The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

How to Comment Productively

Recently I changed this blog’s comments to be reviewed and approved before posting, because too many comments were, well, bad comments.

In particular, many of the comments were attacking other commenters, not other commenters’ arguments. Others still were simply racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive.

I had been reluctant to place comments under moderation both because I didn’t want the extra work and because I believe that sometimes calling evil, evil is required; that swearing is not always bad, and; that it is helpful for people to see the trogdolytes.

I still believe these things (and am still lazy) but the problem was moderation: There was simply too much insulting and too much racism and so on.

So, since I’ve put on comment moderation, almost all comments have been clean and approved. The few exceptions were marginal. Granted, there are no new threads yet on topics people get excited about, so we’ll see. But I’m guessing most people understand how to be polite.

That said, let’s run through how to comment productively.

First: no ad-hominem attacks. That means addressing the commenter’s, or poster’s argument, not their character. “I believe that red is not the best color,” rather than “Any fool knows blue is the best color,” or “Only a depraved ^!#%#$# would say red is the best color.”

I understand this can be difficult at times, because a commenter may say something truly vile or stupid like, “the Holocaust didn’t happen,” or compare a race to animals, or whatever. However that won’t be happening now because such comments will not be approved.

Of course a poster may say something you think is evil, or may themselves engage in some ad-homs (I have not been shy about calling various people evil in posts). This may seem unfair and probably is. You will simply have to suck it up and deal with the argument. So, instead of “Ian is scum for calling the Iraq war/Iraq/Putin/Obama/Bush/Trump/Clinton/My Cat (or whatever) evil,” try “Ian is wrong about Iraq being evil because by gosh, it has made the Middle East objectively a better place as measured by (damned if I know).” If doing it this way is unbearable, well, there are other blogs. You are not required to read this one.

Second: No racism, sexism, etc… I’ve put up with some of this, maybe too much of it, because I believed that it was useful for readers to see people make the arguments. But now that I am pre-approving comments, I will be very reluctant to allow it. Commenters might be able to get it in by using racist or other objectionable comments as launching points for rebuttals and so on.

There is a gray area here, when it comes to actual differences between the genders and ethnic groups. Obviously there are some. Let me suggest it should not be suggested that any race or gender is innately bad. Blacks are not arrested more than whites in America because they are innately criminal, and so on.

There are going to be some marginal cases here, and I’ll just have to judge them. There will be no appeal, because I do not have time to get into finely-parsed arguments with commenters. I may well make the wrong choice in either direction, especially if I decide an argument I think dubious needs some air time so that it can be seen, and hopefully rebutted. How much of that I allow will depend as much on how other commenters deal with it as anything else.

I don’t want this blog’s comments to turn into a place where it is impossible to note, say, that there are biological differences between men or women. I also don’t want it to be a cesspit or sexism and racism.

Third: Swearing.

Yeah, I’ve been known to swear myself in blog posts. The old progressive blog argument was that civility was bullshit, people were suffering and dying and angry people, who should be angry, were being censored out of the conversation because they spoke and wrote like angry people, when anger was entirely appropriate.

So. Limited, for effect, and not directed at other commenters. There will, again, have to be judgment calls here. I will make them, they will not be up for appeal, for time reasons. If you use invective, you will be risking your comment. Up to you if you want to take that chance.

Concluding Remarks

I am saddened it has come to this, but it has. Let’s make it work, though. It really shouldn’t be hard. The basic rule is: “Would I say this to the face of a guy I know could whup my ass in real life.” If the answer is no, don’t say it.

I have many, very good commenters. I value your comments. Let’s make the comment threads something people want to read, not something they flee.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


Comment Moderation Is Now ON


How to Be Happy in Bad Times


  1. S Brennan

    All of it well said Ian…but of course, my fave part…”The basic rule is “would I say this to the face of a guy I know could wup my ass in real life.” If the answer is no, don’t say it.”

    I’d add, if you haven’t had your ass kicked, you might not get the point.

  2. Covergirl

    I’m behind you 100 f*cking percent. Since you’re taking on more work, I’ll send you more cash. Well worth it to not suffer the usual bashing from the regulars.

    You don’t seems to get a lot of drive-by trolls. Too intellectual?

  3. Willy

    My very first comment here was about how Hillary’s help had reportedly, mostly respected and liked her.

    Was this a sign of slick willy’s skillset rubbing off onto her? Is she well-intentioned and reasonably agreeable, but also an out-of-touch neoliberal technocrat, typical in DC? Is she a sociopathic power hungry con-artist who’s expert at the care and feeding of her minions?

    I never found out. I got slammed as an idiot after that very first comment, and was never asked for clarification.

  4. different clue

    The rules seem reasonable. If it is decided that it would take less time and work in the long run to make moderation a permanent safeguard here rather than take a chance on de-moderating in two-three weeks, seeing quality re-decay and then having to do the work of re-moderating to restore quality all over again; then making moderation permanent might be the reasonable thing to do.

  5. Hugh

    I draw the line at my cat, –who is sleeping on some of my clothes as I write.

  6. Webstir

    ” I usually don’t have the time to hang around waiting for replies. But I’d like to have more conversations, so I’ll be extra-diligent while I watch the watchman.”

    Get yourself an RSS reader. They make the whole blog experience a lot more enjoyable.

  7. V. Arnold

    My 2 cents worth; print my comments unedited or not at all.
    I’ll not be treated like a child here, or anywhere else.

  8. realitychecker

    @ Emma

    I directed a comment to you, seeking to make peace, and now I don’t see it at all, Maybe it will re-appear.

    I apologized to you for our friction over matriarchies a few weeks ago, and complimented you for your intelligence and thoughtfulness, and said I had no problem with you personally.

    I hope we can go forward in good faith and good spirit. And I extend the same sentiment to any others with whom I have had friction in the past.

  9. Yes, very necessary. Most of the papers over here (UK) have discontinued their blogs because so much trash was posted, and it gets boring to have to sift through it all to find constructive comments or interesting perspectives.

    I suspect most commentators assumed you were reading their comments anyway! If you want them to listen to you it is only polite to listen to them. Sorry about the extra work, but it might give you new ideas as well.

  10. Ian Welsh

    Agreed. I should either approve comments or not approve them. I won’t edit them in the future, that is clearly a mistake. I’ve gone back and deleted a variety of comments related the feud which led to this decision to moderation.

    For people to learn from edits, I’dl have to engage with them showing both versions, explaining why, etc… and I simply don’t have time to give that sort of individualized attention.

    A pity, since many comments have good points and are only offensive in a single sentence or word, but it is at it is.

    Any further comments related to the feud will be deleted unless they are simple apologies.

  11. someofparts

    “Since you’re taking on more work, I’ll send you more cash.”

    Good idea.
    I’m out of work, but I can still send a little something.

  12. Willy

    I find it interesting that two otherwise evenly matched intelligent rational people can disagree so much that the conversation degrades into namecalling. Not just here, but in such extremes as we see in the left-right divide. What’s up with that? Shouldn’t two intelligent rationals always (eventually) come to the exact same conclusion?

  13. Covergirl


    No. Rational thought only applies to rational constructs which are far more rare than we’re led to believe. And no human anywhere, ever, has been rational. At best we can present our emotional reactions with rationales that appeal to us. But we should guard against our own convictions to the same extent we guard against others.

    Too, since all of our individual perceptions represent an aggregate of our experience, there’s no basis for assuming that perspectives of a putatively objective event correlate.

  14. Mel

    “people can disagree so much that the conversation degrades into namecalling”

    That’s John Michael Greer’s topic this week. See:

    I always forget what those angle brackets do.

  15. realitychecker

    @ Willy

    I do believe it comes down to good faith more than anything else. Folks get angry when good faith seems to be lacking. It would be irrational, IMO, to get angry just because someone else holds a different viewpoint in good faith. That would only mean that someone made a mistake or needs to know more information, at worst, or maybe just that they honestly have a different legitimate interest, and not that they are trying to be obnoxious or passive-aggressive.

    In deference to Ian and what he is trying to do, I offer my hand and the opportunity for a fresh start, in good faith, to you and anybody else who feels they have ever had an issue with me. And I mean everybody.

    We’d all have a lot more fun and edification with each other if we could reasonably impute good faith to each other. Without assuming good faith, the breakdowns we all see in every online venue are kind of inevitable. And they suck, don’t they?

    I think we all want to live in a reasonable world where everybody gets treated fairly. Maybe we can start from there.

  16. Bandarkat

    Delurking to throw my 2 cents in… Sorry it’s come to this as well, Ian but hopefully something good will come of it. The comments section has been slowly devolving into a sewer the last few years and I noted for the first time the other day that I quite unconsciously have only been reading your posts and skipping the comments entirely for at least the last few months which is usually for me the prelude to dropping a blog entirely in short order. It’s too bad because for a long time, the comments here were just as interesting and thought provoking as your posts. But the great analysis that used to take place in the comments has fallen by the wayside and been replaced with a lot of pedantic posturing, sanctimony, finger-pointing and backbiting…useless, all of it utterly useless. I understand that a lot of us are living through some of the toughest times in our lifetimes but what made this blog stand out was your ability to keep your wits about you and provide good analysis regardless of what you personally may have been experiencing (and I know you’ve seen plenty of tough times yourself). I would strongly encourage your more accomplished and articulate commenters to learn from your example and cut the crap with the Sturm und Drang tout suite.
    Thanks and good luck with this.

  17. nihil obstet

    Shouldn’t two intelligent rationals always (eventually) come to the exact same conclusion?

    No. We have different values and want different things. One of the problems I’ve seen in arguments here is the belief on one or both participants’ sides that if you continue to disagree with me there’s something wrong with you — you’re stupid, or a lazy thinker, or a liar, or whatever. Rationality is an instrument, but the argument is usually about values. Expecting reason to solve things is like expecting your thermostat to set the right temperature for you who are comfortable at 72 degrees and at the same time for me who am comfortable at 76 degrees. Reason can keep you from maintaining 112 degrees in a human environment, but can’t clinch the conclusion.

  18. someofparts

    Webstir – Thanks for the tip on RSS feeds.

    Willy (and Ian too) – as to rational people coming to consensus, you might find this post by JMGreer interesting. He has a good insight into how our public conversations have become so polarized.

  19. Willy

    I learned a while ago that people are each wired differently for survival. Throw in a few traumatic personal experiences and we start getting the impulse to project what works for us onto all of society. Then things like feeling powerless and other personal stress intensifies the need for closure, and we can have a mess.

    I was a big Spock fan until somebody told me that a ship full of Vulcans in some deadly situation, only ever trying to be all rational and by the book, might get destroyed in spite of all that without Captain Kirk’s ‘let’s just do whatever the hell it takes to get our asses outta here’ attitude. So I guess there’s that.

    I’m not always all that rational, but enough to know that after all the battles, with consensus finally achieved, we’d then need to figure out how to present that consensus to regular Joes and Jills who might not even care about what rationality means. And there’s a lot of them out there.

  20. Willy

    Like you, I believe in busting up the corporate-government money cabal. I can see how Trump is pretty iconoclastic. But I’m not convinced that this isn’t by design, that he isn’t just another opportunist who saw his chance, and has taken it at our expense. I base this partly on his past behaviors, and probably, of course, partly from my own traumatic personal experience from con artist types. I’m open to the possibility that I’m mis-identifying. IMO, it’s safer and easier to support principles instead of personalities, what they do instead of what they say. Discussing this is a good thing. And sometimes, repeating oneself is neccessary.

  21. realitychecker

    @ Willy

    I don’t have great response to that. I’ll just say, I think we are encouraged in this society to have too much of a habit to go by our superficial impression of people’s personality, and not enough focus on what the effects of their behavior might prove to be.

    That tends to put the advantage on the side of the con-artist, IMO.

  22. marku52

    Thanks. I also had pretty much given up on the comments because of all the back and forth ad-homs.

  23. Found this, Twelve Ways To Spot A Bot, wandering about this morning. Too good not to share.

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