Saturday, September 04, 2004

Feel free to insult me

Another prominent liberal blogger, Matthew Yglesias, has shut down commenting on his site. Matt’s rationale: his comment section “become totally overwhelmed by trolls who come to write in the spirit of deliberate insult and misreading rather than fairminded debate.”

I don’t think this explanation makes any sense. What is the impact of random, usually anonymous, internet users writing insults? There is no reason to let these comments bother you, unless there is some truth to them.

Here at Winning Argument I encourage all comments – even those that personally insult me. The value of an open debate is far more important, in my mind, than insulating myself from this kind of attack. (I'm also unsure what would qualify as a "fairminded" debate, but it doesn't sound terribly interesting). I think the tendency of political bloggers – both liberal and conservative – to try to create safe zones of likeminded people threatens to make what we do dull, routinized and counterproductive. Conflict is a good thing, even if it gets ugly sometimes.

UPDATE - Matt Y. Responds:

Basically what happened is that I found more and more often that the comments section on my site wasn't something I cared to read. Tons of invective being hurled at me by my detractors and then tons of counter-invective being hurled at my detractors by my supporters. Very little in the way of serious discussion as one can see on this thread. It struck me as somewhat absurd to be publishing something that I myself didn't think was worth reading. I've hardly "walled myself off from criticism" -- I went and read this post and many others critical of myself, and folks can email me with comments, concerns, criticisms, or whatever. I just don't care to be the proprietor of an unseemly shouting match.

I don’t think the purpose of a comments section is to create something the author of the blog thinks is “worth reading.” I think it is to provide a space for ideas to be tested, challenged and debated. Matt's blog now precludes that and I’m not sure what he has gained. As he points out in his response, he is still subject to criticism (and invective) over email, on other people’s blogs and, I’d imagine, in the real world.