The illiberalism of hypersensitivity

Cross-posted from elsewhere to further discussion

Having scratched my head and stared at my navel publicly elsewhere, I thought I should share what I found whilst scratching here as well. I would like to take a moment to share some observations about what is apparently a sensitive topic. The topic is so sensitive, however, that I feel I must preamble the [censored] [censored] out [censored] lest superior persons and others of highly refined sensibilities take this in the wrong spirit.

Point the first: I would like to express my appreciation for the people who conceived of, put into operation, and continue to maintain both with effort and money, this [well, that] website.

Point the second: I acknowledge that this is your [their] sandbox. You [they] make the rules. For any who disagree, the highway is two doors down and to the left. Those who feel they are not afforded ample enough opportunity here [there] to speak freely are perfectly free to go and design their own forum, fund it, maintain it, and market it so that they’re not just standing on a soapbox pontificating to their cats.

Point the third: fair is fair. I actually quite like the jury system established here [there]. It’s as fair a policy as any to be found elsewhere, and far superior to most.

That said, I must also make clear that I am aware of this rule [there] pertaining to posts in General Discussion.

[blockquote]Threads complaining about [elsewhere] or its members; threads complaining about jury decisions, locked threads, suspensions, bannings, or the like; and threads intended to disrupt or negatively influence the normal workings of [elsewhere] and its community moderating system are not permitted.[/blockquote]

As I am aware of this rule, I should point out that I, by no means, intend this post as a complaint about jury decisions, even the one against one of my sillier retorts, or about locked threads, or suspensions, bannings, or “the like,” whatever the like may be. This post is also not intended to disrupt or negatively influence the normal workings of [elsewhere] and (even or!) it’s community moderating system.

On the contrary, what I mean to do is prompt a discussion as to an issue that certainly plays a role in politics, the distinctions between liberal and illiberal approaches to the manner and mode of one’s speech. I mean this as a “food for thought” post, and remain entirely open to the possibility that someone or many someones with whom I may or may not disagree may (or may not) support their case in a manner persuasive to me and/or others. As such, I hope this is received in the spirit of a community service.

Naturally, a post like this is triggered by some event(s). I recently noted that someone (not me) referred to, I’ll assume, center-left Dems as *ahem* (quoting here, not lobbing the pejorative myself) “Vichy Democrats.” It seems this offended some of highly refined refinement. As for me, I had a post hidden because I told someone in a manner I thought was clearly figurative to “go play in traffic.” I’m okay with the post being hidden. I’m not complaining about that. I would, however, like to point out what I feel is abundantly ironic in such a way as, I hope, to cause some pondering and discussion.

My post was reported because, “disruptive, hurtful, rude, insensitive, over-the-top, or otherwise inappropriate.”

For the sake of consistency, I’ll assume “or” is equally well served by “and/or.” And, once again, I accept the “punishment,” the system in place, the will of the jury, etc., &c, usw.

So here’s my points to ponder, none of which I mean to be exculpatory in my own case.

What post here is not intended to be disruptive? A great many posts on a great many issues, one might assume, are intended to “disrupt” the status quo, perhaps even solely among [elsewhere] readers/participants. Such posts are intended to disrupt a previous mode of thinking in favor of a different mode of thinking. Naturally, I don’t mean trolling for trolling’s sake. I simply refer to the very nature of political discourse and persuasive speech. My general hope when I click into [elsewhere] is THAT I be disrupted.

Okay, that was the easy one. I would like to think that, at least in spirit, most of us would agree thus far, even if others might be able to make a far better case.

But what is hurtful? I would absolutely like to know what other participants here find hurtful. Personally, what I find hurtful are intellectually dishonest attempts to derail valid and pertinent discussion. Healthy and lively debate between opposing parties constitutes the very sinews of our republic, else, without that “social contract” connective tissue, we would merely have authority vested in the hands of one set of demagogues (clarification: I mean in government, not the admins of [elsewhere]) at the expense of, well, everybody else. I find badgering repetition of the same tired question, a feeble attempt to simply bludgeon one’s opposition into silence, if not submission, hurtful, not just to the public good, but to my own feelings. To be on the receiving end of such treatment is to be othered, shamed, silenced. I find ad hominem attacks, thinly veiled or otherwise, but in this case of the thinly-veiled variety, to be hurtful. Once again, it’s an intellectually dishonest strategem solely intended to silence opposition.

Am I safe in guessing that a great many of us would find that behavior, if conducted by a right-wing demagogue to be an example of illiberalism?

I think all of the above observations on hurtfulness apply equally to rudeness. Or am I mistaken in thinking that attempting to shut down discussion with heavy-handed (and ham-fisted) rhetorical shenanigans instead of dealing honestly with an opposing view in the spirit of genuine rational discussion is rude?

And again re: insensitivity. One’s words in the heat of the moment may be insensitive. Hell, that’s a badge I generally wear proudly, right next to my Cynic’s badge, and my Chocolate Starfish badge. Where, however, is the sensitivity in attempting to shame and silence one’s opponent in civil discourse?

I must confess, the “over the top” distinction eludes me. It strikes me as an utterly subjective quality. To that extent, I defer entirely to the will of juries regarding my, or anyone else’s, comments. It seems rather like a “luck of the draw” event. It’s entirely possible, for instance, that a jury may have (didn’t, but may have) unanimously decided that “Vichy Democrat” was fair game. It was just a matter of chance that the randomly selected jurors ruled the way they did. Personally, subjectively, what I find “over the top” is, once again, heavy-handed attempts at shaming and silencing, especially using transparently absurd ploys like, “are you even qualified to have an opinion?” further exacerbated by badgering. Who here would be permitted to have opinions on anything were expertise evidenced by elected/appointed position in government or advanced degrees and narrow specialization in [insert field here field] required before permission is granted by other commenters in the self-appointed role of Those Who Know Better?

Last but not least, “otherwise inappropriate” is a lovely catch-all wastebasket term that is far more palatable than implications of whimsy.

By my reckoning, so many posts and responses here [there] and elsewhere would be subject to silencing if each were viewed through the connotations of the terms as I understand them that the Internet would be a veritable cricket farm were everyone to silence all the logical fallacies, all the intellectual dishonesty, all the petty demagoguery.

So, was telling someone to “go play in traffic” truly in breach of those terms? I concede. The jury ruled fairly (enough). But were I to have “alerted” the comment that prompted my dismissive retort, how seriously would that have been taken? In my defense, and I do remain unapologetic for the comment, I at least assumed enough of the person to whom I responded in that manner that they weren’t so intellectually impaired as to actually go play in traffic.

I have learned my lesson, however. When faced with such brazenly dishonest rhetorical tactics, I shall either exercise my power to ignore, or simply proceed to call out their illiberal attempt at silencing opposition for what it is and suggest something far, far worse than playing in traffic, to wit, that maybe they’d perhaps be in better, and like-minded company, at The Blaze or someplace of that sort.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, what say you? That’s actually the important part. How do you feel and what do you think when faced with that kind of shaming and silencing behavior? Do you or do you not find that form of discourse to be illiberal?

Postscript: as I’m uncertain as to whether this post is of the permitted speech variety, I should note that once I’m done preaching to my cats I can just as readily cross-post to my own blog/soapbox where I might catch the odd one or two views, or maybe at the other blog, where, over time, I’m fairly certain hundreds will view and have an opportunity to reply.

With sincere best wishes to all. Fight the good fight.

Update: The original post at Democratic Underground actually made it to 7 recs, landed (briefly) on the Greatest Threads tab, and garnered to supportive comments before getting locked by admin for being “meta,” a verboten act, despite my great pains to abide faithfully by the rules. Another response appropriately called me out for being a dick while utterly sidestepping the arguably greater dickishness of intellectually dishonest speech.

Was such a move on the admin’s part liberal or illiberal? I wanted to request a quote from the admin who locked the post, but couldn’t do so directly, so I’ve followed up with a new post. If I get a response, I’ll be sure to include it here.

Don’t get me wrong, I still hold DU in high regard, as well as a great many users there. This update isn’t about trying to stir some weird blog to blog Internet troll war. It’s about digging into the core issue of liberalism (or illiberalism) and speech.  Having read through Alan Wolfe’s The Future of Liberalism twice now, I’m personally finding this to be a fascinating turn of events as it’s a reflection on the overall quality of comment policies around the Web.

What is the truly “liberal” approach? Anything goes? I should hope not. Rape culture and racism flourish in comment sections all over the place unless they’re diligently weeded out. What about violence and its advocacy? For a case in point, see Who Would Jesus Torture?: ’tis the season to keep your powder dry. A policy like the one at Scholars & Rogues, about which I can have only the highest and most biased opinion, where nearly any substance is countenanced as long as it’s shared in good faith? A policy that shuts down discussion rather than coax it back into line when it strays from the script, as at DU?

At a time when corporations are people and money is speech, when speaking truth to power is generally reserved for those of means who go along to get along, when access to the media that sets the agenda is at the whim of the very few mega-corporations that own them, when rape culture and post-racial racism are running rampant, when Wall Street isn’t talking about poverty, when only now are police talking about brutality, when all of our pressing matters grow all the more pressing with each passing day, isn’t this a conversation that we should be having?

Whatever the issue, some of us, like me, are going to be dicks about it. Unapologetically. It doesn’t matter what “it” is. We, the dicks, are on the wrong end of “it.” Poverty. Violence. Violations of privacy and civil rights. And we’re told by TPTB that we don’t even get to talk about it unless its on their terms, IN their terms. If we’re going to show up with a bowl asking for “more, please”, we’d best do it according to proper form. And we’d best not get uppity about it. As I understand it, one of the principle fights of liberalism is against this very paradigm.

The owners/moderators of any forum have an absolute right to establish and enforce policy however they see fit. That, too, is part of free speech, so I feel the need to reiterate the point that I bear no animus to Democratic Underground for the action of a moderator. My particular (and very minor) case is beside the point. No one is under any obligation to grant me or anyone else a platform. But as we’re fond of noting, truly free speech has consequences.

Now that the conversation has gone totally meta, the consequence is the question. Where does one draw the line between liberalism and illiberalism when it comes to speech? Does the “anything goes” of The Blaze somehow, perversely, actually trump the liberalism of an institution like Democratic Underground just because some delicate flowers can’t cope with hard words while they hypocritically abuse polite words in the interest of dishonest discourse?


On further reflection this morning, I think I nailed what really irks he with this issue. I’m no Hunter Thompson (damn, don’t I wish!). I’m no George Carlin. But were we fortunate enough to have incisive intellects and sharp tongues of that caliber today, I’m saddened by the realization that they would not find a home on an otherwise fine forum like Democratic Underground, though I’m sure they would be lauded as heroes here. Carlin would, I think, be quick to tell some ninny to fuck right off, maybe while dropping in a colorful reference to shitting corn like a machine gun a la The Aristocrats. HST might not drop a single f-bomb, but the twit on the receiving end would be sore for days after being verbally flayed by that genius. What hope would either of them, or anyone of their caliber, have on a forum that pays more attention to form than substance? The quality of our political discourse suffers proportionately to the degree thin-skinned rhetorical cheats win any debate by default.


Image credit: Raed Monsour @ Licensed under Creative Commons.


3 thoughts on “The illiberalism of hypersensitivity

  1. You kind of lost me there… From what I can gather, you posted something on some site and people pussed out and complained to have you banned? Well, you know me, I post what the fuck I want to post and fuck anyone that doesn’t like it (though even I have limits to what I’ll post when/where).

    FUCK EM ALL! What’s the point of having a discussion board if you can’t handle posts you don’t agree with or like?


    1. Exactly! And you just reminded me that I forgot to update the post here. I did it at S&R, then forgot. Like I told one of my friends over at S&R, when I first posted, I was circumspect out of respect. Then I thought better of it. What gets me is that this happened at Democratic Underground, generally an excellent forum, but it’s set up so that the delicate flowers that resort to cheap shots can shut down opposition by choosing style over substance.

      The real kicker for me is the “no meta” rule. First rule of Fight Club is you don’t talk about Fight Club. So ya bend over backward to avoid breaking the rule by prompting a discussion of what liberalism in speech ought to imply, especially on a so-called liberal forum, and they can’t handle it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s