Now that I’ve actually tried to implement the new comments policy for nearly a full day, I’m realizing something more fully than I did before. Yesterday, I wrote of my dilemma:
I see, for instance, that WordPress provides the option of “Comment author must have a previously approved comment,” which sounds nice, but what good is it really? I prefer to judge a comment by its own merits, not by who posted it. Lee, for instance (and Lee really resents being picked on, and he’ll probably see this as being picked on, but let’s face it; his name is the one my readers most frequently bring up as an irritant), sometimes posts perfectly fine comments that add to the conversation. I’m not saying it happens every day, but it happens. So, going by my own preferred standards, I would approve that one good comment — and under the “Comment author must have a previously approved comment,” he would then have carte blanche to return to his habitual ways.
See, at that point I was undecided: Under this new approach, should I reward Lee, or “Mike Toreno” or “BillC,” by posting their comments when they behave themselves? Or should I just ban them for their past sins?
When I first posted the new rules, I was leaning toward the former. But I find I’m implementing the latter.
That’s because my goal is to make this a more comfortable place for people who are not shouters or trolls or flamers or whatever to air their thoughts without being dismissed or insulted, which has kept a LOT of good people away. The three I mention above — Lee and “Toreno” and “BillC” — sometimes seem like the only readers of my blog, because of the way they dominate conversations. Especially Lee, who posts early (generally first) and often (alarmingly often). After awhile, they have more impact on the general tone and feel of the blog than I do. Which will sort of make a guy wonder why he’s bothering.
So — even though they may be trying to post some comments that provoke thought without insulting anyone, so as not to be barred, I’m reluctant to approve anything by those three. And so I haven’t. If I let them back in now, I know that gradually they’ll push a little more, and a little more, and my attention will wander, and pretty soon we’re back where we were. I’ve been here before with repeat offenders, and I know the trajectory that these things follow.
If one is of a legalistic mind, this will seem unfair. After all, the judge and jury are only supposed to consider whether the accused committed THIS crime, rather than convict him on the basis of his past offense (right? you lawyers, feel free to jump in at this point).
But folks, I am not obliged to approve anybody’s comment, ever. I don’t even have to allow comments. I do it because I want to. And if somebody has created an ugly disturbance in my living room too many times, I’m not going to invite that person any more, lest my more desirable guests stop coming (and who would blame them).
So I haven’t approved anything by the three I mentioned above, even though they have tried several times. Not for the foreseeable future. They will no doubt find this frustrating. Well, they can go start their own blogs, and dedicate them to trashing this one, if they are so inclined. And if they can get anybody to read them, then more power to them. I’m not going to let them feed off of, and undermine, my ability to draw an audience any longer. They are personae non grata.
(And yes, I know that they can always come back under a new pseudonym — actually, I suspect one of the three of having done so quite a few times before — but that’s why I’m also monitoring the content of comments, rather than simply barring those names.)
Now, for the rest of you, you’re being judged by each comment. Yeah, some others among you aside from the banned three have contributed to ugliness on this blog. So, many of you will accuse, have I. But you’ve also contributed positively, and by approving some of your comments and not others, I hope to get all of us into the habit of listening to our better angels, and reflecting that in our writing.
If it seems like I’m making up the rules as I go along, then you’re very astute. But I’m doing the best I can. If you don’t like it, again: Go to another blog, or start your own. But if you want to be part of building a better public forum, welcome.