant and obnoxious versions of people we disagree with, and the kindest, most reasonable versions of people we agree with. That’s what we form our mental view of these things off of.

    Then, we go on to assume that EVERYONE who agrees/disagrees with us fits that mold. And everyone who sounds kind of similar to them as well.

    On the disagreement side, that prevents reasonable discourse. I was recently privy to a half-hour shouting match where neither side was actually responding to what the other one was saying. One was accusing the other one of being insensitive, and privileged, and thus not realizing the social issues of the day.

    While the other side wasn’t trying to say “There is no sexism/racism” but rather, “I do not take an active part in discussing this.”

    However, because “I’m not discussing this due to the fact that I work for a living, am trying to get through college, and don’t have anyone supporting me” can SOUND kind of like “I’m not discussing this due to the fact that I do not believe this is a real problem,” the argument goes nowhere.

    However, on the internet, we tend to assume people actually understand what we just said. So while you assume people read “it is easier being a straight white male in the united states than it is to be anyone else in the exact same situation, be mindful of that” what the people who are upset read is “It is very easy being a straight white male, in all situations*. Feel bad about that.”

    Because that is the stereotype of your point. And it is, not to overuse the term, objectively untrue. It is harder to be my father than it is to be Will Smith.

    And then people argue “My being white doesn’t mean that I have a harder life than Will Smith.” But then those of us actually aware of the privilege read this as “No, there is no such thing as privilege, Will Smith has a better life than I do!”

    We’re arguing back and forth because we don’t really listen.

    We tend to fight strawmen in internet debates, because we construct strawmen in our minds, and assume that the other person is one of them.

  159. pedantic peasant, it’s tempting, isn’t it? Something like:

    [Deleted because it reveals the truth about my descent from aliens from the planet Wackenfus. Honestly, did you think I'd let you tell that right on my own blog?]

    Or:

    [Deleted for being, not exactly stupid, but below the standard we've come to expect from regular commenters. Try harder, Xopher!]

    But no, we shouldn’t do that. Nope.

  160. I think the reason you might tend to see a disproportionate response in the number of people who disagree (and as such creating the artificial loudness) is because if I am a supporter of what you say (as I was with your previous two threads) I might share it with others who also agree with what you say and we might all go “hmm, well that is nice” or “what an interesting way to put it”. We may not feel the need to come in and tell you how good of a post we feel it is. If we have nothing new to add there is likely no need to say it.

    On the other hand, those who think you are full of it may post to their friends and say “look at what this ass is saying, let’s go get him” and the posts of proverbial flames and pitchforks come forth from the woodwork with all the harble garble one might expect. This makes the dissent seem louder.

  161. Liberal Dan, I’d say your comment is a good argument for making supportive comments when you see something you agree with. “Excellent. I have nothing to add” is good enough.

  162. Regarding the Carthusians: they still make Chartreuse. It’s much better than vitriol, internet or otherwise.

    Further to the ad revenue point, newspapers seem more concerned that moderation would send the foamers off to bully their advertisers. On a privately owned blog, the best the foamers can do is threaten to phone or write(!)

    Trolling for eyeballs versus encouraging lively conversation.

    I find the threats of not buying your books to be particularly poignant; judging by the general lack of reading comprehension, I submit that they are not in the target market for books in general.

    I stumbled over here on a recommendation on Charles Stross’s blog, so now I have another erudite and entertaining blog to distract me along with another author to get acquainted with, so I’m off to the bookstore to choose a point of entry. Thank you.

  163. Hmm, I have to confess I am also not the sort of person to comment on a regular basis. For me this is twofold, or maybe threefold.

    1. My Aspie-ness means that I often find it hard to articulate in a non-confrontational sounding way what I mean – a friend many years ago called it ’violently agreeing’ with him, so in the added vacuum of the internet I usually just shut up unless I have facts to add.

    Second reason for not commenting on posts is that a common habit for me is to read something that makes me go ”Hmm!” or ”Yes!”, or even ”Oh my God the stupid it burns!”, but then copy the URL and my reactions, and send it to my husband / parent / sibling / friend and then discuss via email, Facebook, G+ or whatever!

    The last cause is slightly simpler – offline reading… I often print out articles I’ve spotted at work to read on the bus home (last night it was Romance, Paranormal fiction, Mysogyny and Literature). Offline reading involves a much more concerted effort to comment, and mostly I just don\’t think what I have to say is worth bothering that much over :)

    I suspect (2) is partly because one of the reasons I became a librarian is the love of sharing information, not of expressing my opinion. I have opinions, but I’m very much a ’take the horse to water’ person with it – i.e. here is the information, but I can’t make you understand (nor should I).

  164. Hey, i got linked to the first article from another article called Feminismo para Homens (“Feminism for Men”, in english). Gotta say, all the three were pretty good reads, keep the good work up!

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