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I have decided to create an alternative comment section, for the purpose of creating an environment where people can discuss matters in the way that they might discuss them in my living room.
Over the years, there has always been an undercurrent of discontent among some commenters with the tone of the comments section. The bottom line is: some people like a more rough and tumble and environment, and others prefer a more polite and respectful tone. I have always leaned towards allowing a certain amount of aggression, while trying to encourage a respectful atmosphere.
But for a while I have contemplated the idea of setting aside a separate comments section for those who want to discuss and debate with an absolute minimum of personal rancor and a maximum of respect. The problem was: I was stymied by the logistics of how to create such an area, how to police it, and so forth.
Recently someone reminded me that I have this other moribund blog called The Jury Talks Back. There have been no posts there since 2011. It was originally designed as a place where many commenters could write their own posts. But it fell into disuse, and nobody has posted there since 2011.
So yesterday I thought: why not run a parallel blog there, with the same posts I have here, but an explicitly different ethic? One that emphasizes civility and honest debate?
I ran a little experiment yesterday with a few commenters who I thought might enjoy such an experience. The posts from yesterday were cross-posted there, and a handful of people discussed them. DRJ was there. Machinist was there! I liked the way it worked. The main problem was that there were not enough people. I want more.
I have trashed the posts there from yesterday so we can have a fresh start today, with the involvement of anyone who wants to be involved and can follow the rules. This is something I am going to continue it for a while. I hope for a long time.
Here’s how it’s going to work. Every post I write will be cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back. I’m going to try to get the guest bloggers to do the same, although there may be some logistics involved with that. I will include a link to the Jury version of the post at the end of the post.
It’s a public blog. For right now, everyone is invited, but the guidelines for posting are different.
The basic rule is this: imagine that you have been invited to my house as a guest. You and the other guests are sitting around a living room engaged in a lively and spirited political discussion in which everyone might not agree, but everyone treats everyone else with complete respect.
Before you post, make sure your comment has the same sort of tone it would have if you were saying it in my living room.
That’s pretty much the basic idea. Here are some further thoughts I have that may help illustrate what I am going for:
- In my living room, people would not mischaracterize other people’s positions. If A characterized B’s position, it would be with great trepidation. A would be very concerned to make sure B agreed with A’s characterization. Strawman arguments would almost never occur. “So you’re telling me your view is” followed by something that sounds ridiculous is not something anyone would ever say.
- In my living room, people might disagree, but they would always do so in a manner that showed respect for the other person.
- In my living room, if two people disagreed, they would actually address the points made by the other person. There would be no filibustering while ignoring the points made by another person.
- In my living room, there would be an adult level of discourse. Words like “slut” or “piggy” or “retard” or “stinkypig” would not be uttered. It would never occur to anyone to even try.
These are not exhaustive requirements, just illustrations.
I realize that there will inevitably be two related criticisms: that I am creating a “safe space” or that I am trying to exclude pro-Trump commentary there.
Let me address the latter criticism first. I speak for myself and I know I speak for other when I say that I want this to be a place where people can actually discuss different views. A polite echo chamber is boring.
But it takes real effort to disagree without being disagreeable, especially on the Internet, where there is no way to hear tone of voice and where misunderstandings cannot necessarily be corrected instantly. So bring your pro-Trump arguments, but bring an extra measure of civility with them, and I expect anti-Trump arguments to be made in the same spirit.
As for the “safe space” argument, I understand that concern. But here’s the thing. Once again, this is not a place to avoid debate. It’s a place to avoid rancor. To me, “safe spaces” are bad because they imply escape from points of view that are too uncomfortable. That is not the purpose of The Jury Talks Back. The purpose is to have discussions about uncomfortable topics in a very respectful and honest manner.
At one point I would have been very nervous about starting something like this, because I would be worried that all the civil commenters would abandon the main platform, with bad consequences for the main platform. It’s not impossible, but yesterday I noticed civil commentary on both boards, with many commenters participating in both parallel threads. And I think this experiment will bring some people back to commenting that may be put off by the tone of the main comment threads.
The point is, you have a choice. You think this is a stupid idea? You don’t want to participate? Then don’t participate. It’s the simplest solution in the world. The bottom line is: this is my blog, and this is something I want to do, so I’m going to do it. If you don’t like comment boards with a “living room” ethic, don’t go to the Jury comment threads. If you can’t abide a blog that even contains such an option, then leave. America still has freedom of choice! Ain’t it great?
As for the physical layout of the Jury blog: it’s not an ideal space. The comments look a little different, as the template has not been updated in years. Recent comments don’t work, although I am trying to contact Admin Guy to see if it is possible to make it work.
Anyone can participate, but I am going to be brutal about enforcing the norms. Brutal. I’m starting this on a Sunday so I can be active in monitoring it on the first day. If I think your comment is not in the spirit of The Jury Talks Back, I’ll just delete it outright. If there is whining about it, I’ll recommend that you simply return to the main comments section.
Another word of warning: I don’t know of a way of moderating people on one blog but not another. So if you venture to the Jury, and you can’t behave there, and it becomes a repeated problem, I may have no choice but to ban or moderate you from both blogs — even if your commentary is the sort of thing that would normally be accepted here.
I hope this is something that people try, even if just for the novelty of a comment board on the Internet with smart and interesting people who are bound and determined to discuss things in a civil manner.