Speech, Conversation, Debate, Engagement, Communication

Some thoughts on each. 

1. As a general concept, freedom of speech includes the right to decide how and when to speak, and to whom.

2. This freedom of speech also includes the right to choose not to speak, and not to speak to whomever, including to you.

3. No one is obliged to have a conversation with you.

4. If they are having a conversation with you, they are not obliged to give you the conversation you wanted or expected to have.

5. If you challenge someone to a “debate,” they are not obliged to have a debate with you.

6. If they do not debate you, this does not mean you win. You can’t win a debate the other party has not agreed to.

7. Not all engagement is useful or fruitful, either for the participants or for the observers. Sometimes the best course of action is not to engage.

8. If people do not engage you, it is not necessarily because they are afraid to engage you. Maybe they don’t have the time, or interest. Maybe they think you’re too ignorant to engage, either on the specific topic or in matters of rhetoric. Maybe they don’t want to either implicity or explicitly let you share in their credibility. Maybe they think you’re an asshole, and want nothing to do with you. Maybe it’s combination of some or all of the above. They may or may not tell you why.

9. Communication is not always confrontation. Confrontation is not always communication. If you see communication as an opportunity to fight, you may find yourself without opponents. No, this doesn’t mean you “win,” either.

10. People will communicate as they will. Outside of your own spaces, you have no power to control or compel them. Attempts to dictate the terms of their communication may be ignored. Attempts to demand they comply to your terms for communication will make you look like a child, stamping a foot.

That should be enough for a start.

211 thoughts on “Speech, Conversation, Debate, Engagement, Communication

  1. Freedom of speech goes hand in hand with freedom of listening. We have the choice to say or not say what you like, and also the choice to listen or not listen to whomever we like.

  2. The rule I learned in the NYC subway system: “Do not engage with the crazy people.”

    It has been remarkably applicable to all venues, and all sorts of people.

  3. There was some blibber-blabber over on Popehat about to what extent John’s non-acknowledgments are Good or Bad or whatever. I think they have some valid points about some recent times John has made a point of non-acknowledging someone which bordered on trying to make some points about something and pretend he’s not engaging, but they went well beyond that.

    Really the important thing to take from it all was that you’ll get a lot more out of Popehat if you just ignore everyone there but Ken.

    As far as extensions to the above, I’d add something on the order of “You may well feel that these ‘rules of engagement’ are unfair or incorrect or a sign of moral failing. You’re welcome to that opinion and you can similarly decide that a person who hews to them is unworthy of your time or attention. But don’t pretend that your opinion on this is somehow binding on others or universal.”

  4. “If they do not debate you, this does not mean you win. You can’t win a debate the other party has not agreed to.”

    Aww, but this is the only way I ever win debates. =(

  5. And sometimes people do not want to debate or engage because they are afraid of losing, know they are wrong or on shaky ground… not sure that was clear on the points.

    Otherwise, all makes sense to me

  6. Having (briefly) followed this latest kerfuffle, you really only need #7, and emended at that:

    “7. Not all engagement is useful or fruitful, either for the participants or for the observers.”

    This is the internet. There’s no incentive for parties to find common ground.

  7. “Do not engage with the crazy people,” eh? Point the first: disability discrimination. Point the second: tone argument.

    We all have the right (with a very few, very specific exceptions) not to engage with people; I do however think that it’s important to remember that just because engaging with someone isn’t something you find pleasant, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something important to say.

  8. As a specific concept, freedom of speech means *the US government* is not supposed to stifle the speech of its citizens. It does not mean that people are obliged to listen or required to answer.

  9. But not engaging does not mean, nor imply in any way, that they are afraid of losing, know they are wrong or on shakey ground. It means they don’t want to engage. That is thier right. Assuming that they aren’t engaging for those above stated reasons is an asshole move.

  10. Further to all of that:

    Disagreement is not “hate” or “fighting” or “you must be a bitter miserable human being”. It’s simply disagreement.

    Also “freedom of speech” as an American concept applies to the government restricting an individual, not someone’s right to spout off on a message board, an Internet forum, or my living room.

  11. Huh… on Popehat I find that just skipping Clark works most of the time (though he recently surprised the @#$%!! out of me by posting something insightful)…

  12. KaraKara:

    “Also ‘freedom of speech’ as an American concept applies to the government restricting an individual”

    There’s a reason I spoke of it as a general concept, not specifically as it applies to the US.

  13. I was hoping you’d comment on what I think you’re commenting on, and if you aren’t and this is a happy accident, my response is still the same: Thank you.

  14. Addendum, (IMNTBHO) “You have the right to speak freely. No one has the obligation to provide you with a platform or a microphone.”

  15. John – I wasn’t clear. My “further to that” also applied to “as an American concept”. I was trying to build off of your statement not negate it, but I wasn’t as clear as I could have been. Sorry about that.

  16. My rule of thumb: anyone who, in all seriousness, tries to go on about “Freedom of Speech” usually doesn’t understand what that actually means, and therefore isn’t worth engaging.

    When I have the bandwidth for it, I’m happy to engage in productive debate with someone who seems genuinely willing to learn something (or who seems genuinely capable of teaching me something I don’t know.) Otherwise? No. Life’s too short to spend any of it engaging with someone who clearly doesn’t define “fact” the same way I do, has no compassion for or interest in the well-being of others, and/or just seems to get off on the adrenaline of a flamewar.

    I’ve lost literally years of my life in cumulative time trying to make progress where none can be made, and I’m just too damned tired for it, now. Time spent on futile flamewars is time I could be writing books, cooking for my friends, kissing my sweetie, and making my kid giggle, among many other far more productive activities. Rejecting attempts to prod me into a shouting match doesn’t mean I’m cowardly. It means I’m practical. It does mean I honestly don’t give a rodent’s rear about the person issuing the summons, though, which I suspect is the entire problem.

  17. Anyone can find a reason to be offended if they try hard enough. My attitude is that if you are particularly prone to being offended, you probably shouldn’t be using the Internet. Log off and go watch network TV.

  18. I’d just like to add: no matter how badly you want an audience, don’t poke people to get their attention. (Had this happen to me a couple of days ago. Really obnoxious.)

  19. As a specific concept, freedom of speech means *the US government* is not supposed to stifle the speech of its citizens

    Freedom of speech as a constitutional right is an American concept, but “freedom of speech” full stop is much older than the US. So, no.

  20. Number 10 was sadly but not surprisingly quite relevant to a conversation I was in earlier today. I’m still stunned by how often people will come onto someone else’s space – a FB wall, a blog, a conversation in person – and demand that everyone talk about what they want to talk about and dictate terms of the conversation, and then be terribly oh so surprised when people don’t react well to those demands.

  21. I may be off here, but if this has to to with the “censorship” brigade… imo, you should occasionally screenshot the deleted comments. Upon first glance it does seem like you moderate a lot, but based on what I’ve seen pre-Mallet, that’s because you’ve got an organized crew of haters who regularly and blatantly crap in the comments here.

    But of course, it’s not my blog. And I get the appeal of just completely disengaging. Personally, I’ve had enough arguing on the internet to last me a good long time.

  22. This post should be titled “How to Engage Peacefully with Conservative Relatives on Facebook” or simply “How To Behave on the Internet”

  23. Ha! I usually just don’t respond to the rants and snarky little comments tossed out by said conservative friends and relatives on facebook. Good very rarely ever comes of it :(

  24. Has someone been trolling you? Well to heck with them. I’m listening to Redshirts and enjoying it immensely. Audible – love it. Where else can I get Wil Wheaton and John Scalzi in one package? Thanks for the entertainment.

  25. I used to get into debates (aka very heat arguments) all the time when I was younger. I would always take the bait. As part of my training as a psychologist, I learned how to react in a more neutral manner to things that would have provoked a debate when I was younger (it is best not to tell your patient that you think that it is a horrible idea that they are getting back together with a bad boyfriend). This skill has helped immensely in my personal life. When real life trolls are trying to get a rise out of me, I just say my neutral statements and watch them blow their top when I don’t engage.

  26. That someone has something important to say rarely if ever means that I have an obligation to hear it. It might benefit them for me to hear it. It might even benefit me to hear it. But whether I want that benefit–whether I agree it exists, and agree it is as valuable as whatever I might otherwise do with the time–is my decision, not that of the person who wants my ear.

    Yes, just as speech has consequences, so does not listening. I don’t get to throw away the mail from my credit card company and then complain that nobody told me I owed them money; if my doctor’s office calls me, it’s usually a good idea to listen to the message. But there are a lot of people who are sure that it would be to my benefit to let them tell me about their religion or what they think of my appearance or behavior or the Obama administration. They may even be right. That possibility doesn’t entitle them to my ear, if I would rather pet the cat or waste the evening on TVTropes–or talk to someone I find more interesting.

  27. True that it is not censorship to refuse to engage someone who “challenges” you to a debate; but the dude in question (if it is indeed Clark) isn’t claiming censorship.

    Let me just say, however, from a reader’s perspective – I have more than once been annoyed reading a post on your blog that seems to be pretty clearly responding to…something, and yet having no idea what that “something” may be. It’s exclusionary in some ways: “Oh, hey, I’m posting for everyone here on this public webpage of mine, but only the insiders know who I’m talking about!” (Insert truism here that I can take my annoyed self off to any other website, yadda yadda…But consumption of something enjoyable and enlightening doesn’t have to be all or nothing, does it? If I don’t love you with all my heart, do I really have to go? Or even remain silent?)

    Of course, foul trolls don’t deserve linkage, so there’s that. But outside of foul trollage, if a person is raising legit points in a reasonable way and you’re taking the time to respond, I think internet norms call for linking to that person’s post (or tweet, or whatevs). It lets the audience participate in the discussion, judge the relative merits, and come away wiser. Otherwise you guys could just be emailing each other and the rest of us would never know.

    Yes, it’s your blog and you write or don’t write whatever you damn well please. Believe me, I know. I agree. If you want to use your public site as a public site some days and a private journal of your irritated thoughts at pests who bug you; and if you want to do so with no notice to anyone which day it is, that’s totally your call. But there _are_ these norms of engagement. Remember this from way back when blogs were young? http://www.rebeccablood.net/handbook/excerpts/weblog_ethics.html

  28. I’m sure this stemmed out of malleting/commenting issues for this website, but regardless, thank you. This has helped me clarify and firm up some feelings I was having in a certain face to face interaction. Here’s hoping this memo circulates far and wide – we’re really *not* obliged to speak to anyone and everyone.

  29. literarylottie @ September 16, 2013 at 9:53 pm
    “And if people barge into our own spaces and attempt to dictate the terms of communication there, you’ll lend us the Mallet of Loving Correction, right?”

    No. You must look within and find your own Blunt Instrument of Forceful Enlightenment. No one can do it for you.

  30. Jennifer:

    This piece isn’t specifically in response to Clark, no; I’ve been thinking this stuff generally for a while. I’m not ignorant of Clark’s comments, mind you.

    Beyond that, I’ll link to who I want or not depending on my own reasons. If I linked to everyone who talked about me, positively or negatively, I would spend a whole lot of time linking. Also, people have the right to have a conversation about me without being there, mucking about. And sometimes I want to address a concept generally without getting bogged down in a specific instance, the incidents of which would detract from the larger point.

    Which is to say, this isn’t about one person or post.

  31. I expect Our Gracious Host to mallet the comment at 7:52 — but it’s a great illustration of why there needs to be some moderation on the web these days.

    How much becomes a judgement call. If there’s a pile of dog poo in the middle of the living room floor, cleaning it up is an easy call. If someone leaves a cutting board and knife out on the counter, maybe it needs to be cleaned up, maybe not. If someone cleans up the papers on my desk, *I* think that’s going too far, but the person who hated how messy they made things look might not.

    John’s judgement on malleting may not be yours or mine, but last I looked he did not claim to be anyone but himself — and he doesn’t claim to be perfect, either. I’ll put up with the occasional overenthusiastic cleanup if it means I don’t have to step in a pile of dog poo.

  32. @jbclaasen “You reckon? I think we all still have the freedom to choose whether to be offended or not.”

    If you have freedom of speech, sooner or later, you are going to hear something you don’t like. It’s unavoidable. How you react is a matter of choice. Me personally, I would love it if some people would quit actively seeking excuses to froth at the mouth over something, but that’s a whole ‘nutter topic.

  33. Unless it’s an organized event, debate is not a competition with obvious winners and losers. Ideally, a debate helps to promote the understanding of an issue. At worst, a debate is two parties talking to themselves. Never get into a debate with someone who is liable to say anything, even things they know are not true, to win.

  34. Sometimes, experience causes maturity and/or wisdom.
    So, yeah. Sometimes, saying “Done that, wish I hadn’t. Bored now, leaving” is more than something deserves.

  35. All of your points are true and well-said. I do, however, want to second Jennifer and say that it can be confusing to some of us when you respond to someone without linking, only making a vague reference to “a discussion of my commenting policy,” “some dudebros” or “a military science fiction author of some note” (to use a few recent examples).

    It always makes me think “great, now I gotta see if Google can tell me what the hell he’s talking about.”

    It’s your blog and you can do “whatever” you want, of course, but it is annoying when you’re obviously responding to something very specific but won’t tell us what it is. Please note also that I don’t consider this post to be an example of the above; these do seem more like general points about communication.

  36. This put me in mind of a quote I picked up awhile ago by Randall Munroe (author of XKCD): “Anyone who says they’re great at communicating but people are bad at listening is confused about how communication works.”

  37. RPF:

    You may generally assume that when I don’t link, it’s because I don’t think it’s worth linking to and/or that I’m noting more than one thing and that linking to them all would be impractical and/or I am making a larger or tangential point than was addressed elsewhere and didn’t link because it’s not on topic.

    OR, that I was just lazy that one time.

  38. Also, “You are free to speak and give your opinion on anything you want to talk about. HOWEVER, by the exact same token everyone else is free to point out when your opinion is wrong, ignorant, bigoted, or just you being an asshole.”

  39. Re. #9, I would say that confrontation is *always* communication, albeit that communication can be much more about the confronter rather than the topic they’re attempting to discuss. For example, if I make repeated personal attacks against Mr. Scalzi, that’s saying more about me than it is about him.

    Speaking of confrontations, I recently attended a talk about “meta-discussions”: that is, how the words we choose have implications and insinuations that make the message greater than the sum of its parts. For instance, think of your reaction when you hear someone ask, “Are you really going to wear that again?”

    The speaker said something particularly interesting: when you explain or defend yourself from an attack, the meta-discussion is that you are subordinate to the attacker. By refusing to explain or defend, the meta-discussion is that you are powerful and in control.

    The example he gave was a schoolteacher reacting to a student criticizing her for having dog hair on her clothes. The best responses, our speaker suggested, were to ignore, deflect, or turn back the attack upon the originator. In the schoolteacher’s case, the speaker suggested that she say, “The fact that I have dog hair on my clothes is irrelevant to the lesson I am presenting. Do you have anything to ask about the lesson? If not, please be quiet and do not disrupt the class again.”

  40. Corollary to Jay’s quote of XKCD, If you think a lot of people are rude to you, you may be confused about who is rude.

  41. I love the English language. I am repeatedly amazed/interested/enraged about how some abuse/manipulate language to further their own agendas. Often these persons will try to engage in a debate about something – because they are good a ‘word games’ and think that a debate is something that they can ‘win’ and therefore prove their point. An example of this is when crackpots and other science deniers try to engage in a debate with a legitimate scientist to further their crackpot ideas (Mark Twain’s advice upthread is why most scientists avoid these ‘debates’)
    Personally I try to avoid debates, I prefer dialogue, discourse, a dialectic, whatever – less adversarial

  42. also – calling something stupid, illogical, not well thought out, or pointing out how it is just wrong, is not the same as censoring debate. Anyone is free to express their opinions – and anyone else is free to express their opinions about your opinions.

  43. #9 speaks to me. I’ve had a couple former friends whose love of confrontation and argument is so overwhelming they have lost countless relationships because people tire of constantly being on the defense. If you argue with everything said or posted on FB/blog/twitter the problem is you,

  44. “Actually, thought the troll and responses were very relevant to the topic at hand.”

    That’s how the better trolls operate. They don’t derail the train right off; they switch tracks, hopefully smoothly enough that they get to take everybody for a nice little ride of their choosing.

  45. My rules regarding all this are simple:

    1. Your right to free speech does not obligate me to listen to you.

    2. Even if I choose to listen to you, I am not obligated to agree with you.

    3. My lack of response to your speech does not imply my agreement with what you said.

    Regarding my third point, it always amazes me that so many people believe that because I won’t argue with them but just let them have their say without cutting them off means that I agree with what they have said. All my silence often means is that I can’t see any point in starting what would likely become an argument because of the intensity with which I disagree with them.

  46. All this fucking drama over someone’s butthurt because they got a comment deleted.

    and I thought *I* was immature.

  47. I suppose I only like the commenting policy here because I agree with it. If I disagreed with it, it would probably bother me. But if I disagreed with it, it’s likely because what I say is getting removed. And that because I disagree with John. Which begs the question: if people don’t agree with John and don’t agree with his policy on commenting, why the hell are they here?

  48. I have found, through anecdote and casual observation, that people who want to have “debates” on the internet share two common features:

    1. They have a very high opinion of their own intelligence; and
    2. They have a hyper-competitive nature.

    Put another way: they want desperately to “win”, and are unassailably convinced that they can.

  49. If I linked everything I thought was important, worthy, or fun, I’d have no time for my own thoughts.

    If I engaged everyone who tried to engage me, I’d have no time for my loved ones.

  50. Doc Rocketscience:

    Yeah. Also, in a general sense, it does seem that those who want to “debate” are more interested in looking clever in discourse than in making a salient point about whatever is nominally the topic under discussion. Which makes the “debate” even more pointless.

  51. I think these are some great points that are true and clear even without any supposed context. Some people just want to see conflict.

    I’m always amazed at how much hate and anger is out there.

  52. It’s surprising how many people assume communication is confrontation. Especially when the other party is of differing opinions. It’s perfectly feasible that someone may communicate with others on a subject primarily to explore and understand other perspectives.

    The other thing is that a debate on the web is not necessarily ‘communication.’ Debates here are contests of logic, preparation and documentation with a healthy dose of wit for added spice. Whoever ends up convincing the majority of the silent majority out there–somewhere–can revel in victory. That is, if they knew they won, which they don’t. So why bother? I stopped doing that some time ago.

    If I’m going to have a ‘teaparty’ of words with someone, I prefer our pots full, but our cups empty. Let the one fill the others cup, drink, then remark on the quality of each others brew. It should be an enjoyable experience in growth and knowledge and understanding.

    I realize this blog was likely the result of an issue with a deleted comment, but it seemed to revolve around a deeper topic. So, if I’ve only digressed, my apologies.

  53. “If I’m going to have a ‘teaparty’ of words with someone, I prefer our pots full, but our cups empty. Let the one fill the others cup, drink, then remark on the quality of each others brew. It should be an enjoyable experience in growth and knowledge and understanding.”

    Sublime.

  54. Greg Leon Guerrero:

    “I realize this blog was likely the result of an issue with a deleted comment, but it seemed to revolve around a deeper topic.”

    In fact, it’s not based on any particular thing, as I noted before; it’s my thoughts on a general topic.

  55. Greg Leon Guerrero, you just said what I was thinking, but said it better. Thank you!

    I was thinking about how much I enjoyed “debates” in college, because what we were doing was working together to feel out a topic, coming up with new (to us) insights along the way and being surprised by the viewpoint of others. I keep hoping that more of the Internet will replicate those 2 AM in a dorm hallway discussions.

    I live in hope. And it’s one reason why I hang out on this blog with you folks!

  56. I once tried to start a blog to discuss the technical possibilities of space travel.

    But I did moderate the comments, trying to keep them relevant.

    Within the first 24 hours I was accused of being a censor with allusions to 1984.

    Needless to say, I gave up that experiment right quick.

  57. Yet again, the comments are as interesting — perhaps even a touch more interesting — than the original post. The post is a seed, the comments are a harvest (how far can I carry that metaphor? trolls drop fertilizer or trample seedlings, Mr. Scalzi is a farmer and has a big hoe? I’ll stop now.)

    For many years I’ve observed and thought about the idea that being “wrong” online (and elsewhere, of course) is nearly the worst thing that can happen to one. Many people will do anything to avoid being seen as “wrong”. Being “right” is tantamount, a goal to be achieved in any way possible, or to be created from whatever material is at hand. If one is not “right”, one will be ostracized, blacklisted, removed from the Christmas Card List, not given Halloween candy and possibly lose one’s citizenship. Not to engage is to admit being wrong, and to be engage is to be right, because one can always declare oneself right, and if one yells loudly enough, drown out all the other similar claims.

    It makes me damned dizzy, actually. I gave up the joy of the flame war some time in the mid 90s and have felt so much better since then. But I still see it, and still see the inclinations for it in myself. I often refuse to engage just because, really, I can use that time elsewhere to clip my toenails or floss my teeth or something important. No one yet has ever given me a cookie for being right online. No one has ever taken my candy for being wrong. Neither are what they are hyped up to be, at least online, on average. (Yes, there are other things where it applies, but we are talking discussion, free speech [freeze peach] and debate here).

    I’m not sure if my attitude is wisdom or just exhaustion, but it’s working so far. There is a constant supply of people who still want to fight for the illusory candy, and it can be entertaining to watch for a bit. Actual conversation — the exchange of ideas, the listening, the give and take, the win-win — is a whole ‘nuther thing, far more interesting, and harder to achieve. Tea party, indeed! Maybe even a pot luck party.

  58. As a specific concept, freedom of speech means *the US government* is not supposed to stifle the speech of its citizens. It does not mean that people are obliged to listen or required to answer.

    Yes the first amendment to the US Constitution is about the government stifling free speech, but free speech is about more than that and it’s in the Constitution because it was valued prior to being included in the bill of rights.

    If a private university decides to ban some speech on its campus, one who wishes to speak about the banned subject may not be able to invoke the first amendment, but the free exchange of ideas is generally considered to be part of the role of universities. Just because the university can’t be compelled to allow the speech doesn’t mean that that the university ought not be criticized for quashing free speech.

  59. I suppose I only like the commenting policy here because I agree with it. If I disagreed with it, it would probably bother me. But if I disagreed with it, it’s likely because what I say is getting removed. And that because I disagree with John. Which begs the question: if people don’t agree with John and don’t agree with his policy on commenting, why the hell are they here?

    People are here because John frequently post things that interest him. People do posts comments that disagree with him.

    I often wonder about what is in those deleted comments, since I usually read the thread after they have been malleted. The editorial comment sometimes leaves me wondering if it was a disagreement over substance or because the commenter was uncivil.

    So today, I was fortunate enough to spot a comment prior to being maletted. My goodness; it was abusive and couched in language intended to hurt. It also expressed an opinion that others in this thread have also expressed, but the other posters managed to do so in a civil manner.

  60. @Mike: That may be correct, but the private university in your example doesn’t have to host the criticism either. And if one wants to criticize censorship, attempting to do so in the place that is practicing censorship is, well, silly. Nor does the private university need to issue a press release whenever a criticism is made about it. Your example doesn’t really fit well to this situation.

  61. @This Looks Fun– Yes you are correct. I offered the comment because I frequently see the observation that free speech is only relevant in the context of government coercion, or that it isn’t censorship if a government isn’t doing it. All too often that is offered as the final observation on the subject even though there are non-governmental fora where the lack of free speech would interfere with the function and spirit of those fora.

  62. Have been thinking on this more today, trying to figure out what attracted me to the constant flamewars I used to get into for years. Something someone said above about wanting to be “right” kind of hit the spot. (Please pardon the subsequent verbose, navel-gazing comment. I promise it’ll be my last for the day. ;) )

    I’m sure it’s not the case for everyone with a chronic argument habit, but in my case, being smart was one of the only advantages I had when I was a kid (singing well being the other.) I had the answers. I did well academically. I could give people something they wanted (information) and that made me feel powerful when I otherwise felt incredibly weak. When I was “right” I was respected and, for at least a little while, not being smacked around (literally or figuratively) for my various shortcomings.

    20 years and many crises later, being the smart one was still my greatest asset, but I no longer had teachers and profs to pat me on the head for it and make me feel secure in my ability to survive. However, there was this new, awesome, anyone-can-have-a-soapbox intarweebs thingy … I could be right several times a day, and get that fix of feeling powerful for a while. But when I was wrong, or when I knew I was right but the person I was trying to inform refused to acknowledge that? I went frothy, with all the foot-shooting that usually ensues. If I was wrong, my lizard brain believed, then I no longer had power, which meant no longer surviving because I had nothing else to fall back on.

    These days, I’m a lot more secure. I still have some of the old survival worries, but I’m not in nearly as precarious a position as I was before. My power is more diversified, so being “right” isn’t the critical issue it once was for me. I still succumb sometimes, especially when the topic hits home, and it’s critical that the person in question acknowledge a point of fact so they’ll stop causing real-world problems for me, but I’m a lot quicker to disengage, rather than hang on in the hope that eventually I’ll “win.”

    It wouldn’t at all surprise me if I’m not the only one operating from this sort of logic. Politically, I think it’s definitely possible that people who are struggling economically or who have other major survival-level disadvantages may turn to “being right on the intarweebs” to give themselves a dose of control and power that they otherwise lack in their lives. So when someone takes that control away–by walking away from a fight, by deleting comments, by refusing to take the bait–it’s a real blow to the gut. If everyone else won’t acknowledge they’re “right,” they have little else to fall back on. It’s really no different from schoolyard bullies who use physical strength and dominance over weaker kids to make up for feeling powerless in other ways. When the merit/power-ranking system shifts from physical strength to something else, or when they’re otherwise not allowed to use that advantage to gain power, they’re screwed, and react accordingly. Undoubtedly, the same is true for other people with one major advantage–race privilege, physical attractiveness, etc.–who see that advantage eroding as the world changes.

    Of course, there are always people who are just plain nasty: sociopaths or general rotten little shits who simply get off on trolling or being a jerk. And no matter the reasoning behind it, there’s no excuse for being horrible to other people or coming into someone else’s space and pissing on the rug. But I also think that trying to make it so people aren’t afraid of surviving if they’re not smart/strong/pretty/w’ev will go a long way to dampening some folks’ need for excessive tooth-gnashing. It’s worth a shot, at least.

  63. “Free speech” as a Constitutional right in the US has a specific meaning. All other free speech depends on the negotiated meaning of the phrase, and the context. Does it include spamming with commercial speech? Libel? “Obscene” language in a PG-13 forum? Depends.

  64. @a mediated life — agreed, there’s a lot of that, the kind of substitution of one kind of power for another kind that is attainable, power over words becoming a kind of power over other people and abstract spaces. I think we are taught that. When you are a “loser” over people figuratively stand on top of you to reach things, which means you can’t reach them yourself, nor will they be there if you ever get the chance to reach because someone else already took them.

    I think that has a lot to do with a lot of the confrontations that litter the ol’ internet — people all vying for this very abstract and difficult to pin down but obviously real prize of being right. It’s a moment of power, power taken from someone else. The more power the someone else is perceived to have, the more it’s worth anything to try for it.

    So, to apply this to the current place and person, Mr. Scalzi is seen as having a lot of power — he’s a successful and talented writer, he has a level of fame, he knows and is known by other people with similar power, he has fans and admirers, etc. He’s Got Something that a lot of other people want. Some will try to get it by trying to Be A Friend and thus get a little glow from standing near the power center. Others want to take his power by proving he doesn’t deserve it or obtained it falsely. He has what they want and they perceive his having it by having stood on top of them in some way. Only by knocking him down can they take it away from him and attempt to get it themselves.

    Very primitive thinking, and common thinking (dog eat dog world, etc.) Competitive thinking. It’s the kind of thinking that denies it is possible to make something of one’s own without taking something away from someone else.

    I need more caffeine before I can keep thinking like this, though. :)

  65. And if one wants to criticize censorship, attempting to do so in the place that is practicing censorship is, well, silly.

    I would think that the best place to criticize censorship would be in the place that is practicing it.

    Free speech (as a right and a concept) is a lot more nebulous, absent the invocation of the First Amendment. Nonetheless, in this world where social gathering spaces (both virtual and physical) are heavily private ones (Facebook, malls), it’s something worth discussing. I doubt we’d be comfortable if malls – no matter if privately owned – allowed whites to speak but not minorities.

  66. I went to popehat and read the comments. I READ THE COMMENTS. WHYOHWHYDIDIREADTHECOMMENTS?!?! I thought it was bad…then Vox started posting. Then I wondered if posters begged for the sweet release of death.

    John, had I mentioned how much I appreciate your tireless curation of the comments, here?

  67. I grew up with a father who felt his value as a human being was as a “knower”. When information he provided was challenged, he felt he was personally being attacheked. He could not comprehend that his status did not make his opion a fact, nor that I could disagree with him and still love and respect him. I learned the hard way that disengagement has great benefits and that I can live with another person having information I personally feel to be incorrect without my own roof falling in. It was probably a good lesson – but I would personally have preferred a different relationship. These trolls remind me of him frequently….

  68. Guys, I’m disappointed that for the second time in the same thread I have to remind people that responding to comments likely to be deleted isn’t going to make you or me happy.

  69. Yep…I really should have thought before posting those comments. I’m sorry, Mr. Scalzi. I was so horrified by the vileness that I left you with a mess to clean up (as well as me–fortunately tile is pretty easy to clean of vomit).

  70. You left out an important one that is specific to a blog forum….

    maybe people don’t notice your response because the response list is really long. maybe people don’t notice the post because they may only check back once in a day or every few days and by then people have moved on.

    In that respect… I don’t read enough posts to even realize this kind of debate is going on here, but John seems to blog a lot about it, so I guess it does. I don’t think most people notice. These responses lists are too long. I am sure most people just read a few posts at most.

    I read 3-4 posts in this entry before responding. So if someone else said this, i missed it. Its up to 100 posts now… so cut me some slack.

  71. JS–

    A criticism I have seen in now three separate places is that you bring out the mallet or ban people for two main reasons – one for being, basically, asshole-ish, and two, for doing or posting something that exposes you as foolish, obviously wrong, or in some other way negatively reflects on you or your personal brand.

    Have you EVER deleted or edited comments because they made you look bad, or got under your skin?

  72. John Bans people? This site does not require accounts. Someone can just change a handle. I didn’t think wordpress had IP Ban capabilities (this is really easy to get around, but won’t post how).

    so to ban people this seems to mean he has to manually delete the same people over and over again. seems like alot of effort… you must spend hours here a day.

  73. He can permaban certain email addresses, I think. He can definitely ban them in certain threads.

  74. People who jump into commenting on a site assuming that the point of the comment section is to provide them with a forum for “open debate” bring to mind a man who climbs to the top of a hill and declares himself king, wrestling all challengers down, oblivious to the fact that everyone else is simply trying to ski.

    Does it matter if JS deletes comments because they get under his skin or make him look bad? Does it matter if he doesn’t conform to someone’s idea of internet norms? Perhaps each person with a blog gets to decide for themselves what the purpose and value of comments are, and act accordingly.

  75. Eh, I’ve been around long enough to have seen comments before they were moderated, and John wasn’t the one who looked “bad”. Frankly, he’s doing the commenters a favor.

  76. …or he spends hours banning them, which is evident from this thread alone. It isn’t called The Mallet of Loving Correction for nothing. Look at his avatar, after all. It is a cartoon showing the censor at work. Probably how he got those rippling internet biceps.

  77. Sorry, John. As much as I find blog-wars (or whatever you’d prefer to call it) tiresome, there are rare occasions where I can’t help but take a poke at someone.

    I promise that I’ll refrain from that sort of behavior in the future.

  78. dpporter:

    “Have you EVER deleted or edited comments because they made you look bad, or got under your skin?”

    I think there may be one or two times where someone’s comment rubbed me the wrong way personally and I’ve snipped it out; when I’ve done that I’ve usually let people know I was in a pissy mood and that that particular day wasn’t a good day to poke at me. But it’s been pretty rare. I’m more likely to post a “really?” sort of comment right after instead.

    There have also been a couple of times where I read someone’s comment too hastily and snipped it out, only to realize I’d missed their point by a country mile. When that happens I usually apologize and invite them to post the comment again.

    As for deleting comments that make me look bad or reflects negatively on my “brand,” no, I don’t think so — or at the very least, they may have attempted to do so but I snipped them out for other reasons (mostly because many of the people who may be trying to dent my “brand” are also more generally being assholes, and I’m snipping them out for the latter). I’ll note that I think if someone wants to damage my “brand,” coming over to my Web site to comment is probably not the best way to go about it if for no other reason than comments don’t get much Google juice. They (whoever they are) are better off posting their kvetching on their own sites. As of course many of them do.

    Guess:

    I have in fact banned some folks, but relatively few — probably no more than I can count on my fingers over the span of fifteen years. There’s a larger number who are more or less permanently in the moderation queue, i.e., I see their posts before they go live and decide whether or not to let them through. Outright banning is usually not needed because most people can figure out when they’re not wanted.

  79. What is the brand of the Scalzi ranch*? Bacon strip over the lazy cat?

    * That lawn is big enough to qualify as a ranch.

  80. There is one interesting counter-point to make, though.

    Where are you more likely to learn new stuff from – listening to people who support you, or people disagreeing with you?

  81. John, thanks for the response and I couldn’t agree more. If you spent all of your time responding to everyone who talks about you, you wouldn’t have any time to write. And nobody wants that. I was just boosting the one point [of the post to which you were not specifically referring] I really agree with: When you’re responding to someone specifically, and they aren’t just a malicious troll, a link is nice.

    I do like your habit of general posts on ideas you’ve been developing due to multiple interactions or developing memes. Many times that’s the best way to take the high road and keep things from feeling too pointed or critical. And it also fits very well into your habit of keeping these “legacy” posts that express your general feelings about topics that come up over & over again, like your lawn. The more general the post, the easier it is to use for future purposes. I might try taking a page from that book myself.

  82. Phoenician, in my experience, it’s not an either/or, but I find I tend to learn more new stuff from people whose views are reasonably close to mine because we’re more likely to have a wide-ranging, long-lasting conversation in which there are opportunities for new information to come up. New stuff is stuff I didn’t know before, and I find that like-minded people have areas of knowledge and interest that I was never exposed to before, and learning from them is fun. The same can be true of non-like-minded people, but my conversations with them tend to be less extensive and therefore present fewer opportunities for us to exchange new stuff.

  83. Phoenician in a time of Romans:

    I’m not sure I see it as a counterpoint. Nothing from above suggests that people are not able to disagree, or that people will always refuse to listen to people who disagree with them. All that’s being said, essentially, is that you can’t make people engage with you if they choose not to.

  84. I’m chiming in here (late as usual) to say I agree with both the post, and Jack Lint’s idea for the Scalzi Ranch brand.

    Also, Jack’s comment makes me want both bacon and ranch dressing.

  85. Where are you more likely to learn new stuff from – listening to people who support you, or people disagreeing with you?

    I’m pretty sure that very few people learn new stuff from people screaming at them in their house.

  86. And then some people sidelong glance do not communicate on their blog or their G+ that the ebook version of their collected blogging is now available and we have to find out accidentally.

    MOAR SELF-PROMOTION, SCALZI. Those churros ain’t gonna pay for themselves.

  87. I’ve been Malleted a couple of times, and it’s usually been because what I posted was not germane to the discussion. I’d like to think that I am big enough not to get butthurt because I was asked not to walk into Our Host’s living room with muddy shoes. I am sad because that seems to be a difficult concept for some.

  88. @Phoenician 7:18 pm vis “[who] are you more likely to learn new stuff from….”
    Except for book picture day here I do not learn anything from comments anywhere more than about twice a year.

    Where I’m likely to learn new specifics about new incidents of the same old shit is the news. sad/sobface-

    Where I’m most likely to, philosophically speaking, learn new stuff is from my friends or from getting bored and reading a book like “Grasses of the Western Plains” or one of my incomplete “[Complete Works of EAPoe]” or ‘Intoxication-Seigel’ or doing something like looking up “Haecceity.”

    “Developing World Water” was great. I learned a lot. Grosvener Press International. Printed in Hong Kong. Doesn’t seem to have an ISBN. Was a much better read than “Roller Compacted Concrete Dams.”

    Now, why I said the above. Been there, done that when I was twenty, realized my thirty year old (YO) self had very harsh opinions about my twenty YO self.
    I won’t be saying what me at seventeen thought of me at fourteen YO.

  89. I’m a fan of your books; I’ve read them all. I follow your blog every day. However, for what it’s worth, I’m not a big fan of your comment policy. But your comment policy isn’t really any of my business.

    Still, if my reason for not liking your policy is of any interest to you, I’ll elaborate. If not, skip the below.

    My two cents: it’s because I feel like you tend to shut down valid arguments against your positions. For instance, when you tell folks they can’t talk about whether or not fetuses are alive in the womb in your rapist/power post then it’s next to impossible for people to explain to you why they disagree with your position. No one in their right mind thinks a woman’s body should be controlled just for the sake of controlling it. Some folks do think that fetuses are babies and deserve rights of their own. (I’m not weighing in on the issue here — just putting forward an example of why I think your comment area tends to be less than great when it comes to discourse.) Another example was when you shut down certain avenues of discussion about the Frenkel incident. Some folks felt like he was being subjected to what they referred to as a witch hunt, but they couldn’t really make their point due to the topics they weren’t allowed to discuss. Which, at least in my opinion, left just enough room for a bunch of comments agreeing with you.

    It bleeds somewhat into another issue I’ve seen raised that I think has merit: at times you seem to talk past issues. To explain what I mean, consider the post you made regarding the number of visitors you receive here on Whatever. To my knowledge, no one argued against you asserting that you receive “up to” 50k hits. The criticism against you specifically mentioned that you had every right to say up to. So, at least to me, it comes across as if you’re arguing against a strawman.

    Anyway, a lot of folks seem to like your policy, and it’s your blog, so whatever works for you in your space is certainly fine by me. After all, it’s your space, not mine. Shrug.

  90. And a counter-counter-point:

    Where are you more likely to learn new stuff from – listening to people who are talking in good faith, or people who are talking in bad faith?

    Bonus preemptive counter-counter-counter-point:

    Where are you more likely to learn new stuff from – listening to people who condense the range of human interaction to a single binary variable, or people who don’t do that?

  91. Johnathan Knight: one of your “valid points” relies on an unresolvable issue, and therefore tends to lead down a rabbit hole of flamebait. The other uses the term “witch hunt” unironically, and is therefore irretrievably stupid.

  92. Doc, I’m not sure I follow you. I assume the “unresolvable” issue you’re talking about is the fetus issue. Correct me if I’m wrong.

    In regards to that, the blog post in question was specifically (at least, to my memory) about abortion law. The argument put forward was framed as if from a rapist who enjoyed the level of power he had over a woman thanks to the consideration of harsh abortion laws. That argument certainly makes sense to folks who are pro-choice. However, pro-life folks aren’t pro-life because they want rapists to have power over women. They’re pro-life because they believe fetuses are alive and deserve rights. To define one side of the argument as “flamebait” while presenting the other as bona fide isn’t valid discourse, at least in my opinion.

    In regards to witch hunt, I disagree. That’s exactly how a lot of folks saw and described the Frenkel incident. It seems clear to me that no one used the term in a literal sense, so I don’t understand why you find it “irretrievably stupid”. Regardless, it’s not relevant to the point my comment was making.

    The point: certain topics not being allowed in the discussion essentially limit the discussion. And in many instances, disallow counter arguments.

    To use a ridiculous and somewhat unfair example, it would be like me saying: the Earth is flat. Please discuss, but no one bring up that the Earth is round. Now, obviously, my example is somewhat unfair because the example I’ve used isn’t subjective in nature. But hopefully it carries the spirit of what I was trying to say.

    Personally, I like being friends with people who have opinions contrary to my own. I like discussions, and I like reading thoughtful comments, especially ones that challenge the way I currently think about things. In general, I want everyone to be happy; I don’t want to hurt anyone, and if you disagree with my politics, I automatically assume you don’t want to hurt anyone either. I also tend to assume you’ve thought about your position, and I mostly just want to try to understand where you’re coming from. But it becomes difficult to have a real conversation in environments that discourage the expression of certain topics. At least, in my opinion.

  93. NEWLY IMPOSED RULES OF THE INTERNETS!
    Aug. 23rd, 2007 at 4:54 AM…from my Live Journal

    ANONYMOUS HAS SIGNED THEM INTO LAW ALREADYS.

    1) Do not talk about /b/.
    2) Do NOT talk about /b/.
    3) We are anonymous
    4) Anonymous is legion
    5) Anonymous never forgives
    6) Anonymous can be a horrible, senseless, uncaring monster
    7) Anonymous is still able to deliver
    8) There are no real rules about posting
    9) There are no real rules about moderation either – enjoy your ban
    10) If you enjoy any rival sites – DON’T
    11) All your carefully picked arguments can be easily ignored
    12) Anything you say can and will be used against you
    13) Anything you say can be turned into something else
    14) Do not argue with trolls – it means that they win
    15) The harder you try the harder you will fail
    16) If you fail hard enough it may just become a winning fail
    17) Every win fails eventually
    18) Everything that can be labeled can be hated
    19) The more you hate it the stronger it gets
    20) Nothing is to be taken seriously
    21) Original content is only original for a few seconds before getting old
    22) Copypasta is made to ruin every last bit of originality
    23) Copypasta is made to ruin every last bit of originality
    24) Every repost is always a repost of a repost
    25) Relation to the original topic decreases with every single post
    26) Any topic can be easily turned into something completely unrelated
    27) Always question a person’s sexual preferences without any real reason
    28) Always question a person’s gender – just in case it’s really a man
    29) In the internet all girls are men and all kids are undercover FBI agents
    30) There are no girls on the internet
    31) TITS or GTFO – it’s your choice
    32) You must have pictures to prove your statements
    33) Lurk more – it’s never enough
    34) There is porn of it, no exceptions
    35) If no porn is found at the moment, it will be made
    36) There will always be even more fucked up shit than what you just saw
    37) You cannot divide by zero (just because the calculator says so)
    38) No real limits of any kind apply here – not even the sky
    39) CAPSLOCK IS CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOL
    40) EVEN WITH CRUISE CONTROL YOU STILL HAVE TO STEER
    41) Desu isn’t funny. Seriously guys. It’s worse than Chuck Norris jokes.
    42) Nothing is Sacred
    43) The more beautiful and pure a thing is – the more satisfying it is to corrupt it
    44) Even one positive comment about Japanese stuff is enough to make you a weeaboo
    45) When one sees a lion, one must get into the car.
    46) There is always furry porn of it.

  94. I generally agree with Jonathan Knight both that:

    1) this is John’s site and I am not particularly offended that he has his own rules on how people use it;

    2) John’s rules are not perfect for having robust discourse on some topics (but again see point 1).

    I would add that I find it a little odd that people* would say someone’s self-promotion site is set up to make that person look good and mean that as a serious criticism.

    *People we are not mentioning because this is totally a general discussion about a generic topic.

  95. J Knight:

    The legal (and for that matter, philosophical) status of a fetus is an unresolvable issue, certainly in the context of a blog comment thread. It doesn’t lead to interesting conversation, just a lot of people talking past each other, as opposing sides can’t even agree on definitions of terms. It doesn’t really matter how passionately, sincerely the belief is held, it still leads nowhere.

    Anyone who honestly believes someone like Frenkel* was subject to a witch hunt either a) doesn’t understand the historical nature of witch hunts, and/or b) doesn’t understand the rhetorical nature of the term “witch hunt”. A single individual can’t be the sole target of anything that could accurately be described as a witch hunt. Witch hunts happen when large groups who already hold the power go after small groups of people who don’t.

    You’re right, your “flat earth” example makes no sense. Better would be “The earth is flat, but let’s not get derailed in debates regarding the role of the Inquisition in Spanish politics, or the number of turtles holding the earth up.”

    You’re not being set up to lose the debate, Johnathan, because 1) it’s not really a debate, and 2) there’s nothing to win.

    I like being friends with people who have opinions contrary to my own.

    You (and I’m speaking to a larger group than just you) like to claim this, as though it were some sort of virtue. But this isn’t how human beings work, not in the aggregate. Human beings try to put the difference they have with their friends aside, in order to build social structures. No, my friends and I don’t see eye to eye on every issue, but those that we don’t agree on, we don’t talk about, because we value the friendship more than the topic. I find people who prefer “friends” with whom they disagree to be tedious, since they seem less interested in having friends, and more interested in trying to seem clever.

    * To be honest, I’m not entirely certain who you’re referring to here, but it doesn’t matter. Pick any other “men behaving badly” story that’s gotten air time on Whatever.

  96. Johnathan Knight:

    “I’m not a big fan of your comment policy.”

    As you correctly surmise in your next sentence, I neither need or want approval for the comment policy; it’s not up for debate.

    Re: Setting the frame for the discussion in the “Fan Letter” thread: I had a specific reason for setting the frame as I did, which I explained in the thread itself. That you are complaining that it constrained you from making what you consider a valid argument is, in fact, exactly the point. The question is what you choose to take away from the exercise. You appear to have taken away “I can’t make the argument I want to make the way I want to make it, therefore the problem is with John Scalzi, not with my argument.” Which is your karma.

    I likewise had a specific reason to shape the Frenkel discussion as I did, primarily because this points you appear to believe were “valid” by and large pointless, derail-y and often stupid.

    What you need to be clear about, in case it is already not clear, is that the final arbeiter of what is a “valid” point here is me. Just because you (or anyone else) wants to talk about it does not make it “valid,”; just because you (or anyone else) thinks it’s important doesn’t mean it is.

    I realize that feeling you’re not able to make the point you want to make the way you want to make it where you want to make (i.e., in front of me and the readers of the comment threads here) is frustrating, which is why you and other people try to have second bites at the apple, as you did here, in your attempt to slip in the discussion of the rights of the fetus (which still fails as regards the right of the woman to control her own body; you’ve just handed control of the raped woman’s body to the rapist. Again. Congratulations). But I am neither obliged to let you or anyone have the discussion you want, to make points I think are inessential, wrong or stupid, nor enjoined to agree that such points are “relevant” or “valid.”

    This does not mean that people are not able to disagree with me; people here disagree with me all the time. It does mean that the discussion has rules, and a focus, and moderation. What frustrates many of the people who complain about that is not that the discussion does not have a path but that they are not allowed to set it, or at the very least change it at their whim. And, you know. I’m not exactly weeping for them.

    Incidentally, we are now done discussing specifics of either the “fan letter” or Frenkel incident further in this thread; further attempts at either discussion will be snipped out. The specific details of either discussion are not relevant to the discussion.

  97. Doc: Metaphors can stretch beyond their historical origin. The history of witch hunts is also quite long and varied. (The witch trials in Connecticut in the 1640’s were different in many ways than the famous Salem with hunt craze in the 1690’s and both were different than the big Scottish/German bonfires that went on for centuries.) By your definition, McCarthyism could not be characterized as a witch hunt because the targeted groups were not powerless and depending on your definition, not small either. (You could also argue that the witch hunters were not a particularly large group either, depending on how you define them.) Yet people have traditionally used “witch hunt” to describe that phenomenon. They might have been wrong in some ideal rhetorical space, but linguistic usage has moved past that.

    While I tend to agree with you on the fetal issue, I think you could make a fair argument that almost any comment thread topic is going to devolve quickly into people talking past each other and not getting anywhere meaningful.* So you are sort of making the argument that the comment threads are meaningless and not worth having in the first place.

    Finally while you have attacked his examples, you have not exactly refuted his general argument.

    *Absent specific circumstances/conditions: all the participants are well-versed in the subject and stick to structured debate; the thread is asking for stories or opinions or recommendations; the thread is there for group affirmation; etc.

  98. No worries, PrivateIron.

    However, any additional discussion of specifics is at this point outside the crossposting penumbra.

    I will also note that it is possible to discuss issues of what is a valid line of discussion, etc, without using the specifics of those two threads as examples; that would be relevant to this discussion, I expect.

  99. If you’re going to stretch a metaphor, it’s probably best to keep it at least tangentially related to it’s older meaning. And bad rhetorical devices are just that. When someone does or says something stupid, and a lot of other people jump all over their shit for it, there are no witches being hunted. Someone calling it a witch hunt is saying, “I want to invoke the image of something that everyone agrees is bad, because I don’t want to have to do the hard work of demonstrating why the thing we’re talking about isn’t bad. I suppose I could compare this person’s plight to that of Jesus, but I don’t want to get laughed at.”

    Elaborating on the rest of that paragraph and the next is just Mallet-bait. Suffice to say I strongly disagree.

    Finally while you have attacked his examples, you have not exactly refuted his general argument.

    Actually I did both. And, examples are part of the argument. But even if you’re right: so what? If all I feel like doing is attacking the examples, I’m not obligated to engage any further. Which you may note was the point being made in the original post.

  100. I’ve learned things from comment threads – Ta-Nehisi Coates blog has been particularly fruitful for me. It works for three reasons, really. First, he moderates heavily. Second, a lot of the commenters have professional backgrounds and show their sources. Finally, I generally agree with the commenters.

    This combination means that I can actually stand to read the comments, and settled arguments get snipped so we can discuss new material (for instance, you can’t discuss the cause of the Civil War there. It was slavery, get over it). People provide enough background to do an independent analysis of their statements. Finally, when I’m challenged or suprised, it’s usually by someone I generally agree with, so I have a reason to suspect this new thing may also be true.

  101. Doc,

    (tl;dr version: I disagree.)

    To clarify, I’m simply saying that I’m not a fan of the comment policy here. It seems that you are, and I think that’s fair. More importantly, Scalzi seems fine with the policy, and I think that’s more than fair. I mentioned my dislike of the policy because it seemed somewhat on topic with the comments in this thread.

    To further clarify, I’m not making an argument one way or the other on issues like abortion. I am saying that valid discourse requires a valid presentation of more than one side of an argument, in my opinion.

    Personally, I would argue that what leads to an interesting conversation is particular to individuals, not particular to your opinion. I accept that discussing the issue is not interesting to you specifically. However, I will assert that I believe such conversations can be valuable as I do believe that some folks occasionally change their minds from time to time. I certainly have when confronted with strong, logical arguments.

    In regards to witch hunt, again, I disagree. Again, no one was using the term in a literal sense; rather, folks were expressing their opinion on the matter in a somewhat idiomatic way. But beyond that, let’s look at the definition of witch hunt, as taken from Merriam/Webster:

    witch hunt noun
    : the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil

    Whether you or I personally consider Frenkel to have been unfairly punished isn’t necessarily relevant. Some folks do. This argument, to my albeit limited knowledge, hangs its hat on the definition of sexual harassment. A lot of folks are loathe to call someone guilty without evidence, possibly because a lot of folks live in a society where folks are ideologically innocent until proven guilty. Going with the masses on certain issues, just trusting others to tell you who’s guilty, is seen by many as a base sort of mob mentality. In other words, largely unhealthy. Engaging in an open conversation on the matter means that certain topics need to be potentially discussed.

    To briefly touch on your point about power, I’d put forward that John Scalzi has a great deal more power in the speculative fiction community than most. I’d suggest that publishing tends to be a very liberal business, and I’d further point out that several young, conservative writers are actually afraid of expressing their own opinions because they feel like liberal gate keepers are standing between them and a potential career. In short, I think the balance of power falls on the Scalzi side of the equation.

    Regarding the flat Earth example, I did not say it was wrong so your assertion that I was right about that is somewhat off. I said that I acknowledge it as unfair because it’s dealing with an objective matter, whereas most blog posts focus on subjective content. I do not agree with you as far as your example goes. To my mind, the topics that are often shut down are not simply crazy off-topic tangents. For example, if a blog post is about climate change then it’s fair to say that comments about purple elephants don’t fit. Those aren’t the type of things I’m talking about. I’m specifically talking about topics that get shut down that are relevant to the discussion, but happen to be in support of what amounts to the opposition of the presented narrative.

    I never claimed that I was being set up to lose a debate. Keep in mind, I haven’t actually claimed a position on any of these matters. Honestly, for all you know, I agree with the content of every post Scalzi makes. But in response to your point, let me say that my position views all of this more as a conversation than a debate to be won. I’m not typing in a comment section for a trophy. I’m typing to understand where you’re coming from, and to make an effort to express where I’m coming from.

    Which brings me to the last point. I do enjoy being friends with people who disagree with me. So long as they do so in a thoughtful and polite manner. As I mentioned above, people do sometimes change their minds, even if you don’t personally notice such on a daily basis. I accept that you don’t want to be friends with folks you disagree with, but I’d suggest that your opinion on the matter is in no way indicative of human behavior in aggregate. Regarding your sense of why you think people say such things as I did in my comment above, well, I disagree. I tend to be careful when ascribing motivations to folks I don’t know. I can only guess that your anecdotal history has led you to believe that people who claim to enjoy being friends with a diverse group of people are, in fact, trying to sound clever. However, my anecdotal history has led me to believe otherwise.

  102. John Scalzi,

    Thanks for the reply. It seems I cross posted with you. It took me a while to type out my response to Doc above, and I neglected to refresh and check for new comments in the meantime.

    To respond to a few of your points:

    1. From my perspective, you appear to be off in regards to what points *I* personally wanted to make in the specific posts mentioned. My above comments are simply acknowledging that fair discourse would allow the presentation of those talking points, whether *I* agree with them or not. If I personally wanted to make those points in the relevant threads, I would have. And they would have been subsequently deleted by you, of course.

    2. I have no idea what your comments about karma are attempting to get at.

    3. No one is arguing that you’re not free to set whatever standards you want in your own space. We all seem to agree on that. My comments are just attempting to express why I feel the comment section here is less than great when it comes to fair discourse, in my opinion. It’s absolutely your prerogative to dismiss my feedback.

    4. In my opinion, you’re the final arbiter on what you allow on your blog. However, you’re clearly not the final arbiter on what is valid in regards to human opinion on subjective issues. But I’m probably quibbling semantically here. I’m guessing you really mean you’re the final arbiter on what’s allowed within the comments here, which, as I and others have said many times, is not in contention. Again, I’ve offered feedback. Getting feedback is, of course, one of the dangers of running a blog. Deciding what you do with the feedback is a personal decision. And, in fairness, I believe you’ve made it clear what you think of my feedback.

    And again, thank you for your response.

  103. @Mike

    Yes the first amendment to the US Constitution is about the government stifling free speech, but free speech is about more than that and it’s in the Constitution because it was valued prior to being included in the bill of rights.

    This is entirely true. Buuuut another important right enshrined in that same Amendment of the US Constitution applies as well. People are free to assemble or not with a particular university. In contrast, you’re rather stuck with your government by default.

    On the other hand, some choices in the freedom to assemble and associate are false. For example, there’s only so much land for businesses to go around, so if most businesses were to discriminate against some group of people, those people might find themselves ghettoized. For another, the MPAA film rating system and the fact that movie theater owners often only get their content from major studios means the vast majority of all films you might be able to see in your area are effectively restricted to the ones deemed by Hollywood executives to be commercial and unoffensive. So yes, it is possible for censorship in private venues and institutions to become oppressive to varying degrees. And that’s before you get into whether the University in question takes Federal funding.

    On the gripping hand, only a USDA choice fool would try to argue that John Scalzi and Whatever exercise any sort of even near-monopolistic control over anything other than John Scalzi and Whatever, which brings us back to his freedom to associate, or not, with whomever he so chooses.

    You’d think all of the above would be obvious and really not need pointing out, but it astounds me how many ostensibly bright lights apparently fail to grasp that simple reality. Not saying you don’t, mind you; just using your comment as a springboard, Mike.

  104. The distinction between what people think they’re being denied and what John’s providing as a forum for debate really comes down to how some people want to discuss a particular issue. A lot of that stems from how they came to hold their particular position in the first place, and keeping the topic on a grounding that’s less challenging to them personally.

    Without starting any specific new debates, a person who thinks John would look better in jewel tones based on their extensive experience in fashion, while someone who considers him an autumn might be more familiar with photography and how colors present when shot in natural light. If John presents the conversation in terms of his photography, the sartorialist might feel at a disadvantage because the conversation isn’t about the dress. Doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have strong opinions or valid points regarding what colors he should wear, it just means it’s not the conversation. And just because they’d find the conversation more interesting or personally easier doesn’t mean John should let them take the conversation in that direction, particularly if everyone else is reasonably discussing filters and lenses.

    None of that means there isn’t a valid argument to be made about how well certain fabrics show up on film, or how different lighting could have been more flattering to that dress. It just means you’d have to adjust your argument to fit the thread of the conversation. That’s something many commenters who disagree with John do ably in the more controversial threads, some of which have hundreds of comments opposing John’s position. When they can’t argue without wandering from the main topic, some exchange emails to continue the conversation they want to have in another forum, which is a reasonable way to proceed so long as your reason for commenting is to have a conversation and not hijack the thread.

  105. Note: this is my response to Doc, rewritten to take out material which was off limits as of 9:49 this morning. Unfortunately, the original cross posted, and I was unaware that certain topics had been closed for discussion when I hit “post comment”.

    Doc,

    (tl;dr version: I disagree.)

    To clarify, I’m simply saying that I’m not a fan of the comment policy here. It seems that you are, and I think that’s fair. More importantly, Scalzi seems fine with the policy, and I think that’s more than fair. I mentioned my dislike of the policy because it seemed somewhat on topic with the comments in this thread.

    To further clarify, I’m not making an argument one way or the other on the issues I mentioned. I am saying that valid discourse requires a valid presentation of more than one side of an argument, in my opinion.

    Personally, I would argue that what leads to an interesting conversation is particular to individuals, not particular to your opinion. I accept that discussing the issue is not interesting to you specifically. However, I will assert that I believe such conversations can be valuable as I do believe that some folks occasionally change their minds from time to time. I certainly have when confronted with strong, logical arguments.

    In regards to witch hunt, again, I disagree. Again, no one was using the term in a literal sense; rather, folks were expressing their opinion on the matter in a somewhat idiomatic way. But beyond that, let’s look at the definition of witch hunt, as taken from Merriam/Webster:

    witch hunt noun
    : the act of unfairly looking for and punishing people who are accused of having opinions that are believed to be dangerous or evil

    Whether you or I personally consider someone to have been unfairly punished isn’t necessarily relevant. Some folks do. A lot of folks are loathe to call someone guilty without evidence, possibly because a lot of folks live in a society where folks are ideologically innocent until proven guilty. Going with the masses on certain issues, just trusting others to tell you who’s guilty, is seen by many as a base sort of mob mentality. In other words, largely unhealthy. Engaging in an open conversation on the matter means that certain topics need to be potentially discussed.

    To briefly touch on your point about power, I’d put forward that John Scalzi has a great deal more power in the speculative fiction community than most. I’d suggest that publishing tends to be a very liberal business, and I’d further point out that several young, conservative writers are actually afraid of expressing their own opinions because they feel like liberal gate keepers are standing between them and a potential career. In short, I think the balance of power falls on the Scalzi side of the equation.

    Regarding the flat Earth example, I did not say it was wrong so your assertion that I was right about that is somewhat off. I said that I acknowledge it as unfair because it’s dealing with an objective matter, whereas most blog posts focus on subjective content. I do not agree with you as far as your example goes. To my mind, the topics that are often shut down are not simply crazy off-topic tangents. For example, if a blog post is about climate change then it’s fair to say that comments about purple elephants don’t fit. Those aren’t the type of things I’m talking about. I’m specifically talking about topics that get shut down that are relevant to the discussion, but happen to be in support of what amounts to the opposition of the presented narrative.

    I never claimed that I was being set up to lose a debate. Keep in mind, I haven’t actually claimed a position on any of these matters. Honestly, for all you know, I agree with the content of every post Scalzi makes. But in response to your point, let me say that my position views all of this more as a conversation than a debate to be won. I’m not typing in a comment section for a trophy. I’m typing to understand where you’re coming from, and to make an effort to express where I’m coming from.

    Which brings me to the last point. I do enjoy being friends with people who disagree with me. So long as they do so in a thoughtful and polite manner. As I mentioned above, people do sometimes change their minds, even if you don’t personally notice such on a daily basis. I accept that you don’t want to be friends with folks you disagree with, but I’d suggest that your opinion on the matter is in no way indicative of human behavior in aggregate. Regarding your sense of why you think people say such things as I did in my comment above, well, I disagree. I tend to be careful when ascribing motivations to folks I don’t know. I can only guess that your anecdotal history has led you to believe that people who claim to enjoy being friends with a diverse group of people are, in fact, trying to sound clever. However, my anecdotal history has led me to believe otherwise.

  106. This looks like it will be the 140th post in this thread. I think I read about 10-15 posts in the thread. Do most people really notice trolls here? This site has so many posts, I would be surprised if many people read all that many responses.

    I am a little disappointed that there are alot of posts when john talks about something political, is defending himself from some person on the web, or talks about trolls than there are when authors post about their books or when john gives interesting incites into the writing business.

    Alot of people have sites posting about politics and such, but I primarily read author blogs for ‘interesting stuff about books’ and the book business. I have found a lot of authors that way and I think the tidbits they drop about their profession is very interesting.

    I think alot of people in the writing business come here. I really like it when those of you who are in the business post your experiences/opinions in those threads. Very interesting stuff.

  107. @Johnathan Knight: “To further clarify, I’m not making an argument one way or the other on the issues I mentioned. I am saying that valid discourse requires a valid presentation of more than one side of an argument, in my opinion.”

    Absolutely, and there are plenty of regular commenters here who hold the other side of a given argument. But presenting another side of the argument shouldn’t mean changing the substance of the argument in the process, that’s kind of the textbook definition of derailing the conversation.

    To illustrate: If we were discussing which was better, churros or bacon, a person might suggest churros are superior because they taste better with cinnamon, then want to talk about how much better cinnamon is as a spice than pepper. That would be fine so long as it related back to the main subjects under discussion, but could also derail into a conversation solely about spices, and therefore off topic. Said person might be happier discussing spices, but that’s not the conversation John introduced or anyone contributing signed on for, so why would John let his page be hijacked?

  108. Johnathan Knight, your statement about valid discourse sounds good, but it’s hard to agree or disagree without knowing what you mean by the term “valid discourse.” I did try to find a definition of that phrase (on an admittedly brief Web search), but I failed. My dictionary has a definition of “discourse” that I think applies to Whatever: “verbal interchange of ideas.” It also has various definitions of valid, including “appropriate to the end in view,” “well-grounded or justifiable : being at once relevant and meaningful,” and “having legal efficacy or force; especially : executed with the proper legal authority and formalities.” I’m assuming you’re not referring to the “legal efficacy” one, but I can’t figure out how the discourse here isn’t appropriate to the end in view or well-grounded or justifiable.

  109. I am saying that valid discourse requires a valid presentation of more than one side of an argument, in my opinion.

    Even if one side is completely ludicrous? I don’t think that the creationists need to be given equal time; I don’t think that the earth is flat people have to be provided a platform; nor the “global warming is a scientific conspiracy” folks.

    There’s always a line being drawn about what a reasonable & allowable position is, and where that line is drawn is an arbitrary choice. Unless you think that every position needs to be given time to talk, then you’re drawing that line as well.

  110. First, I like this definition and appreciate the rules as insight into the way your brain works on these matters. Helpful for me in a variety of ways.

    Second, I read the comments with some interest. One of the most challenging issues for people, I think, is the difficulty in separating discussions about hotly debated issues into three dominant mind-states / rationales for engaging:

    A: I am interested in this topic, disagree with some aspects of what was said, and would like to offer a counter-example;
    B: I believe in my answer so fervently that I will generate an endless stream of justifications, half-truths, and beliefs disguised as ‘evidence'; and
    C: I am an angry / unhappy / mean / competitive person and am simply taking the opposing viewpoint because it amuses me or, worse, I am compelled to by a variety of my personality traits and attitudes. E.g., I am an unpleasant troll.

    The argument seems to be that moderators should not ever stifle A; but it is not obvious in some instances that A is intended versus B and C. This is especially the case when the moderator feels that this argument has been offered ad nauseum and that further iterations down this philosophical dead-end are pointless, unamusing, and manipulative. An honestly held A might feel slighted by this approach, but that is the purpose of reading / discussing / communicating face-to-face first because you’ll be more ready to engage others.

    Every time I feel angry about a comment, I consider myself in state B and remove myself. I’d recommend it.

  111. mikes75,

    I understand your point, but this is where I think my point is perhaps being misunderstood. I agree that annoying derails are annoying. However, my suggestion is that some topics are not actual derails, not in any rational way, that is.

    Example: bacon is good for you. Discuss. But bear in mind that any mention of heart disease is off the table. Well. Uhm. Heart disease is a big part of why bacon *isn’t* good for you. As more and more opposing positions are shut down the conversation degrades, in my opinion, into a series of yes, sir! yum, yum! bacon *is* good for you! Because there’s not much else left to discuss. Now there might be a lot of reasons why bacon is good for you, and I think a starving person could argue at least one of those points very effectively. However, to fully discuss it, well . . . shrug.

    Again, no one’s arguing that Scalzi can’t dictate what topics are discussed on his own site. Such is his prerogative. Some folks are, however, arguing (generally elsewhere) about how stand-up Scalzi’s policy really is.

    So, I’d suggest that the idea of hijacked thread is somewhat fallacious in this case. I haven’t heard anyone suggest that blog posts about the moon landing should entertain comments about the merits of chrome versus firefox.

    Just my opinion.

  112. However, my suggestion is that some topics are not actual derails, not in any rational way, that is.

    This is a subjective judgement on a judgement that is also subjective.

    I am far from certain that you are making a substantive point here.

  113. I must say, Clark’s recent post about Scalzi at Popehat and its comments is one of the most effective demonstrations of the utility of vigorous malleting in maintaining blog quality that I’ve seen in some time.

  114. BW, I’m using valid in terms of “fair or reasonable”. As in, is the conversation fairly considering different points of view, or is the conversation sometimes and occasionally railroading to a particular conclusion by actively excluding opposing ideas.

    DAVID, yes, even if one side is completely ludicrous. Because, I would argue, completely ludicrous is subjective, at least in my opinion. What’s ludicrous to one person makes sense to another. That’s why a lot of us are as polarized as we are. We tend to see the world in different ways, thus we make different judgments. I would argue that most of us are all out there trying to solve the same problems. We just happen to disagree about how to solve them. Overall, I’m more interested in understanding someone than I am in fighting them, or ignoring them for that matter. Just my opinion.

    Dave D, I absolutely agree that someone should walk away from the keyboard when they’re feeling angry. I have zero interest in making enemies in life, and I have zero interest in hurting someone else’s feelings. I think it’s important to consider things rationally, and I tend to presume that people who disagree with me are, for the most part, good. I try very hard to not demonize my neighbors for having a different point of view.

  115. Johnathan Knight, thank you for the explanation. It might be good to say “fair and reasonable” when that’s what you mean. “Valid” means something else.

  116. gwangung, as long as an opinion on a subject is on topic, I fail to see how it’s not a derail, by definition. This seems self-evident and rational to me, but I’m considering your point.

    Will, I’m not sure what you mean. I read the post you’re talking about, but how is it “one of the most effective demonstrations of the utility of vigorous malleting in maintaining blog quality” that you’ve seen?

    Kat, thanks for the link.

  117. In a post about “Bacon is good for you,” I think there could be plenty of disagreement about the various ways in which bacon is good for you/me/someone. If the point of that particular hypothetical post/comment thread is to discuss the good things about bacon, then insisting on a discussion of the bad things about bacon might very well be off topic.

    Like most things, bacon is neither all good for you nor all bad for you, and someone who wanted to talk aboout how bad it is would probably not be malleted if he/she simply made one post about the bad effects of bacon. However, I think it’s quite possible that he/she would be invited off the thread if he/she tried to make the discussion about the badness of bacon when that clearly was not the original topic.

    “Bacon is good for you. Debate.” would be a different post.

  118. @Kat Thanks for those, because they lead us back to the point and how I was going to respond!

    @Johnathan Knight I think what you’re expressing concern over is a perception of an arbitrary process of shutting down any topic that disproves John’s main point, until the only thing left to do is agree with him, rather than a systematic process of a.) warning people when the subject begins to drift, b.) disallowing the introduction of new topics that derail the conversation, and/or c.) dismissing comments that are factually untrue or framed as an offensive personal attack rather than respectful engagement. Unfortunately, if one comes into a conversation with what they perceive as an iron-clad defense of their position but finds that aspect of the debate isn’t being allowed into the conversation, that’s not really John being unfair. Then when others try and back-door that particular topic into the thread and get shut down it isn’t an arbitrary dismissal of anything that disproves John’s position.

    John says bacon is good for you, and doesn’t allow heart disease into the conversation based on the articles Kat posted, a comment about salt being a major contributor to heart disease would both be off topic (being about salt not bacon) and an attempt to back-door heart disease into the conversation, therefore already declared off topic. That’s not John cherry-picking just to raise up sycophants, it’s John enforcing the previously stated rules.

  119. J Knight:

    I don’t see why you feel the need to clarify what is patently obvious. Anyway your objection to the policy is one of the standard ones: “I can’t always make/have the argument I want to make/have.” To which I say, “Boo hoo. Fortunately, it’s a big internet, connected to an even bigger world. I’m sure there’s somewhere where you can say what you want to say.”

    Not only do I not really care if you personally hold the opinions you’re using, but for the purposes of this discussion, you claimed them, you own them. Attempting to deflect by saying, “Well, I don’t think that, but some folks might” is another bad rhetorical trick to be avoided. You get to stand in for “some folks”. You’ll also note that I attacked the argument itself, not your belief (or lack thereof) in it.

    Busting out the dictionary, also not great rhetoric. All I have to do is go find another dictionary with a definition more favorable to my position* and then… we’re just playing dueling dictionaries. Whee. Anyway, if you look at events that are commonly accepted as “witch hunts” (McCarthyism, actual witch hunts) I suspect you’ll find a common thread in how those who believe the opinion to be dangerous or evil are almost always the ones in power.

    Ah yes, the all powerful speculative fiction community. They run the world, they do.

    As for “liberal gatekeepers”, I think I need only to point to all the successful-yet-avowed-conservative writers (some of whom write shit fiction, no less). Hell, one of them just recently got all up in Scalzi’s grill, concern trolling that Scalzi will never be as successful as he is, because Scalzi is too liberal.

    Your “flat earth” example isn’t bad because it’s objective. It’s bad because it’s binary and you cut off one of only two options. John Scalzi has never, to my knowledge, done that. He has, from time to time, snipped of one or two lines of argument. You might think that the argument being forbade is the “strongest” counter argument but, 1) the strength if an argument is usually in the eye of the arguer, and 2) the “strongest” argument isn’t the only argument, and 3) once again, you don’t always get to have the argument you want to have. Find the strength to carry on. Anyway, my variation on your flat earth scenario takes your (admittedly) silly example and makes it more indicative of what actually happens on Whatever: two possible counter arguments (one of which may be relevant but has a history of being derail-y, and one which is just plain stupid) are deemed off limits, but you’re still free to argue about horizons or circumnavigation or whatever.

    I accept that you don’t want to be friends with folks you disagree with

    I would imagine it’s probably very easy to accept things I don’t actually say.

    * I have occasionally played that game. Sometimes I find the more favorable definition in the same dictionary that got tossed at me. I find the irony in that just delicious.

  120. DAVID, yes, even if one side is completely ludicrous. Because, I would argue, completely ludicrous is subjective, at least in my opinion.

    Well, then, you’re going to spend a lot of time in threads with people foaming about alien conspiracies, radio signals in their dentistry, why Obama is actually a terrorist infiltrator, and how 9/11 was arranged for by Dick Cheney. You’re going to listen to people telling you that fluoride is a mind-control device, that the pyramid on a $1 bill is a sign that the Illuminati control the US government, and that Elvis is still alive.

    Enjoy.

  121. I’m not familiar enough with this blog to be judging anyone, but from my experience it seems pretty good. The value of free speech demands that someone be taken seriously just by virtue of being a human being that can communicate. Some sites seem keen on finding any reason they can to dismiss people and move on blissfully ignorant of anything and anyone that challenges them, while this one seems aimed at having polite discussion that allows minority viewpoints. So that’s good.

  122. My standard response to hauling out the dictionary, incidentally, is here. Remember that in general dictionaries are descriptive, not proscriptive. In discussions, they can be useful for clarification, but rarely for settling an argument.

  123. gwangung, as long as an opinion on a subject is on topic, I fail to see how it’s not a derail, by definition. This seems self-evident and rational to me, but I’m considering your point.

    Self-evident? Rational? When dealing with humans? I think you’re drawing hard and fast lines in areas where the boundaries are blurred and fuzzy. Remember, we talking about subjective judgements. In the central areas, those things can be readily agreed upon as a matter of intersubjectivity, but not on the margins. Hence, the usefulness of an authority to draw the lines (which may be seen as arbitrary).

  124. Johnathan Knight:

    I mean that that comment thread, in the absence of effective malleting, became thoroughly clogged with muck from subpontine anuses and also massive subject derail.

  125. I took a moment to read the “good commenting” post as well as the dictionary post.

    BW, in a conversation about bacon being good for you, yes, the entirety of the conversation could be limited to only examples of how bacon is good for you. But that specifically disallows dissenting points of view, which is pretty much my point. As dissenting points of view are disallowed, it seems, at least to me, that we’re left with a conversation that is somewhat masturbatory in nature. Just my opinion, of course. I’m not arguing that my opinion is the one true ring or anything.

    mikes75, to clarify, I’m not arguing that John is being unfair. I’m saying that I think the comment policy he’s fair to favor happens to be, in my opinion, less than conducive toward discourse.

    Doc, I feel the need to clarify because I’m not getting the impression that my position is being understood by everyone who is replying to me. For instance, I’m not saying that I’m upset that people can’t talk about what they want to talk about in the manner they want to talk about it. That’s a reworded version of what I’m saying, and it’s mostly fallacious, in my opinion. In other words, I feel like you’re beating down a position I haven’t taken. In regards to the rest, I’m confident that my above posts have addressed the bulk of my disagreement with what you’ve said already, so in the interest of not boring everyone, I’ll refrain from reiterating those points and just agree to disagree.

    DAVID, you make a strong point, and I understand how annoying it can get to hear out arguments that seem ludicrous. However, in my opinion, hearing out other ideas helps me understand them, and helps me to better understand where I’m coming from. In other words, I think the squeeze is worth the juice. I consider it fair that you disagree, and I believe I understand why you do. I would humbly caution though that it’s possible to think you have the right of something because you failed to hear out what seemed, at the time, to be a ludicrous point.

    BW, in fairness, I also hauled out the dictionary. I did it specifically to cite the definition of witch hunt because the usage of that phrase in a non-ironic manner was referred to as “irretrievably stupid”. In my opinion, dictionaries are pretty good things. They help us all communicate. I made an effort to define the phrase as it was being used. I don’t consider referencing a dictionary to be a tactic, or game playing, or anything along those lines.

    gwangung, again, I’ll have to give your comment some thought as I’m having trouble understanding. To me, on topic means on topic. I accept that moderation here dictates what’s allowable and what’s not; however, I’m speaking of on topic in a more universal sense. For instance, does it pass the reasonable person test? I’d argue that most reasonable people would believe expressing opinions on a topic to be not derailing so long as the opinion was actually on the topic being discussed.

  126. DAVID, you make a strong point, and I understand how annoying it can get to hear out arguments that seem ludicrous. However, in my opinion, hearing out other ideas helps me understand them, and helps me to better understand where I’m coming from.

    And after you’ve heard them, and understood them, and the commenters keep repeating them? The Internet is an infinite iteration, after all. You’re going to be stuck in those threads forever.

  127. DAVID, great point.

    I think a person commenting is in a slightly different boat than someone hosting a site that allows comments. In my opinion, the host who promotes an environment conducive to discourse is doing everyone a service in a very stand-up manner.

    However, that doesn’t mean I think each individual poster should feel obligated to respond to topics they’re weary of. If you (or I or anyone) have argued about, say, the moon landing being fake till you’re blue in the face and you don’t want to talk about it anymore, then don’t. I applaud that decision.

    But does that mean the conversation topic itself should be disallowed? Assuming the opinion on the subject is relevant to the blog post in question, that is.

    Well. Clearly, the host can shut the topic down and is fair to do so. That said, the host who leaves the subject open, in my opinion, has created an environment more conducive to discourse overall. Assuming, again, that the opinion about the moon landing is somehow relevant to the topic open for discussion.

  128. Johnathan Knight: “BW, in a conversation about bacon being good for you, yes, the entirety of the conversation could be limited to only examples of how bacon is good for you. But that specifically disallows dissenting points of view, which is pretty much my point. As dissenting points of view are disallowed, it seems, at least to me, that we’re left with a conversation that is somewhat masturbatory in nature. Just my opinion, of course. I’m not arguing that my opinion is the one true ring or anything.”

    So not a discussion you would be interested in, and that’s fair. But a discussion about the good things about [item] doesn’t have to be masturbatory, IMO. I could just be about various good aspects of the item. Not every discussion has to have dissent. If I want to talk to my friends about what we like about, say, living where we live, that discussion can bring forth all kinds of descriptions and ideas that might never have occurred to me, giving me a different appreciation for where we live. I don’t feel that the discussion is invalid if it doesn’t include the bad things about where we live. We all know that it’s not paradise here, but not ever discussion about this place has to include every possible aspect of this place, and a discussion about its good points can be just about its good points. Not everyone wants every conversation to be a debate or to involve opposing points of view.

    If that’s your taste, then I can see how you might find the discussions here not as interesting as you would like them to be. But that’s about your taste, not some universal standard of fairness. As far as I can tell, your entire objection to the current moderation policy is about taste and about how your taste in discussion differs from our host’s. That’s a fair point. My personal preference is not to see personal taste dressed in generalities and statements that give the impression of stating universal truths, such that a person disagreeing with said statement is arguing for, say, unfairness and unreasonableness.

  129. I think a person commenting is in a slightly different boat than someone hosting a site that allows comments. In my opinion, the host who promotes an environment conducive to discourse is doing everyone a service in a very stand-up manner.

    But you’re going to require the site owner to listen to the argument about the blue moon over and over again? And it would never be okay for that site owner – say, of an astronomy site, or a site about evolutionary science (Hi, PZ Myers!) – to shut down someone who is repeating, over and over again, that the moon landing was faked, or that the world was created several thousand years ago?

  130. BW, everything I’m writing here is just my opinion, yes. I don’t claim to have access to any universal truth. I’ve made an attempt to say “in my opinion” and “I think” and “Just my opinion” a lot. Hopefully, that’s come across, but to be certain, yes, absolutely. All of my thoughts here are just my opinion.

    DAVID, I wouldn’t *require* any site owner to do anything. Such isn’t my place. I am, however, open to offering feedback when I feel such is on topic. In my opinion, sites that allow for robust levels of conversation are healthier because they’re less likely to railroad conversations to predetermined conclusions and they tend to get a more diverse, albeit less sycophantic, group of participants. But like I mentioned to BW, this is just my opinion. I, of course, don’t have access to any universal truth.

  131. In my opinion, sites that allow for robust levels of conversation are healthier because they’re less likely to railroad conversations to predetermined conclusions and they tend to get a more diverse, albeit less sycophantic, group of participants.

    You’re not really answering my question. If a commenter on PZ Myers site repeatedly said that evolution was a fraud and that the world was created, whole-hog, 4000 years ago, would it be better for PZ simply to let that commenter do it over and over and over again?

  132. DAVID, I’m pretty sure I did answer the question, but I’ll try to be more specific.

    Using your example, let’s go forward and explore my personal opinion, for whatever it’s worth.

    1. Is the topic of the post about evolution? If so, I think it’s mostly fair for someone to say, “hey, I don’t believe in evolution. I believe the world is only blah thousands of years old because I believe my church when they tell me that.” Or whatever other argument is used to back up that assertion.

    2. Are people responding to the creationist in question? If so, I think it’s fair that the creationist respond in turn.

    3. Is the topic of the post about something other than evolution entirely? For instance, is the topic of the post about capitalism? If so, a comment about creationism seems more than adequately off topic and worthy of potentially blocking.

    4. Are people not responding to the creationist in question? If not, and the creationist continues writing the same thing, well, that seems to fall into the category of spam, at least to me. Spam, in my opinion, is worth deleting.

    5. Is the creationist in question being rude? Calling people mean names? In my opinion, a good moderator moderates that type of behavior. I believe discourse is best when it’s both thoughtful and civil, though I’ve personally developed a rather thick internet skin and tend to give folks a lot of leeway in that area.

    I believe the above probably covers enough specific situations to answer your question. In short, do I believe it’s best to completely disallow the topic from being discussed? No, I don’t. Just my opinion.

  133. I think a lot of people expect private blog comments to follow the sorts of rules one expects on a shared space like an organization’s forum: moderators impartially applying rules mutually agreed upon. I think it’s important for people to realize that private blogs are nothing like that; John could, if he so wished, do any of the following here:

    – Edit comments so that they say things completely different from the original poster’s intent; e.g. “Go Mets!” becomes “I love Nazis!” (Although this might be libel)

    – Sock-puppet by publishing comments under fake names;

    – Disregard the “address will never be made public” message and add people’s email addresses to posts when they annoy him.

    Given the above, it always amazes me that people think it’s a good idea to express violent disagreement with a blogger in the blog’s own comment section. It goes without saying that I would never comment on the blog of someone I didn’t trust not to do these things.

  134. John is too nice. However, when Athena inherits the site decades hence, she will generate nude CGI figures of all of us based on our real identities and upload us into a Surface Detail inspired cyber-Hades. Probably because she blames us for her father’s madness. Which is totally unfair, he was like that when we met him.

  135. Is the topic of the post about evolution?

    So what are you criticizing JS for? You both seem to believe that off-topic comments in discussion threads should be deleted.

  136. Re: some of David’s and Johnathan’s points above about whether to allow commentary from any source or containing any supposedly relevant content, however devoid of factual basis:

    This is our old friend False Equivalence showing up, and he can be a giant pain in the ass if allowed to run riot, especially in a forum that gets wide distribution, and WAY especially if said forum is presented as a source of factual or at least reliable information (say: something purporting to be journalistic, or a textbook.)

    Practically speaking, any private owner of a forum space, such as our generous host, is under no obligation whatsoever to allow everyone to have a say, regardless of the relevance or factual basis of what they have to say. I think most everyone who’s posted so far agrees on that point (which really should be the end of it, but as it’s not …)

    This then means that the issue people are taking is whether it’s ethical, fair, or in the spirit of healthy exchange of ideas for a forum owner to restrict any posts, no matter how outlandish.

    Given that accurate information is such a critical component of how we function as a species, I’d argue that the most ethical position IS restriction.

    Case in point: the anti-vax brigade. This is a situation in which perpetuating misinformation, under the theoretically ethical goal of “balance,” can and does cause actual people to actually die. The only way to solve that crisis is to stop giving anti-vaxers large forums in which to spew. Same goes for an awful lot of other entirely fact-free nonsense, from flat Earthers to people who insist that same-sex parents are child abusers. Giving them a soapbox of the same size as people who actually have genuine fact behind them is giving them considerably more power than they should have, including the power to do real-world harm.

    Note that this isn’t about burning books or putting people in jail for what they have to say. Not at all. It’s just not acting as if what they have to say is remotely the same quality, and therefore worthy of the same level of distribution, as that said by people who have earned the right to call something a fact. If someone wants to argue that Obama is the reincarnation of Napoleon, they are welcome to do so in their own spaces. Spaces that frame themselves as being about useful information shouldn’t give such nonsense the light of day.

    For the record, it is possible for minority opinions on something to have merit and deserve to be heard. We would never achieve progress on civil rights movements if that weren’t the case. Likewise, science is always challenging older work with new findings (see economists Card and Krueger challenging the conventional wisdom that raising the minimum wage causes inflation.) But the approach to divining that new information comes from the same general basis of empiricism, and therefore can be considered to have the same merit. As long as people agree on what constitutes a fact and who is best qualified to decide what a fact is, they should have a place at the table. It’s only when they’re pulling stuff completely out of their asses–or acting like the stuff that comes out of asses–that they should be given all the attention they deserve, which is none.

  137. Given the above, it always amazes me that people think it’s a good idea to express violent disagreement with a blogger in the blog’s own comment section. It goes without saying that I would never comment on the blog of someone I didn’t trust not to do these things.

    @RPF: Um, if someone was a big enough dick to do any of the things you outlined, frak not commenting. I don’t think I’d want to reward the blog of a double-decker turd-burger like that with traffic. As John has said repeatedly, there’s nothing wrong with strongly disagreeing with a blogger. But if you’re expecting a thank you muffin basket for coming into someone’s virtual living room and peeing on the rug, even after being asked to put your junk back in your pants? That’s never going to end well.

  138. @Private Iron: I hope Athena wields the Mallet even more often and harder than her dad. Which, frankly, looking at their relative muscle mass/tone, is a pretty safe bet. And also I hope she doesn’t go for accurate nude representations of the commenters because we’re on the whole, a lumpy and pale lot and nobody wants to see that.

    Many of the comments above this remind me of that xkcd: Someone is WRONG on the internet!

  139. DAVID, I think you may have misunderstood my position. I simply said I wasn’t a fan of eliminating on-topic comments that happened to express opposition to the running narrative. Specifically because I believe doing so railroads the conversation to a predetermined conclusion, if only because no one’s allowed to argue against the narrative in a substantive way.

    A Mediated Life, I disagree. In general, I’m not moved by arguments that rely on the idea that someone else has to protect me from me. Or you from you, or him from him, or her from her. Moving along, of potential note, I didn’t notice where you found an example of false equivalence above. And finally, I think most folks have a good grasp of what the word fact means. However, I have noticed plenty of people who seem ill-informed enough to actually believe that their side of the political fence has a monopoly on it. In my opinion, that’s pretty silly. Clearly facts fall on both sides of the fence. That said, much of what we’re discussing seems, at least to me, to be subjective in nature as opposed to actual factual and whatnot.

    Lurkertype, I haven’t noticed a lot of the “someone’s WRONG on the internet!” I was reading a lot of the comments as opinions being expressed in a mostly healthy and polite manner.

    At the end of the day, I think there’s too much polarization going on, at least in my country. I’ve seen that polarization spread deep into the speculative fiction community, and I’d like it if folks could work to lessen it overall. In my opinion, accepting that someone doesn’t hate you because they disagree with you is a good place to start. Somewhere along the way I think the fight became a lot more important to some people than the actual substance of the fight itself.

    Just my opinion.

  140. Johnathan Knight: I think I’d give more credence to your point if the conversations on Whatever were like you are saying, but I can’t really see it. Yes, I understand that you would prefer that Scalzi kept wider topics, but the tightness of topic here brings it sometimes to new undiscovered places. Those places wouldn’t be reached if the topic kept branching in the same worn over directions. That has been my observation when Scalzi has disallowed a side-path of discussion; namely that he is disallowing it because it is an overused side-tracking argument.

    On an unrelated note: Woah! I just saw the watermark for the first time. I’m not sure I can keep coming back here knowing that that’s hiding back there waiting to jump out at me.

  141. @Johnathan Knight. If the topic is, “How do we encourage more women into engineering fields?” then topics like “Women aren’t as good as math/science as men” or “we shouldn’t expect all fields to have 50/50 ratios” or even “why should we strive for this” to all be off-topic and to derail the discussion. They *may* be good discussion topics on their own but they aren’t on-point to the subject that was raised. Your examples fall more into this category than an on-topic disagreement. This is especially true for some topics where derailment follows along some predictable lines. The cinnamon discussion above is another good example. Wanting to discuss a certain point about something when the *actual* topic is different is a bit selfish IMO.

  142. @ Lurkertype: I’m with you. Our Lord Scalzi is too easy on the Mallet. I would’ve permabanned the PRATT-spouting anti-abortionist after his first post.

  143. By framing his set of edicts as a bogus discussion of alleged “rights,” Scalzi conveniently evades the issue of epistemic closure.
    On a website owned by someone else, no one but the owner has any rights. So talking about “alleged” rights is a red herring, a deliberate scam. It’s classic flamebait.
    I happen to agree with just about everything Scalzi posts. Let’s not try to kid ourselves, though, that anyone who runs a website is operating a democracy. Charles Stross puts it plainly and much more honestly: the says “This is my soapbox, I pay for it, and other people will not be allowed to shit on my sofa.” (Or words to that effect.) So Stross summarily ejects far-right Republicans, for example, who wax enthusiastic about the now-ended War on Iraq, or try to raise questions about president Obama’s alleged Kenyan birth certificate, or what-have-you.
    If I were Stross, I’d dump those characters off the forum too. History shows that people who yap about Obama being supposedly born in Kenya aren’t going to add anything productive to any discussion — they’re the online equivalent of flat earthers. Arguing with ‘em is pointless.
    There exist issues and people, though, with whom argument is not pointless, and for which reasonable people can have differing opinions. No reasonable person has an opinion about the shape of the earth that differs from “round.” Reasonable people can have differing opinions on the margins about what constitutes sexual harassment (for example).
    At this point, Scalzi runs off the rails. Last year he posted “Acknowledge that you don’t get to define other people’s comfort level with you.”
    Okay.
    So how about this? I think John Scalzi is sexually harassing me by writing stuff like this. Scalzi has just exceeded my comfort level. Scalzi is a creeper. Report the guy.
    Now do we see the problem with what Scalzi is saying?
    The big issue with online forums of all kinds nowadays is that they lock themselves into their little worlds of groupthink. This becomes spectacularly evident in Republican denial of global warming or evolution denial.
    So the problem with Scalzi’s forum has nothing to do with alleged “rights.” The problem involves the epistemic closure on all online forums — not just this one. There exist a bunch of subjects people can’t talk about, a bunch of opinions no one is allowed to have, a bunch of beliefs no one is permitted to discuss.
    Criticism is the only known way of detecting and correcting error. Without criticism to point out errors, people run off the rails into hermetically sealed groupthink.
    You have to wonder to what extent Scalzi’s books are actually books, as opposed to being book-shaped objects that can be quoted to show that people are loyal to the Scalzi in-group. Maybe people on forums like this don’t even read the books — maybe they just wave them around like people in China in the 1960s citing Mao’s Little Red Book to show they’re loyal party members.

  144. Pyre, I accept that you see things differently, and I think that’s fair. I can only comment in regards to the way I see things, and, right or wrong, I do notice what feels like a shoring up of weak points in presented arguments via banning the discussion of opposing sentiments. Many of you, all regular posters, seem to feel that the banning of certain sentiments is good because it prevents derailing. I don’t understand that argument as it seems fallacious to me, but I accept that I may be missing something.

    ***

    Signy, I don’t view discussion of topics as: list why you agree with me. I view discussion as a thing that allows different viewpoints to flourish and grow or wilt and shrink as the organic movement of the commentary might dictate. So a topic of “how to encourage women to be engineers” might discuss aptitude on a statistical level, if only to discuss what might need to change to raise the statistical level, thus empowering more women to enter a field in which they (as a demographic) feel confident. But, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t frown at disallowing that topic if the post was literally asking a question like that.

    However, what if the post was instead about how “women make the best engineers”. A topic along those lines would seem to naturally invite conversation supporting or opposing the premise.

    In general, I don’t find a lot of Scalzi’s posts to be asking specific questions. Rather, I find that Scalzi tends to present his opinion. The discussion in the comments tend to be about his opinion, and I think it’s rational to presume that discussion about an opinion, if offered politely, should be capable of disagreeing. But, and this is the whole of my point, I’ve often seen weak points in the presented opinions listed as, oddly, off-topic.

    ***

    Floored by Scalzi’s awesomeness, in my opinion, your comment misrepresents what I’ve written. It also seems surprisingly rude, and I’m not sure why you feel that way, but I accept that you do.

  145. @ Johnathan Knight: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you mentioned a Frenkel “witch hunt”, did you not? The Frenkel in question is a creepy asshat and a serial sexual harasser. The mere fact that you call him being held accountable for being an asshole a “witch hunt” shows that you are a troll.

  146. Floored by Scalzi’s awesomeness, I’m happy to go into more detail on this topic with you if you’re interested in emailing me, and I’ll explain how I believe you’ve misunderstood what I’ve written. However, that specific topic was banned from being discussed here at about 9:45 or so this morning.

  147. @Johnathan Knight. I also don’t agree that a discussion should be list the ways you agree with me. I’m not sure where you conflated remaining on-topic vs. agreement.

    You’ve misstated my comment topic and changed it slightly. My original topic was, “How do we encourage more women into engineering fields” which you then changed to “how to encourage women to be engineers”. It’s a slight wording difference but, IMHO, it changes the framing of the question. My topic discuss approaches that work vs ones that don’t work and there can be discussion and disagreement there. Note that discussing the aptitude at a statistical level is irrelevant to *this* discussion. If you want to discuss your topic then feel free but your host can also say that he really wants to stay with the original question.

    But *changing* the topic results in an entirely different discussion. If John doesn’t want to have that new discussion then he is (obviously) free to shut it down. I see the value of both free-flowing discussions that go down tangential points as well as focused discussions on a particular topic. Derailing may cause a focused discussion to simply not happen. Neither of these always result in agreement. However there are certain topics where going down specific tangential points is all but assured. In both your examples, my interpretation of your comments was that you want to go down tangents and John was disinclined to allow this. This has nothing to do with agreement.

    Anyway I think we’re talking past each other at this point since I’ve seen other folks attempt to make the same point as I have.

  148. Gee, thanks! I never would have seen that if you hadn’t mentioned it! Thanks a hell of a lot for talking down to me because I am only 17! You’re so cool!

    {/sacrasm}

    I am not interested in emailing you. I keep my inbox neat and tidy; I have no room for arguing with people, and I need to go have some birthday cake anyway. I might as well enjoy my own birthday, after all.

    My point is that you do not seem to be genuinely interested in rational debate. You remind me very strongly of a passive-aggressive troll on Scientific American called Sisko, who is fond of pulling bullshit out of his rear end and presenting it as fact.

  149. Floored:

    As far as I can see, Johnathan Knight was being polite. You are being somewhat less so. In the future, please consider a simple “thank you, no.”

    And in fact I did ask for that particular conversational thread to be snipped out of the discussion here.

    mclaren:

    “I think John Scalzi is sexually harassing me by writing stuff like this. Scalzi has just exceeded my comfort level. Scalzi is a creeper. Report the guy.”

    You are of course welcome to report me. My ISP is 1and1.com. Here is their contact page. You’ll probably want their e-mail for reporting abuse, which is at the bottom of the page.

    That said, I think it’s fairly clear that you’ve not read my Site Disclaimer and Comment Policy, which very explicitly states that no one here has the right to free speech, and likewise makes it clear that people comment here on my sufferance. So I’m not entirely sure your suggestion of disingenuousness on my part stands particularly well.

    And beyond that, I don’t think you’ve either a) read the post with any particular care, b) made the your larger point particularly well. With particular regard to epistemic closure, this particular thread in itself (in which people have criticized my policy both on procedural and theoretical grounds) gives lie to that assertion. Do the long-time commenters here, in general, tend to have similar views to the ones I hold, politically speaking? Yes, but not all of them do; there are people with significant differences in political opinion who have been posting here for years. It is, at most, an epistemic narrowing.

    The one thing long-time commenters here have in common, as far as I can see, is a value of reasonably polite discourse, and the (general) ability to follow my discussion rules and to listen to me when I guide the discussion. That ability is as far as I can see largely independent of personal political persuasion.

  150. Yes, sir. My apologies. I am going to go watch the Incredible Hulk now to cool down my brain.

  151. I think you may have misunderstood my position. I simply said I wasn’t a fan of eliminating on-topic comments that happened to express opposition to the running narrative.

    No, I understood your position. The key is that you do think that off-topic comments should be eliminated from the conversation. So does JS. You simply don’t like what he deems off-topic. In essence, you’re arguing that your (subjective, as you often note) opinion of what is on and off-topic is better than his. And you’re doing it on his web site.

    “Lovely house you’ve got here. Arranged the furniture all wrong, though.”

    @mclaren Yeah, I’ve noticed all the Internet consists of one big groupthink. No differences of opinion there.

  152. @DAVID:

    “Lovely house you’ve got here. Arranged the furniture all wrong, though.”

    Heh… I need to make a note of that, and use it the next time I’m somewhere I never, ever want to be invited back to. :)

  153. My goodness. I’m still here.
    I’m not sure whether this is a comment about my current state or about some of the above posts: @cranapia? I love your icon.

    @moggybreath: My pleasure. I found the word in Gaimon + Reaves ‘Silver Dream’ recently and it’s a great word.
    Second best for me is a Google search for ” pronounce haecceity ” was useful.
    Best is what it means.

  154. @Floored: Happy birthday! Only another year till you are considered an adult, and only another… oh… 70 or so till you feel like you’re one.

    @Pyre Dynasty: Thus we see another advantage of keeping on-topic here. The less people go off-topic, the less John has to come in and explain things, which is where the scary watermark comes in (It is the worst part of John’s blog furniture IMHO).

  155. Signy, I feel like I understand what you’re saying, but your response tells me that you don’t think I do. So, yes, we may be talking past one another. I’ll make an effort to reread what you’ve written tomorrow. Perhaps a bit of time will give me insight into what you’re saying.

    ***

    DAVID, basically, yes. I believe some things are patently, dare I say demonstrably, on topic, whether or not they are acknowledged as such. This has been my position all along. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think it’s rational and self-evident to view certain points of discussion as being on topic. As such, it’s extremely difficult for me to understand how someone else can view the same issues as being off topic, which naturally leads me to question why. One answer is that the subject matter is considered off topic so as to not derail the conversation. But that doesn’t make sense under a microscope, at least, not to me. Another answer is that defining certain things as off topic maintains a particular narrative and minimizes opposition.

    Which is, I think, where you can find the real audacity of my position.

    My position can be easily attacked by pointing out that I’m ultimately presuming a level of motivation on Scalzi’s part. Which is something I specifically mentioned I was careful to try not to do in an above post. All the same, I’m clearly doing it here, as evidenced by my above comments referencing railroading and shoring up weak points. I don’t feel good about having arrived at those conclusions, but I feel like my journey here has been reasonably sound. People are human and people sometimes prefer agreement to challenge.

    I don’t agree with all of Scalzi’s detractors, and I certainly don’t agree with any of them on all issues. However, I do, as I mentioned before, believe that facts tend to fall on both sides of the fence. And I think there are times when some of Scalzi’s detractors have the right of it. That’s just the way the world works. No one can be right all the time.

    Now, none of this impacts my enjoyment of Scalzi’s books, and none of this stops me from reading this blog. It’s all just stuff I think about as time passes, and I read more opinions, and I sense more venom and fracture in the speculative fiction community.

    I’ll probably try to let this close out my thoughts on this subject, unless I can think of anything new to add or someone comes in with something new. I feel like we’ve all done a fairly good job of exhausting the ends and outs of this disagreement.

    Thanks to everyone who joined me in the conversation. I appreciate that we were able to engage in disagreement while remaining polite to one another. I look forward to reading your comments in the future.

  156. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I think it’s rational and self-evident to view certain points of discussion as being on topic.

    “No, you should have put the sofa over there. And that lamp is really ugly.”

  157. Without criticism to point out errors, people run off the rails into hermetically sealed groupthink.

    The mashup of metaphors here fascinates me. It’s like staring at some horrible teleportation accident that fused a Roomba with a yak.

    WRT “free speech”, I suspect that a lot of the disagreement about First Amendment-or-no comes about because the people whining “WHAT ABOUT MY FREE SPEECH?!?!!!!ELEVENTZ” are themselves rather vague about what they mean. They can’t, unless they’re extremely stupid, believe that being banned or Malleted is an actual violation of the Free Speech Clause; therefore they’re probably asserting some kind of emotional, vaguely-felt right to be allowed to say whatever they want whenever they want, otherwise Zombie Thomas Paine weeps big, pustulent tears. It’s sort of the Internet of the five year old who reacts by snarling “It’s not FAIR!” when told that other people have feelings too.

  158. @Floored

    I might as well enjoy my own birthday, after all.
    My point is that you do not seem to be genuinely interested in rational debate. You remind me very strongly of a passive-aggressive troll on Scientific American called Sisko, who is fond of pulling bullshit out of his rear end and presenting it as fact.

    Happy 17th Circumsolar Navigation!!!

    @Lurkertype

    Only another year till you are considered an adult, and only another… oh… 70 or so till you feel like you’re one.

    Pah, I plan to live forever and never feel like an adult. My odds for success may be low, but I can still try! ← {See, childlike denial of reality. Perseverance is half the battle.}

    @mythago

    The mashup of metaphors here fascinates me. It’s like staring at some horrible teleportation accident that fused a Roomba with a yak.

    You need to write for Star Trek once Abrams is done with his trilogy and it gets back on the little screen. Pilot episode: Roombyak.

  159. Random: I wonder sometimes whether endless rounds of debate (on general topics) happen just because many of us overestimate the average person’s ability to sort fact from bullshit. Times it seems like the potential porcine chorale doesn’t even exist in the same reality I do. The fact that places like Snopes even have to exist should be evidence enough that Barnum was right, and the best the rest of us can do is damage control.

    Or maybe I’m just cynical. Not unlikely. ;)

  160. I’ve never been malleted (and I hope I won’t be for this), but holy hell my inner troll wants to come out over many of the comments in this thread. I haven’t been this trolly-feeling since maybe 2004. I’m not going to address the specific comments substantively (which is why I fear being malleted here). I’m going to address them on a bit of a “please don’t go on the interweebs and try to get everybody to think your the smartest” basis. I’m not saying you’re not smart, or that I’m smarter, but when you approach it like you are undoubtedly the smartest person in the room, you’re begging for the troll monsters.

  161. Thanks for the good wishes, everyone. It’s a pity that the movie sucked–I mean, what the hell inspired Ang Lee to make an Incredible Hulk movie?

    Anyway, I got a nice (slightly early) copy of the Mallet for my birthday, and I’ve been enjoying myself immensely. Scalzi ftagn!

  162. Lurkertype: The realism of the depictions would be part of our punishment. And sadly, everyone else’s as a by-product.

    In JS’ place, I think that regardless of any good intentions at the start, I would quickly move to a more authoritarian practice or limit membership or just give up on having comments/blogging. It must take up a ridiculous amount of time and energy to police this site’s nebulous boundaries. Scalzi must enjoy it, but it would not shock me if one day he just had enough and replaced the site with a gamma rabbit t-shirt emporium ad.

    I think some of the critics who inspired this piece don’t like John’s flavor. I too lie awake at night worrying I won’t be able to find anything else on the internet. If only there was other stuff…

    Others think John is a hypocrite because the site does not reach the Platonic ideal of whatever they imagine this site represents itself to be. Maybe my expectations are lower, but Whatever seems to do what it says on the label. If anything, I think Scalzi is being penalized for sometimes exceeding his brief. They recalibrate the scale and say if Scalzi is not fighting every single moment for truth and justice to the standard they say he has set, then bam!…hypocrisy. As a pessimist, I am impressed John has gotten anything done at all; so I say good work John! Maybe you won’t fail again tomorrow!

  163. @mythago, the Roombyak would be quite the sight, even more so than the famous cat in shark costume who rides the Roomba. Maybe not as cute, though.

    More seriously, I didn’t get that metaphor; surely groupthink rides on the rails, being constrained, and free thought wanders across the tundra freely, like the majestic yak?

    @Beth, please don’t make a plushie Zombie Tom Paine weeping pustulence. (I do own a Beanie-Baby-esque John and Abigail Adams, but they’re not zombie)

    @cranapia, your avatar is indeed splendid. I’m glad you’re not that furry in the face, though.

    Bottom line: this is John’s house and his furniture, and therefore by definition, he can do anything he likes with it. You might not think that coffee table goes with that couch, but John likes it, so that’s where it is. It’s not our place to move it across the room.

  164. I think it’s very interesting that some people complaining about the comment policy are able to have multiple extended verbose comments stating their position. Clearly staying within the bounds of the comment policy isn’t that onerous for the average decent human being.

  165. 11. If you decline an invitation to debate from someone inclined to behave like a child, they might invite you to arm wrestle instead.

  166. Wow. Thanks so much, Scalzi. I’ve been trying to explain this kind of thing to a few people I know (and who love to try and draw me into “debates” which turn into them taking things in random directions and trying to look smart because they’re “beating [me]“) for a long time. You’re far more eloquent than me, so cheers – sharing this at every opportunity.

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