by Henry Farrell on December 15, 2003

A couple of the trolls from Chris’s “thread on Sen”: might like to check out the most recent issue of the “Onion”:; I reckon that “economist Harold Knoep” provides a fairly precise encapsulation of their biases.



Keith M Ellis 12.15.03 at 5:10 pm

This is probably not productive. I’m just sayin’.

Part of the problem, I think, is that Chris is slightly too thin-skinned. Thorley and Anonymouse, if indeed they are “moronic brown-shirted fucks” (in Zizka’s words), are easily very mild and reasonable examples of the lot. The discourse on CT is pretty productive and civil; contrast it to LGF and Atrios for right/left examples with much more dogma and vitriol.

In particular, I don’t think either Thorley or Anonymouse were “trolls”. Perhaps I’m an old Internet curmudgeon, but “troll” has a specific meaning. Neither of them, as far as I could tell, were being provocative only for provocation’s sake, and I don’t think they were writing in bad-faith, either.


Mrs Tilton 12.15.03 at 5:34 pm

Well taken, Keith.

There is ‘troll’, and then again there is ‘merely wrong’. Though IIRC (and I might well not) I have on some occasions noted Thorley Winston being a bit, emm, borderline trolloid, I don’t think the epithet justified on the basis of the Sen thread. (Which thread has at any rate the virtue of having prompted me to toddle along to Amazon and order the book.)


Henry 12.15.03 at 5:38 pm

Keith – we’ve tried up to now to keep our discussions largely unmoderated, and sometimes, very clearly, it isn’t working. They’re becoming more arguments than debates, and more shouting matches than arguments. I’ve seen a nastier tone creeping into the CT comments as we’ve become a better-known blog, and it isn’t only thanks to rightwingers either – there have been some nasty incidents where lefties have ganged up on someone. “Iain Murray”: seems to be having the same issues on his blog. Personally, I don’t want to go as far as Iain, and get rid of comments altogether. But I am going to be much more aggressive than I have been in deleting comments that I think are unhelpful to debate. This isn’t a soap-box; it’s a conversation. And those who don’t want to play by the rules can post on their own blogs, or comment on other blogs which have more of the bear-pit to them.


John Isbell 12.15.03 at 5:51 pm

The Onion piece is apt, but a bit hard to read after returning from the homeless shelter. I just spent about an hour helping a young HIV+ man get his stuff out of the house of his older HIV+ partner, who’d given him until noon before throwing his stuff out, and brought the cops to supervise (friendly cops). Neighbors watching. We drove back to the shelter where he’ll ditch about half of it, since he can’t keep it there. He’s fucked.


Keith M Ellis 12.15.03 at 6:02 pm

I understand and agree with what you’re saying, Henry. The discourse is pretty high on CT, and I respect your attempt to keep it so.

But it pretty much sucks everywhere on the net. I firmly believe that this is because people here are shielded from the normal social consequences of speech. They are truly or effectively anonymous; and, in general, it is very easy to be provocative when one doesn’t have to actually deal with a provoked person in the flesh.

Sounds like you might be a bit more friendly to Volokh’s point of view, eh?


Dirk Jenter 12.15.03 at 7:17 pm

I just read through the discussion about the Sen book, and my impression is that Mr. Bertram was the first one to post ad-hominems about “rightists” and to talk about “stupid people”. Everybody else simply seemed to discuss whether Sen had properly controled for other factors affecting life expectancy and other questions which strike me as entirely reasonable in the given context.


Katherine 12.15.03 at 8:02 pm

I’ve seen blogs where posting rules definitely helped, but they tend to be about cursing and personal insults. That’s not usually the real problem & you can always get around with gross over-generalizations–“I didn’t say YOU hated America and wanted soliders to die; I just said The Left was full of people who hated America and want soldiers to die. Why are you so defensive?”


rosalind 12.15.03 at 8:16 pm

Yeah, katherine’s right; witness infamouse’s disingenuous posts in the Sen thread following the nasty “out of wedlock” post.

I am grateful that CT isn’t giving up on comments yet; there have been some fantastic comments threads in the past that compensate for that dismaying Sen one. I guess the thing to do is post around the trolls and hope they get bored.


Keith M Ellis 12.15.03 at 8:19 pm

I just said ‘The Left was full of people who hated America and want soldiers to die.’ Why are you so defensive?

That’s a good example of the problem, I think. A good many people have what seem to me to be very convenient self-censoring rules. That is, a specific insult is a no-no, but extremely provocative statements that are generalized insults are acceptable. This allows them to be as provocative as they like without allowing themselves to be held accountable for any offense they might give.


James 12.15.03 at 10:35 pm

‘Troll’, insofar as I could make out in the Sen post, was defined there not as someone deliberately out to make trouble, but someone whose views were clearly distinguishable from those of our hosts. I enjoy reading CT, but if I am to be called upon to be in agreement as well as polite, let me say that I can assure the second but not always the first. Perhaps it would be better all round either that anyone disagreeing with the substance of a post not comment, or indeed that CT withdraws its comments.


Keith M Ellis 12.15.03 at 11:31 pm

Yeah, I just read the thread again and I’m not at all comfortable with calling Thorley and infamouse “trolls”. Infamouse was being a bit contentious, Thorley was being quite reasonable and polite. But Chris was the first to start throwing insults around, then Ophelia Benson did, too. True, both clearly feel that they were justified on the basis of the supposed prima facie outrageousness of some of the others’ comments. And, as I have argued, making generalized but provocative statements shouldn’t be used as cover.

Still, I think very good advice would be for anyone who feels a surge of self-righteousness while composing a post to stop and take a time-out. I know doing so would keep me out of a lot of flame wars.

Although I share Chris’s position in the debate referenced, and I share at least some of his outrage at what I agree is an endemic injustice against African-Americans in the US, it seems to me that he opened the discussion by being unnecessarily sloppy and provocative in his post. In that context, Thorley’s and infamouse’s responses are restrained. Then Chris and Ophelia Benson upped the ante. It seems to me that they’re at least as responsible as anyone else for whatever unpleasantness was found in those comments.

I almost always disagree with Thorley, but I prefer him to 99.99% of the other right-wing commentators I read on the web these days. I really don’t think it’s appropriate or justified to call him a “troll”.


Chris Bertram 12.15.03 at 11:41 pm

To be associated thus with Ophelia is an honour. Sometimes I worry that my troll-alarm might be set to oversensitive, but agreement with Ophelia is a good indicator that it is working just fine.


Keith M Ellis 12.15.03 at 11:46 pm

Sometimes I worry that my troll-alarm might be set to oversensitive, but agreement with Ophelia is a good indicator that it is working just fine.“—Chris

That’s some impressive reasoning there, mate. Carry on.


Chris Bertram 12.15.03 at 11:53 pm

Doesn’t seeing whether your reactions are in sync (or not) with other people you consider reasonable play a role in your mental life Keith? It certainly plays a role in mine.


Keith M Ellis 12.16.03 at 12:55 am

Doesn’t seeing whether your reactions are in sync (or not) with other people you consider reasonable play a role in your mental life Keith? It certainly plays a role in mine.“—Chris

Yes and no. I am inherently suspicious of using like-minded people as barometers. I am more comfortable using differently-minded people whom I think reasonable for this purpose.

In particular, Thorley Winston (especially) and infamouse didn’t use the sort of language that most people would agree was inflammatory without regard to content. On the other hand, you pushed the envelope with your first complaint, and then this:

I’ll probably use that passage in a couple of days, meanwhile, a friendly hint guys: the phrase ‘out of wedlock’ is something of a giveaway. If you want to sneak up on us pinko liberals and catch us out from time to time, you’d be wise to be a bit less, er, conspicuous.“—Chris

…which does away with any pretense of discussing this with them in good faith; and Ms. Benson’s comment:

All this bile and venom from people who haven’t read the damn book yet! Why don’t you turkeys put a sock in it until you’ve at least taken a look at Sen’s arguments? Go watch O’Reilly or something.“—Ophelia Benson

…which seems to me to be completely disproportionate and far more “trollish” than anything else that appears in that thread.

I understand that some of the commentors were taking a position that you find offensive. But I submit that reasonable people can disagree about the offensiveness of their position, while reasonable people are not likely going to disagree about the offensiveness of Ms. Benson’s comment, which stylistically alone is identifiable as offensive.

That’s an important distinction.

I’m not answering your question as well as I should be. Hmm. I accept that it is possible for reasonable people to have very different worldviews than I do. Therefore, that a like-minded reasonable person finds someone else’s beliefs similarly offensive as I do doesn’t carry much validating weight with me. Of course they are similarly offended.

What we are discussing here is behavior (is someone a troll? are they acting civilly?) and not the acceptability of their beliefs. From rereading that thread, it seems very apparent to me that you, and others, were primarily reacting to what you feel is the unacceptability of their beliefs. Since their behavior, just as a matter of discursive civility, was more civil than yours and Ms. Benson’s and Zizka’s (IIRC), I think it highly inaccurate to call them “trolls” and to hold them up to public ridicule on the basis of what is claimed is their behavior. They didn’t behave badly (well, infamouse was at least a little unecessarily provocative). You did, a little, and Ms. Benson did a lot.

I repeat: their point of view also rubs me the wrong way. I kept expecting to see an invocation of “The Bell Curve”. But I know trolls, both by the classic and the contemporary net definitions. They’re not examples. They’re just wrong.


wtb 12.16.03 at 1:11 am

I posted a few comments on Bertram’s thread disputing what I saw as Bertram’s claim — and it was a claim — that the US economy, rather than social or cultural factors, was exclusively responsible for the state of affairs discussed in Bertram’s posting from Sen’s book. I guess this made me one of the right wingers whose views you’re caricaturing with this Trollbait post. Poor me. I guess I should put a sock in it and go watch O’Reilly. I’m too stupid to post on CT.

With regard to the “vitriol” on the Sen post: It sure looks to me like Bertram, and especially Ophelia Benson, got out of joint before the “moronic brownshirted fucks” had a chance to get their licks in.

I wasn’t suprised to see the guest’s comments become intemperate. A reader of CT should expect that sort of thing from fallen humanity. What really surprised me was when the self appointed voices of reason were so quick to take offense and trivialize their opponent’s views. I expected more from CT. Henry you, at least, show a little flair when you put someone in their place. I especially liked your Leiter post.


Katherine 12.16.03 at 1:32 am

See, this is the problem with making inflammatory rhetoric the test. If a troll is someone deliberately trying to throw a discussion off the rails, then accusing a nobel-prize winning economist whose book you haven’t read of not running proper regressions arguably qualifies. It makes a real debate impossible in a way that a few fucks and damns do not (though “moronic brownshits” does). But I can’t think of a way to deal with this in a way that doesn’t get wrapped up in ideology.

Anyway, bottom line: your comment boards, your decision.


Ophelia Benson 12.16.03 at 1:47 am

That is indeed the bottom line. My colleague used to moderate the discussion board attached to TPM Online, and he was a very strict moderator. People were always kvetching, and he was always civilly but firmly explaining that it was his site and he would run it any way he liked. Posters had such a hard time grasping that basic idea – they seemed to be convinced that they were doing him a favor by posting, rather than the other way around. People are odd…


Keith M Ellis 12.16.03 at 2:10 am

Well, people have a sense of entitlement here, as in many other contexts.

Ophelia, like you I’m one of the Slate’s “star posters”, one of the first ones, in fact. Last year I came very close to getting Moira’s job when she left. I mention that because I have little sympathy for posters’ proprietarianism and sense of entitlement. I don’t go to the Fray much anymore because it’s such a mess. My policy would have been to viciously prune.

So, yeah, the CT bloggers own the joint, they can apply whatever standards they wish to apply, fair and rational, unfair and irrational. I don’t think I have argued here that they don’t have either the power or the right to do whatever the hell they wish. But might doesn’t make right. And there is an implicit claim to ethical correctness here that I think is eminently contestable.


Keith M Ellis 12.16.03 at 2:19 am

But I can’t think of a way to deal with this in a way that doesn’t get wrapped up in ideology.“—Katherine

I think the only test that we can agree on is civility. Secondarily, and much harder to determine, is earnestness.

An ideological test is the most fallible. Yet, for some, it’s the most convenient. It still seems to me that the primary sins of the accused commenters was that they were politically incorrect. Suspiciously so, I admit. But I don’t think they violated either of the tests above. (Infamouse pushed the civility limit by being carelessly provocative. But then, so do others who are not accused here of being “trolls”.)


Zizka 12.16.03 at 2:46 am

I’m coming here late, but I was part of the earlier discussion.

One problem I saw was that the anti-Sen spokesmen were swamping the debate. Thorley W. posted eleven times. I meant to check this out, but didn’t, but I ended up believing that the anti-Sen people were not responding to the ones who were more sympathetic to Sen, nor were they writing based on a familiarity with Sen’s work. They were just riffing loquaciously on the snippet that was posted.

The intellectual gist of the anti-Sen comments was along the Thatcher line: “There is no society, but only individuals, and indicviduals are responsible for their lives”. When disagreement is as fundamental as this, it can’t proceed very far. I would have been happier to have talked about Sen with people who were not in absolute philosophical disagreement with every word he said.

The right wingers here are less obnoxious than elsewhere, so perhaps my use of the term of art “moronic brown shirt fucks” was inappropriate. But there’s no question in my mind that the thread was destroyed.

I haven’t read the whole thread yet and may post again when I do.


drapetomaniac 12.16.03 at 2:53 am

People were always kvetching, and he was always civilly but firmly explaining that it was his site and he would run it any way he liked

It’s easy to agree, but isn’t that the argument malls give for restricting free speech/pamphleting/etc? If I recall correctly, they’ve lost such cases. Not to mention that it’s difficult for moderators to moderate content-neutrally, so an argument about moderation may “really” be an argument about the legitimacy of certain positions.

It all goes to show how bound up ideas of civility are with ideas of what is reasonable.


Zizka 12.16.03 at 3:03 am

After reading the thread: I completely endorse the “host / guest” model. It’s CT’s place, and they have a right to decide what happens. It’s not a free speech issue. (Oddly indeed, in this kind of discussion, I’ve OFTEN found that libertarians and free-market conservatives do NOT grant the rights of the proprieters to run the site, but do have this feeling of entitlement and become nasty and self-pitying when banned.)

I’ve had many encounters with Keith Ellis and am always happy to agree with him when at all possible. But he and I have diametrically opposed ideas about the questions at issue here. Keith has some sort of due process / civility theory of argumentation which leads him to reject Krugman and accept Thorley, and for various reasons I react the opposite way.

When the Sen debate was swamped by people who rejected Sen’s entire premise, to me the thread was destroyed. Beyond civility, I think that it’s legitimate to define the topic of a thread in terms of what is germane to the topic. For example (choosing as innocuous an example as I can come up with quickly), a debate on the relative merits of Mozart and Beethoven should not be swamped by people who despise both of them and argue for reggae, jazz, or serialism.


Katherine 12.16.03 at 3:05 am

“It’s easy to agree, but isn’t that the argument malls give for restricting free speech/pamphleting/etc? If I recall correctly, they’ve lost such cases.”

They have lost some, but they usually win them. New Jersey’s the exception. Maybe California too? Anyway, it’s not strictly analagous; the mall argument is usually about whether it’s a public or private forum & one of the main policy arguments for allowing pamphleting is that there are no traditional public forums left. That’s not the case with blogs; quite the opposite.

The Slate forums are exactly why I think moderators should be able to use their own judgment & be as harsh as they want to.

I’ve never seen a site moderated content-neutrally either, even it was only “civility” rules. I trust these guys’ judgment more than most.


Matt Weiner 12.16.03 at 3:58 am

Some thoughts:
In fact, reading the thread, Chris loses his temper at 6:41, after Winston says
Seriously, though, does anyone else get the suspicion that Sen’s book may not be a credible work but rather that he might have cherry-picked results that fit his theory without doing something as basic as comparing apples to apples?
and speculates that Sen–who he’s never read–won the Nobel for having the right views. He also demands, in a patronizing manner, that Chris explain the book for him.
Also doug ends a post “As usual, Chris’ blanket condemnation of America is irritating, but there are interesting questions here.”
This is, in Katherine’s words, stifling reasonable discussion.
Consider also that Thorley Winston is someone who has said here that the NAACP is a racist organization on a par with the Council of Conservative Citizens. (scroll down to 4:33.) When he makes arguments that relative income disparities can’t account for shorter African-American life expectancies, it’s pretty reasonable to assume he’s being a racist–and I have no problem with impoliteness to racists.
(Continuing to keep score, Ophelia definitively blows her top at 7:48, just after someone who hasn’t read the book impugns Sen’s motives. Again I’d say that meaningful discussion was foreclosed by the uninformed slur on Sen, not by Ophelia’s angry response.)
wtb, on the other hand, I thought, was mostly raising reasonable questions–though ones that can be answered–but was lost in the din of borderline racism and uninformed Sen-slandering.


Matt Weiner 12.16.03 at 4:04 am

ps I haven’t read the Sen book either, but his reputation among people I trust is enough to convince me he’s not a fool or charlatan.


Vinteuil 12.16.03 at 5:25 am

Speaking as a participant in the original discussion now under review here (and I hope everyone will agree that nothing I posted to that discussion was anything other than temperate) I have to say that by far–

*By Far*

–the most offensive comments on that thread were those posted by “zizka.”

“Moronic brown-shirt fucks?”

And Chris Bertram’s immediate reaction was not to ban, but to praise?

I generally read Chris Bertram’s posts with special interest and respect–but this really gave me pause.


Zizka 12.16.03 at 5:53 am

Vinteuil — as I said, that’s a term of art coming from elsewhere which may not have been entirely appropriate here. That’s my own personal non-apology apology.

The term is used by people who are extremely angry at seeing a thread ruined. I was surprised, too, when Bertram responded as he did. Apparently Thorley’s eleven posts pushed him past the point of no return. (He did qualify his approval slightly, as you’ll see if you go back to the original thread).

My posts came at the end of a thread which I regarded as ruined. It did not instigate or justify anything that came before it.

I still do not know what those people at CT in whose opinion I am interested think about Sen’s book. And unless they have a backchannel, even the CT members themselves don’t know what the others think. The swarming effect was pretty intense.


Henry 12.16.03 at 7:10 am

Just to say that I think that there are trolls and trolls. Jumping into a debate on an author whom one hasn’t read, and about whom one doesn’t know very much in order to trot out your well-rehearsed (and rather poorly thought through) prejudices is not conducive to interesting conversation and is imo a variety of trollishness. Especially when you do it eleven times. It poisons the well of good conversation. I’m all on for engaging in debate with people of different political opinions (although I draw the line at certain opinions) – but I’m not interested in slagging matches which seem to be more about representing than about debating. Chris’s post could have spurred a very interesting debate; it didn’t. And I see no reason for patience with the people who made it turn out that way. To put it another way – does anyone want to argue that Thorley Winston and Anonymouse made a positive intellectual contribution to the argument?


Chris Bertram 12.16.03 at 7:45 am

This is getting embarassing.

Probably Henry’s reference to the Onion should have been left to speak for itself rather than us getting into a further inquest. I plan to rent “Rashomon”: at an early date.


dsquared 12.16.03 at 9:54 am

I think the only test that we can agree on is civility

Nope, I don’t agree with that. Fuck the lot of youse.


Anthony 12.16.03 at 10:22 am

Henry, if the debate wasn’t “very interesting”, that’s primarily the fault of Chris Bertram, who failed to address any of a large number of questions which would be reasonable for someone who had not read the book to ask of someone who had.

T.W. was asking pointed questions rather sharply, but was willing to acknowlege a mistake he made, which is not the mark of a troll of any sort.

Chris answered perfunctorily, saying essentially that “Sen took into account all that you’re objecting to”, without providing any explanation or examples; then he proceeded to attack the previous commenters by slurring them for making racist statements which they didn’t make.

The first really trollish statement was Chris Bertram’s; after that, bigmacattack responded in a less-than friendly manner, then Zizka spewed out his trollish venom.

Chris’ closing statement ” Read the book for yourself – I?m not your research assistant.” is rather disingenuous considering that his post started as commentary on the facts presented in the book. If he’s trying to make a case that the condition of poor people in America is rather shocking because poorer people in India and China live better in some ways, saying “Amartya Sen said it is so” is not a particularly convincing argument, Nobel Prize notwithstanding. T.W. and Vinetuil and others pointed out possible non-shocking explanations for what Bertram reported of Sen; to continue a productive discussion would require Bertram to address their points. If Bertram doesn’t want to be people’s research assistant, he should get a job insulting conservatives in a political campaign where research skills are unnecessary.


Chris Bertram 12.16.03 at 11:08 am

Now I’m definitely renting “Rashomon”: ….


wtb 12.16.03 at 3:09 pm

More “What went wrong on the Sen Thread” post mortem: After reading the whole thing again, it looks to me like a simple misunderstanding about the subject of the thread produced a lot of the friction. In my posts I assumed that the subject under discussion was not Sen’s data, but rather Chris’s comment on Sen’s data. In fact, I’m happy to take Sen at face value as a starting point for further discussion.

I admittedly haven’t read Sen’s book but I didn’t see this as an impediment to responding to Chris’s comments. However others on the thread thought that it was devoted to commenting on Sen’s data; which, of course, means that there’s not point in posting if you haven’t read the book.

I may well have been mistaken about the subject of the thread, but it still isn’t clear to me what we were all talking about.

This has been enlightening for me. I don’t usually post much on CT or anywhere else. I learned how easy it is become involved in unproductive squabbles. I found myself imputing views to others that were not evidence from their postings and saw others impute views to me that I didn’t display and in fact have never held.

Katherine’s right: “this is the problem with making inflammatory rhetoric the test”. The truly dangerous dehumanization that occurs in online debate isn’t so much abuse, which is so egregious that you can’t confuse it with reasonable discourse. The danger is that if you’re not careful you treat everyone in the debate as a straw man.


Zizka 12.16.03 at 3:42 pm

I’ve been in this kind of dispute before. There’s a certain kind of conservative (sometimes libertarian, sometimes contrarian) who dedicates himself to visiting liberal/ left comments sections and vigorously, aggressively, and voluminously arguing the conservative position.

My first point is that the host of a site might simply not want the site to develop that way. He might actually want the site to be a chat among more-or-less like-minded friends who develop their ideas together. There can still be disagreements, and will be, but within a certain range. By and large, conservatives whose hobby is visiting liberal sites are indignant that anyone might want to develop their site that way — for me their indignation is further evidence against them. Their feeling of entitlement goes against their own philosophies and to me is evidence of some sort of personal problem.

Another way to put this is to say that a certain philosophical consensus might be assumed by a site. I would have liked to have discussed Sen with people who didn’t entirely reject the idea that there is such a thing as a social problem.

Even someone who wanted the full range of debate, though, might not want to be swamped by the opposition. The onslaught of anti-Sen arguments was intimidating in its bulk. As I remember, three to five of the anti-Sen participants each commented more times than any one pro-Sen or neutral participant.

I would have liked to have seen what other people had to say about the utility function, which is something Sen talked about which I don’t understand well, and which seems to be the link (or barrier) between economics and more inclusive notions of human and social welfare. This was prevented from happening, and I said some bad words. If civility is the only test, then I’m the bad guy, but there were problems on the thread long before I showed up. And the problem wasn’t with the hosts, in my opinion, but in some rather overbearing guests.


Pouncer 12.16.03 at 3:57 pm

Brad DeLong and I have been discussing the “civility” issue over at McGuire’s “Just One Minute” blog. Brad is fairly gracious in general, though strongly a Democratic partisen. I’m a “public choice” skeptic regarding both parties and so find myself agreeing with him sometimes (criticizing Shrub) while skeptical othertimes (when he suggests Democrats are intrinsically better.)

But the context of the blog-comment debate goes to the civility, or shrillness, of the MAINSTREAM opinion makers. Candidates, columnists, and television talking heads. I deplore the environment in which advocates for a reasonable position attribute evil, stupidity, conspiracy, and incompetence to those who advocate any OTHER reasonable position. And I especially resent the “copycat” nature of commentary in these sorts of discussion boards.

Tell me I’m mistaken, and I’ll consider your argument. Call me a moron, and we’re done.

I really wish the project to “raise the tone” of discourse in our capitol had garnered more bipartisen support.


Keith M Ellis 12.16.03 at 5:59 pm

By and large, conservatives whose hobby is visiting liberal sites are indignant that anyone might want to develop their site that way — for me their indignation is further evidence against them. Their feeling of entitlement goes against their own philosophies and to me is evidence of some sort of personal problem.—Zizka

Boy, you said it. There is an evident hypocrisy among many of them. It sort of reminds me of the “whiny conservatives” thing. Anyway, I don’t visit conservative sites very often, but when I have I certainly haven’t seen the swarms of angry contrarians that one sees at any liberal site. Angry contrarians really rub me the wrong way in general, but conservative angry contrarians are insufferable.

But I’ve seen so, so many much worse examples of this than TW or infamouse that they seem acceptable. I still think they mostly just disagreed; and, as wtb says, perhaps it wasn’t clear (is it ever?) whether the subject was Sen or Chris’s comment on Sen.

Believe me, I agree that there are provocations that are, nevertheless, “civil”. But I use the “civility” standard as primary because it is the least ambiguous. Everything else degenerates into “yes, you are”, “no, I’m not”.

My impression about all this is that in some people minds, the behavior of the so-called “trolls” in that thread satisfied two conditions:

1. They were arguing more in bad-faith than in good-faith; and,

2. The positions they took were prima facie offensive.

Were both conditions not thought to have been met, perhaps they would have been given the benefit of the doubt.

But, in my opinion, it’s not clear that either of the two conditions were met. Maybe they were. But Thorley, I think, could have been arguing in good faith; and, furthermore, that he was being “racist” was an implication, not something that is incontrovertible. In the end, my impression is that Chris (and others) assumed the worst and reacted in accordance with that assumption.

For me, even though it’s much more ambiguous, the real test of another’s contribution is whether I feel that it is in good-faith. I’ll give anyone the benefit of the doubt if they are acting in good-faith, and they’re being civil about it. But, yes, there’s lots of people who act “civilly” whose intent, nevertheless, doesn’t involve furthering productive discourse. They like conflict, their contributions are acts of vanity or narcissism, or even simple boredom. But it can be very difficult to “prove” that this is the case. People will argue passionately about it. This is the bane of all text-based network discussion forums. So it goes.

Sometimes a meta-discussion like this can be very productive. This one hasn’t seemed to me to be a waste of time.


Zizka 12.16.03 at 9:19 pm

I was offended above all by the swarming effect and by what I remember as the monologue quality of a lot of the anti-Sen posts. I did notice what I thought was veiled racism, which allowed me to put the anti-Sen people into a category, but I might have been willing to pass by that.

Overt racism is such a taboo that you hardly ever find it. Even someone like David Duke, or someone in the CCC (KKK heir) will often use coded language and veiled expressions. So I think sometimes you have to draw the inference.


digamma 12.16.03 at 9:32 pm

I just read the whole thread. I respect Amartya Sen, so can someone please answer Winston’s question and explain how Sen accounted for differences in lifestyle choices?


Antoni Jaume 12.16.03 at 11:23 pm

Wau (That’s digamma) who has proved that these are choices? Especially when there is, latent, the claim that since it is a choice then the one that “made” it has to bear the brunt in full.



dsquared 12.17.03 at 11:10 am

Believe me, I agree that there are provocations that are, nevertheless, “civil”. But I use the “civility” standard as primary because it is the least ambiguous

Almost always a bad reason to choose a standard in any field of life; it’s the equivalent of looking for your car keys under the streetlamp because that’s where you can see the best.


Keith M Ellis 12.17.03 at 5:33 pm

In this case it’s a good foundation upon which to build a standard because the context in which the standard would apply is a social context that requires a minimal level of agreement. Ambiguity is counter-produtive.


Nabakov 12.18.03 at 4:12 am

“Ambiguity is counter-produtive.”

Could you be a bit clearer about that?

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