Not An Ordinary Time

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Ordinary Times. Relapsed Lawyer, admitted to practice law (under his real name) in California and Oregon. On Twitter, to his frequent regret, at @burtlikko. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.

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212 Responses

  1. Don Zeko says:

    I’m sorry to hear this. For my part, I considered writing a post but thought that my political evolution would be a bit too linear and, err, ordinary to feel motivated to write. Now I wish that I had. For what it’s worth, I’ve certainly had my differences with some folks here, but I continue to follow the site because it has the best cross-ideological comments section I know of on the internet. It is my fervent desire that this remain the case, and that we keep shambling closer to the ideal of what our online discourse ought to be.Report

  2. Jaybird says:

    Yeah, I have been composing a bit of a narrative in my head as well, and trying to figure out what the mortar for the various cracks would be.

    I do think that our comments section is somewhat homogenous… and we need to (somehow) get one heck of an infusion of new blood.

    But I don’t know how in the world we can do that… and, quite honestly, I think it might even be futile to try until after the election wailing and weeping is past.Report

  3. Aaron David says:

    Well, along with Jay and Don, I had been putting together a piece in my head the last few days in lieu of the 19th, and now feel like I am behind a bit.

    This election might be a bit on the high stakes side for many, as it is either the culmination of the Obama legacy, or the rise of the right. Tensions runneth over and such, so it might be a chance to move back to the meta as opposed to the up to the minute. Just a thought, and I probably deserve my share of the lumps for the situation. I certainly need to up my writing amounts.Report

  4. James K says:

    Having been hanging around this place for a while now, I have noticed that things get less pleasant whenever an election is approaching. I don’t think there’s anything unusual about that, I notice it in my own country as well.

    Add to that the especially vitriolic quality of this particular election, and the fact that it in increasingly in vogue to think of our political opponents as not friends we disagree with, nor even as misguided fools but rather as fiends intent of destroying all that is good in the world, and its not surprising that everyone is taking to their corners rather than trying to rise above the brawl.

    As to what to do about it, I’m not sure. we can all try to be more charitable when dealing with those we disagree with but it’s easy to say that, but harder to actually do. And since its not even my county’s election going on its much easier for me to keep above it than those of you who are living up close to it.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to James K says:

      I’m not sure how much you can attribute to the upcoming election, given that the opinions on this site seem to range from “Hillary!” to “Gary Johnson, but…sigh…I guess Hillary! if I really have to pick one of those two.”Report

    • Kimmi in reply to James K says:

      If someone is a fiend, I’ll do them the courtesy of considering them a personal opponent, not a political one. Politics is an art that the selfish employ only to benefit themselves at the expense of others, and all others ought rightly to consider them enemies.

      Most of the right, most of the left — isn’t like that. They have ideas, some sensible, some nonsensical (some both at once, really!).Report

  5. greginak says:

    Sorry to hear about this although i’m certainly guilty of not offering to bio myself. Like Don i haven’t had much of large scale change that i thought was writing about. More just learning more about specific issues leading to specific changes in attitudes. Look more nuanced and more pragmaticer isn’t much of a bio.

    Much like Jay and James i think the election tensions make some conversations harder and raises every bodies hackles a little bit.

    Everything waxes and wanes. The tenor of conversation here has been far worse at times and we’ll find some good voices. At some point it feels like all the topics are covered or have been discussed to death but of course that isn’t even remotely possible.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to greginak says:

      What he said. And Road Scholar. Also, I’m lazy.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

      Much like Jay and James i think the election tensions make some conversations harder and raises every bodies hackles a little bit.

      That’s generally the case, but this year evenmoreso: it’s the clearly most important election of our lifetimes.Report

  6. Sam says:

    I’m still gonna wrote one, then everyone can agree that I am an awful weirdo. The resulting spirit of unanimity will work wonders!Report

  7. Roland Dodds says:

    This is unfortunate. I am relatively new here, but I have found contributing pieces and discussion other people’s work to be quite rewarding. Hopefully it doesn’t go away.

    As for not submitting a piece to the symposium, this is a very busy time in the teaching world. As I have taken on some administrative responsibilities in addition to my teaching load, I have been putting in 12 hours recently. I may still reflect on my political growth in a piece, even if not connected to said event.

    As for how to fix some of the problems Burt mentioned, I don’t have an answer. One can hope we will practice the same civility we would in person, and show extra care and compassion to those who are new and have waded into these waters.Report

  8. Road Scholar says:

    To be perfectly honest, Burt, I just didn’t find this particular symposium topic very compelling. This is just me, but I’m much more of an “idea guy” than a “people person”. A post about “how I came to be the liberal/conservative/libertarian that I am” is precisely the sort of thing I would be likely to skip over and I can’t imagine anyone being particularly interested in my story either.

    As for the general tenor of the site of late… yeah, it does feel like we’re in stuck in the doldrums. The election is sucking all the oxygen out of the room, partisanship is running high, and pretty much anything interesting to be said about it has already been discussed to death.

    As for submissions from the audience, this is a bit of a tangent, but I’ve always been a bit uncertain on how to go about it. I mean… technically. Like, what should I use to compose a piece? Do you want it as just the plainest of text possible like in Notepad? What about formatting? OpenOffice? HTML? What about graphics? Perhaps some kind of guide to outside submissions would be helpful.Report

  9. Mr. Joe says:

    Given the current national political climate, rational discussion is hard. The answer may be wait until December or even March/April. At that point national politics is mostly out of our hands and in those of whom we elected for the next one or three years. The presidential election is just swamping everything else. It is hard to envision a red tribe nominee more hateable to blue tribe (love child of Ayen Rand and David Duke?). It is equally hard to envision a blue tribe nominee more detestable to red tribe (test tube child of Richard Dawkins and Che Guevara who is also trans woman?). A moratorium on presidential and party politics may cool it down, but can’t see how that could be enforced without 1st amendment butt hurt.

    I don’t know what you were looking for in political biography. If it helps advance discussion and understanding, I volunteer as piñata. I don’t know the parameters, but I could try to pull something together. Forewarning, it will be the bastard child of steam of consciousness and non linear programming type structure. I truly appreciate the discussions here. Sadly i don’t add much because various folks seem to say it better first.Report

    • veronica d in reply to Mr. Joe says:

      a test tube child of Richard Dawkins and Che Guevara who is also trans woman?

      Ewwwww Dawkins! We all hate him!

      (On the left, the only thing we hate more than the right is everyone else on the left.)Report

  10. I was actually thinking about contributing, and I have kind of an interesting political bio. However, this summer has been unusually busy for me. If the topic ever opens up again, let me know.

    This place reminds me of the golden age of the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, which I was a big part of, lo! these many years ago. The IIDB eventually ran off the rails, though, and finally closed.

    I know I’m new, but if there’s anything I can do to help, you need but ask.Report

    • Oscar Gordon in reply to Larry Hamelin says:

      I’m in the same boat as Larry, lots I want to write, but time is not something I’ve been flush with this summer. If I can get a block of uninterrupted time, I’ll put together the rest of my physics simulations posts.Report

  11. Damon says:

    I too, had given thought to writing a short, no doubt poorly cobbled together, story about how I moved from moderate fiscal conservatism to somewhere along the libertarian/anarchy line. Frankly, working 12-15 hours a day for the last several weeks tends to discourage doing anything but sleeping.

    I would like to make some additional comments, both on the communitariat and the pulled article. Regarding the communitariat, I still share Don Zecko’s opinion relative to the cross ideological ideas. This site is still WAY more accepting of out of the mainstream thinking, conservative/libertarian/other lines of thinking. However, tit seems, increasingly, there are certain posters who seem to want to get their jabs in on other posters for their political opinions. So those individuals should not get all bitchy (not saying they are) when they get it back in return.

    Now, as to the pulled article. I’m not going to pull any punches. (And if these comments get moderated, well, at least the editors will have read my comments. Perhaps they will find them useful.) I found the post nothing but navel gazing about how the author could not discipline her child for bad behavior (and criminal behavior) because the victim was a political opponent. Frankly, I found it offensive to read all the rationalizations about not rectifying the problem, which the author knew she should do, but couldn’t bring herself to do.Report

    • Larry Hamelin in reply to Damon says:


      I think you have missed the point of this post.


    • Reformed Republican in reply to Damon says:

      I do not spend as much time in the comments here as I used to, and I have never been a prolific commenter. I saw some of the early comments on the article in question, but I did not see how the section turned out toward the end, so perhaps there were some truly offensive comments. However, I wonder if the reaction to the piece is really a poor reflection on the commentariat, or the quality/content of the piece itself.Report

      • Damon in reply to Reformed Republican says:

        I cannot say either as I commented early once or twice. By the time I came back, it was gone.Report

      • notme in reply to Reformed Republican says:

        However, I wonder if the reaction to the piece is really a poor reflection on the commentariat, or the quality/content of the piece itself.

        I was following the debate and commented. I get the impression she was sore that she didn’t get the reception that she thought she should have gotten to assuage her hand wringing.Report

      • Here is the basic problem: We loved the piece. We were proud to have it. We want to run more pieces like it. If we feel about it how we feel about it, and readers are necessarily going to respond to it the way that they did, we have a disconnect that is a real problem. To the point that we need a new editorial staff or a new readership. I’d really like to think that’s not the case.

        Damon’s response above is “If I think you’re full of shit I’m just going to be blunt and say you’re full of shit” as though charity and politeness is for other people. That’s not how things are supposed to work, in my view. And that certainly isn’t how we treat a guest in our house, which she was.

        That is a big part of our embarrassment. People who devote time and energy contributing to this site should be treated as conversants. The “we were tough, but fair” response from yesterday was disconcerting because this isn’t a dynamic where they are submitting term papers for a grade. This isn’t a link to an article in Vox for which the author was paid.

        People don’t have to agree, but they should meet other commenters and site authors half way, try to understand where they are coming from, and so on. That’s how discussion occurs.

        A long time ago, I wrote a piece somewhere else about how difficult in can be to oppose abortion in a society where it surrounds us. The focal point was a girl that I had fallen in love with who confessed to having had three. It talked about how desperately I wanted to say (and she wanted me to say) that I believed she’d done the right thing… but I couldn’t. And so how could I reconcile myself with loving someone who had done something as immoral as she had, and she reconciling herself to loving someone who disapproved of her doing something she believed she had to do.

        If I were to publish that piece here, I’d like to think I’d get a better response than “Jesus christ Trumwill is a sanctimonious jerk” or “Good god three abortions that girl was a slut hasn’t she ever heard of birth control?” I’d like to think that I would get better responses to that even if my piece weren’t half as well written as the piece in question was. And by “better response” I don’t mean “Nothing but agreement and sympathy” but… being treated as a human rather than an object for axe-grinding or a contributor to Vox that we link to.

        In any event, the entire tone of the response was more akin to jerk/slut than anything in a deeply personal and vulnerable piece that was submitted, without monetary compensation, to our site. Even if it were poorly written, it deserved better than that. But it wasn’t poorly written, in our view. An overwhelming desire to call bullspit may result in less bullspit being run in the future, along with less of all sorts of other content.Report

        • Damon in reply to Will Truman says:

          I’m not sure what ““If I think you’re full of shit I’m just going to be blunt and say you’re full of shit” as though charity and politeness is for other people.” was in reference to.

          If it was in reference to my comment ” increasingly, there are certain posters who seem to want to get their jabs in on other posters for their political opinions. So those individuals should not get all bitchy (not saying they are) when they get it back in return”, I don’t think it applies.

          If it was directed at my comments about the article, either in this thread, or the pulled one, I think I made myself clear as to why the piece brought forth and exaggerated response. And frankly, I’m beginning to wonder about the communitariat who seem all to eager to “understand” and “accept” this “moral dilemma”. The politics had/should have nothing to do with the issue, yet that seems to be the only issue that was considered important. My question to the communitariat would be…”Would your answer have been different if it was about race or LGBT”? My answer wouldn’t have been different.Report

        • Reformed Republican in reply to Will Truman says:

          a deeply personal and vulnerable piece that was submitted, without monetary compensation

          I can only speak for myself, but I suspect others who disliked the piece feel the same way. Where you see a deeply personal and vulnerable piece, I saw an insincere and dishonest piece. It was the first time I read a post here and really felt it did not belong. It did not read like somebody who was indecisive and wanted to discuss what the right call would have been. If you choose not to act for over a week and a half, that is not indecisiveness, that means you have decided not to act. Instead, it read like a person looking for approval of her decision, when deep down she knew it was wrong.

          From my point of few, not seeing the final state of the comments, it looks like she decided to take down the piece when, instead of getting responses of “that’s okay,” she got responses of “sorry, but you are completely wrong to let your daughter ignore responsibility for her actions,” she asked for it to be taken down. That reinforces that opinion. As I have said before, I did not see the later comments, so maybe things did get more personal than that, but I can only judge based on what I know.

          Overall, I have found this place to be very civil, especially given it’s political nature. That is why I consider the need to remove this piece to be an aberration, and not a symptom of problems with the site and its denizens.Report

          • You are not the first person to offer substantially this opinion. I must respect the author’s decisions and I must respect the reasons for it, not all of which I have been given full permission to disclose.

            But I truly do not believe she was looking for moral affirmation of her actions. I truly do not believe she minded that people were suggesting she had made a bad parenting decision. And I can only ask you to trust me that her reasons for pulling the post were much more complex than that she did not get soothing emotional approvals.Report

            • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

              I generally do not like guest posts from people who do not participate in the regular commentariat first. Unless we luck out and get a really spectacular guest post from somebody important, people who want to post should participate in the comments section first and go up the ranks. I’m not even sure how I think about the new posters that don’t participate in other people’s posts.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

                In general, we’re looking for outside writers. And given that nobody is being paid, there’s only so much we can ask ahead of time. Especially for guest posters. I do make a point of saying that we expect participation in the comment threads of their own posts, and we hope that they participate elsewhere and become a more integrated part of the community.

                Whether they do or not depends in part on how enjoyable participating in our comment section is. Which is to say: It’s on us. When things are going well, our commenting community is a big part of my sales pitch. Monday didn’t help in that regard, but man Tuesday was pretty awesome.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

                Is it inappropriate at this time to mention that the decline in new writers, and the exodus of the old ones, seems to me to be correlated with abandoning the sub-blog format (among other things)?

                If so, I won’t bring it up. 🙂Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think that more of it is that a lot of people that were here are now getting paid to write. And getting paid to write is a better deal than not getting paid to write.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Kolohe says:

                Which is my point, actually. The format back then was inviting, and relatively safe, for writers since commenters were entering someone else’s House when they hit submit. I think that’s no a small thing, myself. Now it’s just … well, the internet.Report

              • Tod Kelly in reply to Kolohe says:

                It’s actually a combination of a couple of things. Success is one, but the honest truth is that we done have some pretty great semi-ex and current writers who don’t publish anything except flamewar opinion pieces on OT because they don’t want to be treated with flamethrowers when they try to do more nuanced pieces.

                It’s a bigger problem than just the one woman.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

                Since taking over on the technical end, I have a better understanding than ever why the decision was made to do so, but in hindsight it seems pretty clear that getting rid of the subblogs was not a great idea.

                I don’t think it harbors much blame for writers leaving and not coming. The former is as Kolohe says, and the latter is the product of a changed media landscape (Twitter’s importance, and Medium and I think it does hinder output and contributions of people still (technically) in the stable.

                Which is why we’re trying to bring them back! Unfortunately, from a financial and technical standpoint, it’s not easy to build them back up.Report

              • LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman says:

                When I know the writer is an OT regular I feel that it is possible to engage in comment’s more truthfully because they know what I am saying is not meant personally usually. With guest commentators I’m not sure. I didn’t post on the thread that started this but like Reformed Republican felt she is looking for sympathy and support rather than an actual debate on the merits. It seemed very emotionally needed to use the site for that. Our other new posters are posting more in the abstract and can take more heat because of that.

                Posting on blog is a risky thing. You are exposing yourself emotionally. I’ve done that and felt heat but realized that I’m not always going to get a “poor baby” reaction from people.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:

                I’ll come clean with my reactions about that post as well. I read it, didn’t really understand it, and read the comments until she responded to [redacted] by saying something like “I’m an actual person over here, ya know”. At that point, I didn’t know what to think (sorta like Sean Penn’s character in Hurly Burly) and exited the thread.

                [Redacted] may have been overly aggressive in making his/her point right outa the box, but I can’t help but think that a clear response that the post was about something else mighta sufficed to defuse the tension. And Damon – I mean [redacted] – is always pretty generous in agreeing to disagree about things. Seems to me anyway.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:

                people who want to post should participate in the comments section first and go up the ranks

                Lee, I hear ya on that. But I gotta say, as a person with a lot to say about things and the ability to actually write strings of sentences into paragraphs (not well tho…) that I’m intimidated by the commentariat. It’s a smart fucking group. And clever too.

                Now, if I had a sub-blog specifically catering to (oh I dunno) spiritual economic policy, then I might be more inclined. But the thought of having my ideas (I’m only one person!) critiqued by ALL ya’ll (you smart bastards!) is pretty damn daunting.Report

              • Mike Dwyer in reply to LeeEsq says:


                While yes, many of our writers (myself included) started out as commenters, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between writing and commenting. Those are two very different things. Someone can be a prolific and very interesting commentator, but they don’t necessarily want to or will be good at writing posts…and vice versa. Also, if someone that is very knowledgeable on a topic wants to write a guest post for us that our readers might find compelling, I wouldn’t want to tell them they need to comment for 6 months before they earn those privileges.

                Furthermore, the editors are always trying to balance the goal of developing writers and also encouraging robust commentary, but those goals can sometimes exist independently of one another. I for one, take more of an interest in developing writers because I like to do that kind of stuff. Others on the staff love our commentary and consider it sacred. So those are the dynamics we are always trying to balance. Ideally we have both awesome writing and awesome commentary, but it often feels (to me) like the latter can be problematic and then it negatively affects the former.

                I’m getting long-winded here (apologies) but if I had to write a catchy slogan for how I feel about the site it would be something like,“Come for the fantastic writing, stay for the conversation.”Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                “Come for the fantastic writing, stay for the conversation.”

                Well … sure. How could anyone with an eye towards marketing disagree with that slogan? 🙂

                Problem is, back when I first came here (and I think you were already here at that point) the writing really was fantastic, and the commenting even moreso (given relative standards across the innerwebs), BUT! the writing was very wonkish/philosophical/policy oriented and the comments were very responsive to that wonkishness.

                I think the site has changed quite a bit since then (and I wasn’t even here in the Early Days). Less about wonk and philosophy, more about critiques of culture and politics and so on. And the latter breeds nastiness (like rabbits).

                That said, I have no suggestions on what to do moving forward.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater: latter breeds nastiness (like rabbits).

                Look at the bones!Report

              • InMD in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

                I wonder if there isn’t some kind of happy medium. The comments that were related to starting World War 3 I can see coming off as pretty nuts to someone without any experience with that poster. Six months is a long time but a little lurking mightve tipped her off that there was no obligation to engage with that. Not sure if the outcome would’ve changed and I saw north trying to explain but the damage was done.Report

          • I’m trying to back away from hanging too specifically on that post, since Burt wanted to make it more abstract. We’ll see if I succeed. I will say this:

            Bringing up your family is always vulnerability. I know because I do it a lot at Hit Coffee. Less than I used to since my pseudonym mask has been slipping. But I talk about myself, my wife, my parents, and so on. I talk about personal stuff. One of very few times I ever came close to having to ban someone was when they went after my wife and mother after my telling a few complicated stories. I don’t think “Well, you brought them up and you didn’t close comments” gives an unlimited license. Or much license at all.

            Perhaps owing to my position in the machine, as a writer who shares personal things and as a recruiter of other writers, I am especially prone to reject heat/kitchen arguments. There are already a lot of disincentives to contribute.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

              Along the lines of my previous comment, I think there’s a bit of a schizophrenia in this site (and has been for some time, but that’s just me): on the one hand there’s an impulse by certain PTB to open the site to any and all types of well-written content while on the other the inertia and history of the place is decidedly (and I don’t mean this in a bad way) wonkish. Emotional content, unless it’s governed by the rules of Mindless Diversions for example, WILL BE viewed as policy advocacy, or ideological advocacy, or whatever other type of advocacy, and not as a personal account. Not without indicators and warnings and whatnot.Report

              • Aaron David in reply to Stillwater says:

                I think this is a very important point. If we want to have a piece that is to be represented in a different way, as a story instead of an opinion, the site, and especially its masthead writers, need to make it abundantly clear that the piece is different. And needs to be treated in another manner. Otherwise, we have the disconnect that we saw.

                Also, just spit balling here, maybe we should curate guest writers. In other words, a writer here writes an introduction and helps direct the traffic, so to speak. As we know the timber of most of the regular writers, and they in turn know what to expect, this might help more than the sink or swim that we seem to favor. And, yes, I know that this takes effort on part of editors and writers, but there should be something necessary for the site for having your name in lights, so to speak. This might also help foster greater understanding of other writers.

                Another 2 cents from Aaron.Report

              • Aaron,

                As a general rule, *ALWAYS* be welcoming to guest writers. And new writers. Always, always, always. Always. It’s never unimportant. Even if they don’t intend to contribute further, they may know somebody who does. They are guests in our house.

                On the other, we’re talking about that. I think at least a part of the solution would be to include a signifier for First Person posts the same way we have them for Mindless Diversions posts.Report

              • Aaron David in reply to Will Truman says:

                I don’t think I was being clear @will-truman

                Of course Always. Yes, yes, yes.

                That said, much like an intro at a comedy club, having someone the audience is familiar with “play them in” so to speak, might help… foster good will, so to speak.

                That is all.Report

              • Anne in reply to Will Truman says:

                Even though I have never actually met anyone from this site I consider you all my friends, I think what @will-truman says above should be extended to each other as well as guest writers. Always be nice to guests but we should also always be nicer to each other.

                I believe those of us who have been around for a while and know the lay of the land and all the players become complacent about civil discourse . I know in my personal life I can catch myself treating my friends and love ones in a manner that I would never dream of with a stranger. I presume they know my good intentions and respect for them. But if I don’t SHOW them why ever would I think they would know it.

                I have seen lately among the commentators a moving away from the presumption of good faith with each other. I hope we can all be more kiind to each other moving forward and especially more kind to our guest.

                okay enough rambling this is why I respect all of you here that can write clearly and succinctly so muchReport

              • Maribou in reply to Anne says:

                Thanks for this comment, @anne.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

                I hear you, Still, and as I say to Aaron I’m working on something for First Person posts.

                But it’s very much worth noting that sometimes there are not enough disclaimers in the world, because there is a very strong natural pull to a binary political discussion. There can even be a paragraph in the post dedicated to trying to explain what this post is and isn’t about, and then six comments about how it is wrong about the thing it is not about.

                This is tangential to your main point, and partially a compliment to what @tod-kelly says above. And why, in my current state of dispiritedness, I’m not sure how much a First Person icon and disclaimer will do. But I do think it might have avoided this in particular.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Will Truman says:

                Maybe the solution (hah!) is to inform the poster that there will be all sorts of views of their post, some they agree with, some they don’t, some they don’t even understand, and to LET THEM GO except insofar as their responses to those comments foster increased understanding of their view. It’s on them to productively engage in the commentariat, not on us to productively engage with them on their terms. (Well, short of being a**holes, anyway.)Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater This doesn’t account for the effort of writing a post (something you’ve already said you find too intimidating to attempt under the current climate) vs the effort of writing a comment. If we want to HAVE writers, it has to be balanced, or even tilted toward the writer, or it isn’t in general worth the effort to write full posts.

                (I say this not to slight the commentariat, on whose “side” of any argument you will almost always find me, but because as far as I can tell it’s true, and a huge practical problem. The quality and quantity of writing both go down if the social expectation is that the writer is just supposed to “take” whatever kind of comment people feel like throwing out there, regardless of how tin-eared or rude-mouthed said comment is.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                OT OP participation awards!Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                Because it’s you Maribou, I’ll elaborate:

                I’d rather a site where Damon can honestly express himself than a site where we cater to the emotional content of OP writers because without them we wouldn’t have a site.

                I’d rather the OP writer to realize that when they hit “submit” they are gonna get a ton of legitimate pushback on their view, because their view inspires people to pushback. (Otherwise what’s the point?)

                I’d rather a site where my admission that I’m reluctant to write long-form OPs outa respect for the intelligence of the commentariat (coupled with my inherent intellectual laziness..) isn’t thrown back at me in service of “politeness” regarding the content people express when they do.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater If I thought the approach taken fell under “legitimate pushback” and/or reasonably honest self-expression, I would agree with you. I am probably weirdly old-fashioned in my values, having grown up in a hospitality culture, but where I am from you do not talk about people’s children to their faces that way, regardless of whether they posted something where you had the ability to comment, or not. And you certainly do not talk about children under the age of 16 that way, regardless of if it’s to their parents’ faces or not.

                And I would much rather a site where we don’t talk about children under the age of 16 in those terms, or attack people for sharing their uncertainties, than a site where we do. Regardless of what else has to be worked out. “Tilted toward the writer” doesn’t mean “100 percent on the writer’s side in every circumstance,” by a long shot. Portraying this as that is so far off the mark to me as to be mind-boggling.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                @stillwater PS I apologize for misconstruing your reasons for not wanting to post. That was unfair. However, it does seem to be the case that we are leaning more and more toward “no one except the very bravest people who don’t mind being ripped to shreds can post here” – which might sound idyllic for some commenters, but it’s very much NOT idyllic for the editors who are trying to keep there being a site at all. Nor, funnily enough, does it attract the most intellectual of writers either – some of the writers we’ve lost were among the best scrappers we had/have.

                And please don’t see this as some sheltered opinion from someone who doesn’t understand how the internet works, people. I’ve been scrapping cheerfully with the tin-eared jerks of the internet since 1994.

                A newbie by some of y’all’s standards, but not most.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                However, it does seem to be the case that we are leaning more and more toward “no one except the very bravest people who don’t mind being ripped to shreds can post here”

                What does it mean to get ripped to shreds? People post a view, respond to comments or not, and move on to eating lunch.

                They’re only “ripped to shreds” if they have an emotional attachment to their views being validated by the commentariat, yes? What else is at stake?Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                Hey, I thought you said we should agree to disagree. Is there really a point to asking me to back off and then asking me questions?Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                Do as you wish, but my view of you during this thread is plummeting Maribou. Timelines of posts and all that. Pretty obvious to understand and all. For someone who’s been around the internet as long as you.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                The timelines were exactly why I was baffled. Your asking to agree to disagree came well after my comment, your reply to my comment came well after my agreement to agree to disagree.

                I’m sorry your view is plummeting but since I’m acting pretty much how I always do, I really wonder whether your perspective isn’t skewed at the moment.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                I really wonder whether your perspective isn’t skewed at the moment.

                Which happens to be an excellent example of why my view of you is plummeting. The invocation of the Psychological.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                It was the invocation of “it’s not me, so maybe it’s you.”

                that’s all.

                with a side, perhaps, of “the last time you freaked out at me like this for no apparent reason, you ended up apologizing for being a jerk later, so I’m holding off judgment for now.” Maybe that will happen again, or maybe you’ll end up revising your view such that it was the time you apologized that was a misinterpretation of me, or maybe they’re not connected. I don’t know, but I also don’t really know why it’s so hard for us to talk to each other in general, so…

                *throws up her hands, stops engaging regardless*Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                No, I’m sticking to my story now as then. Back then, in my view was that mocking Second Enders was a worthwhile exercise (or at least worthwhile for the folks who think mockery is a useful tool) and I stand by that. I apologized for being an asshole to you for suggesting that mockery wasn’t a useful tool.

                In this debate, my argument is that (effectvely) that the commentariat owes nothing to posters who get overly sensitive (except when they’re being assholes) which you objected to by saying “This doesn’t account for the effort of writing a post”, and then proceeded to get all sickogical about what that claim meant.

                Look, if you think the commentariat owes something to contributors because of the “effort” they expend to write a post, then good on ya. I disagree: if people want to post here they hit submit and deal with the OT innerwebs just as they are (excepting blatant assholery, which, as it happens, we also disagreed about). And that, it seems to me, is where we’re at: a disagreement over whether the commentariat owes something to the OP writer because of the “effort” expended.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Maribou says:

                Let’s agree to disagree then.

                Or is that not possible? (I get the feeling it isn’t..)Report

              • Maribou in reply to Stillwater says:

                @stillwater We can agree to disagree. I’m happy to step out of replying to you in this discussion, if that’s what you’re asking for?Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Stillwater says:

                Oh, believe me, I do that as well. I even mention particular viewpoints best not expressed, and which ones to express only with great care.

                In this particular case, the author had a previous and very well recieved previous submission, and it’s possible we didn’t do quite as good a job as we should have prepping.

                Even so, this is very much the sort of post we want to run, in an environment where the personal is handled with more care by the commentariat. Hopefully some sort of First Person flag helps in the future, along with better awareness on our part, and a more congenial atmosphere overall. Maybe some other measures not yet determined.Report

          • Kimmi in reply to Reformed Republican says:

            She said in the comments that she was still thinking about what to do. The OP itself mentioned “I’ll make them muffins!” (which is fine, because muffins! but jeez, make the kid WORK, like sweat work, as well).

            This is not the work of someone insincere, but someone who got guilted into doing something stupid because she cares about her kid (who wrapped her around her finger by crying for hours).Report

    • Sam in reply to Damon says:

      Did you know that it is both entirely possible and entirely legal to encounter a post that you do not like and then say literally nothing at all?Report

      • Damon in reply to Sam says:

        I do that a lot on this site frankly. I don’t comment on quite a number of posts because 1) I don’t care 2) have no interest in the post or 3) don’t want to go down the same rat hole again.Report

      • El Muneco in reply to Sam says:

        I feel strangely freed by the realization that there is actually no obligation to post the relevant XKCD in response to this.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

        “Did you know that it is both entirely possible and entirely legal to encounter a post that you do not like and then say literally nothing at all?”

        Did you know that it is both entirely possible and entirely legal to encounter a comment that you do not like and then say literally nothing at all?Report

    • veronica d in reply to Damon says:

      Actually I finally read the offending article (it was in my email feed), and I sorta agree with @damon . (And how often does that happen?)

      It’s about giving people an opportunity to step up. Like, I’d march the kid over, knock on the fucker’s door, and say, “Look, my kid fucked up. They need to fix it. How can they fix it?”

      And like, most people are gonna be cool about that. Most people will understand what “being neighbors” means, and have my kid fix the sign or do some yard work or whatever.

      Trust me, a young veronica spent more than a few Saturdays doing yard work for neighbors, cuz I fucked up.

      I mean, look, maybe the guy is a complete shit to me. After all, I’m a preposterously enormous, visibly transgender woman. Your average Trumpie will probably hate my guts. I dunno. We’re still neighbors. It’s still his damn yard.

      Maybe he needs his truck washed or some shit. The kid’s gotta step up. And the neighbor has to step up and be cool about it. That is that. Gotta give him the chance.


      Anyway, I didn’t see the comment. I have no idea how bad it got. But that’s my opinion.Report

      • Maribou in reply to veronica d says:

        @veronica-d It wasn’t the comment, it was the way it (and others) were expressed. See Tod’s post below.Report

      • Kimmi in reply to veronica d says:

        Luckily, you’re not black, so you don’t have to worry about getting shot when you go up to a neighbors house to complain about them shouting slurs at your kids.
        *Stand Your Ground
        *Yes, I got this tidbit from a lawyer. No consequences to the fucking shooter.Report

  12. I’d first say political autobiography symposium issue is separate from what I take to be the main issue the OP brings up. That symposium was a good idea. But for various and sundry reasons it just didn’t gel this time around. That doesn’t mean it will never work. It just appears that at this time, for everyone’s reasons and excuses (and I have my own), it just wasn’t the right time. And there was no way to know it wasn’t the right time before trying to do it.

    For the main point of the OP, the apparently general lack of civility. I’m not sure what to say. I played a role in the “recent manifestation” Burt refers to and I’ve felt bad about it ever since the piece was pulled and Tod told us why. I remember all the times people here have gone out of their way to listen to what I’ve had to say or to give me a chance to air my views or to engage with me. The exceptions are are almost always times or with people where I’d already given as good as I was getting.

    I don’t think we can pin it primarily on this being an election year. It’s useful to remember that even the driest piece is someone exposing their vulnerabilities. That’s probably especially true for guest writers, who are testing the waters and many of whom are not (yet) a part of the commenting culture.

    Recommendations for “repair” I’ll divide into two parts, “hortatory” and “structural reforms.”


    1. Those of us who have regular or quasi-regularized posting privileges should take especial care before using those privileges as a bully pulpit to pick on certain people. (I’ve seen at least one “comment rescue” that was a writer taking someone else’s comments from a different post and using their posting privilege to attack what that person said. I’m not saying that’s always inappropriate, but 1. it’s not a “rescue” and 2. it’s a good thing to at least realize the power differential.)

    2. We, as posters should also take a certain degree of ownership for stewarding discussions we’re a part of.

    3. Try to imagine the person writing the point you disagree with as someone in your own life you care a lot about and who you wouldn’t want to see be given “the treatment.”

    4. Go out of our way to be more charitable to guest posters.

    5. Identify (for ourselves, not publicly) those whom we individually have a recurring problem with and make a point to limit our engagement with or decline to engage with them. I’m not talking about shunning. I’m talking about “if I usually can’t find something nice to say to that person, then maybe I’m as much a part of the problem and shouldn’t say anything at all.”

    6. This will raise some cackles, but guys should realize that we as a group tend to be more aggressive and tend to go for the jugular, especially in an environment like ours, where the guy commenters seem to outnumber the gal commenters by a large number. I’m not saying any of this is per se bad and I’m not going down the “check you privilege” route. I’m just saying social dynamics tend to work certain ways and we should acknowledge that and act accordingly when we comment.

    7. Be particularly respectful of the privacy for that 3d parties–non-public figures who are not responsible for writing a given post or who have not chosen to participate in our community.


    8. Create a mechanism/practice whereby editors or even “staff writers” or those like me who have a route to guest-post regularly can personally and privately warn each other when they’re overstepping some boundaries. Maybe a behind the scenes “send a message to a writer” note on WordPress. (Something like that may already exist.) This is the type of thing editors probably should take the lead on, although I realize they’re busy people with their own lives. We should be held to higher standards.

    9. More clearly identify guest writers. Although most guest writers are technically identified as such in the “about” portion at the end of a post, the newish feature where the site actually assigns guest posters by name makes it hard to know at a glance who is and isn’t a guest writer. “I didn’t know they were a guest writer” in no way excuses uncivil treatment, but if we want to be especially welcome to newcomers, then maybe being more explicit is a good idea.

    10. Have some sort of “new commenter” tag for the first 10 or 20 or so comments a new person makes at OT. The tag would disappear after the person makes their 11th, or 21st (or whatever) comment. That means the rest of us know that someone is exploring our community and considering taking part.

    11. Have a special “first person” or “personal” box (like “latest linkage”) or sub-blog for instances where the author wants to signal that they’re approaching any controversial topic they bring up more from a personal point of view and less from a policy point of view. (Like one person mentioned recently, a “first person” tag isn’t something people tend to notice.) On these posts, the expectation will be that comments should err on the side of being supportive. If necessary, a mechanism could be created where particularly intransigent people might be banned from commenting at the “first person” site while retaining their commenting privileges elsewhere.Report

    • Reformed Republican in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      On these posts, the expectation will be that comments should err on the side of being supportive.

      If a writer does not want to risk non-supportive comments, they should turn off comments for the post. Sure, they might miss out on the tummy rubs, but I would hope they are not just writing for validation of their point of view.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Reformed Republican says:

        That’s kind of what I was thinking, too. “Comments off” is an option. If you turn comments on, you’re inviting comment.

        and, as we hear repeatedly and stridently whenever some comedian makes a rape joke, you do not get to control how people hear your words.Report

        • Maribou in reply to DensityDuck says:

          @densityduck But you aka we aka the editors do get to control the boundaries / limits of how people may respond on our website to the words we publish, or at least whether there need to be edits / deletions / etc in response to comments that violate those norms. A task that none of us have any taste for whatsoever, but which we are nonetheless capable of doing.

          If someone wants to write a nasty rant somewhere else on the interwebs about anything here, they have that ability. I might think it’s uncivil, or not being a good community member, and I might really really wish they wouldn’t; I might even ban them from commenting here – not saying I *would*, just saying that’s ALL I can do. There’s literally no way for it to be stopped or taken down unless it’s legally actionable and someone wants to take that action. Nor, in my opinion, should there be. That’s not under debate here.

          What’s under debate is how nasty / mean / callous / etc it’s permissible ( / reasonable given that people are doing this for free / sensible considering how much work people like editors put in to make the site work, and how little they like having to tell people not to be assholes) to be to other people *on this site*. Which has editors. And contributors. And a full community. Any individual member of which probably would draw different lines in different places.

          Having comments on is not the same as inviting any old comment whatsoever, any more than leaving your door unlocked is inviting people to come in and write mean things on your walls. They may or may not do so, but that’s at least as much on them as it is on you. Actually a lot more so. And just as it’s probably fairly imprudent to leave your doors unlocked in the gang neighborhoods of the city I live in, but extremely stupid (and culturally awkward) to expect people where I grew up to lock their doors, it’s reasonable to expect that any given community can follow a different norm than other internet communities, and to expect that those standards can be reasonably be inferred from context much of the time.

          I think it’s reasonable to expect commenters, particularly *regular commenters* who are ipso facto part of the community, to treat this website more like a dinner party than a shouting match. Now whether that means all of them will do it, or whether several of them will run inside the hospitably unlocked door to jump up and down on the sofa saying “YOU SHOULD LOCK YOUR DOORS”, while others sit by and tsk at us for not locking the doors ….. that’s where we get to @tod-kelly ‘s three choices, below.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to Maribou says:

            “[I]t’s reasonable to expect that any given community can follow a different norm than other internet communities, and to expect that those standards can be reasonably be inferred from context much of the time…[I]t’s reasonable to expect commenters, particularly *regular commenters* who are ipso facto part of the community, to treat this website more like a dinner party than a shouting match.”

            You need to start showing examples of these horrible threatening comments which were outside this site’s norms, because I saw under that post nothing beyond what I’ve seen in any other post on this site.Report

            • dragonfrog in reply to DensityDuck says:

              DensityDuck: I saw under that post nothing beyond what I’ve seen in any other post on this site.

              As I understand it, that’s an apt summarization of the problem as a number of editors are trying to express it – that the emergent norms of this site of late are sufficiently uncivil as to have led a guest poster to request their post be removed, to be generally repelling prospective guest posters, and apparently to discourage some regular posters from writing as much or in as much depth as they might otherwise.

              The problem in other words is not that the commentary diverged in unacceptable ways from the site’s norms, it’s that it didn’t.Report

      • I don’t think people have to be supportive of the commenter’s position, or even their perspective. I would like to think, however, we can have comments open and nonetheless have a sympathetic – even if disagreeing – response to a personal story.

        There are responses of agreement.
        There are polite responses of disagreement.
        There are impolite responses of disagreement.
        There are ugly responses of disagreement.

        Those last three are not the same. Further, the poster didn’t even take a position on the main subject of the post. It was an exploration of an internal conflict about what to do. That’s the sort of thing I would especially like to see comments left open on, with the last two types of responses kept to a minimum.

        Could be that we do have to close comments. The same goes if I were to run that abortion post I mention. The same could be true of any post involving parenthood, any one of which would involve ugliness. Or any post of a slightly personal nature. We could, and maybe should, close comments on these. Or expect (unpaid, volunteer) contributors and guests here to accept abusive responses.

        This site will be a lesser place for that, though. Not the least of which because of the difficulty attracting writers and getting writers to write.Report

    • Guy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

      Just on #6 –

      A) You want “hackles”, not “cackles”, I assume.

      B) Your claim that guys are more likely to “go for the jugular” is not remotely true in my experience. I think you’re mistaking a larger number of aggressive males (in your experience) for a larger proportion.

      C) Calling out a subgroup for a particular bad quality, especially with respect to aggression, is always a terrible idea. It licenses non-members to assume that they can’t possible have the negative quality in question.

      D) “Aggression” in the sense that you’re talking about is often variable depending on the issue under discussion. As I’m sure other people here are aware, I tend to get pissed when I think people are being insufficiently charitable to college students, but (at least I think) I try to remain relatively mild on most other topics. @sam ‘s buttons are pushed by homophobia in general and Ross Douthat in specific. Israel and Judaism seem to do it for @saul-degraw. I’m sure you can think of issues where you’re more aggressive than normal. It is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of what adjectives apply to them, to know their own triggers and refrain from participating in a discussion when they are unable to do so civilly. (Or at least, that’s the norm I think we need if we want specifically civil discussion)Report

      • Gabriel Conroy in reply to Guy says:


        You’re probably right. What I should have said was that the commentariat here seems majority (by far) male and that some women might feel like they face an uphill challenge to get their points across or to be understood. It was wrong for me to comment on the alleged aggressiveness of guys. My point was really just to say that if we want to expand the people represented here, we should be aware some people we want to feel welcome might at first feel out of place.

        I’m sure you can think of issues where you’re more aggressive than normal. It is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of what adjectives apply to them, to know their own triggers and refrain from participating in a discussion when they are unable to do so civilly. (Or at least, that’s the norm I think we need if we want specifically civil discussion)


        • Guy in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          That is very reasonable. Perhaps we can agree to agree?Report

        • veronica d in reply to Gabriel Conroy says:

          I certainly know women who can be just as quick to draw knives as any man — for example, me — but that said, I notice a marked difference between female-majority spaces and male-majority spaces. Between them, there are different discourse patterns. Likewise, there is plenty of social science that shows, indeed, that men tend to interrupt more, speak over other more, etc. This is pronounced in a mixed-gender setting.

          Not many women post here. Those of us who do — let’s face it, many of us are somewhat “gender-non-conforming.” (It’s complicated. I certainly don’t want to put identity labels on anyone. But still. It’s kinda obvious.)

          #notallwomenwhoposthere, etc.

          (Personally my gender identity these days is, “woman on the inside, but dammit I’m done fighting with the TERFs and I’m just gonna mostly hang with other trans women and fuckitall.”)

          Anyway, the point is, insofar as we get a “female viewpoint” here, we are getting a very particular one. If we wish for a broader female perspective, we really would have to change some of the discourse patterns. That is hard to do. First, people have to understand what they are doing, which means they must accept that they might be doing something worth changing.

          Convincing men-as-a-group of this is — well — not a pleasant task. So women step away and find their own spaces.

          So it goes. I see no plausible path where this changes.Report

          • That’s roughly the type of dynamic I was trying to get at, although I’m a bit more hopeful than you seem to be that the needle can be moved at least a little bit. But as you point out, moving it even a little bit is hard to do.Report

      • Alan Scott in reply to Guy says:

        @guy, you have it exactly wrong.

        @saul-degraw ‘s buttons are pushed by discussions about Judaism because Saul is Jewish, and his Jewishness is a core part of his identity. It’s actually pretty fishing important that Saul or someone else like him participates in those discussions, no matter how angry he gets. Doesn’t mean we always have to agree with him, but it’s absurd to ask him to shut up because he’s getting emotional. If anything, him getting angry is a cue that maybe it’s our turn to shut up.

        And this is equally true for any number of authors or commenters who have deeply personal connections to any number of topics.Report

        • Guy in reply to Alan Scott says:

          You’re right, at least in part. Anger is not (solely) a reason to shut up. That said, I do think that sentence applies to everyone – Saul’s anger shouldn’t make him shut up, but it also shouldn’t make anyone else shut up, at least in isolation (and sorry to pick on Saul here – he’s just an innocent example). There is at least one good reason to shut up which might sometimes be related to anger, which I’ll get to later.

          Let me now try to get across a more nuanced version of the following sentence:

          “It is incumbent upon everyone, regardless of what adjectives apply to them, to know their own triggers and refrain from participating in a discussion when they are unable to do so civilly.”

          This is a pair of rules that I apply to myself, in order to keep myself healthy. It works quite well for me; it would work even better if it were a universal set of rules. And it is two rules, rather than one, which I think is important and easily missed because of my original phrasing.

          The second rule is key: Refrain from participating in a discussion in which you are unable to do so civilly. I don’t like yelling. I really don’t like it when I’m the one doing the yelling. It puts me in a bad headspace, and I can get stuck there (or in adjacent spaces) for hours. The best way to ruin my day is to make me mad. So, I try to avoid discussions that are likely to make me mad. I’m getting better at it, too! My life has been much better since I realized this and started acting on it. There is a similar effect for me when I see other people getting mad (I should specify – this only matters if they are angry at their interlocutors in particular, though often a general anger turns into anger at the people you’re talking to). I would certainly benefit from norms of discourse where people avoid discussions that are likely to set off an anger-vortex in them, and I believe other people would as well. And, in fact, I think it would bring us closer to the dinner table discussion that the editors desire. This is all explained better here, though with a different focus.

          The first rule is a tool for applying the second rule: Know your triggers. Know what makes you mad; know what makes it hard for you to separate the person you’re talking to from the things they’re saying, or the things you’ve heard people like them say. Watch yourself, and if you’re getting into a state where it’s difficult to have a productive discussion, take a step back and decide whether you want to participate anyway. This is what I do; I often don’t reply to things (mostly elsewhere) where I don’t think I’ll be able to continue a reasonable discussion.

          Now, finally: having triggers does not mean it’s impossible for you (me) to have a productive discussion about those topics. It means you (I) have to be careful about them, and maybe not have every discussion on those topics. Probably the only hard rule for staying silent that I’d advocate is this: if you’re mostly repeating yourself, the discussion is probably over. I know that when I’m angry, it’s very easy to get caught in that loop where I and whoever I’m talking to just yell our points back and forth, going nowhere. That is, quite frankly, a dumb place to be in, and I try to avoid it wherever I can. I also find it’s helpful to look through responses and try to find other people making my points; that often reduces any anger I’m feeling anyway, and then I often find I don’t need to respond in any case. It works out.

          I think we’re trying to find some norms for calm, respectful discussion. That means that it’s not always the appropriate time to express anger, because anger often gets in the way of calm, respectful discussion. Not all norms of discussion are compatible; that does not mean that all contradictory norms are wrong. I think it is best if there exist spaces for anger and spaces for calm. Myself, I will stick to the calm spaces, but other people have other preferences and those preferences are not wrong. It seems like the editors want this to be a place for calm; I’m trying to point out a path to being that sort of space.Report

          • veronica d in reply to Guy says:

            @guy —

            Know your triggers. Know what makes you mad; know what makes it hard for you to separate the person you’re talking to from the things they’re saying, or the things you’ve heard people like them say.

            This is fine, but if the topic is, for example, transgender rights — welp,that certainly is a topic that can upset me. On the other hand, I’m the only transgender woman who posts here. Who more than me should weigh in on the topic?

            Can I always do so in a civil way?

            Well, that is a complicated question. I try. Politically, it often helps to maintain a kind of false civility in the face of repulsive ideas. One can often “out-nice” the bigot. But then, not always. It’s tricky.

            One thing for sure, I’m not gonna let you tell me when it is time to remove my gloves and go bare knuckles. A few times I have.Report

  13. North says:

    I’m appalled by the maladies and was horrified by having the article withdrawn and I apologize for my part in it as well. I wish I had the knack for writing articles but my gifts seem to be restricted to commenting. When I try to write a full on post on purpose I just run out of steam.Report

  14. I have published my thoughts on this matter here: Civility and professionalism (yeah, right!) in internet comments

    Briefly, based on my experiences at the Straight Dope Message Board, the Internet Infidels Discussion Board, my blog, The Barefoot Bum, and my experiences as a college student and instructor, I think Mr. Likko’s hopes are in vain. Internet commenters lack the fundamental motivation — friendship or professionalism* — for the kind of tone he wants.

    *I mean “professionalism” in the literal sense: having something of serious monetary value, such as one’s career or college degree, at stake.Report

    • I’d be content with people abiding by a pretty simple rule:

      Don’t be an asshole.Report

      • Sam in reply to Burt Likko says:

        They are not capable of this.Report

      • DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Well, you’d be surprised at how many ways there are to be an asshole.

        Denying the Obvious Truth Of Global Warming is being an asshole.

        Disagreeing with the nothing that America is the most racist country in the entire history of humanity is being an asshole.

        Thinking that maybe there could be a different response to gun violence than “ban all guns right now” is being an asshole.

        Suggesting that maybe there’s more going on with libertarians than “suck the money dick” is being an asshole.

        It’s like Terry Pratchett says about suicide; you can be an asshole quite easily.Report

        • Burt Likko in reply to DensityDuck says:

          There is zero interest among any of the editors in defining assholery based upon the advocacy of particular positions on issues. Disagreement on things is part of what we thrive on. As a wise man said some time ago:

          There are responses of agreement.
          There are polite responses of disagreement.
          There are impolite responses of disagreement.
          There are ugly responses of disagreement.

          So yes, there are a lot of ways one might be an asshole. Having an unpopular opinion isn’t going to be one of them. But expressing an unpopular opinion in an ugly way might very well qualify. For that matter, expressing a popular opinion in an ugly way might very well qualify too.

          Am I being clear that both the popularity and factual/logical strength of an opinion is orthagonal to the level of civility imbued into the expression of that opinion?Report

        • Trying to make yourself out to be the real victim when you’re actually not is one way of being an asshole.Report

        • Ken S in reply to DensityDuck says:

          Here’s another one. Using preposterous hyperbole to caricature views that differ from your own.Report

      • pillsy in reply to Burt Likko says:

        This may be the norm you desire for OT, but it is, evidently not the norm you actually have, because there is a non-zero number of people who persistently act like assholes here. I’m not going to say who I think they are, and I suspect that a hypothetical poll would reveal that most commenters also think there a number of persistent assholes here, but that there is little consensus on who those assholes are.

        If at all possible technically, one thing that would help is to at least allow us to ignore (as in hide) comments made by selected people. Then we could at least maintain the illusion that there is a respected norm against being an asshole, whatever idiosyncratic definition of asshole we might be using.Report

        • Mike Dwyer in reply to pillsy says:

          “I suspect that a hypothetical poll would reveal that most commenters also think there a number of persistent assholes here, but that there is little consensus on who those assholes are.”

          Totally agree.

          “If at all possible technically, one thing that would help is to at least allow us to ignore (as in hide) comments made by selected people.”

          One of the chatboards I used to frequent had this option, but you still knew that the person was participating and even if they had replied to you. It was almost impossible for your reptilian brain to ignore. Not sure the functionality exists to make the person you dislike completely disappear.

          I have found though that it is possible to ignore most people, but it take some serious willpower and alas, I am sometimes weak.Report

          • El Muneco in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

            There are technical solutions that work well for the posts/comments/etc. themselves. But you still end up seeing a block of text quoted in a response-to-a-response that makes it clear that xpatYankeeCurmudgeon (I feel safe using his username as an example since he admits that he loves stirring up trouble) had responded to you even if the comment itself disappeared like someone over Stalin’s shoulder in an old Soviet photo.Report

        • KenB in reply to pillsy says:

          I threw together a userscript awhile back to filter selected commenters – I just tried to post the link but it might’ve been trapped by the spam filter. If you’re interested, google greasyfork kenb ordinary-gentlemen to see it.Report

          • dragonfrog in reply to KenB says:

            Thank you Ken!

            To showcase my ignorance of javascript, is the match on innerHTML going to match any part of the comment? (That is, if I wanted to to filter out that dastardly troll who posts as “the”, would I find very little left to read in the comments section?)Report

            • KenB in reply to dragonfrog says:

              No, the match is just on a “data-name” attribute which holds the commenter’s handle. And as written, it’s doing an exact match on that handle, so it shouldn’t be a problem even if one person’s handle is a substring of another’s.

              And you’re welcome, hope it works for you! I actually haven’t tried it since the extensive site redesign but at a quick glance it looks like it should still work.Report

      • Nobody ever thinks they’re the asshole, and calling them one, even indirectly just escalates the situation.Report

        • pillsy in reply to Larry Hamelin says:

          Is this true? I can think of cases in online fora–hell, cases on OT, and I haven’t been here that long–where I’ve pretty deliberately acted like a dick. Maybe I’m tremendously unusual in this, but (as I sort of alluded to elsewhere) I generally take the presence and toleration of certain kinds of dickish behavior in these kinds of environments as license to engage in dickish behavior myself.Report

          • DensityDuck in reply to pillsy says:

            “being a dick but I had a good reason, or at least a good excuse” is still “being a dick”.Report

            • pillsy in reply to DensityDuck says:

              I don’t believe I stated or implied otherwise.

              I do, however, suspect that I’m not unique in the way I read a (figurative) room to determine to what degree dickish behavior is tolerated or even expected. In a sense, having, “Don’t be an asshole,” as a guideline can be somewhat helpful in that kind of situation, but I tend not to take such injunctions terribly seriously if I don’t believe anybody else is, and I suspect I’m not unique in that regard, either.Report

              • Joe Sal in reply to pillsy says:

                FWIW I would rather have the authentic pillsy than some powdered sugar, stepford commenter pillsy.Report

              • Gabriel Conroy in reply to pillsy says:

                Perhaps I don’t read enough of your comments, Pillsy, because what I’ve read seem to be pretty civil to me.

                But I get the main point you’re making and think there’s a lot of truth to it. Maybe it’s a sort of “broken windows of commenting culture” thing?Report

    • Freeman in reply to Larry Hamelin says:

      Excellent points at Larry’s link. Loved the Debate Flowchart! I found the point about the difference between an actual “dinner party between interesting friends” and a public comment forum, even one as well-tended and -attended as this, particularly compelling.

      I missed the original guest post and comments that triggered all this, but have been following the controversy for the last few days. I’m not privy to the details but I do feel that I have a fairly clear “50,000 foot view” of the scenario. As a big fan, long-time lurker and occasional commenter here I would like to offer a few thoughts.

      This blog and particularly the comment section, at least for me, has always had a fairly strong “dinner party between interesting friends” vibe to it. I recognized it immediately when I first visited and it’s a big part of what has always kept me coming back for all these years. The main post gets the festivities started, but the comments are invariably where the most interesting conversations are to be found. Active participation in the discussion forums by not only the OP author (which is sadly uncommon at a lot of blogs) but also plenty of the blog’s other regular writers on each other’s posts adds immensely to the vibe. I love it that new commenters are always promptly welcomed and encouraged to participate more, and I see that all the time. And the wonderfully diverse mix of Ordinary commenters that have naturally been attracted to the atmosphere here are beyond the cream of the crop in terms of intelligent thoughtful friendly insight. The subject matter, to me, is usually of secondary importance to the vibrant discussion around it, to the point that I seldom screen out posts by subject matter I might otherwise find uninteresting, and so I’m always learning new and interesting things as a result. I think maybe we’re just a little bit spoiled sometimes because this place really is quite exceptional almost every day. A whole lot of what makes that happen so consistently for so long is clearly the result of brilliant planning and masterful execution by a team that cares a lot about the project, each other, and the community they nurture. I would imagine that the team should be giddy with their wild successes most of the time, but even so I wonder if it’s possible from the ground-zero view to fully appreciate the extraOrdinary achievement produced by all that diligence. There truly is no other place like it on the worldwide web, at least in my experience.

      That said, Larry’s point stands firm as ever. These virtual dinner parties are held in public, open to billions the world over instantly at the click of a mouse, most well-intentioned, some otherwise, but all fallible humans who often as not misunderstand unfamiliar viewpoints and misjudge intentions. That openness is not a bug, it’s a feature, because not only does it make the normative civility of these encounters all the more remarkable, it facilitates the diversity of voices essential to the quality of the experience. When one hosts several dinner parties every day wide-open and free to the public, basic probability predicts that occasionally someone will pee in the punchbowl or raise a ruckus with another guest over a misunderstanding, I’d say far more often than we encounter it here.

      I’ve seen once-lively open discussion forums wither away from over-reaction to minor incivility issues. I used to regularly hang out at an academic blog run by university professors apparently expecting to duplicate their classroom and lecture-hall forums online. Commentary was robust and intelligent, averaging around 100 comments on most posts. Had a great time swapping viewpoints there — lots of room between mine and the heavily liberal median. Of course there were occasional conflicts. During one particularly heated debate over gun rights I was informed that I am obviously an old white gun fetishist overcompensating for inadequate manhood. I responded by signing on as Tiny White Penis of Death and thanking him for the belly laugh. It was one of the few times up until then that I’d seen a moderator take down a comment (both his and my response). All in all it was a reasonably civil and respectable joint for an open forum, and the occasional exceptions were efficiently dealt with. I don’t recall a particular triggering event, but there were several commenters who routinely disagreed with one of the writers, actually the founder of the blog, who apparently got tired of it and started nuking comments, citing incivilities no-one else had seen, and which had not previously been a pattern of behavior from these guys. Next thing you know comments require registration and those from newly registered users are automatically quarantined pending approval until the moderators trust them. Their once-lively forum turned into a ghost-town overnight, and never recovered. The founder went from several daily posts to one every few months, apparently having lost interest as quickly as his audience did.

      So my point is, OT Crew: You’re doing all the right things and achieving remarkable results, despite occasional and quite common issues with the public forum. Please keep on keepin’ on, secure in the knowledge that your outstanding efforts are acknowledged and deeply appreciated.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Freeman says:

        Thank you for taking the time to write all this out, @freeman , and know that it was a tonic to my own morale.

        I love it that new commenters are always promptly welcomed and encouraged to participate more, and I see that all the time.

        And now you’re about to get treated that same way. This is a wonderful comment, meaty and well-written. Any more of the same that you might care to offer would be enjoyed by everyone.Report

        • Freeman in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Thank you so much for the kind words, Burt.

          Lately I’ve had precious little spare time to read, much less write something substantial (which takes way too long to do to my satisfaction), but I’ll try to step out of lurker’s alley and be sociable a little more often.

          I see the devastating effect recent events have had on morale — all this talk of failure in the conclusion of the post — and get a sense of how mortifying it must be for those close to the situation who work so tirelessly to promote the community’s well-being. Don’t get me wrong, I feel that as editors, the things all of you have said on the subject needed to be said, but I look around from my position as one of many beneficiaries of all that hard work and see so much success on the other end of the scale that I’m compelled to share that perspective — I owe that and so much more. I can’t tell you how stoked I am to learn that my modest effort to give something back has been beneficial in some way!Report

  15. Saul Degraw says:

    My political biography seems pretty boring. My grandparents were liberal Democrats, my parents were liberal Democrats, and I became a liberal Democrat because we are all Jewish and from New York. Demographics and biography as destiny.

    If anyone has any ideas on how to extrapolate something interesting from this, please feel free to suggest.Report

  16. KenB says:

    I have many thoughts on this but I’ll offer two at the moment — take them for what they’re worth:

    – Obviously the folks who are in charge of this site are volunteers with their own day jobs and countless other responsibilities, so no one can reasonably expect many hours to be spent on community maintenance. However, a bush that’s never pruned is going to grow haphazardly, and it will look better or worse at different times and from different angles. If no one’s able to pick up the shears then we have to accept that we’re not going to get topiary animals from random growth.

    – regarding the removed post, it might be helpful if TPTB would give more info on which comments were over the line and which weren’t. Right now we’ve got people apologizing who just offered some polite and constructive disagreement, and others who IMHO were unnecessarily dickish who’re insisting they did nothing wrong. Not that you need to name names, but without some guidance there’s nothing in place to prevent this from happening again, and meanwhile the entire community is feeling accused.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to KenB says:

      The way I am trying to look at it is that we all have our bad days, and that includes individuals as well as groups. It’s within reason to believe that Monday was just a perfect storm for a bad day. A potentially touchy post where the commenting got off on a bad foot and set a tone. I’ve seen that and I’ve been a part of it.

      There were basically three categories of problems. The first are comments that, at least in retrospect or at the time if we’d caught them, were individually unacceptable. There weren’t actually many of these, but they’d include the word “shitty” in reference to the family of the author, and suggestions that the author’s child is what is wrong with this country. The second category includes stuff I don’t like but which really isn’t (or hasn’t historically been) actionable. “Let’s take this heartfelt post and use it as an opportunity to talk about what I really don’t like about people.” The third category is stuff that ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem at all, but in the context of that post qualified as “piling on.” We are all guilty of that last one, and most of us of that second.

      I’m not going to get to who fits into which category, but the closer the response to this post could be described as “OH FOR F**K’S SAKE!” the more of a problem it was. If somebody is telling you about a dilemma that they are facing, even if it all seems rather simple and straightforward to you, OFFS in this sense (whether the post in question, or the abortion post I mention above) is something we’d like to avoid with guests in our house and other people who donate their time and energy to it.

      How one disagrees matters.

      And for what it’s worth, we’re asking a lot of questions of ourselves. What we can do to prevent this from happening in the future. Ideas range from relatively minor (maybe we could mark First Person posts better, and put in some kind of editor’s note to avoid the snowball) to more substantial.

      Hopefully, it’s something we’ll all be able to chalk up to a bad day.Report

      • KenB in reply to Will Truman says:

        OK, thanks, that’s helpful. I do think that some of it was coincidence — if it had been posted four hours later in the day, there might have been a dozen “great post!” comments before some of the less supportive ones were posted.

        I guess since “category 3” comments are normally entirely inbounds, I wasn’t thinking of them as being a problem here, but I can see how contextually it could end up looking like a storm of criticism, especially to a new contributor.Report

    • Mike Dwyer in reply to KenB says:


      ” …regarding the removed post, it might be helpful if TPTB would give more info on which comments were over the line and which weren’t.”

      I don’t think I am revealing anything top secret when I say that even among the editors and staff there was disagreement about whether anything was over the line or not. So I’m hoping we don’t go into specifics here, just because I would like this to be more of a 50,000 foot problem instead of bashing a few comments by a few people. For the record though, I came down in the camp of the comments not really being very objectionable if at all. Other people were more troubled by it. The lesson I am doing my best to remember is that even though I might think they were wrong to object, a true friend still listens and tries to learn.Report

      • KenB in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

        Thanks. I guess I’m somewhere in between — I do think some of the comments were sharper than necessary and also somewhat misdirected, but I’m not convinced that everyone needed to soft-pedal their disagreements. The message (as I recall, honestly my memory of it is fading) was basically that Trump might be so bad that the usual rules of civility might not apply — I don’t think it was reasonable to expect that no one would push back on that.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to KenB says:

      I *would* like to understand which comments made the author fear for the safety and security of her child.Report

  17. Joe Sal says:

    I think the mine field we had was going ‘vulnerable’ about something that was nearly 90% politics and 10% personal and the responses ended up addressing the personal politics involved.

    Framing commentors as dicks/assholes about questioning some of that, you better get real explicit about what the hell your referring to.

    I haven’t seen Kimmi comment for awhile and I need to know if she is banned.Report

    • RTod in reply to Joe Sal says:

      Kimmi is not banned, nor has she been approached in any way by the editors. As far as I know, she is maintaining her usual pattern of commenting: days of no comments followed by periods of making many, many comments.

      For the record, no one has ever been banned from this site without an announcement and an explanation to the readership.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Joe Sal says:

      Framing commentors as dicks/assholes about questioning some of that, you better get real explicit about what the hell your referring to.

      This, I’m afraid, would contradict why I wanted to express my concerns at the 50,000-foot level rather than a granular one. Attempting granular comment policy enforcement is literally my least favorite part of the editor’s portfolio. Given that the author pulled her post altogether, there is diminished opportunity for that sort of thing to be useful here anyway.

      Let me give you a partial list of virtues, some things that people who are not assholes do habitually.

      They read the statements of others, desiring actual comprehension.
      They adopt a position of charitable interpretation of others’ expressions.
      They find ways to understand and respect others, regardless of disagreement.
      They welcome new points of view and ideas.
      They eschew the use of epithets, profanity, slurs, and insults.
      They use the “sandwich method” to deliver critical comments to others with whom they have not yet formed bonds of mutual trust and regard.
      They seek to form bonds of mutual trust and regard with others.

      Do you understand what I am describing here?Report

  18. Michael Cain says:

    1) I must have missed the call for bios. Mine is probably not interesting, but might be less usual than some. Are you going to try again?

    2) When I was offered the opportunity to be a contributing writer, I warned Tod that I didn’t think I had that much to say. Recently there has been a dearth of what I think of as “Cain topics”, although I do have one piece in progress. Relatedly, I have found myself more often lately pulling back from clicking the Post Comment button because I don’t like the answer when I ask myself, “Does this comment really add anything to the discussion?”

    3) “Don’t be an asshole” is probably the best advice I will receive today. Thank you for reminding me.Report

  19. pillsy says:

    I… considered assembling a bio, but chose not to on the grounds that I thought any such bio would be insufficiently interesting to be worth sharing. I’m seeing a lot of responses along those lines. I don’t know if you should see it as a deeper problem, unless, “We thought our readers’ stories would be more interesting than they themselves did,” is really a symptom of that problem.Report

  20. Guy says:

    Before I read the thread, I’d just like to say: I haven’t submitted because I’m on a rather long vacation which is set to end Monday, but I did plan to. I might write and send in a submission anyway.Report

  21. J_A says:

    1- When the call for bios came out I briefly thought about explaining how I went from being called a fascist by a girl I was courting in college to being called a libertard at work without changing any of my political beliefs. Then I completely forgot about it.

    2- With respect to commenters and comments, I find OT commenters particularly respectful and graceful, and assholeless as far as Internet forums go. I find much more over the top and ado,omen comments in the personally curated Rod Dreher blog than here. Even the commenters I totally disagree with do not exceed the 1-2 out of 10 assholery level. Some of them are really entertaining, like the unnamed person who has friends in all the right places. And even when bordering asshole territory, I find they have a valid point, even if I fully disagree.

    3- The post. I did not get to read it. I saw it and was going to read it next, but by the time I finished the previous post, it was gone. I’m surprised that what the editorial staff say happened, happened.

    4- I don’t think much remediation is needed. This is probably my favorite internet place. There are subjects I completely skip, like video games, but I enjoy the civil discourse (no sarcasm) and would be weary of major changes. It ain’t broken.

    5- small plead: I miss more Tod posts. I understand the change, but he was a big part of what brought me to OT. But I’m happy with what we are now.Report

    • Dave Regio in reply to J_A says:


      2- With respect to commenters and comments, I find OT commenters particularly respectful and graceful, and assholeless as far as Internet forums go. I find much more over the top and ado,omen comments in the personally curated Rod Dreher blog than here. Even the commenters I totally disagree with do not exceed the 1-2 out of 10 assholery level. Some of them are really entertaining, like the unnamed person who has friends in all the right places. And even when bordering asshole territory, I find they have a valid point, even if I fully disagree.

      This, and the commenting culture here circa August 2016 is far more civil than what I remember when I returned to this site, first as a lurker in late 2012 and then more visibly in 2013.

      I’m on several of the fitness pages on Facebook, and compared to what I see there, this place is so low on the asshole factor, it’s not even funny. Seriously, the worst comments to this article reminded me of how good it is here, even during those times when people think it isn’t.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Dave Regio says:

        and the commenting culture here circa August 2016 is far more civil than what I remember when I returned to this site, first as a lurker in late 2012 and then more visibly in 2013.

        And perhaps ironically, while conceding I might be misremembering, we had more women and conservatives back then than we do now.Report

        • Dave Regio in reply to Stillwater says:


          That is correct. I’d probably say conservatives and libertarians since the posts I went through where the fireworks were really taking place involved liberals and libertarians. It could have been like that with other conservatives but I didn’t see any of that in my own observations.Report

  22. Chip Daniels says:

    A few comments FWIW;
    Some of you may recall my persona when I first arrived here.
    It was what media types would delicately call “combative”. Sort of George Costanza with a dash of Homer Simpson.

    I have mellowed over time, and especially since I chose to use my real name and photo. I found that this did blunt my tendency towards sneering attacks.

    But more to the point, I have come to acknowledge the ideas and opinions of others, even when I disagree, even when I find them ridiculous.
    One thing I have found valuable is to begin saying “but I could be wrong” almost as a mantra, to remind myself my values and viewpoint are not universal.

    Acknowledging others doesn’t lessen my faith in what I hold to be true, it just acknowledges that the perspective seen by others isn’t mine, and I may not ever have the ability to witness things the way they do.

    I think the goal of this place is an admirable one, and worth re-dedicating ourselves to.

    And about that, I am not wrong.Report

    • David in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I leaf through this site about every day or two, posting pretty rarely, but I value it highly because I’ve learned a lot here. Part of that is posting on technical subjects – water regimes in the West, or philosophical discussions, or anything Burt writes on the law. But mostly, it’s because the majority of those who write, and those who post longer comments, seem to have in mind an audience that is open to being swayed, and so they frame their comments accordingly. There are always some comments that are less oriented to an interested, bystanding audience, and are either arguing emotionally with the initial post or just stating disagreement (or variations), but they usually either get elaborated into something bigger, or are easily ignored.

      This latest instance was one of the few I’ve seen – when it had maybe a dozen comments – with multiple, detailed comments which did not presume to try to convince anyone, but devoted significant length to assertions without the work. For what it’s worth, before that post was removed, my reaction to the comments was mild shock – it felt different in kind from most of what I read here.

      I do hope that more of you continue to write, to appreciate differences in opinion, and to remember that lots of us who are reading the site are hoping to learn from the quality of the discussions, so please to talk as if you had an audience beyond well-steeped partisans in one or another standard viewpoint.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to David says:

        This latest instance was one of the few I’ve seen – when it had maybe a dozen comments – with multiple, detailed comments which did not presume to try to convince anyone, but devoted significant length to assertions without the work. For what it’s worth, before that post was removed, my reaction to the comments was mild shock – it felt different in kind from most of what I read here.


        I can see that.

        Well said.Report

  23. RTod says:


    I think the goal of this place is an admirable one, and worth re-dedicating ourselves to.

    This is my thought as well. But it’s still quite difficult, in part because I think that our site’s singular goal is viewed in two different ways by the writers and commenters.

    View #1: We have a site that welcomes different viewpoints, which means it’s important for me to at least try to respect and attempt to understand others who I disagree with.

    View #2: We have a site that welcomes different viewpoints, which means I expect others will be flaming on me, and so I in return expect to be able to flame on them.

    Most of the time, especially when people are writing something with the express purpose of debating a hot button topic, these two viewpoints work pretty OK side by side. Other times, like in the case of a woman exploring her own personal failing re: a difficult parenting/personal issue, or a black man explaining to a white audience why he chooses to be Republican, or a gay man writing a public love letter to his new husband, it works decidedly less than OK.

    Where we go with those two different viewpoints in those latter cases is the issue here. Burt’s call to “don’t be an asshole” is one possible solution, but it relies on people being willing to heed that call. Otherwise, Will is correct above that there are really only two others: we either need to figure out a way to diminish the quality of writing and the number of topics we publish here, or we figure out a way to diminish the ability of people to comment. Them’s the sum total of the choices we have here; there ain’t no more.

    The best of those three optional solutions is pretty obvious, to my eye. Especially because there is no question that I am more cynical than my co-editors. (Or maybe it’s that I have more respect for our readership, depending on your point of view.)

    Because I don’t really think that people’s here just didn’t understand that calling someone’s kid “shitty,” or referring to a pre-adolescent engaging in a dumb prank as a “criminal,” or declaring that the blood of future wars is on that same kid’s hands was being a total asshole. And so I’m sorry, but I don’t really buy people’s feigned confusion here in these threads about what could have possibly upset this woman. Yes, most of our commenters are debating/internet types, but they aren’t exactly borderline-functioning autistic when it comes to socialization. If anyone here invited me to dinner and I told another of your guest that their kid was a shitty human being, they’d ask me to knock it off or leave.

    Seriously, you guys are all to intelligent to sit here and pretend not to know that shit.

    And added to all of that, Tod’s Law is in pretty full swing these days, and that makes me sad.Report

  24. veronica d says:

    I actually seriously considered writing a piece, but my torrid and freakishly painful romantic life has been draining my energy for the past couple weeks. Which, yeesh. (I went from single to not-single to now kinda halfway single-but-maybe-poly-it’s complicated. And then I decided not to be shy anymore, so now I’m not shy anymore. I’m asking people out like crazy and they’re saying yes, so that’s a thing.)


    My story is fun. I go from a lonely sadsack white-boy software nerd with techo-libertarian sympathies, to suddenly, oh look, I’m on estrogen. I have boobs.

    Then all that dumb “privilege” stuff, which before I would have dismissed — with tedious but smart arguments, expertly crafted by my nerdbro brain — suddenly seemed a bit more sound, cuz like all a sudden I’m walking the walk.

    Then I start thinking of how situated our values are, how much we ascribe meaning to the world based on the lives we live. In other words, even if you accept a physical basis of reality, with all the science backing it, that science assigns no meaning to anything. We assign meaning, with our brains. In turn, nobody assigns meaning in a perfect, objective, independent way.

    So how do you build a politics out of that shit?

    I’m still working on it.


    I didn’t read the offending piece, nor the comments. I’m sorry things went shitty. Sometimes things are shitty. Fights are real. Bloody knuckles. I’ve always had the most respect for those who come out swinging.

    But fight by the rules. Listen to the ref. Respect the judges. Be a good sport. Touch gloves. *ding*Report

  25. Maria says:

    This has been an interesting post and comments section to read. It has sparked a lot of thoughts in my head, not all easily connected, so bear with me.

    I have been reading this site for awhile now. As a stay at home parent, it offers a very nice contrast to the mommy blogs and click-bait “articles” that are aimed at me. It is nice to read posts that are intellectually stimulating and that provide a multitude of perspectives from outside of my little bubble. I rarely comment, though. I feel strongly that if I cannot add something significant to the conversation, there is no point in commenting. Others often say what I am thinking, and say it well, so I don’t feel the need to repeat a point that has also been made. For the most part, the comment section is often as interesting, or more so, than the original article. There is a sense of community that I feel among the commenters and over time I hope to feel more comfortable engaging the community more.

    I did not read the removed post, so I have no opinion on how the comment thread played out. However, I do know that as a relative newbie, I have seen how a comment thread can quickly become a thing in itself, losing connection with the original post. The post becomes sidelined by the conversation that develops in the comments. I do not know if this is a good thing or bad, and that may depend on the nature of the OP or the nature of the tangential conversation.

    The comments here to be mostly respectful, but there is an “insider” quality to some of the conversations that doesn’t do much to invite new people in. This is not to say that there is anything negative or “scary” about the conversations, just that it feels easier for some (like me) to observe rather than participate. I do not know that there is anything that can or should be done about this other than for observers like me to try harder to jump in and make our presence known.

    I appreciate the thoughtfulness of this community, and while things may not always be perfect, this is a community of human beings with all the imperfections that come with us.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Maria says:

      Thank you for chiming in, Maria.Report

    • Maribou in reply to Maria says:

      @maria When I’ve seen your comments, I’ve really appreciated them. Including this one.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to Maria says:

      I hope to enjoy more comments like this, @maria , and I invite you to make as many as you wish as often as you wish. Furthermore I thank you for recognizing that we are human and falliable; we do try our best to get good product out there!Report

    • North in reply to Maria says:

      Thank you* Maria, we really appreciate your contributions and would be interested in what you think.

      *Also comment more!Report

    • Dave in reply to Maria says:

      The comments here to be mostly respectful, but there is an “insider” quality to some of the conversations that doesn’t do much to invite new people in. This is not to say that there is anything negative or “scary” about the conversations, just that it feels easier for some (like me) to observe rather than participate. I do not know that there is anything that can or should be done about this other than for observers like me to try harder to jump in and make our presence known.


      I’ve been around since 2009 and I don’t quite feel like I’m with the in-crowd here. Never have.

      Not that there’s anything wrong with it. I tend to think I’m on a completely different wavelength than most of the people here. I don’t say that in a bad way. I guess I’m just the resident meathead. 😉

      They’re all decent people here. The assholes are mostly gone. Well, except me.Report

    • Chip Daniels in reply to Maria says:

      I feel strongly that if I cannot add something significant to the conversation, there is no point in commenting.

      Well, there’s yer problem right there, lady.

      That’s never stopped any of us.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Maria says:

      Do comment more, please. The depth of this comment is a sure indication that you do have something to add, whatever you might currently think. From my own tentative early comments, the regulars will deeply challenge you, forcing you to refine your position and distille it wonderfully. At least that is how it worked for me.Report

  26. dexter says:

    @maria, What Will said. I agree that this site does have a home boy feel, but what you wrote above is certainly good enough for me to wish for more.Report

  27. crash says:

    I am not a regular here but a lurk a lot. My two cents on the removed post:

    I read it and to me it was clearly a personal essay on parenting, moral decisions, etc., and not so much a politics post. I read a few comments and was surprised by their tone. Some of the comments seemed a little angry and if I recall, the word “criminal” was used. I had to go back and re-read parts of the original essay to see what I missed. The essay is down now, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, but I believe that a Trump sign was kicked over? (Not destroyed or stolen?). Yes, it’s a crime (misdemeanor, I assume?). Yes, I agree someone should go apologize, if not daughter on her own, then parent and daughter.

    But I found the comments odd. Not necessarily wrong in content, but way out of proportion. Like if someone wrote a personal essay about all the shitty/illegal things she did when she was an addict, and then people in the comments started yelling at her and lecturing her.

    I also found myself wondering if a similar essay written by a man would have received the same reaction.

    Re: my political history–very boring. My parents are conservative, but didn’t discuss politics much. (They voted reliably R with a few exceptions, I found out later). In high school I would occasionally say something favorable about Reagan, but I was just parroting things my parents said, and I wasn’t putting any thought into it. Not one of my friends in high school ever discussed politics.

    Then in college we had the first Gulf War I, and I started paying attention, and didn’t like what I saw, in Bush Sr. or in my R Senator. I’m sure the student newspaper had some effect. I became liberal pretty quickly. I was reading a lot of history and philosophy, and meeting people different than I was. It’s hard to point to any one thing. Wouldn’t make much of an essay.Report

  28. James says:

    The OT commenters continue to be this site’s biggest strength, and its biggest weakness.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I haven’t commented here (or even clicked over much) since Dave, the “resident meathead” (his words!), deleted a few of my comments in a fit of pique some time ago.

    My crime: having a viewpoint and the vocabulary to express it. I don’t remember what the discussion was about, but Dave not only objected to what I wrote, he also made (unwarranted) comments on my appearance and my sexual prowess. Even after I disengaged and went on my merry way, he was still pinging me with @ responses threatening to delete my comments. And thank god he did. A few more steps and he would have crossed the line from “spirited debate” right into “harassment.”

    I have found my online home elsewhere, and my desire to participate here has pretty much been beaten out of me, so sour grapes may apply.

    But it’s no mystery to me why “Overall readership is declining” or “Substantial new writing is coming in less frequently than in the past even from our regular cadre of authors” or “Guest authors for the most part aren’t sticking around” or that “Toxins brew in our comments threads.”

    This isn’t a place where a random reader goes to find interesting content and discussion, despite Tod, Will, and Burt (in particular) working very hard to make it so.

    This is a place where the same dozen or so “regulars” go to talk among themselves.Report

  29. dexter says:

    @james, If the Dave you are referring to is that teeny weeny. . .er spitfire, then I agree that he is a weak link in this organization and one that I don’t bother to read, I almost left forever when he called me a half crazy liar. But, in any group of thirty or more people there is going to be at least one who rankles and is the least among equals. I still know this site has the best opportunity for different ideas on the web that I have found.
    While I spend most of my time on left leaning blogs I rarely read the comments because echo chambers bore me.Report

    • Dave Regio in reply to dexter says:

      I didn’t start this, but I’m not letting this one sit unanswered…


      Are you talking about this? Please point out where I called you a name, specifically a “half crazy liar”. Go on now. Chop chop.

      The funny thing about that thread is that I was actually making a good faith effort on your behalf. What I got from you in return was a lack of cooperation and a shitty attitude.

      If that made you almost leave forever, that more about your butthurt than it does about me. Thicker skin. Try it sometime.Report

      • Joe Sal in reply to Dave Regio says:

        Ya know, some of the higher ups are preaching politesse, some others are preaching thick skin. I for one am going to ask to choose one, as you don’t have the authority to request both.Report

        • pillsy in reply to Joe Sal says:

          I dunno, sounds a bit like a forum-etiquette variation of Postel’s Law. It sounds good in the abstract: everybody should try to be polite when they write stuff, and try to shrug off rudeness when they read stuff.

          Like many other things that sound good in the abstract, I doubt it would be all that workable in practice.Report

          • Joe Sal in reply to pillsy says:

            I really can’t recall whether it was after the first time Burt officially restated the commenting policy, or after Burts second or third call for civility that Dave was still talking of commenters with heads in their ass.

            I have no problem with Dave doing such things, but if that is the practice, then it is the practice, thick skin and sharp points.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Joe Sal says:

          Dave is a welcome member of our community and contributor to the site, but is not a “higher-up.” We have asked that contributors work harder to get along, and this comment (and thread) were not helpful in that regard though was (like the commenting sequence it linked to) part of a general escalation (tof the sort we are hoping to avoid, going forward, but is always hard to litigate).Report

        • Dave in reply to Joe Sal says:


          You’re right in that I have no authority to request both. In fact, I don’t have any authority at all which suits me just fine.

          It’s not rocket science. When people treat each well, it fosters a more positive environment. When people are assholes to one another, the knives, guns, chains come out and all hell breaks loose.

          As much as I believe that having a thick skin is a pre-requisite for ANY discussions on the internet, I prefer the conversations here when they’re done politely.

          I’m far from the smartest person here, but if there’s one thing that I think I’m good at, and I think it’s pretty evident in the best posts I’ve written here, is that I like to choose subjects and approach them in a way where I can have some control over the tone of the conversation.

          One of my favorite examples is my payday lending post.. @mike-schilling absolutely nailed it in his opening comment.

          As I went back to pull the post, I took a read through the comments section.

          As much as I think this is one of the best posts I’ve ever written, it pales in comparison to the comments. I think the full ideological spectrum may have been in there and we seemed to do ok.

          Even I wasn’t an asshole. See? To know me is to love me 😉Report

      • dexter in reply to Dave Regio says:

        @dave-region, Your idea of the past is so far from reality that for a second “you reminded me of my exgirlfreind and she is half-crazy.”
        What I was trying to get across is that it is possible to hang around here even though there are people you don’t like and think are a detriment to the site. One merely has to ignore them as I will do to you from here on out.Report

    • Burt Likko in reply to dexter says:

      This is a good example of the sort of thing I’d like to see less of. Can I prevail upon y’all to let bygones be bygones here?Report

  30. James Hanley says:

    Tipped off by a friend about this post.

    I’m not surprised by the decline. This was always billed as — and the principles tried sincerely to make it — a place where people of different perspectives could talk. Instead it became a place where liberals dominated and make conservatives and libertarians unwelcome. The problem was not solely in the commentariat. There were regular authors, too, who made non-liberals unwelcome (although just in their comments, not as far as I ever saw behind the scenes).

    I’m skeptical that the site’s goal is achievable long-term. The persistent irritants will stick around and drive out disagreeing voices. It could possibly be done, but only, I think, with a much more aggressive gate-keeping of comments. I should have been told to shut up a lot more often, or had my comments deleted, as should a lot of others.

    But it’s not just about what normally counts as impolite comments. It’s also about persistent low-level attacks. It got to where every time I posted I could reliably predict that one of the first handful of comments would be from a particular other author making a snide joke (the only truly funny thing being that it always revealed his lack of understanding). That kind of persistent hostility wears a person down. He won, whether it was his goal or not, and I left. The liberal voice remained, the libertarian voice left.

    I suspect there’s an on-going winnowing process like that continually happening under the radar screen. Obviously it’s a bit much for an amateur site to have somebody constantly monitoring commentary that closely. But perhaps the authors could make an effort to be more welcoming themselves, to each other as well as to the general commentariat, and collectively monitor both the commentariat and each other more closely.Report

    • Pyre in reply to James Hanley says:

      This. ^^^^

      It pretty much says everything that drove me away (twice) that I was going to say.Report

    • Road Scholar in reply to James Hanley says:

      James Hanley,

      I’m skeptical that the site’s goal is achievable long-term. The persistent irritants will stick around and drive out disagreeing voices.

      I share your skepticism.

      It could possibly be done, but only, I think, with a much more aggressive gate-keeping of comments. I should have been told to shut up a lot more often, or had my comments deleted, as should a lot of others.

      I believe the problem is more fundamental than just a failure to play nice or lack of site moderation. We are what we are — liberals, conservatives, and libertarians — because we hold different values and/or we rank order those values we share differently. I used to believe that liberals and conservatives basically wanted the same outcomes, we just disagreed on how to accomplish those goals. I now see that as naive. Even when it’s facially true the underlying differences in our value systems color our perceptions so that we often can come to no agreement on the basic facts of a situation.

      One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that even when we agree on a desired outcome it’s often for different reasons. For example, when ssm was still a subject of lively debate liberals and libertarians would generally be on the same side over against the conservatives. But libertarians would frame the debate as “freedom to marry” while liberals would tend to speak of “marriage equality”. This would then lead to a different division when libertarians would insist on government getting out of the business of marriage entirely and the liberals would join with the conservatives to maintain that marriage was an important societal institution in which government had an important role to play.

      Freedom vs Equality vs Tradition. These aren’t the kind of differences that can be ironed out in a debating club. Attitudes can shift but rarely through argumentation. That’s why I’ve determined to largely decline to engage in debates here anymore. I content myself instead to the role of observer, trying to suss out the more interesting question to me of why people hold their positions and opinions, how these relate to more fundamental values. Amateur sociology.Report

      • greginak in reply to Road Scholar says:

        I guess it depends on your definition of long term. Nothing of the kind of social discussion club will last for decades without major evaluations and changes. That’s just the nature of the changes in culture and people and fashions and issues of the day. This place has a been a quality place to hang out for a hellava long time especially in Internet years. Oh sure at times it has been far less then most of us have wanted but that is people. The waxing and waning of discussion is a feature not a bug. An often irritation feature but you can’t have the benefits of free discussion without people being a pain in the butt.

        My own participation has been less over the last while but i also lurk pretty much all the threads. Quite a while ago i made it a point to avoid pissy arguments which makes everything better. We also end up going over and over some of the same topics which, at some point, leaves little new to say.Report

    • Damon in reply to James Hanley says:

      Perhaps because I live in a progressive/liberal walled region, where NO ONE supports the right/libertarian side of politics that I’ve developed some tolerance to the “slings and arrows” of the left, and the snarky comments about FYIGM libertarians. Generally, if my associates/friends and I don’t talk about politics we’re good. Otherwise you get “my mom supports Trump, sigh, never thought she could do that”. / “what are you going to do, throw your vote away?” / “I can’t date someone with your political views” / and my favorite “i can’t believe you think like that”.

      I expect that being a political outsider in this area is similar to being a real racist. If you want to vent to someone, you first have to “feel them out” as to their views. Only then can you speak in confidence knowing that you’ll not be ratted for differing from the hivemind.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Damon says:


        Given that you’ve stated in the past that you’re pretty much an anarchist (forgive me if I’ve misinterpreted) I suspect you wouldn’t have a much better time of it where I live, a part of the country that’s about 80%+ Right/Republican. There is no real natural affinity between “center” libertarians (as opposed to those that lean a bit either left or right) and right-wingers. You just notice the areas where you disagree with your colleagues more readily than the points of agreement because that’s just how humans are wired. I find myself liking at least half the stuff Hanley posts/shares on FB but when we disagree it can get brutal.

        And the thing is, I know that both of you are smart people with good intentions but “i can’t believe you think like that” is a real thing that’s a consequence of our different moral intuitions. And that’s just the nature of morals; if your moral intuitions differ from mine then disagreements over relevant issues will lead me to feel that your position is immoral and it’s a short jump from there to believing you to be a “bad” person.Report

        • Damon in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Yes, I’m somewhere between libertarian/anachro-capitalist/anarchist. I find I do get along pretty well with the right–at least a lot of them, as we seem to have a bit in common. But I also grew up in the rural west of Washington. Even Seattle had a libertarian vibe to it (libertarian left) so maybe the rural part had a libertarian right leaning. Hard to say where conservative/libertarian right crosses over when you’re talking about “being left alone by the feds” and farm subsidies 🙂

          ““i can’t believe you think like that” is a real thing that’s a consequence of our different moral intuitions.” While I agree to a point, I also think it’s an outcome from living in an echo chamber. Like my friend who grew up liberal, lives with liberals, and doesn’t know anyone who would support a Republican, much less Trump, who freely admits she doesn’t question her own viewpoints and lives in a self imposed bubble. That’s all fine and dandy, but it ain’t the real world.

          “And that’s just the nature of morals; if your moral intuitions differ from mine then disagreements over relevant issues will lead me to feel that your position is immoral and it’s a short jump from there to believing you to be a “bad” person.” Funny, I’ve never thought that. I certainly would think that someone is wrong, but never that they are immoral for thinking that or that they were “bad”, although I’ve met enough on the left to know that they exist. 🙂 I’m sure they exist on the right…again, I don’t live where real conservatives live.Report

      • Road Scholar in reply to Damon says:

        And by the way, there’s a definite “hivemind” thing among libertarians as well despite your reputation for being akin to cats. I’ve been on the receiving end of that in libertarian fora and, yeah, it’s not fun.Report

        • Damon in reply to Road Scholar says:

          I’m sure there is. It’s just a very very small area. But generally, I don’t visit libertarian websites.Report

        • Joe Sal in reply to Road Scholar says:

          Usually libertarians vector align only around coercion or social constructs. If a truck is about to run over five people, it isn’t hive mind thinking that each sees the truck as something harmful. You get there fine with addition of individual vectors without a social component. This is often were the left attempts to project on the right. It’s not the same.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Road Scholar says:

          “2+2 = 4” is…not “hivemind” thinking.Report

    • Joe Sal in reply to James Hanley says:

      “I suspect there’s an on-going winnowing process like that continually happening under the radar screen.”

      Yeah I think that is a underlying long term strategy as well. I miss you being around.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to James Hanley says:

      Comments here will continue to turn off new users so long as there’s people who figure that it’s OK to be an asshole because someone else was an asshole first.Report

    • Anne in reply to James Hanley says:

      @james-hanley It is really good to see you back even if it is temporary. I for one greatly miss your input here … and most consider me a liberal 🙂Report

  31. Michael Drew says:

    My experience here is that this place, meaning the nature of the commentary, the group involved in them, and the vitality of the discussion taking place among OPs, all move in cycles. Quality and harmony go up and down, as different people come in and out and various reinforcing or cancelling patterns provide alternatively great interest.

    Lately the waves do seem to be a bit more choppy than smooth to me. Things have not seemed to me to be particularly unpleasant in comments (and I hardly comment anymore, hey what a coincidence!), but at the same time things have seemed kind of… flat. But then we had this recent incident, and it wasn’t good. I’m not sure exactly what’s going on, but I do have a theory.

    I want to suggest a possibility that would be a little bit sad but that we shouldn’t rend garments over: it’s possible this amazing endeavor has kind of run its course. Had its best days, at least by our old way of looking at this place. What have you. I’m not saying it’s the case: there is every reason to endure to see if positive wave dynamics develop again. (I think we do need to inject a bit more energy for that to happen, but I think that’s worth doing.) But it’s also possible that the new equilibrium energy level here just is not going to be what it was in 2009, ’10, ’11, ’12. A lot of people have move on entirely; others have had families, gotten more important jobs, etc., etc. Those early days also pre-dated widespread adoption of Twitter as a high-speed, high-volume matrix for idea-hashing-out. Functionally a lot of what would used to have been debates in comments have migrated there (to Mike Schilling’s chagrin? Or not?)

    Friends, there would be nothing tragic if we identified the era of 2009-201? as a Golden Age for LoOG/OT community participation and just decided to declare it past, and put a bow on it. We could seek to define OT *proper* (2014/5ish-202?) as something a little bit different – little bit more like a curated publication on culture and politics. One that doesn’t define itself so heavily through comments and lively participation. We wouldn’t stop comments at all, and if the old days revived themselves, great! But we could adjust our expectations and even our hopes, and give our busy selves a bit of a break. Focus on publishing quality material, and hope that fosters quality, even if more limited, discussion.

    Which, it seemed to me, was exactly the direction Our Tod, Emeritus, sought to take us in. I fought it (internally, I don’t think I actually resisted) because I was attached to the Old Days. I think Tod made the move maybe a year early.

    Well, now, I for one am there. I do see the problem that Burt is concerned about. I’m not exactly sure how to confront the general problem of deteriorating internet civility norms. I don’t know how to solve our ongoing problem with recruiting and retaining women contributors and participants. But I do sense that the nature of the site may have to change as both the landscape of the internet and our own lives have changed.

    And that is my two cents.Report

    • Francis in reply to Michael Drew says:

      “The longest and most destructive party ever held is now into its fourth generation and still no one shows any signs of leaving. Somebody did once look at his watch, but that was eleven years ago now, and there has been no follow up.” (Douglas Adams)

      Mr Adams exaggerated a little. Of course people left (or died) or the party would have become unimaginably large, and broken into sub-parties.

      But he had essence spot on. We are in a never-ending cocktail party. Sometimes it’s vicious and sometimes it’s funny. Occasionally it’s even interesting. Friendships form, transition to real life, or fade. Some people get bored and leave; others check out for a while then come back. It’s a lot like life.

      For my own part, I will continue to try to comment in accordance with Burt’s list of virtues, posted above on 8/17 at 4:58.Report

      • Michael Drew in reply to Francis says:

        Wasn’t Adams suggesting that sometimes it’s time to follow through and call one party over, send the guests home to rest up a bit, and get started planning the next party, to start ASAP?Report

        • Chris in reply to Michael Drew says:

          “One of the problems, and it’s one which is obviously going to get worse, is that all the people at the party are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn’t leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both.

          Either way, it means that, genetically speaking, each succeeding generation is now less likely to leave than the preceding one.”Report