Seminar on Debt: The First 5000 Years – Reply — Crooked Timber: Henry 04.02.12 at 9:58 pm: David Graeber is now on teh Twitter, telling folks that he’s going to stop paying attention to me, because I’m apparently a Bernard Lewis groupy, as well as a denier of the Nakba and Armenian genocide. This on the basis of a driveby tweet from a random nutter. I’ll merely note this for the record in re: his standards of good argument as described above. My personal feelings about Graeber are much as you might imagine, following this display, but I will genuinely do my best to put this aside in my reply to his reply, since I think there are some interesting issues to be discussed. In addition, as I stated in the original post, I still think there are many good elements to the book, contra his claim that I am lying about the book in order to delegitimize him. I just don’t think those bits are present in the last chapter.
There can be no ongoing discourse without some degree of moderation, if only to kill off the hardcore trolls. It takes rather more moderation than that to create a complex, nuanced, civil discourse. If you want that to happen, you have to give of yourself. Providing the space but not tending the conversation is like expecting that your front yard will automatically turn itself into a garden.
Once you have a well-established online conversation space, with enough regulars to explain the local mores to newcomers, they’ll do a lot of the policing themselves.
You own the space. You host the conversation. You don’t own the community. Respect their needs. For instance, if you’re going away for a while, don’t shut down your comment area. Give them an open thread to play with, so they’ll still be there when you get back.
Message persistence rewards people who write good comments.
Over-specific rules are an invitation to people who get off on gaming the system.
Civil speech and impassioned speech are not opposed and mutually exclusive sets. Being interesting trumps any amount of conventional politeness.
Things to cherish: Your regulars. A sense of community. Real expertise. Genuine engagement with the subject under discussion. Outstanding performances. Helping others. Cooperation in maintenance of a good conversation. Taking the time to teach newbies the ropes. All these things should be rewarded with your attention and praise. And if you get a particularly good comment, consider adding it to the original post.
Grant more lenience to participants who are only part-time jerks, as long as they’re valuable the rest of the time.
If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it’s important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There’s no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can’t. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.
Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they’ll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.
You can’t automate intelligence. In theory, systems like Slashdot’s ought to work better than they do. Maintaining a conversation is a task for human beings.
Disemvowelling works. Consider it.
If someone you’ve disemvowelled comes back and behaves, forgive and forget their earlier gaffes. You’re acting in the service of civility, not abstract justice.