1. When I am forced to be away from Ethics Alarms for a long time, as was the case yesterday, it often renews my musings about whether I respond too much to reader comments. Everyone generally does just fine when I’m silent, and sometimes I find that fascinating and unexpected new topics have not only sprung from whatever ethics fertilizer I left behind, but have grown and flourished like bamboo.
Unfortunately, I have also noticed that there have been a lot ( as in “too many”) of extended arguments between commenters that not only extend beyond reasonable limits, but also explode into personal attacks. I admit that Ethics Alarms is, for a moderated blog, unusually tolerant of this phenomenon. One reason for that is that sometimes such epic confrontations are both entertaining and enlightening, as when liberal commenter and Ethics Alarms immortal tgt and uber-conservative commenter Steven J. Pilling engaged in the Ethics Alarms equivalent of the Lincoln Douglas debates, only occasionally snapping and calling each other names.
However, while the occasional emotional outbursts are excusable, they should be rare. Reprimanding a commenter for commenting style and habits is certainly fair, but doing it repeatedly is boring; and I want to remind everyone that while it is often frustrating, allowing someone to have the last word is not capitulation, especially when that last word is not particularly persuasive.
We also owe ourselves and everyone else self-awareness. When a commenter finds himself or herself repeatedly embroiled in long, heated exchanges, that commenter should consider the possibility that he or she is the problem.
The general principle is that we should strive to have all comments contain substance that advances the discussion. “You’re an asshole” is occasionally justified (when a comment has objectively revealed a commenter to be an asshole, and even then is not mandatory), but rarely.
2. When President Trump issued his trolling tweet about James Comey and the possibility that there were “tapes” of their conversations, I wrote that it was the President’s dumbest tweet to date. (I think he has made worse ones since, but at this point any tweet by the President is evidence of crippling stubbornness, impulsiveness and bad judgment). I did not think that what was obviously a bluff without substance would still be considered a headline-worthy issue many weeks later. Continue reading