I just scrolled through the last 200 comments left here. Out of the last 100, only three appeared to come from women and only one came from a commenter I knew to be a person of color. Of the next-oldest group of 100, there was much greater diversity, stemming almost entirely from Stephen’s post on Django Unchained, which began as a response to a post by Amaryah Armstrong at the Women in Theology blog. More broadly, it seems that commenting has seriously slowed down overall and that the vast majority of comments come from a small core group of regulars (with Jason Hills standing out as the most consistent commenter). Individual posts will draw greater attention and bring out new commenters, but it appears that those are mostly one-off events and that the new people rarely become regular commenters.
As I reflect on this, it seems that the general downward trend in commenting, punctuated by significant discussions, is probably okay. The pattern that the bigger discussions seem to draw in a more diverse group seems to me to indicate a certain degree of success in the new comment policy that grew out of Brandy’s posts on theology and gender toward the end of last year. We can do better, of course, and I hope we will. Perhaps continuing to move away from an ethos of controversy and conflict — such as we cultivated with Radical Orthodoxy, Object-Oriented Ontology, and (more recently, though more fleetingly) with Emergent types — will help with that. We will always make room for critiques of self-congratulatory white dudes with limited self-awareness, of course, but there’s no need to seek that kind of thing out — and there’s no need to constantly beat a dead horse.
Now however well it might be going in other discussion threads, it’s no secret that I’ve been frustrated with comments on my own posts, probably excessively so. I apologize if that has been discouraging or intimidating to anyone. I haven’t tended to get the kinds of responses I hoped for, and part of that stems from the fact that I’m not really sure what I’m hoping for. At the end of the day, I want the kind of intellectual community that blogging has tended to provide for me, and I haven’t been finding it. Being misunderstood (and here I would include being misunderstood by people who think they’re supporting me), or being critiqued from a point of view that seems to have nothing to say to me other than “change your views and perspectives entirely,” or being told to go read a particular book, etc. — all those kinds of responses have started to weigh on me emotionally and make me feel very intellectually isolated. It’s gotten to the point where I’m expecting to find disappointment in comments and I’m probably overdiagnosing it as a result, effectively pushing people away.
Still, I wish more people would try to “think with” my posts rather than simply “respond” to them. I wish people could pleasantly surprise me with something that in some small way advances my thought — or shows that I’ve somehow advanced theirs — rather than giving me objections to respond to. (Worst of all, of course, is when someone makes objections I’ve already anticipated, which makes me feel disrespected as well as misunderstood.) By the same token, I wish that people wouldn’t take it upon themselves to speak for me — most often, this has taken the form of jumping to normative conclusions from my critical descriptions (as in the “America as party-state” or “ontological structure of academia” posts).
I just wish discussion here could be better. I wish they could help me think and make me feel like I’m helping others think. Sometimes they do, but not often enough to keep me from feeling really discouraged and misunderstood and isolated. I wish I could get to the point where I’m not tensed up and ready to be pissed off every time I see the new comment indicator flash. But that’s where things stand for me right now, and I don’t know what to do about it.