It seems clear to me that there are many more readers of this blog than commenters — both the blog stats and my experience of running into total strangers at conferences who know me from the blog speak to that reality. I would like to thank you for your readership and also encourage you to comment if you have something on-topic to say. We have a reputation for harshness, I know, and though I believe that reputation is severely exaggerated, I understand where it comes from. I also understand that some readers may find the comment policy intimidating and that the stated policy may actually have had the perverse effect of restraining valuable commenters while failing to affect the behavior of the type of people it is aimed at.
For first-time commenters, however, I would like to warn that there is a particular type of comment that is almost sure to get a negative reaction: namely, the kind of comment that aims to stand up for free speech in the face of our unjust censorship and intolerance. Often this will happen when a commenter is asked to “leave” the blog (and so far essentially all commenters asked to leave have done so voluntarily, with no need for explicit blocking, for which I sincerely thank them). Such an action will often prompt some other commenter, usually someone who has never commented before, to decry our bullying, intolerance, totalitarianism, circle-jerkery, etc.
Dear readers, I want to emphasize this: you are entitled to your opinion, and you may even be right. Perhaps we do really make bad calls in this regard, which wind up hurting our intellectual development in the long run. We are only human! And as human beings, we tend to react negatively when a total stranger comes out of nowhere and insults us out of the blue.
I understand that there is a feeling of intimacy, or at least familiarity, that arises from reading a blog regularly. But I want you to understand that the feeling is highly asymmetrical — if you are a lurker, you may feel you know all about me, but I’ve never heard of you before in my life. Therefore, your crusade against my persistent bullying is the equivalent of some random person coming up to me in the street and saying, “Fuck you, Kotsko!”
While I do try to cultivate a Zen-like calm in all things, I am still not past the point where insults from total strangers make me angry. Ideally, I would not respond at all, but I sometimes have poor judgment — which turns out to bring on its own punishment insofar as it confirms to the random stranger that I am indeed a bad person. Perhaps someday, after a rigorous program of spiritual direction, I will learn never to respond when someone provokes me. That day has not yet come. I remain, regrettably enough, a fairly typical male human being when it comes to insults and provocation.
I am sensitive to the fact that the person making the insult feels it’s accurate — after all, why say it otherwise? — but they should remain sensitive to the fact that an accurate insult is still experienced as an insult. And that’s because I, like all the front-page posters and commenters on this blog, am a human being who experiences emotions and has not yet attained sainthood.
If I do attain sainthood, you as my blog readers will be the first to know. Until then, I implore you to cut me some slack, both in crusading against my unjust actions in asking someone to leave my blog and also (dare I hope?) in stopping short of attributing the worst possible motives to me when I decide that a conversation partner is no longer likely to be helpful to me. The fact of being an actual human being, after all, cuts both ways: not only am I likely to occasionally do things that are less than totally fair, but I am also not a pure motiveless malignancy out for nothing but self-aggrandizement at the expense of others.