Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Be Decent To Each Other On My Blog, Please ...

When I announced my new blog to friends I made the throw away comment "In the past week or so my wife has started a new blog after several years, one person has told me to start a new blog, one person has asked if I have a blog still in use, and one person as written a poem urging me not to start a new blog."

So naturally someone wanted to see the poem.  Well ... OK, but it involves some back story and a point that's worth making anyway.  My friend, Jon Cogburn is (still) a professional philosopher, with a blog entitled "Jon Cogburn's Blog" (couldn't go for the pretentious title, could you, you unpretentious bastard).  Over the last few months he has chronicled and theorized about the demise of a Philosophy blog (from Australia I think), called the Philosophy Metametablog here, and here.  The story is complex, and I didn't witness it first hand, but the gist is that fights between sexists and Feminists, and really dumb comments and people over-reacting to them, and trollery of many forms, became slowly more and more common.  There was a lot of good material too, but it started getting drowned out.  As Cogburn says "Philosophers, plainly, have many things they want to say.  Some of the things they want to say are funny or insightful (many are neither).  There is also a large and interested audience.  In it's final week, the Philosophy Metametablog received over 2,500 unique visitors a day."

Importantly, both the problems and the appeal of the nearly unmoderated Philosophy Metametablog forums, was with the adults and professionals, as well as with the less mature brohumor college frosh, or the bright-bored teens.  The key professional philosophy sites on the web such as the Daily Nous, or Leiter Report are moderated with an extremely tight hand, where even polite discussion that question or evade the prevailing orthodoxies of philosophy are shut down.  I'm not even qualified to discuss the huge mess of Brian Leiter trying to sue many other professional philosophers for defamation whenever disagree with him on the internet, but a beginning point to that on-going debacle is here.  The thing is the moderators of the Philosophy Metametablog, who explained why they were giving up in the face of internet assholery, rather than revising policy and soldiering on, say that they had extensive sockpuppetry, probably from professionals.  Let me quote:

"2. Sockpuppetry was rampant, which we know because we tracked IP addresses. (Contrary to speculation, the Blogger platform can be modified to accommodate this.) Some commentators would post incendiary (mean-spirited, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, transmisogynistic) remarks about Philosopher X, only to reply in the next comment with a spirited defense of Philosopher X. Comments of this sort often originated from the home institution or city of Philosopher X."

What kind of an ego does it take to make a sockpuppet so you can pseudonymously slag yourself off, so that you can then pseudonymously give yourself a spirited defense?  The kind of ego that will be entirely familiar to anyone who has ever worked in contemporary Philosophy.  Troll level - Philosophy professor.  Sigh.  But there are plenty of decent and interesting professional philosophers too.  And the lines aren't always as clear as we'd like.  When the Charlie Hebdo stuff happened Cogburn and I were both pretty upset, and I left some - shall we say, not entirely refined - comments on his blog while I was processing.  Sigh.

So there are many ways to wreck internet conversations via assholery, trollery, or even more basic impoliteness - or contrariwise with over-polite fakiness, rigid orthodox, or rules that shut down conversation.  I wanna try to walk the middle path.  Frankly, none of my past blogs have gotten enough traffic for this really to be an issue, the worst comments I had to moderate were spambots with there come-on ads.  But with trans stuff its a little trickier.  One of the things that really frustrates me about being publicly trans is the extent to which people of more-or-less goodwill get nervous and uncomfortable because they don't know how to be polite to me.  I'm living as honestly as I can, in large part to combat the terrible uncomfortableness with myself that I felt when I didn't, so I don't really want to heighten the uncomfortableness of others.  Don't feel like you have to walk on eggshells here.  You can ask questions if you want.  If they are impolite questions, I'll try to patiently explain why, as long as I think you're doing it honestly rather than trolling me.  Disagree with me if you want.  I can take it and it's usually productive as long as it isn't trollery.  But I'd like this to be a place where other trans and non-binary folks can read the articles without fearing, so I'd like to keep a respectful comfortable atmosphere and I won't tolerate outright or intentional transmisogyny and transmisandry and transmis-neither-andro-nor-gyn-y.  Similarly, I have lots of cisgender and binary friends and I want them to feel welcome too.  So, for example, "Fuck the Gender Binary!" is not really the spirit here.  My impressive wife is binary, and that is OK, and her identity and self-understanding is as worthy of respect and politeness as my own. By all means,  "Fuck limiting people to the Gender Binary!"  If you think, as for example, the important non-binary gender theorist Kate Bornstein does, that all people are really non-binary whether they realize it or not, well that's a position we can talk about calmly and openly.  But it requires a lot of gentleness, and a lot of sensitivity to the fact that it's a case where the abstract and general is intersecting with the intensely personal.

Alright, that's enough stage-setting for context and tone.  Be decent to each other folks.  And here is Jon Cogburn's poem

This be adverse (for Glaucon)

They shut you up, the fools and cads. 
    They may not mean to, but they do. 
They fill your blog with comments bad
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were shut up in their turn
    By tools in bumlike hats and coats, 
Who half the time are soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Bros hand on misery to bros.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as quickly as you can,
    And don't start any blogs yourself.

Well, I got out eventually, but now I'm starting a blog.  I hope to stay soppy-stern, and not to shut up too many folks unless I really feel I have to ...

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