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A Note on Commenting

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A faithful Cafe patron, whose name is here withheld, sends the following in an e-mail today to Russ and me:

“Muirgeo” has single-handedly reduced the effectiveness and value of your blog. He has certainly reduced my desire to visit the site as often, or participate in the comments. Which is his aim. And you have both cooperated with him. He has boundless energy to dissipate the goods of your productivity, and the space you have created, and you lend him unending currency to do so.

And you have sanctioned him doing so.

I understand the reason behind your principles, but is there no point where you say “enough?

Russ and I understand the frustration of trying to have a civilized conversation amongst thoughtful people – all of whom have a basic understanding of logic and ordinary rules of argumentation, and many of whom possess at least a rudimentary understanding of economics and history – only to find that conversation frequently disrupted by commenters who have utterly no grasp of such basic things; disrupted by people who mistake their passionate disagreement with the thrust of the conversation for knowledge and insight into the matter at hand, and who, in unreasoned response, fling madly into the conversation any factoid or anecdote or quotation or YouTube clip that they (almost always mistakenly) sense bears relevantly upon the point of the conversation and moves that conversation forward productively.

And we also share the normal human urge to pull our hair out upon encountering people so obviously incapable of clear and independent thought that we realize that nothing – literally no argument or set of facts, regardless of how clearly presented – can penetrate their brains.

But, still, Russ and I will not ban Muirgeo or anyone else from the Cafe for the mere offense of being aggressively and ceaselessly and hopelessly stupid.

Unlike in a physical cafe, Muirgeo cannot harm anyone at the Cafe.  He can, and does, annoy – but he can do so only insofar as any of the rest of us read his comments.  As I’ve said before, I completely ignore him (save for an occassional check to ensure that he’s writing nothing libelous or vulgar).  And so he affects me not one whit.

When I read the comments and see his moniker, I scroll right past.

It’s true that many of his comments trigger other responses.  And sometimes these responses are actually very useful: they are often from people more patient than I am in dealing for the millionth-and-first time with arguments that are either incoherent or that have been exposed as flawed countless times before.

Perhaps there’s something that I’m missing (and I don’t concede this possibility rhetorically), but unlike in a physical cafe where he and his ilk certainly would be banned for harassing the customers, here he can be ignored.

Does ignoring him not avoid at least the brunt of the problem?

Having said the above, Russ and I welcome comments about ways that we might pursue (should such be available and practical) to separate commenters interested in rational discussion from commenters not so interested.