I know you’re all tired of him, but NoelPlum99 is a sincere troll, so I’ll actually answer him, despite the fact that his sincerity is really just a side effect of self-absorption. So he asks in a video, where all the dissenters are (why in a video, I don’t understand; isn’t this a case where his written paragraphs are simpler, shorter, and easier to get through then 2+ minutes of yelling at a camera?)
PZ I ask you – given the footfall of Pharyngula; the contentious nature of the subjects in question; the substantial number of people who disagree with your position; the way in which you are regarded as a lead figure in many of these things; given all of this, is it really credible for you claim you don’t mind reasonable dissent when you appear, for all the world, to not have a single regular dissenter who has not been banned?
You may think I am a troll but please don’t mix up trolls with idiots. If you had a good couple of dozen REGULAR dissenting posters on these issues your arguments would look more convincing. In my couple of months before being banned I never encountered a single one. Not one. Nada. Zilch.
So where are these dissenters PZ? Is this just some incredible statistical freak of nature that you are the only person on earth with a substantial number of detractors but somehow none of them EVER bother to argue regukarlyon your blog, except the ones who are trolls????
Oh, yes. Why don’t I tolerate dissent, from a dissenter who posted here for over 4 months, making 168 comments. I have to say, this is a remarkably stupid question.
Why aren’t 50% of my commenters creationists, just like the American population? Why aren’t 90% of them Christians? Why aren’t a third of them Republicans? We can apply this to every site on the internet: why aren’t the comment threads at AVoiceForMen full of people aghast at the misogyny on display? Why aren’t 10% of the comments at RaptureReady people belittling the inanity of Bible prophecy? Perhaps NoelPlum99 ought to think it through a little bit, and wonder why he assumes that the internet ought to be a great gray panmictic uniformity.
But all right, I’ll just assume that he’s not very bright and explain the obvious. There are a number of reasons why you aren’t ever going to see mobs of angry dissenters here.
This is a self-selected community. Look at the header on the blog: liberals, atheists, science-minded people will congregate here. It’s a successful center for that kind of person, and that means that people with different views — well, those that have a speck of self-awareness — will know that they are going to be a tiny minority in a swarm of opinionated, outspoken, ferocious liberals. Venturing here will be daunting. The mirror of community is that there will also be self-selected avoidance.
I have commenting rules, linked to on the main page. It’s not just the community, but me: this is my party, and I am the bouncer. I keep on eye on things and disruptive intrusions will get shown the door. I hope it’s clear that this is not a completely open noise machine with no expectations or standards of behavior. Reasonable dissent is allowed, but the key word there is reasonable.
So why aren’t there a bunch of reasonable people here disagreeing with the major premises of the blog (there is, of course, a great deal of disagreeing going on in the comments — NoelPlum99 has to have his blinders on to fail to see that — but it’s just not over fundamentals, like the value of science)? Because they can’t disagree reasonably.
Part of the reason is that the culture here means people who have a minority view often charge in here with a chip on their shoulder, promoting confrontation for confrontation’s sake. They’re not here to have a conversation, or discuss issues philosophically; they’re here to assault the fortress, to do their best to piss everyone off. They want to disrupt rather than argue. And like any good bouncer at a party who sees the angry drunk blundering about interrupting conversations, I give them the boot.
Another reason is that when they aren’t aggressively abusive, these dissenters are often completely tone-deaf and unable to see beyond their own myopic little obsessions. Case in point: NoelPlum99. He wasn’t openly abusive; he didn’t charge in like another recently banned spammer who had the username “PZ MEYERS IS A FUCKING DOUCHEBAG”; he was just consistently narcissistic.
In this case, I posted my regrets that Natalie Reed was leaving FtB, and also pointed out something that NoelPlum99 ought to find ironic: that the trolls and abusers are driving someone out of their own space. Oh, no…the real problem, in NoelPlum99′s head, is that blogs have some expected range of behavior that might preclude the participation of assholes, but that those same resentful assholes might be actively trying to shut down entire blogs and blog networks? No, not an issue. No worries. Create an environment of such unremitting hostility that people can’t bear the pressure of posting on their own sites is OK, but how dare a blog ban NoelPlum99?
So NoelPlum99 got banned for a couple of things. One was the complete inappriateness of jumping into a thread regretting Natalie’s departure with the deep sentiment that he didn’t like her. Another was the complete lack of awareness of context: it’s all about him, everywhere. And finally, there was the absurdity of a guy complaining now about how we don’t allow dissent arguing at length in that thread (completely off topic) about how skeptics ought to be able to disallow certain topics, such as gender politics.
And there was another obvious reason why some dissenters get banned: they are obtuse and don’t listen. There are regular commenters here who are similarly obstinate, but at least this is their space and they have voluntarily joined up with a group sharing similar views. If you’re a dissenter, holding a minority view, there’s an expectation that you’re actually here because you’re looking to learn about a different point of view (although, as I said above, usually you’re here about confrontation for confrontation’s sake). You’re getting dogpiled; there are 20 people telling you you’re wrong. Then what happens, typically? You pick the worst possible argument (it’s true, sometimes people I agree with in general do make bad arguments), ignore all the reasonable arguments, and never ever listen. NoelPlum99 was notorious for that. He hung around for 4 months and never changed his tune, never addressed any sensible arguments, and never acknowledged any points that might represent serious concerns by commenters here.
Imagine a party where some boor keeps walking up to conversational groups, announcing his position on some sociopolitical point that may not have anything to do with what the conversation was about, and when the others actually try to engage him, he goes glassy-eyed, ignores them, and eventually wanders off to assert his great truths to a different group. That was NoelPlum99. That was not reasonable dissent.
One last remark: sometimes there is no such thing as reasonable dissent on certain issues. Sometimes trolls are idiots. NoelPlum99 lasted as long as he did because he didn’t come right out and shout some intolerable stupidity; I will, for instance, ban racists on sight, because their arguments are not in any way scientifically or ethically defensible, and in fact are simply odious and evil. NoelPlum99 was smugly privileged and dense, but there was some faint hope that he might actually wake up and recognize his own blinkered view, a hope that faded fairly rapidly.
But otherwise, there are views that I find insufferably stupid, that only idiots would hold, and I’m happy to make this environment as hostile as possible to them. There are no rational grounds, no context for reasonable dissent, for being anti-feminist, for instance, or denying that our culture is deeply patriarchal and sexist. I can see reasonable argument about how we ought to deal with this fact of life, but denial (or worse, the kind of inane argument so many make that “why, calling someone a ‘cunt’ is not a reflection of de facto sexism!”) is going to be fired upon with all ferocity and anyone holding such a view is going to find interacting here intolerable and infuriating, leading to them lashing out and trying to turn the whole blog into a brawl over some really idiotic issues.
And then they get banhammered.
Because really, how do you express “reasonable dissent” from the view that women are people, and that our society institutionalizes discrimination of all sorts?