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The troll is dead! Foxnewsification and the notion that all points of view are valuable

Every morning I wake up and I have a little ritual going. First I am met by the generally cheerful dog and cats. Then I pee. Then I get a cup of coffee and sit in front of my computer. I scan my inboxes (yes plural, as a long term mail user I have ten or so, each for a different purpose and some barely in use anymore but still added to my mail client). I then check if anything came up on my Twitter stream and I almost immediately follow up by clicking refresh on the comments of this very site. I know I am going to be the first one of our editorial team to do so for the day, mostly because of time differences (being in Europe I get to be up earlier than my US counterparts). This little routine I have going is not always followed to the T as there are days I need to get ready for meetings or what have you and I skip some steps or just grab a cup of coffee and run. In general, you can say that 5 out of 7 days I’ll be doing all of the above.

For the past two or three weeks every morning, my rather inconsequential routine is greeted with a series of comments left by the same dude. This dude, let’s call him “MatrixMansplainer” as he likes to identify himself with oh so witty and original Matrix references visits this site every day to let us know how wrong we are. He seems to have a preference for Sady’s posts and particularly, he seems keen on rehashing arguments about certain books that Sady disliked. One would expect that this MatrixMansplainer would have realized, after so many weeks, that his comments are not welcome since I have systematically trashed them. However, just like his choice of monikers denotes a serious lack of originality (really? Who self identifies with Matrix references at this point?!), I would say that this Chicago dweller also lacks in self awareness as anyone with an ounce of it would have taken a clue and, you know, discontinued their behavior.

However, MatrixMansplainer is not alone. We got a whole bunch of them on the Black Pete post. People who would accuse me of racism against Dutch people; those who would inform me that I should fuck off to whichever hellhole I came from; those who would write 800+ word comments explaining the many ways I was wrong; privilege deniers; garden variety White supremacists; rape threatening dudes. You know, people who believed that their words would be uncritically published because this is what they are accustomed to. At the core of it, lays the fact that MatrixMansplainer is the dude that visits every site and has an opinion on every topic. He is your everyday commenter, the internet observer and contributor who believes that he is owed a space to have his opinions heard. He is also the “Angry commenter” that Katie Roiphe (herself a MatrixMansplainer with a bigger platform) has just discovered (incidentally, Jill is right, it’s 2005 all over again). We used to refer to MatrixMainsplainer as a “troll”. That’s what he would have been called back in the early 2000s. Someone who would leave an inflammatory comment or remark with the sole purpose of provocation, to stir arguments. Oh how naive we were back then. We believed that these people didn’t mean what they were saying. We used to think that they were just toying with us that nobody would be so purposefully obtuse. We still held onto the belief that people on the internet had compassion and empathy, that they were being inflammatory to either stir the pot in forums or to fend off boredom.

I have bad news for all of us: Fox News killed the internet trolls. All of them. Or, you know, Fox News gave jobs to a few of them and legitimized the rest creating what I like to call “The Foxnewsification of mainstream media”. These days, MatrixMansplainers really mean what they are saying. Their sexism, racism, hatred, bigotry, their anger are not just argumentative tactics, they are legitimate drivers for policy making. MatrixMansplainers actually drive our politics and our public discourse. If you are in the US, you will find MatrixMansplainers repeating right wing Tea Party talking points. If you are in Europe, they will spell out their allegiance to figures like Geert Wilders or the British BNP. You can see MatrixMansplainers express their racist outrage in public spaces. You can see them “debating” anti reproductive rights legislation with zealotry. These people have carved a legitimate political force and because of this Foxnewsification of mainstream media, these people believe that every space should allow them to express their opinions unchallenged.

I would venture that the internet troll took the first deathly blow in 2001 when hateful anti Islamic rhetoric became acceptable in most media. What was once brushed off as “trolling” became the standard. We saw the incendiary language get worse every day, certain slurs that were usually reserved for the back rooms of hateful sites repeated on news hours, commenting sections of news sites, blogs, etc. Any challenge to this bigotry used to be met with a chorus of “FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” utterances. As if every form of speech deserved a platform everywhere, as if it was the obligation of site moderators to allow any content without critical thinking. As if all content was equal. I contend that laziness played a big role here. Moderating comments is hard work. Establishing an editorial standard on comments requires actively challenging one’s beliefs. Mainstream media, news sites, major blogs, in a run for page views and visibility would allow these comments because they would create “polemic”, they would drive readership figures up. The controversy was good for business. Even self professed progressive or leftist sites adhered to these principles, catering to an increasingly confrontational audience. In turn, this has created the entitlement in the MatrixMansplainers. They can no longer distinguish legitimate editorializing from true censorship. They have been led to believe that their opinions matter and that they deserve to be heard in every site at all times.

Meanwhile, we retreated. We created “safe spaces” with varying degrees of editorial control. However, I have to wonder why are not all news sites and major blogs made “safe”? If in any other environment, people felt systematically unsafe, we would demand immediate change and measures of protection. If a club, a venue, a public space allowed people to be subjected to violence without actually taking counter measures, such places would most likely be shut down due to public outcry. However, this is what our media does. It allows all of us to be exposed to rhetoric violence from our commenting peers and it does nothing to protect us. Because measures of protection would be bad for business. Because an active moderation policy would cost money in the form of salaries for moderators and less page views from the bigots that would no longer feel welcome. And we have somehow accepted this. We are no longer holding our media accountable for this violence. We have carved our niches where we keep each other safe. But I insist, if certain groups of people were confined to their homes because public spaces weren’t safe, we would demand better. Instead, we patiently deal with our own MatrixMansplainers, shake our heads when they attempt to leave an insulting comment and move on.

The problem with this attitude is that when MatrixMansplainers venture outside the confines of their unprotected spaces they believe everyone plays by those rules. They believe that what was just a business decision to drive up page views is, in fact, an inalienable right: the right to express themselves, not unlike the way a young dog feels she can take a shit in the middle of the living room without consequences. Any moderation is met with cries of censorship. Because here’s another thing mainstream media has obscured: the fact that editorial policies are not censorship. The fact that treating oppressive language as undesirable is an editorial decision and not an attack on free speech. MatrixMansplainers are still free to express their bigotry elsewhere, they are just not free to express it in places that take commenting seriously. To quote Juan Cole, author of one of my favorite commenting policies on the internet:

The comment section does not seek any sort of artificial two-sides-of-a-story “balance” at all, and no critiques of lack of such “balance” on these pages will be entertained. This sort of “balance” would require that the allegation that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer be offset with a denial of this simple and well-established fact. This pernicious game is not played here. A variety of points of view is all to the good, but a mere opinion not backed up by facts, reasoning or analysis is unlikely to get through. Moreover, not all points of view are valuable.

“Not all points of view are valuable”. This needs to be repeated. Any point of view that actively seeks to alienate, oppress or bully someone does not deserve to be exposed. This is not a matter of mere disagreement, this is a matter of actively causing harm by leaving those opinions in the open. It is not the job of other commenters to challenge the bigotry. It is the job of editors to decide what kind of vision is exposed. I doubt we will make a dent on this Foxnewsification but I certainly believe we have an obligation to care for our readers. Trolls might have died at the beginning of this century but their ideas have survived and spread like a never ending meme.

29 Comments

  1. sossajes wrote:

    fantastic post. as i was reading it i reflected on how appreciative i am of the safe spaces sites like TigerBeatdown provide. i can take discussion and debate, but threats of violence and dehumanization are beyond my capacity to tolerate.

    and (funny thing, this) i have yet to see a feminist blog calling for someone’s assault, yet that seems to be the primary way the artists formerly known as trolls seem to respond.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  2. Agnes wrote:

    There are very few websites whose comments I read, for this exact reason. It’s just not worth wading through the offensive garbage for the occasional interesting comment, when on most sites they’re outweighed ten to one. Thank you for doing the work you do to keep this one of the sites with a valuable comment thread.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  3. Kat wrote:

    Yes! Thank you for bringing this up. I work in a field that encourages us to listen to and accept many different viewpoints and I finally met a practitioner who said, “you know, some voices shouldn’t be heard.” he works in sites of conflict and often sees people from both sides in the same room so he’s worried about perpetrators of war crimes dominating the narrative.

    Sites should moderate their comments more and stop allowing hate mongers to dominate the Internet.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  4. BMICHAEL wrote:

    I remember reading an essay by Stlaney Fish (or maybe Cavell?) on the conservative re-purposing of post-modernism to ‘teach the debate’ surrounding everything from the Holocaust to evolution. It definitely seems like this “all points of view” p.o.v. is definitely a consequence of American and Continental thinking from like 1967 onward. A lot of the conservative agenda owes its political *oomph* to these leftist academic maneuvers I’m sure they’d vilify if they were made thematic.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink
  5. Chibigodzilla wrote:

    When I first started frequenting comments, BBS, etc. on the interwebs one of my main thoughts was “C’mon people, it’s spelled trawl. As in you put that bait on your line, cruise by, see if anyone bites. If not, you move on to a different spot. Trawling.”
    I now realize that troll is also an accepted spelling, but still prefer trawl because really, there are two types of people that currently fall into the category of ‘internet trolls.’ There are trawlers who swing by, leave an inflammatory comment and potentially never say another word on the topic (aka eraly 2000′s trolls). And then there are the trolls, resembling the trolls of folklore, they are ugly(at least, on the internet where we are primarily defined by our words, not looks), unpleasant, tend to take up residence where they are not particularly wanted, and seem to come out with the sole intention of making everybody else’s life miserable(e.g. MatrixMansplainer).

    Neither type is particularly helpful in a debate, but the trawlers can be (somewhat) harmless and (again, somewhat) easy to ignore.

    The trolls, on the other hand, and are trickier. At first it seems impossible that they actually believe their BS, then you gradually see that it’s not just one troll under one bridge, they’re all over the place. And, as the OP points out, they’re being invited out from under the bridges an presented, not as trolls, but as reasonable people.

    I say it’s time to stop conflating the relatively harmless act of trawling with the far more dangerous trolls out there.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Permalink
  6. Scott wrote:

    I’m increasingly in favor of blogs without comment sections at all.

    If people want to spout horrible things about what you write on the internet make them work for it. Make them pick a blogging platform and drum up traffic on their own. When you allow comments on a blog you then have to make the choice of allowing people to ride your coattails even if they don’t deserve it, or you spend a significant portion of the time you could be writing moderating the comments section.

    Seth Godin on why he closed comments: “First, I feel compelled to clarify or to answer every objection or to point out every flaw in reasoning. Second, it takes way too much of my time to even think about them, never mind curate them. And finally, and most important for you, it permanently changes the way I write. Instead of writing for everyone, I find myself writing in anticipation of the commenters.”

    There was another discussion about this in the tech world last year: http://www.technovia.co.uk/2010/06/john-gruber-joe-wilcox-and-why-comments-are-anti-web.html

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Permalink
  7. tree wrote:

    This is a really excellent post. Thank you for writing it.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  8. Megpie71 wrote:

    One of the key things about trolls, in my opinion, isn’t that they have something to say and need somewhere to say it, but rather that they actively want to shut down discussion of topics which they find threatening or uncomfortable. In some cases, there are literally no limits to the lengths they will go in order to achieve the goal of silencing dissenting opinion – stalking, death threats, legal action, actual murder, all of this is just fine, if it makes people stop talking about whichever topic the troll doesn’t want to hear.

    Trolls don’t want to change our minds. They want to shut us up.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 8:17 pm | Permalink
  9. xenu01 wrote:

    I can understand Scott(above)’s point re: closing comments, but I also am very thankful that Tiger Beatdown and some other safe spaces that I frequent choose to spend so much time and effort in moderating rather than closing the comments, because the fact that they do so creates a wonderful community space, and in a world in which the Matrixmansplainers are all over the place, coming to a place where that kind of vitriol is not allowed is like taking off your shoes and drinking a hot cup of tea. It’s lovely. Thank you for what you do.

    Thursday, December 8, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  10. cvn wrote:

    >If a club, a venue, a public space allowed people to be subjected to violence without actually taking counter measures, such places would most likely be shut down due to public outcry.
    your privelege is showing and moreover i really think you should know better. i’ve been misgendered more than once in public just today. calling it out just makes the problem worse, and if i do not only will the person who misgendered me get defensive and pissed at me (never mind apologising or correcting themselves), my “allies” and friends will jump to their defense like “well you are pretty androgynous” “when i met you i thought you were a boy/couldn’t tell” “you have to cut them some slack, everybody makes that mistake” etc. there are more places than the media where silencing bigots is unthinkable to most people. (and i’m in downtown los angeles in a liberal college environment). fuck it, it’s straight up impossible to get three liberals to apologise for mocking me for wearing a bra. And don’t even get me started on getting groped around here, which has happened repeatedly because apparently my breasts do not count because i only grew them after attaining legal age of majority. “well you have to understand we [non-misgendered people] just have no idea what it’s like…”. some public outcry.

    anyway, i would argue that the troll is still very much around as a phenomenon (my experience on the chans up to about a year ago confirms this, but they are kind of a bubble). i think they have just picked up on the free speech argument because, well, trolls are juvenile and don’t like to confront their immaturity/the harmfulness of their behaviour. anybody mature enough to not want to hurt people wouldn’t be stirring up polemic discourse by expressing pseudo-conservative opinions.

    i’m not sure i agree that caustic opinions have become more common in public, either, but a) i’m rather young and i change environments frequently and b) i don’t think i would ever trust my own opinion on whether discourse has changed in such a subtle way (especially since the idyllic past stuff ime is usally overly nostalgic, lazy thinking utterly lacking in nuance even if it approaches a truth).

    anyways, what i have always noticed about the media is that it’s become more heterogenous; diverse. the internet happened, cable tv channels proliferated, and now there’s no reason to try and market one of three channels or newspapers to a huge segment of people (each corporation owns several niche channels anyways).

    which is not to say that what you’re doing is not a really good thing, though. I love good comment policies and I wish to hell they were more common and not every opinion is valuable. so go you, and thanks for keeping tbd’s functional, too. but cut out the nostalgic nonsense.

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 1:49 am | Permalink
  11. @cvn “cut out the nostalgic nonsense.”? see? this is a reason why I would usually trash a comment. If it is nonsense as you call it, then why are you bothering commenting to begin with?

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 4:34 am | Permalink
  12. AMM wrote:

    When I first started frequenting comments, BBS, etc. on the interwebs one of my main thoughts was “C’mon people, it’s spelled trawl….”

    Actually, “trolling” and “trawling” are slightly different. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolling_(fishing)
    There’s something called a “trolling motor” you can put on your fishing boat: a low-power, very quiet (often electric) outboard motor, which remember seeing advertised in magazines like Popular Mechanics when I was a kid.

    This is how I interpreted the word “trolling” when I first saw it back in the 1980′s on Usenet newsgroups.

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 9:52 am | Permalink
  13. Susan wrote:

    Joining the chorus above: thank you for moderating the comments! (but I think you’re over-optimistic regarding how much trollish behaviour is subject to public outcry in off-line venues. It depends a lot on the management and clientele.)

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  14. Jason wrote:

    Actually, the troll became extinct in September 1993, The September That Never Ended. That was the day that AOL opened its internet gateway service and millions of AOLers flooded Usenet. From that day forward there was never any opinion so idiotic or horrible that you couldn’t find 10 people who unironically agreed with it.

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink
  15. Smhill wrote:

    I just want to take a minute to thank everyone who moderates safe spaces and calm spaces because the world is full of fascinating issues. I really value the deep conversations we have when non-trolls come together to engage in dialog.

    Friday, December 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink
  16. Sarah wrote:

    I’ve spent a lot of time on both “safe spaces” and cesspits. I came of age on the internet, so to speak, in the Reason comment threads, which were pretty crazy. I do think there’s something to be said for the chaos; it’s not a high standard of discourse, but it’s loose, it’s wild, and at odd moments it had a sort of cameraderie.

    I agree that as a blogger it’s your right to moderate. But you can’t ask the rest of the world to moderate in the same way you would. Not everybody has the same opinions. Some people *like* the cesspits. Some people — like me — have a little swamp creature in them. I get banned from feminist sites pretty quickly. It’s their right, and I’m happy to let it go at that, but I can’t help thinking that creating an echo chamber is their loss.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink
  17. Berenjena wrote:

    @Sarah: She is arguing the point that public spaces should be a place of discussion where the contributors show some degree of respect towards one another.

    The fact that some people like the hatred doesn’t mean they are right. Some people like being neoazis. They are still wrong, despite the enjoyment they might take in bullying people.

    And the Internet is very tricky to regulate, but TV? TV should most definitely be regulated and moderated. Passing as ‘free speech’ the current trash we have all the time, everyday, on the news and on “opinion” programs is delusional at best.

    It’s not a matter of censoring people’s opinions; it’s a matter of forcing people to be civil to each other for the sake of getting somewhere with an argument, if nothing else.

    “It’s their right”, that depends which right you are talking about. Trolling and threatening bloggers with rape and murder? Trolling and spreading nice old-fashioned ableist/racist/younameit hate?

    No, that is not their right. Society works as a set of rights and duties that are codependent. With the right to express oneself comes the duty to do it respectfully. If one doesn’t uphold that duty, they lose that right.

    So it’s wonderful some people have swamp creatures inside – as long as we don’t use them against other people (especially those who are trying to have a valuable, intelligent argument).

    Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink
  18. Berenjena wrote:

    P.S: Thank you Tiger Beatdown for providing us with a fantastic safe space when one will not bump into a string of hateful comments.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Permalink
  19. Watson Ladd wrote:

    “Rhetorical violence” is not real violence. Yes, I’m aware that people make threats against commentators and track them down etc. etc. But that’s not what Fox News is doing when they put Rush Limbaugh on air. He’s expressing opinions you don’t agree with.

    Editorial control is good, but it does run the risk of creating little separate thought pools, each one with its own evolution producing strange creatures that cannot exist elsewhere. Creating a space for civil disagreement is distinct from banning particular viewpoints, and it’s not clear to me which one you are arguing for.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 1:38 am | Permalink
  20. “Rhetorical violence” is not real violence.

    Spoken truly like someone who has a lot of privilege and does not need to be afraid of the consequences of “trivial” stuff like rape apologia, ableism, transphobia, racism, anti immigrant rhetoric, etc.

    And you know, I don’t need to care about “thought pools” as you call them. But I do care about not exposing people to the rhetoric violence you claim does not exist. The word does already have enough spaces that do that without our control or influence. And yes, I am free (and in fact do, as the whole editorial team in this blog does) ban certain viewpoints. We do not owe anyone the privilege to expose those ideas here. They can go and open their little blogs and expand on those views to their hearts content.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 4:38 am | Permalink
  21. Sarah wrote:

    I’m thoroughly in favor of the existence of different standards of discourse in different forums. I wouldn’t want the whole world to be a cesspool. And, of course, in Tiger Beatdown’s case, it isn’t up to me, it’s up to the editors.

    @Berenjena: regulating TV would be a real problem and I hope you see that, apart from your rhetorical point. Who would regulate it? The government? Would you still want it regulated if the government was controlled by conservatives? The thing about wanting certain forms of speech to disappear completely from public view is that you have to empower *someone* to forbid them. It’s a completely different issue than simply choosing not to host those views on your website.

    @Watson, @Flavia:
    Of course speech has consequences that can be bad. It can promote perceptions that make actual crimes and cruelties more likely. It can psychologically harm people.

    The reason we don’t illegalize speech is that these harms are so hard to define and predict that putting laws about speech on the books is a recipe for abuse. (People in power will charge everyone they don’t agree with as criminals.)

    And the reason why in many environments people choose to be extremely tolerant of many kinds of speech — in universities, for instance — is because we think we can benefit from diversity of opinion, despite the risks and stresses that come with unsavory views.

    That tradeoff is a very individual one. When you read, say, racist language, is what you learn worth the damage it does? Do you want to read racist language? That’s up to you. I think a lot of people have good reasons to not want to read certain kinds of language. It’s fine that this is a fairly restrictive blog. It’s fine that you’re encouraging more restrictions on language (more civility, less “rhetorical violence”, etc.) What I take issue with is that you seem to judge this as promoting better content over worse content, without realizing that you have a viewpoint with which other people legitimately disagree.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  22. SKM wrote:

    TV is already controlled –”regulated”, in effect–by corporate interests.

    And I wonder if it would be “nostalgic nonsense” to mention that some of the seeds of this problem were sown pre-widespread-Internet by the 1987 repeal of The Fairness Doctrine?

    Great post, Flavia.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink
  23. samanthab wrote:

    BMichael, I have to disagree. Conservatives have appropriated just about everything that’s worthwhile. Certainly they’ve bastardized the hell of out Darwin, out of feminism and so on. I don’t see postmodernist theory as enabling the point that every view is valid at all. Its major proponents are incredibly rigorous in their thinking. To get out of the notion that there’s no singular truth is to enable a liberation from cultural constraints. I hardly see it as an accident that recent feminist theory owes so much to postmodernism.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  24. AMM wrote:

    OP: We created “safe spaces” with varying degrees of editorial control. However, I have to wonder why are not all news sites and major blogs made “safe”?

    I can’t speak from personal experience, but what I hear is that decent moderation is a lot of work. For news sites and other commercial “content providers,” it’s a question of financial trade-off: does the provider believe that an improved level of discourse in the comments would bring in enough extra revenue to justify the cost of hiring someone to moderate them? The answer is usually no.

    + +

    On another note: the widespread fallacy that all viewpoints are equally valid has a equally fallacious consort: the idea that all fora have an equal obligation of openness.

    It shows up in its most ridiculous form when you get trollers bleating about their “first amendment rights” when their comments on a blog get removed, banned, or disemvoweled.

    But it also applies to radio and television: the airwaves are limited public resources, which we the people through our government license to a limited number of private individuals or organizations, and it is entirely legal and reasonable to require licensees to demonstrate that they are using their piece of the airwaves in the public interest. When I first was involved in radio, stations had to demonstrate that they were spending at least some of their airtime in the public interest. It was usually pretty pathetic, but at least the principle was there, and you heard of stations having their license renewal challenged on the grounds of not serving the public interest. I’d love to see the Fox stations have their licenses challenged on the basis that their steady diet of lies, propaganda, and bigotry are so far beyond reasonable discourse that they cannot be construed as in any way serving the public interest, but I fear that the political climate wouldn’t support such a challenge.

    Monday, December 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  25. Linds wrote:

    Oh my god, thank you.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 10:57 am | Permalink
  26. patrick wrote:

    Cole writes “You have to think about comments here as a letter to the editor at a traditional newspaper,” and I’d really like to see more blogs using this framing. One of the reasons these free speech arguments fly is that we have our metaphors all wrong, thinking of comment sections as the public square, when they are much more analogous to the letter to the editor section of a newspaper. Comment moderation is about declining to publish someone’s words. It’s generally wrong to try to keep someone from speaking, but you are under no obligation – ethical or, as far as I know, constitutional – to publish someone else’s work for them.

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  27. John Horstman wrote:

    @4: YES! The ‘Conservative’ machine, and FOX in particular, though there are others like Frank Luntz, have DEFINITELY been using the insights of postmodern discursive theory to ill effect. They’ve become far better at discursive engineering than the Left, perhaps exactly because pro-social ideologies shy away from anything even resembling conscious thought control or social engineering (due in large part to the history of progressive politics being rooted in the Liberal myth of the individual – individual man, specifically). For example, the fact that everyone, Left, Right, or anywhere in between, runs around talking about “taxpayer” money demonstrates how bad it’s gotten: “taxpayer” is a distinction without a difference, since everyone that buys anything pays taxes in some form (which is practically everyone, with the exception of some incarcerated persons, since survival tends to require obtaining goods through purchase). I still haven’t seen anyone challenge this and strike “taxpayer money” from the vocabulary in favor of something like “public money”, which doesn’t establish a false in-group/out-group dichotomy (complete with “taxpayer” privilege and demonization of the other, not-taxpayers leeching off of the system).

    @23: I didn’t get that sense from BMichael. I agree with you that the fact that postmodern epistemologies reject the idea of a single Truth doesn’t mean that all points of view are valid; in fact, the whole purpose of the postmodern project is establishing tools to suss out what is/is not valid, useful, true, etc. in light of the recognition that there is no Truth. However, for people to whom the postmodern perspective is new, who are used to thinking in terms of absolute, essential Truth and Falsity, the rejection of essentialized truth is often interpreted as anything goes (e.g. “there can be no morality without God”). This isn’t true, of course, but it allows people to disingenuously and selectively (and less rigorously) apply SOME of the arguments of various postmodern philosophies in order to argue that their positions should be considered as equally valid, even when they’re demonstrably not.

    @26: Agreed! The only barrier to starting one’s own blog these days (in order to get whatever ignorant, hateful message one wants out to the public) is computer access, which people commenting on the blogs/articles of others obviously have.

    Seriously, everyone, stop saying “taxpayer”; this is the single most pervasive, pernicious Right-wing meme I’ve found, even worse than the nearly-universally-disingenuous “pro-life” (if you support wars, capital punishment, or drug criminalization, or oppose public food, housing, and health care programs, you may not unconflictedly identify as “pro-life”).

    Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 6:16 pm | Permalink
  28. Jake wrote:

    I get where Flavia is coming from here, but at some point I think you have to either ignore the comments section or shut it down altogether, unless you want to make policing it your full-time job.

    Wednesday, December 21, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  29. silentbeep wrote:

    @Patrick

    Cole writes “You have to think about comments here as a letter to the editor at a traditional newspaper,” and I’d really like to see more blogs using this framing.


    I’m afraid we are getting to a point in time where such a statement, will mean very little to each successive generation. As more time goes on, less and less people will have the experience of what a traditional print newspapers’ “letters to the editor” section is really like. My local newspaper allows unmoderated comments for their articles posted on-line and the result is horrid: some of the most vile racism in “print” I’ve ever seen. As evidenced, some newspapers don’t even hold themselves to their old standard anymore.

    Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Permalink