"Managed Civil Dialogue"

This is insane:

Mr. O’Reilly said the guidelines were not about censorship. ”œThat is one of the mistakes a lot of people make ”” believing that uncensored speech is the most free, when in fact, managed civil dialogue is actually the freer speech,” he said. ”œFree speech is enhanced by civility.”

I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. It should be free, without any encumbrances. And this idea of “managed civil dialogue?” Well, it’s just an updated, neato, Orwellian concoction in the tradition of ‘weakness is strength,’ ‘war is peace’ and ‘freedom is slavery.’

This place, The Agonist, is proof that you don’t need to sign up for some ‘code of civility.’ People who need ‘codes of civility’ just don’t have any boundaries and are easily deluded into thinking that managed speech is free speech. The problem with people like this is that they are insecure in their own intellectual development, their own emotional development as to need to be protected from bad ideas. Here at The Agonist we have contributors that I frequently disagree with but those are often the people I like the most. Why? Because they challenge, test and expand the limits of our thoughts and experience here. More importantly, they are essential to the functioning of a free marketplace of ideas, not a managed marketplace–a place like Red State or Michelle Malkin’s site where rigid conformity is expected. Even conservatives are welcome here, so long as they are good faith actors. And that’s the key, I think to much of this: so many people these days are no longer good faith actors. They don’t come at intellectual issues with an open mind, but only with a pre-ordained agenda and that is a whole ‘nuther topic.

Nota bene: While the New York Times article is garbage, this would be a great first start.

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Sean Paul Kelley

Traveler of the (real) Silk Road, scholar and historian, photographer and writer - founder of The Agonist.

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  • But this “code of conduct”? He can seriously kiss my virtual heinie.

    When behaviour on the internet rises to the level of crime, let the police prosecute it like all other crimes. Up til then get some guidelines up about honesty and integrity before you start thinking about civility.

    As I’ve mentioned before – I can’t wait to see some organization with standing start a reliability/credibility rating service (applying to all media, not just bloggers) that commentators can aspire to putting after their names as a credential.

  • that was managed. I left because the management were control freaks. L0L And I was one of the founding members and worked very hard trying to promote the board…I made up newsletters on a monthly basis and put a great deal of time into getting that board to converse in a civil manner. But the guy who ran the board always wanted to direct conversations and butted in where he wasn’t needed or wanted. I finally had enough and haven’t been back since. Nor did I join any other RV boards after that experience. It was very off-putting. Cliques did form, but so what–newbies have to earn their place in groups just like in real life. Many others had left too and I was invited to join a group that had left…but within one week, something I posted was deleted…it would have been deju vu all over again. I didn’t bother saying goodbye.

    If a board doesn’t suit you, no one forces you to stay…just find one that does. Sorta like how you make friends…not everyone is your friend and you don’t join every group…you wait and pick a group that shares similar values. When differences arise, you settle them, but you don’t make up arbitrary rules and then attempt to enforce them on people. Most people love to challenge rules and will go out their way to make the rules look idiotic, which most of them are as well as the people that try to impose their rules! My definition of civility may be different from someone else’s, just shop for a board where yours corresponds to the members of the board where you’d like to participate.


    Well said Escher Sketch.

    For the record on the topic of free speech, I’m somewhere between an Absolutist and a Pragmatist.

  • Where is my Easter Bonnet?

    While some may see the blogosphere and the behavior of its participants as a new phenomenon, it isn’t difficult to find an appropriate predecessor model. That model is found on the streets of any metropolitan area and it is called traffic and the prevalence of road rudeness…or in its extreme…road rage.

    Granted, personal attacks and snark on the internet are not likely to lead to fatalities, but if computers had wheels, it certainly would.

    Read more on the relationship between blog civility and Easter Bonnets…here:


  • and for the record: i’ve received really violent death threats at my blog, so i know what the women in the article are talking about. i honestly believe that 99.99999% of those kinds of threats come from harmless basement dwelling children; nothing came of the ones i received. to argue that blogs need censorship “to protect women” is a dog-whistle designed to keep people from thinking rationally about censorship.

    bottom line: you take more of a risk talking to a stranger in a bar than you do speaking with strangers on a blog. no one is demanding we regulate bar speech, i can’t see why blogs need it.

  • and remember Alan Berg. Be careful, even if you think the threat isn’t that credible. Can’t always tell for sure how serious the nose-breather is….

    -5.75,-4.05 “I am in earnest; I will not equivocate; I will not excuse; I will not retreat a single inch; and I will be heard.”
    William Lloyd Garrison
    US abolitionist & editor (1805 – 1879)

  • As boards become more popular, they tend to become more about groupthink, and less about insight. The most familiar example for me is Slashdot which was originally anonymous and unmoderated. As the the popularity increased, so did the need for moderation and the site’s tech changed to try to accommodate it. Of course, what happens is that the vast majority of people who post to boards are …common… and so most of the value vis-a-vis posters is really contained in a minority of the posters which leads to masses of dross on most boards.

    One of the advantages of the Agonist is really that the cast of regular posters is so small that they represent a reasonably diverse range of perspectives, and posters are individuals without fading into the crowd. Sadly, John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory (http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19) is still an unresolved problem of the blog movement.

  • claims the Internet puts something there.

    I prefer this formulation: violent angry person in camouflage + bottle of rye = violent angry person no longer able to camouflage and repress their internal anger.

  • Ahh, now what was it that Ian Pears’ character Marco da Cola (a 17th century Venetian visitor to Oxford in “An Instance Of The Fingerpost”), said again?

    …The one thing that detained me was the newspaper, a journal printed in London and then distributed around the country, a most novel idea. It was surprisingly frank about affairs, containing reports not only of domestic matters but also detailed accounts of events in foreign places which interested me greatly.

    I was later informed, however, that they were milk and water in comparison to a few years previously, when the passion of faction brought forth a whole host of such organs. For the King, against the King, for Parliament, for the army, for or against this or that.

    Cromwell, and then the returned King Charles, did their best to restore some form of order, rightly surmising that such stuff merely lulls people into thinking that they understand matters of state. And a more foolish notion can hardly be imagined, it being obvious that the reader is only informed of what the writer wishes him to know, and is thus seduced into believing almost anything.

    Such liberties do nothing but convert the grubby hacksters who produce these tracts into men of influence, so that they strut around as though they were gentlemen of quality. Anyone who has ever met one of these English journalists (so called, I believe, because they are paid by the day, like any common ditch-digger) will know how ridiculous that is.

    Ahh, plus ça change…

  • has been designed for boards that adopt the blogger code of conduct (BCC)! L0L Jeez, that board that I left would love to have one of those. I think I’ll send it to them anonymously because I wouldn’t want to be identified as having anything to do with such a worthless cause.

    I’m calling on every stitch of self-discipline I have not to edit their wiki. and use that line from the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart, Click to hear that memorable line about, “stinkin vadges!”

    The best suggestion I’ve seen so far about free speech is that there should be, “no laws.”

    This group of people have flipped their lids!

  • rating like Escher Sketch mentioned at the top would be the best idea. Something passive and bottom-up needs to be done.

    But I can completely understand the push to get a voluntary, flexible code of conduct going on some blogs. I’m actually finding myself disagreeing very strongly with many of the comments here–in fact, I was writing up a reply with my blood boiling but have decided against posting it. I’ll write a diary post later instead, when I’m not so pissed off and when I’ve thought things over a bit more. Most of my anger has to do with this sentence and those comments which support it: “The problem with people like this is that they are insecure in their own intellectual development, their own emotional development as to need to be protected from bad ideas.” It’s the “get a thicker skin” argument, which I think is absolutely, totally BS.

  • being proven wrong. 🙂

    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”

  • You mention boundaries up above, in your second paragraph:

    People who need ‘codes of civility’ just don’t have any boundaries and are easily deluded into thinking that managed speech is free speech.

    Could you define the term “boundaries” in this context?

  • “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it” kind of terms.

    I would say this would include people who are overly passionate, not well informed and easily swayed by opinion leaders without an critical thought on their behalf going into what they believe.


    “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”

  • …use Usenet, you bloggers are a bunch of PC sissies. There are no prisoners in a good vi vs emacs flame war! Or perl vs. python! And only true believers dare to venture into comp.lang.object!

    Sigh. I’m only allowed 3 exclamation points in my life, and I wasted them all on this thread.

  • …on the ground in sports. Most sports define which edge of the boundary actually is the boundary. Hockey has a curious definition of the blue line (separating one team’s zone from the neutral zone). The boundary is always the furthest edge from where the puck is. Bill O’Reilly clearly uses this definition. You’re “offside” if you come within a mile of him, but he’s not “offside” until he’s stuck his fist down your throat.

    No, that’s not what was meant above. It’s the trouble with “official” boundaries (ie, codes) – you need disinterested referees. If you don’t have disinterested referees, you’ll have to take the responsibility to be fair yourself. The people calling for codes are usually those who can’t do that.

  • “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”

  • Some moderation is needed in any online space, or it turns into a sewer. I’m an absolutist on free political speech, but I’ve never believed you have free speech in someone else’s newspaper/blog/tv station.

    Freedom of the press, as someone put it, is for those who own one.

    That used to be a big problem, but it’s less of one now that everyone can have one by starting a blog.

  • is when people join a blog and are given access to a board by the owner or the administrators of it, that there is notice of acceptance to the effect, “I agree to conduct myself in a civil manner.” Concurrent with the acceptance is a notice framed similar to, “This blog reserves the right to reject members who do not comply with the generally accepted standards of civility.” (KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid) triumphs over complicated. Discretion should rest with the owner of the blog.

    Blogs are individuals and as such are like private clubs that make up their own rules that members have to accept. (Or they go elsewhere) There is no need to go into detailed explanations and put badges on their blogs. In fact by making too many rules they open themselves to controversy about their blog’s ability to be impartial in their ability to interpret their rules–similiar somewhat to the US written Constitution that lawyers chipped away at for decades turning the United States into having strong federal government instead of supporting the rights of individual States (decentralized) which is what the founders intended. Power was intended to rest with the people (inverted pyramid structure…bottom to top governance, but it hasn’t turned out that way.)

    Lawyers and people subjected to rules find ambiguities in them. It’s best to have the ‘fewest’ number of them as possible and take incidents that crop up on an individual basis. Take the example of W.C. Fields to heart, on his deathbed he was seen reading a bible and when asked why he was reading it, he stated, “I’m searching for loopholes!”

  • Of course. I’m not saying I’d join this civility org, but I am saying that moderation is required. It’s not as simple as letting people say anything they want, if you do that, you’ll have problems.

  • New Scientist | April 11

    Perhaps inevitably, some bloggers have criticised a proposed “code of conduct” designed to curb the harshest online criticism.

    A first draft was released this week, but it has riled some bloggers, who accuse its authors of acting like media overlords and disregarding free speech.

    “It’s simply unbelievable what’s going on here,” says a commenter using the name “Marcus” in a message on O’Reilly’s website. “So-called ‘community standards’ are merely the latest example of the agents of normalcy and entrenchment subconsciously attempting to organize, dictate, tame and pacify.”

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