Chacun à son goût
One is here, by conservative blogger Pamela Hart, several of whose recent comment threads have become engulfed in name-calling and acrimony because she allowed liberal commenters to express their views there and some of her more hard-line right-wing regulars objected. Her current thread is to discuss this problem and to re-assert the more civil standards she insists on.
The other is here, already linked briefly yesterday, by liberal blogger Truth 101, who had been accused of over-use of insults and ridicule to attack right-wingers. He came under some fire from the left as well, for "giving other liberals a bad name". This was not mainly because of any comments he had written elsewhere, but because of things he'd written on his own blog, some of which a couple of rightists had copied and cited out of context elsewhere.
My take is this: Different people have different ways of expressing themselves. Not everyone can be or wants to be genteel, and not everyone is comfortable with an atmosphere of brawling and profanity. There's room on the internet for a wide range of styles and tones and ways of expressing oneself. And the only way that can work is if every blogger is able to set the tone they choose for their own blog and make it stick.
Some people are brawlers by nature and like a free-for-all. If they run their own comment sections that way, it's not a problem. If they go to another blog that has different standards and behave that way, it is a problem.
I get hateful and insulting comments on this blog every so often. Readers don't see them because of the comment moderation, but I do. If I were so thin-skinned that I let that kind of thing bother me, I'd have dropped out of the blogosphere years ago. I don't let such comments bother me, but I don't let them appear either, because that's not the kind of conversation I want to see here. I don't like it, but I just can't see getting terribly worked up about it.
And as for off-topic comments -- I call this "change-the-subject trolling" -- some people simply have an agenda of their own and will hijack any thread they can, anywhere, and try to turn it to a discussion of their own obsessions. This is hardly different from commercial spam and should be treated as such.
But all that is just how I do it. Pamela Hart and Truth 101 and all other bloggers have an absolute right to set their own standards on their own blogs, whether anybody else likes it or not. Any commenter who doesn't want to abide by a blog's standards, or is offended by its rhetorical style, is free to go read (and comment on) something else they find more congenial. Yes, Truth 101 sometimes uses more colorful language than I would, but again, I can't see getting terribly worked up over it. That's his style. The one thing we absolutely don't need is somebody declaring what the limits of correct forms of political expression should be and then running all over the internet trying to control everybody whose rhetorical style doesn't conform to what he has decided is appropriate.
As for efforts such as Pamela's to conduct a civil debate between the left and right, I find them admirable, but am convinced they can only succeed where there is a very firm hand to enforce that civility. There are some people on both sides who can debate politely and there are some who can't. For that matter, there are extremists on both sides who frankly don't deserve politeness or respect, from anyone.
It's in the nature of extremists that they don't just hate the other side. Even more, perhaps, they hate the people on their own side who aren't quite as ready to hate the other side. I see examples of this all over the place.
And it's to be expected that the arguments will sometimes get heated. The differences between the left and the right are real, and they matter. If you support gay marriage, strict church-state separation, and a broad social safety net (as I do), then the people who oppose those things are a force which has to be converted (unlikely) or defeated. There's no way around that.
The blogosphere should and will continue to be just what it is. Everyone will continue to do it their own way, and there will continue to be people who object to how other people do it. Everyone will have his or her own standards, and will be able to enforce those standards (fortunately) on his or her own blog, but (even more fortunately) not on anyone else's.