General Amnesty, Corporal Punishment, Private Parts

It’s a funny thing having a blog, especially a political one. Lots of people seem to think it’s an ego thing, that one somehow gets one’s jollies by sharing one’s opinions with the world. But the truth of the matter is that for every shared opinion, there are a hundred opposing ones, most of them confrontational and belittling. So this is clearly not the best medium for shoring up one’s ego. No, I think most bloggers do it to help refine their positions on matters. When the debate is civilized, it goes well. When it isn’t, it goes poorly indeed.

The problem is that no one can agree on what “civilized” means.

Since I started this space over 10 years ago, I’ve been called: sexist, racist, homophobe, neocon, terrorist, feminist, theocrat, technocrat, imperialist, communist, libertarian, socialist, oppressor, victim, fool, idiot, Muslim-lover, Muslim-hater, pseudo-scientist, anti-Christian, conservative!, allopathic chauvinist and –my personal favourite– “just another Indian writer”.

Clearly, I can’t be all of those things, since several are polar opposites of others on the list. So either I’m not writing clearly enough or there are a lot of people out there who really can’t read as well as they think they can. I’m willing to accept the possibility of the former, but that would make my publishers, editors, book reviewers, funders and award-granters all morons– and they all can’t be morons, can they?

So I think what’s happening is that some visitors come here all hot and bothered about a topic, just looking for a fight; they skim the content and seize upon a word or phrase to the exclusion of the rest of the post, and that becomes the issue they will grip unto death. That, to me, is indicative of poor reading skills. I’m not sure what to do with such people. In the past, I’ve been deferential and polite, but have universally been responded to with more bile.

Another common occurrence is when a visitor fresh from his very first political science class, armed with new concepts like “the rational model”, epistemology, game theory and cultural relativism, somehow convinces himself that he is master of such matters and –more to the point– that others (i.e., me and others who post here) have never heard of such things before. (Where could we possible have learned such things? Gasp! It’s not like we went to, you know, school, or someplace like that.) Or they generously and professorially send me to the writings of Tom Friedman or Thomas Sowell, assuming that I, the dumb hick scientist that I must be, have never heard of these fellows before.

But what is most annoying are the ones who can’t even sustain their own internal logics. They argue one side in one comment, then the other side in another comment, seemingly gauging their positions solely as the exact opposite to whatever position they assume I’m taking.

I frequently have exchanges here with Matt Vadum. It may surprise some of you to know that Matt and I are actually good friends, despite the yawning chasm between our political poles. I respect Matt because his positions are consistent, though in my opinion somewhat dogmatic and sometimes approaching bigoted. (I’m sure he feels the same way about my opinions, and that’s okay.) Matt, at least, can write very well, so I usually have no trouble understanding what his objection is or what he’s trying to say.

Which brings me to my point(s): I will no longer make any special kind of effort to understand what commenters write. I’m a very busy man. If I need to build a translation matrix to figure out what you’re trying to say, I will ignore you or maybe even belittle you, because frankly you deserve it. Moreover, and more importantly, any comment than is in the least bit disrespectful will immediately be placed in the “must be belittled” pile, and will have a very hard time extracting itself.

So that is my convenant to you, as it has always been for this site’s decade-plus of existence: if your comment is respectful, even if your take on a topic is the exact opposite to mine, you will receive respect back from me. Deviate and you will be treated appropriately. And remember, I reserve the right to ignore, mock, ban, deny –and even to edit– all comments posted here.

So, what constitutes respect?

Something seems to happen when people get online and adopt anonymous or fake identities: they become assholes. You know who I am; I’ve got nothing to hide.

(1) So if you are posting under a fake name with no email address or URL, I will already be predisposed to not take you seriously. Anonymity is certainly allowed here, but I am much less inclined to take such individuals seriously.

(2) If your opening post contains a phrase resembling something to the effect that, “I could easily disprove everything you’ve said, but I don’t have the time right now”, then you are a disrespectful idiot and I will treat you as such.

(3) If you react with a ridiculous amount of hyperbole, then I am inclined to think that you are a troll with very little to offer. You will treated as such until you prove otherwise.

(4) If you post something racist, sexist or homophobic, you will be mocked, ignored, banned. What is racist, you ask? Attributing to an entire race, culture or civilization the negative characteristics observed in a few.

I was recently taken to task for referring to “the Muslim street” in the context of predictable violence. I still challenge whether this is a racist statement, but I nonetheless issued a change of text in the comments section, because I’m nice like that, and it is always better to err on the side of clarity. However, anyone who suggests that Muslims (not terrorists, mind you, but ordinary everyday Muslims who might be offended by something in a newspaper) are fundamentalists incapable of critical thought are rightfully branded as racist scum…. until they issue a clarification or correction. So far, every person thus branded here has failed to issue any such clarification, so I must conclude that those sentiments honestly reflect their minds on this matter.

(5) If you start calling me or anyone else on this site names, then you will be mocked into stillness. I reserve the right to start calling you names if you qualify under posits (1) through (4) above.

(6) If you keep making the same point again and again, after I or someone else has already responded to it, you will be ignored.

(7) This one is problematic. Many times, someone will post here with what they see as a revelation, not realizing that we’ve already discussed it to death on a previous day. Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect newcomers to know the tone and covered topics on their very first visit here. And yet that is what I’m going to require of them. The same rules apply in most internet discussion fora: you are responsible for educating yourself about the history of this site. It’s your burden, not mine.

(8) On a related note: assume the best. Want to ask an innocent question? Go ahead; curiosity will never be punished. But when you post an opinion here, assume that I and the other readers are well informed and educated, because most of us are. We’ve most of us already read Friedman, Sowell, Said, Margolis, Coulter, Sullivan, Fisk, Hansen, Steyn, Yglesias, Tomorrow, Reese and the rest.

(9) Lastly, threats of physical violence will receive a hearty belly laugh from me, and, if you’re in the same city, a sound ass-kicking. Trust me on that.

In a heated environment, the written word is a slippery tool. Without care with respect to word choices and context, simple confrontationalism can be misinterpreted as belligerence. So I submit that it is entirely possible that I have misread the intentions of some previous posters, and have unfairly relegated them to the category of belligerent trolls (hence worthy of belittling) when in fact they had arrived in all ingenuousness. I accept some responsibility for this, but also wish to make clear that is incumbent upon each of us to write as clearly as we can to avoid such misinterpretations; it’s not my job to teach you how to write. I’m not speaking about anyone in particular here, just stating a broad possibility.

Having said all that, this is what I am now offering: a general amnesty for all who have, for whatever reason, entered into a confrontational relationship with me here. If you’re interested in starting afresh, you are welcome to do so and I will pretend that you are a brand new person with no history or baggage with me.

But be warned. Cross me on any of the points above, and we’ll be right back where we started.