This week’s Ecosophian offering is the monthly (well, more or less!) open post to field questions and encourage discussion among my readers. All the standard rules apply — no profanity, no sales pitches, no trolling, no rudeness, no long screeds proclaiming the infallible truth of fill in the blank — but since there’s no topic, nothing is off topic.
A few words before we proceed, though. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had several people comment favorably on the thoughtful, polite, and interesting conversations that so often spring up on this blog, and ask me how I manage to keep it free of the boorish and moronic misbehavior that so often stops such conversations from happening elsewhere online. Part of it is certainly the people who happen to have been attracted by the blog—I have the best readers on the internet—and part of it is the fact that a blog that posts lengthy, ornately written essays on unpopular subjects just isn’t that appealing to trolls. Still, there’s another factor worth mentioning.
This blog has a courtesy policy, and it is enforced. I moderate every comment before it’s put through, and if the comment violates the courtesy policy, it gets deleted without mercy. People who repeatedly try to put through abusive, insulting, profane, or manipulative comments get banned, and if they switch IP addresses to try to get around that, I ban them again. It’s that simple.
That approach generates heated denunciations in some online circles, but you know what? I quite literally couldn’t care less. A forum for conversation is a commons, and it’s subject to the same tragedy of the commons that Garrett Hardin and Elinor Ostrom studied so closely. If people are allowed to abuse a commons without penalty, the commons will be destroyed: for example, trollery unchecked will drive away thoughtful commenters and drag discussion down to repetitive stupidities. Ostrom won a Nobel Prize for showing that you can safeguard a commons by the simple expedient of allowing it to be used only by those people willing to work together to keep it going. That’s what I’m doing.
And freedom of speech? The First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting what people can say, and that’s all it does. It doesn’t give you the right to walk into someone else’s living room and start yelling insults at them, which is basically the “right” that trolls claim they ought to have. This blog is my virtual living room; if you’d like to come by, grab a beer from the fridge, and join the conversation, you’re welcome to do just that—so long as you follow the house rules. If not, there’s the door, and you can walk through it or be thrown through it, take your pick.
So that’s my recipe for thoughtful, polite, and interesting conversations online. With that said, have at it!