The Rules of Engagement in Controversial Discourse

How to Make Comments on My Site Without Getting Deleted

Posted Jul 22, 2016

THE RULES 

1. No insults directed at me or other commenters.  

Disagreements are fine.  Criticisms are fine.  Scolding is fine.

Examples of stuff that is fine:

“You said X and it is completely wrong”

“You should never have deleted my comment!”

Not Fine:

“You are a” followed by almost any insult: e.g.,  simpleton, racist, sexist, bigot, fool, etc.

2. Be very careful about humor, mocking, sarcasm, and parody.  They are often insulting.  However, I am stopping short of a “ban,” because there is a place for these even in reasonable, healthy, thoughtful discussions.  But such content is at higher risk for being taken down for being insulting than other types of comments.

3. No demographic slurs (racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality or any other group). Not even when used to describe your own victimization.  An exception might be made if you are quoting a scholarly article or reputable news source that uses the term.

4. No profanity directed at individuals.  Sometimes, profanity can be constructively used to refer to ideas, situations (look up what snafu is an acronym for).  A good example of a constructive use of profanity can be found here.

5. Be very careful about painting groups with broad brushes.  It is too easy to make claims like “Republicans are anti-science” which is massively overstated.  Republican/Democrat differences exist on issues like evolution and climate change, with Republicans generally accepting the science at lower levels than Democrats – but the difference is probably much less than many of you believe.  At the same time, on many issues, many liberals’ beliefs, including liberal social science faculty, are completely distorted (accuracy of stereotypes, validity of standardized tests, genetic bases of intelligence, and more).

Be even more careful when referring to demographic groups.  If you have the data – say, if you have been reviewing U.S. Census data – feel free to refer to men, women, blacks, Latinos, etc., as long as you reference the data.  Keep in mind, however, that such data constitutes overall information, averages and distributions, and such data rarely describes every individual.

6. Whenever possible, clearly distinguish between what you believe to be, on one hand, a fact, and, on the other, anything else (speculation, opinion, attitude, prediction).  If you think it is a fact but it is somewhat controversial, if possible, provide a citation or website, keeping in mind that just because some website or article says something is true does not necessarily mean it is true.

7. Stay on topic.  You can range somewhat; a good discussion does range somewhat.  But, for the most part, if the blog is on stereotypes, stick to stereotypes.  If the blog is on failed replications in social psychology, stick to failed replications

The comments section of my blog entries is not a forum for grandstanding, getting on a soapbox to rail about Obama's sins or Trump's lies or Hillary's real or imagined flaws or the idiocy of liberals or climate deniers or whatever whipping horse du jour you have a bug about.  In fact, they are not a soapbox for railing about anything.  

Please stick to the topic.  I do periodically host guest bloggers.  If one of my entries inspires you to want to write a guest blog on a different topic, contact me, and we can talk.

8. Keep your tone civil.  I realize "tone" is a subjective judgment call.  I will exercise my judgment to the best of my limited abilities.  Nasty tone = deleted comment.

9. Keep your comments relatively short, preferably under 200 words.  If you start pushing 300 or more, you should consider getting your own blog site.  The comments section here is not the place for you to expound or pontificate about either your worldview, your values, your opinions, your personal experiences, or the depths of your insights.  If you like, contact me outside the comments (you can email me via Psych Today) and feel free to propose a guest blog.  I have regularly had guest bloggers over the years – if you have more than 300 words worth of stuff to say, consider proposing a guest blog. 

This one does not apply to me.  If there is some complex or controversial issue, I will write as long as necessary.  Oh, the privileges of power and status…  

10. Do not engage in mindreading or in attributing unknowable beliefs and attitudes to someone.  Mindreading occurs when you state as fact that someone other than yourself has some state of mind that appears nowhere in anything they have written.  

Fred: "I have doubts about whether human activity contributes much to global warming."

Marie: "You Trump supporting science denialists could not care less about how corrupt corporations are despoiling the planet."

Marie's comment here is mindreading and unjustified attribution writ large, and will likely be taken down.  Fred has not said he supports Trump; expressing doubt is not equivalent to denial, and Fred has not said anything at all about his beliefs about what corporations, corrupt or otherwise, are doing to the planet.  In short, Marie is making sh*t up about Fred.  It is possible that she is right on all counts, but there is no evidence in Fred's comment that she is right.

This site is about evidence, facts, and perspectives and opinions informed by facts and evidence.  It is not about making sh*t up.

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

My blogs address issues that are controversial and often arouse at least some readers’ passions.  They address issues like political psychology – and both liberals and conservatives often believe the worst things about each other.  Many liberals believe conservatives are ignorant, science-denying fools.  Many conservatives talk or write as if liberals are incompetent and even traitors.

It also addresses issues of race and racism, sex and sexism, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.  I am naturally contrarian – if you say “sexism or racism is everywhere!” I will react with, “Ok, sexism and racism may exist, but EVERYWHERE?! Give me a break.”  On the other hand, if you deny the existence of sexism and racism, my reaction will be a similar “Ok, that’s completely ridiculous, the evidence for continuing sexism and racism to at least some degree is overwhelming.”  This (either side) often has the effect of upsetting people.

On top of that, as far as I can tell, American discourse has gotten extremely ugly on all sorts of topics.  At the recent Republican National Convention, when Hillary Clinton’s name was mentioned, it frequently evoked ugly chants of “lock her up!” For the sin of playing a lead role in a remake of Ghostbusters, African-American actress Leslie Jones has been hounded and harassed by the most disgusting and vile insults, including racist slurs.  

Quick Meme
Source: Quick Meme

On the other hand, rightwing speakers have been disproportionately targeted by harassment, protests, shoutdowns, and disinvitations at campuses across the country. There is ample reason to believe that the illiberal left (in contrast to the liberal left) constitutes a more serious threat to academic freedom and free speech on most campuses than does the right.  This video about the situation at Brown is short and a must-see for anyone interested in these issues.  

This ugliness is unacceptable to me, although perhaps a better characterization than “ugly” is “broken.”  Civil discourse is (often) broken.  It is injured.  It is not on its deathbed, but it should be in intensive care.

In an effort to stem the tide of this sort of ugliness, and do my small part to nurse respectful, thoughtful discourse and debate back to health, I laid out some rules for those of you good enough to be interested in this site and willing to comment.  I hate rules.  I hate enforcing rules.  I hate limiting speech.  However, I have discovered that I hate the ugly intolerance, on the left and right, even more.  I am not the Govt.  I cannot prohibit you from saying anything you want, no matter how foul.  But I can and will prevent you from posting foulness here.  

Discussing difficult and controversial issues is incredibly important.  So here is my best guess as to what is probably a great irony: Some small monitoring of the most offensive speech will, I hope, encourage more, not less, discussion.  If you know you can post something here without fear of being insulted and harassed -- usually by some bullying coward hiding behind the mask of anonymity!! -- my guess is you will be more likely to do so – even if it means, once in a while, I take down a cruel, insulting post.  Just as (in my view) capitalism works  best with some degree of regulation to limit its worst excesses, so does speech.  And, just as a person with broken legs, arms, and back needs more limits on exercise than a healthy person, so, in my view, does our ugly and injured national approach to speech.

WHAT TO DO IF YOUR COMMENT IS TAKEN DOWN

As they repeatedly said in Pirates of the Caribbean, these are not really rules, they are more like guidelines.  So there may be exceptions.  Also, I am compelled to be the Judge here.  My judgment is undoubtedly imperfect and biased by my own beliefs and attitudes.  But this being my neck of the Psychology Today woods, I am responsible for making these decisions, however imperfectly.

If I believe some comment has violated these rules/guidelines, I will take the comment down. When I have the time, I will inform you that I did so, explain why, and offer you a chance to post a less offensive comment – however, I have a real life and job beyond this blog site, and I cannot always guarantee that I will be able to do that.  There may be times when I take your comment down with no additional explanation.  Even if I do not explain why, you are always welcome to try to post again after doing a bit of soul-searching regarding why your post might have been viewed as offensive, or propose a guest blog.

Lee Jussim