Wednesday, August 31, 2011

My blog, my soapbox, my combox

Before you read any further, please refer to my comment policy.

You’ll note that there’s only one rule: Be clean and polite! But while cleanliness is pretty obvious even to the most jaded, porn-addicted libertine ever to write a rap lyric, politeness seems to be a folkway dying in the narcissistic echo chambers of the blogosphere, its parameters fading slowly away like Tom Cruise’s movie career. So I’ve taken some trouble to define the parameters for you.

Now, yesterday I wrote a post on what one wit called “the Circular Catholic Firing Squad” (I got the first two words swapped around in the title, for which I should be sorry … but it actually works better). The post was an effort to reinforce the valid and necessary distinction between dissent and other sins, as well as to remind folks that “Jesus instructed us to forgive the repentant [sinner], not to speculate on his motives for repenting or the firmness of his intent to amend his life.”

But I made a crucial mistake: I mentioned Mark Shea. In fact, my post built on a couple of others that he’d written. (Thus T. S. Eliot: “Good writers borrow. Great writers steal.”) So a couple of people left comments denigrating him. One I left up with an appropriate smackdown pour l’encourager les autres; the other’s two comments are now lost to the world, and I’ve declared that rabbit hole closed.

[Addendum: Since then, the person whose comment I left came back to show Mr. Shea, who popped in for a quick comment, some more love. This is the first person I've ever had to ban.]

This comes at a time when Stacy Trasancos has been dealing with a barrage of hate from gay and atheist (and sometimes gay atheist) nutjobs of late, some of whom have gone so far as to pass around her home address and telephone number … perhaps with the intent of making more direct action possible. (If someone reading this contemplates direct action against me, I’ll content myself with mentioning Texas’ rather nonchalant gun laws and generous idea of what constitutes reasonable defense of property or person; this is the only state where “He needed killin’!” is an acceptable plea. Besides, I have a cop for a neighbor.)

Now, you would think that getting your combox pounded by people who feel the need to barf their disturbed psyches all over your blog would be good and sufficient reason for enabling comment moderation, never mind the disintegration of common courtesy. But when Frank Weathers posted his reasons why uncharitable comments don’t get published, one respondent (writing under the pseudonym “Censor Librorum”) replied:

Yes, well, you present this in what appears to be a reasoned way, but I’m afraid that in practice it becomes simply “because I don’t want to.” You can claim to be protecting us (or the posters) from lack of charity, but you are really only protecting yourself (or your inner child, or whatever). …
Isn’t the problem, though, that we’ll never know what criticism he [Frank] receives since we only see what he allows us to see? It’s like a talk show host turning off the mike of a troublesome guest, without informing the audience, while continuing to “argue” with him. It’s a show, not substance.

However, neither Frank nor I are required by any law or rule to allow any comments, whether good, bad or “go to hell”; the idea that we have to let the snotty, the vicious or the insane through in the interests of appearing fair and open-minded just simply isn’t tenable. Since there’s no law, there’s no zero-sum choice between “all” or “none”.

I also note that, where moderation and deletion takes place, most bloggers don’t argue with the troublesome guests they boot. If you look at the comments over at Damian Thompson’s blog or on First Things, you’ll often see lively arguments even though trolls do occasionally get booted.

Is this a violation of free speech? No. There are any number of venues in the blogosphere where, if someone doesn’t like Mark Shea, she can vent her disgust freely (and, in some quarters, probably to delighted applause). If she wants, she can put up her own blog where she can call him a “pinko commie bastard” all day every day, or tweet it, or post her hatred on her Facebook status.

But I don’t particularly appreciate my soapbox being hijacked. It’s like Vanessa Redgrave’s “Zionist hoodlums” speech at the Oscars: There’s a better time and a better place to discuss what you want.

Free speech means that you’re able to criticize the government and its doings without legal reprisal. It doesn’t mean I have to provide you with a forum for that criticism. Free speech means you’re able to suggest policy changes or continuity without losing your life, liberty or civil rights. It doesn’t mean we have to listen to, far less agree with, foul-mouthed ranting, slander or false witness. You should be able to speak your piece without losing your job … but it doesn’t follow that you have the right to disrupt a discussion with your piece.

It’s bad enough when the Progressive Thought Police and the Thundering Herd of Independent Thinkers decide to display their superior rationality and all-embracing tolerance by blithering and raving like demented idiots. It’s just as bad when presumably conservative, religious people do it. It’s worse when the person claims to be Christian … Catholic or Protestant. It’s worse because our standards are higher.

When you post in a combox, consider yourself a guest in the blogger’s house. Guests don’t insult or belittle their hosts or the other guests present. Guests don’t take over a cocktail party and try to turn it into a political rally or a lynch mob. Guests don’t start fistfights with other guests — well, at least not at the parties I go to; your mileage may vary.

If the blogger extends you the courtesy of allowing you to comment, extend her the courtesy of disagreeing within the bounds of politeness. After all, we don’t have to let you comment.

I own this blog. Therefore, I own the combox. You don’t.