A change in policy

Our “be nice” rule is being expanded in order to support more effectively our goal of promoting discussion of feminist issues in a productive manner. The topics we discuss in feminist philosophy are ones that are not just theoretical. We’re discussing things that matter to people’s lives, and we need to bear in mind that reading these discussions can affect people’s lives. While very few readers of philosophical blogs will have been tied to the trolley tracks, quite a lot of them will have been on the receiving end of the various forms of oppression that are frequent topics here. It is a vital goal of ours to create a safe and supportive environment for discussion of these issues and experiences. One way that an unwelcome atmosphere can be created is by repeated expression of views which, intentionally or otherwise, lend support to (for example) racist or sexist positions. In the past we have allowed this if the individual comments do not fall afoul of our “be nice” rule. But our readership has made it clear to us that this is insufficient, and that as a result we have allowed our blog to become at times an unwelcoming environment for those who are on the receiving end of various sorts of oppression. If your comments are of this sort, you will be politely asked to back off a bit. If that doesn’t work, you may be placed in moderation or blocked.

Commenters who fall foul of this new rule may well be entirely unaware of the way in which their comments can serve to create a problematic environment. That is, after all, the way that privilege often works. We hope, then, that the occasional “back off a bit please”, or “please don’t go down this road”, linked to this post, will be received as a helpful intervention. Our assumption has been, and continues to be, that we all want to conduct an open and full discussion in a manner that facilitates, rather than hinders, the participation of those who are victims of oppression. This is, however, a tricky matter. We hope that you’ll bear with us as we work our way toward improving the blog’s atmosphere.

8 thoughts on “A change in policy

  1. This change in policy is one of these community projects that take a lot of energy from one person in particular. So thank you, Jender, for all the work you did in gathering, refining and adding to a lot of thoughts.

  2. It’s hard to know what to make of this; I guess we’ll have to see how it turns out. I should like to know the parameters of what is meant by “views that, intentionally or otherwise, lend support to … racist or sexist positions”, which I’ll call VTLSRSPs for short. One presumes from the fact that Jender didn’t simply say “racist or sexist views” that the concept of VTLSRSP encompasses views that are not racist or sexist. So what determines a VTLSRSP – or is it, with apologies to Potter Stewart, a matter of “I know it when I see it”? Can a well-justified view be a VTLSRSP (or vice versa)? What about views (and there seem potentially many) that could be said to be susceptible to supporting racist/sexist positions and also to supporting non- or even anti-racist/sexist positions? For that matter, what about facts – since they must be dealt with by all positions? And since bona fide debate over the very matter of whether a view (for example, one put forth by a given thinker, writer or public figure) is a VTLSRSP is central to a fair number of discussions on the blog and in the field, I can’t help but wonder if “Be Nice 2.0” doesn’t pose an undue risk of begging all manner of disputed questions.

    I should also like to know with a little more specificity what you meant, Jender, by saying that the readership has made it clear that the policy in effect was insufficient. I say this particularly since the readership is not monolithic and since unless my recollection is faulty, at least some of the readership has previously ventured to suggest that whatever its faults, the policy up till now is ultimately better than certain alternatives of the sort heretofore sagely avoided by the editorship. After all, it seems that the new policy is vaguer and even less susceptible to objective application than the old one. It is practically a commonplace that, while no set of rules (especially rules of discourse) is sufficiently completely articulated to deter all undesired behavior, rules that are not sufficiently fixed and specific to permit a person to order their own conduct unaided tend to foster an oppressive and unwelcoming environment of their own. They are also rather widely held to be contrary to the spirit of fairness with regard to the persons charged with obeying them, and are notorious for lending themselves to mischief (intentionally or otherwise) on the part of even the most capable and best-intentioned persons charged with applying them.

    At the very least, I suspect that the process of amending the rules might have benefited from open comment (just like rules in the non-virtual world). That said, I believe I understand and sympathize with the moderation challenges, and am hoping for a good result here.

  3. Thanks, Anne. Nemo, we realise that not everyone will like our new policy. We’re sorry about that. But in the end, it’s just a blog and people who don’t like it are free to have discussions elsewhere. We are not opening the policy up to discussion. In fact, perhaps I should have closed comments on the post.

  4. Nemo:

    I had a lot of the reactions that you have to the change in comments policy, but then, I thought, as Jender says, that it’s just a blog.

    They (the moderators) want to welcome and shelter a certain type of comment, that of those who have been excluded/discriminated against or who are members of groups which are often excluded/discriminated against and have no obligation to run a debating forum for all points of view.

  5. swallerstein,

    You’re right that it’s just a blog (though I wonder if your alternative of “running a debating forum for all points of view” isn’t a false dilemma). But more to the point, I trust that both likers and dislikers of the policy will acknowledge that the new policy introduces not-inconsiderable new ambiguities, and that it would prosper the new policy for there to be some place (if not this thread, then perhaps another) where questions about the meaning and interpretation of the policy could be met with a worthier response than “no comment, like it or lump it”. I’ve already posed a few non-rhetorical questions of this sort above; and since you implied that similar questions were raised in your own mind, I expect you agree that they are of a reasonable sort. I daresay the moderators’ indulgence of some of Q&A about interpretation (where the responses can readily be consulted by others) could not help but enhance the ability of the readership to conform their comments to the new policy. I take it as given that that is an important goal of the moderators, since it is the very rationale for promulgating policies in the first place rather than, e,g., simply implementing unwritten ones. Win-win, right?

    P.S. I appear to be stuck recently in moderation myself for reasons that have in no wise been made understood – in fact, when I saw the post title “A Change in Policy” I half expected it to be an announcement that the blog was now placing all comments in moderation – so I know from experience whereof I speak!

  6. Many thanks, SWallersterin. You’ve understood perfectly what we’re up to here and we really appreciate it. Nemo, we’re not going to have that discussion. It’s not what we’re here for, and it takes us away from what we’re trying to do. So I’m going to ask now that you don’t carry on with this. Thanks.

Comments are closed.