It doesn’t really matter what post generated this Comment of the Day (it was the one about Melissa Harris-Perry’s second try at apologizing for inciting her guests to treat Mitt Romney’s adopted black grandchild as the human equivalent of spinach on a fashion model’s front teeth—further ethics developments: Mitt Romney was as gracious as one can be yesterday while accepting Harris-Perry’s mea culpa, and the clueless Alex Baldwin griped that she kept her MSNBC job by playing the weepy girl card, while he was sacked after his umpteenth public meltdown over a paparazzi), because it is off-topic. Ampersand, a.k.a. Barry Deutsch, and I have been fencing about the proper level of invective that should be permitted on blogs like Ethics Alarms and his blog, Alas!.
I take the topic very seriously, as does Barry, because we are both trying to build and maintain an enlightened and diverse community of serious readers and participants in ongoing discussion of serious topics. Barry’s blog is an ideological one; Ethics Alarms, despite being alternatively called on the carpet for being tilting either conservative or liberal, is not. Beyond question, from Barry’s own position on the ideological spectrum, this blog is well to his right. This particular exchange was prompted by complaints by some commenters that my moderation is too loose, that I should censor particular words or eject commenters here who engage in harsh personal denigration. I remain in flux on this problem.
It is true that I have moderated my moderation in recent months, though not as much as some people think. I still bar some commenters, and frequently refuse to accept comments that are nothing but name-calling, as well as those which are objectively moronic. But it is true that regular contributors here who have demonstrated serious intent and valid commentary acquire the privilege of going off the rails, civilly speaking, from time to time. I wish they wouldn’t do it, but despite my belief that civility is critical to societal harmony and professional conduct, I am persuaded that routinely filtering out the passion expressed by vulgarity (and worse) may go too far. I have also been influenced by the recent escalation of political correctness, especially in the media, epitomized when a CNN host announce that the verb “target” was no longer considered appropriate on TV—a threat, don’t you know.
Another factor in my thinking was Popular Science’s decision in September to ban online comments to its articles, rooted in its conclusion that research had proven that aggressively worded contrary opinions could be psychologically persuasive, and were thus “bad for science.” I don’t like the looks of that slippery slope at all.
I explained my evolving thoughts on the issue in the earlier replies to Barry and Beth, a commenter here and a personal friend, who has been the target of some of the least civil attacks. I wrote in part… Continue reading