Renewing My Comment Policy

Once upon a time, some SJW types decided we should avoid using stupid and crazy and their synonyms in our discourse, because of splash damage to those with cognitive and mental disabilities.  This idea prevailed only in a few narrow places, never on FtB.  Gradually, it has faded altogether.  It doesn’t help that in the last few years the worst elements of society have been pushing ignorance and irrationality to virtually unprecedented depths.  The tumblr types I follow have actively rebuked this voluntary policing of our own language.  So should I enforce this in my own language and in my comments section?

Yeah, I’m going to keep doing it.  I’m going to respond to the arguments in my last post’s comment section here, paraphrasing for simplicity.  Might be that nobody said exactly any one of these – they are amalgamations and distillations.  I’m trying to boil this down to reduce redundancy, without leaving any one argument completely unaddressed.  Indeed, some of my commenters did less arguing than merely posing questions, and I don’t want the way I’ve set this up to make them think I think this is what they were saying… Whatever.  Here I go:

Argument – The idea that the “stupid” and “crazy” are mostly harmless and don’t deserve mockery has been eroded by foolish and irrational voters and politicians costing literally millions of human lives in the last few years.  Perhaps mocking these people on those obvious faults could shame them into some kind of self awareness.

My Thoughts – What we’re terming as “stupid” and “crazy” in mainstream humanity’s stampede toward extinction is not the ideas and actions of the disabled.  If enough people are acting this way, we can officially say that it is normal (neurotypical) for the human species to be environment-wrecking, hateful, willfully and dangerously ignorant.  Of course that doesn’t stop someone from just casting the pejoratives over the whole human race – “People are stupid,” “People are crazy” – but in that kind of thinking we can be tempted toward “solutions” like eugenics and ecofascism – or simply accelerating human extinction.  I don’t want to promote any of that.

It’s also getting pretty far afield of the core of my question.  Do “stupid” and “crazy” cause splash damage?  Should I try to police that on my blog, in light of the fact the world has largely moved on from this position?

Argument – Coming up with alternatives or policing our language intensely is a difficult drain on mental / emotional resources in a very trying time.

My Thoughts – I agree in general, which is why I’m not aggressively pushing my policy on anybody outside my blog.  But in this space, I usually have few enough posts and comments to allow me a higher level of mental resources to the task.  If I can make this place safer for the disabled to tread – if I have the mental and emotional resources for it – I may as well.  And if I’m doing that for my posts, somebody making a brief comment can – on my blog if nowhere else – think about more carefully what they’re saying.  Just in deference to the house rules, you know?

Argument – Maybe we can say stupid and crazy are informal terms for healthy people acting in bad ways, demarcate the words from the formal terms for mental and cognitive disabilities.

My Thoughts – That just doesn’t seem possible.  Look at the way people all over the network are diagnosing creeps with narcissism or sociopathy / antisocial personality disorder.  And what is the line between being an ardent Qanon and a paranoid schizophrenic person with similar flavor in their delusions?  That can be so hard to tell that we shouldn’t even be trying – or tarring paranoid schizophrenic people while ranking on Q-foolery.

Argument – I can still use stupid and crazy for inanimate objects, right?  They can’t be bothered by it.

My Thoughts – Maybe so, but not in my comment section.  I don’t think the weather is going to be triggered by it, but I don’t know what it feels like for somebody who would be triggered by those terms to encounter them, even in a benign usage.  It’s part of the reason I was hoping to get input from people who are sensitive enough to have been sympathetic to or actively promoted the more extreme version of these restrictions – to find out where the line is for the people most affected by the use of these terms.

Argument – The world is on fire and bad people are splashing kerosene around.  Maybe worry about hectoring language at another time, assuming we get one.

My Thoughts – This is one of the arguments I am most sympathetic to, and another reason I’m not going to push my advocacy for careful language beyond the borders of my blog.  But if I am able to police ableism in my posts and comments – and I am – then this argument holds no weight with regards to my policies.  I can fry all these fish at the same time, insofar as I can do anything at all.

Argument – The initial arguments for this language policing were poor and the idea didn’t take hold because of that.

My Thoughts – The arguments worked for me, so they work for some reasonable people – I like to think, haha.

Argument – The people who really care about this are self-isolating to their safe spaces.  Let them have theirs and us have ours.

My Thoughts – My personal standard of behavior is to try to make my company better than the world at large, for the people who need a better place to be.  I know for a fact that a lot of opinions and feelings go unexpressed in society because the people who hold them are too shy, anxious, sad, or hopeless to feel like they can be heard or considered.  Hence my next point…

Argument – SJWs are going too far when we take offense on behalf of hypothetical people, try to protect those who have not expressed a need for protection – indeed, people whose very existence we cannot be sure of.

My Thoughts – Maybe I’m more aware of these people than most are.  I have conversations, often privately or in less public spaces, with people who are intensely bothered by the way normal people conduct themselves across the internet.  If I can make my blog less painful for them, they get something safe to read.  It’s important to have things to do in life.

Also, both posts and comments are the work of people who are bold and self-assured enough to feel the world is entitled to our opinions.  IRL when somebody is silent, it’s a good idea to STFU sometimes and check in with them, on their terms.  I wanna do right by lurkers, even if that sometimes involves guesswork.

Argument – Coming down hard on this issue harms the SJW agenda.  If we push too far too fast with our social engineering, it’ll snap back and cause even more reactionary guff than we already get.  Don’t turn off the middle.

My Thoughts – This reminds me of being at a political rally against Dubya’s election.  Various lefty and anti-war groups took the stage in turn to promote their micro-issues.  A lady made a very heartfelt plea for people to support the charity she worked on to reduce rape and the abuse of women in war zones.  At the time I was like, this is a distraction.  The larger issue doesn’t need that.  We wanna stop the war altogether and it’ll be easier without breaking it up into smaller issues, making static.

That’s how I felt at that time.  Since then, I’ve come to realize that the only way we can all rise is together, and sometimes that means making space for the rare, the fragile, the small issue people.  It didn’t cost me anything to have to hear the lady’s charity pitch, and might have benefited her group, which may have benefited real people in its efforts.  I don’t know.

And part of that solidarity is not forsaking a comrade.  Yeah, you don’t catch me pushing this on my relatives on facebook, or even fussing in the comments at Pharyngula.  But this is my house.  No centrist is gonna see my comment policy and decide to vote fascist because it so offended their sensibilities.  I’m just not that important here.  Maybe I can have my ideological purity and eat it too.

Argument – It’s too hard to convince other people to stick with this.  Ableist language is just intractably ingrained into society – and particularly our movement.

My Thoughts – Agreed, which is why I’m not pushing it outside this blog.  But if somebody notices how I do it here, decides that’s cool and wants to do it on their own, then maybe I’m helping indirectly?

Argument – Convince me.  I don’t find any of the assertions that have been made convincing.

My Thoughts – As long as you avoid using the terms in my comments, I don’t care if you’re convinced.  It still helps sensitive people who read here.  How do I convince you that such sensitive souls exist if they aren’t here advocating for themselves?  I don’t know.  But some of the people who made this a thing originally did say that they, specifically, were bothered by stupid / crazy / etc, so there’s some anecdata on them.  Plus at least one commenter on my questioning post lamented the ableism they’ve run into on the internet, specified the reason they *don’t* make a scene / fight about it.  Another anecdote, but one you don’t have to walk far to read.

Argument – How about alternate spellings, to emphasize you’re mocking foolishness rather than handing out diagnoses?

My Thoughts – That doesn’t feel like enough differencing, and the sting still seems like it would be felt by unintended targets possibly.

Argument – Alternate spellings are worse actually, because they highlight a type of disability (dyslexia or other linguistic impairment) while not really changing the meaning in a clear way.

My Thoughts – I don’t know that it’s worse, but this argument is not wrong.

Argument – Focus on language detracts from advocacy for actual accommodations.

My Thoughts – Just because the accommodation of more careful language doesn’t impact you as much as somebody else does not mean that it’s a useless accommodation.  I wish I had more input from people who *do* favor this policy to back up that statement, but at this point I don’t .  Still, if I make this accommodation a feature of my blog, it doesn’t prevent me from adding other accommodations on request, and a discussion about it here does nothing to harm the larger movement for disability rights.  Again, I’m small potatoes.

In fact, to say this does nothing to remove barriers to participation from the disabled?  That’s ironic because it’s the only purpose the policy serves.  Less ableist language in posts and comments makes it easier for the bothered to read them, and makes it more likely they’ll feel brave enough to comment someday if they get the nerve.  If this is not true, if I’m helping no one, that’s egg on my face, but it’s cheap enough to not be a big deal in the world.

Argument – How does this argument apply internationally?  A weakness in this policy, perhaps.

My Thoughts – If I’m not a dick to a random ESL person who slips up, just politely correct them or censor the offending word, who is harmed?  This is an English language space at the moment.  If I ever master another language, I’ll worry about policing that language as well, should the need arise.

Argument – The attitude needs to change more than the language itself, although honestly, it may never change.

My Thoughts – Just because a fight will never be won does not mean it is pointless to fight.  Many resistance fighters in WWII felt hopeless, but had their principles.  I can’t change the attitude of everyone who visits my blog, but by making them consider the wording of their comments, by showing them what I can express without ableist language, maybe I can very gradually influence their attitude in some small way.

Also, this has nothing to do with the reason I took this up in the first place.  The idea is that by forbidding the language in question here, I make this blog easier to read for people who are bothered by it.  I don’t have to beat the world to succeed in that small task.

Argument – Most people with cognitive or mental disabilities that I know are not bothered by this language.  Seems pointless to fuss on it.

My Thoughts – If somebody is bothered by it, maybe I should do something about it anyway.  Most epileptic people are not given seizures by flashing lights, but we try to accommodate those who are.

Argument – Surely nobody identifies as an idiot.

My Thoughts – I know for a fact that many people do – not as a point of pride, but as the internalized voice of past abuse.  Your experiences are not universal, as they say.

Argument – Coming up with alternatives, even if they avoid synonymy altogether, is doomed to fail.  The underlying meaning is still there.  Indeed, the non-synonymous alternatives can become synonymous with time – just the same as what they’re trying to replace.

My Thoughts – I agree.  A typical response to my policy or like elsewhere is for a helpful commenter to try to craft a non-offensive list of alternate insults.  I also find it is not the best response to a policy on ableist language.

When I’m composing posts, when I find myself reaching for alternatives, I tend to find it easier to drop that tack of conversation completely and see if I can communicate my point in a different way.  If commenters, in observing my policy, find themselves doing the same thing?  Maybe we’ve successfully changed people’s underlying attitudes by starting with the language.

Argument – Policing our language this hard, in a grand effort at radically changing our underlying thinking, seems like an awful lot of effort for dubious reward.

My Thoughts – Assuming the grander goal can never be achieved, making this blog easier to read for those triggered by such language seems a reasonable reward for a reasonable effort.

Argument – Inaccuracy is a chief failing of ableist language.

My Thoughts – Is it though?  You get political beliefs foolish or irrational enough and it’s hard to argue that they aren’t stupid or crazy.  Seems an accurate enough description of the MAGA mindset, especially given those particular words are informal / vernacular rather than clinical.

I do agree that taking these terms off the table can cause us to take a more accurate and deeper look at the issues at hand, but the primary problem of the language is surely the splash damage, rather than it being illogical or inaccurate.  Actually, another point was made at the same time I find more agreeable…

Argument – Ableist labeling is harmful because it is used for bullying, for achieving social dominance.

My Thoughts – A case has been made that some amount of bullying to achieve social dominance may be a good thing.  I’m wide open to having my mind changed on that subject, as much as I’m inclined to agree with it from my punchy punchy corner, but if I do accept this argument?  I may have to substantially change my use of profanity.

I see that some people have commented to assure me that they are making an effort to be less ableist in their comments, whatever their occasional failures.  This is evidence to me that it’s possible to foster an environment where people try to do better, and it can be safer for those who would be bothered by the language in question.

And at last, I think I did get a comment from one of the sensitive souls still in this fight.  Reason enough to persist in this unpopular policy, I think.

THAT’S ALL.  My policy is that I will not use the words crazy or stupid or their synonyms.  If someone sees that I’ve slipped up, I’d appreciate a polite correction.  I expect the same of comments here, which I know will take more effort than you have to exert on Pharyngula or at Mano’s blog, but you can do it.  I’ll provide correction as necessary, and if you aren’t coming from a regressive or assholish position, I will do so politely.  If you’re a jerk, you get banned.


  1. says

    Totally respect this.

    Although I was pessimistic about persuading people to stop using ableist language, I hardly think it’s impossible. The SJW circles where I hang outside of FTB simply don’t use this ableist language. It’s not like a rule, so it’s not entirely uniform, but there’s a background understanding that it’s ableist and people just plain don’t do it.

    And that’s hardly the only difference. Generally when I point people to my blog, people think my commenters are weird and confrontational. I feel like some people on FTB take FTB culture to be the default, and have trouble imagining anything else. I wish I could convey this mental image of FTB as very much not the default.

  2. says

    I honestly cannot say that I understand your position very well. I do understand (I think) your motivation and your goals, but I still have no clue whatsoever why for some “stupid” is considered ableist while “foolish” or “asinine” are not, since to me they all are synonyms. Probably like with many things in life there is no clear binary but a wide spectrum with two extremes, and the demarcation line is thus inherently subjective and arbitrary. To me, it just seems like basically saying anything negative about any person or behavior is basically off-limits in your comments.

    I do agree that fights that might seem futile still could be worth fighting and I certainly would never wish to dissuade someone from pursuing a goal that is in principle good. And of course, you are free to pursue any commenting policy you wish and you do not need my approval or understanding either.

    I do find it a bit inconsistent though that in a post decrying ableist language you are using gendered insult. There certainly are people in SJW circles who take that very badly. Another issue which I am doomed to never understand fully, since in my native language non-gendered insults are almost nonexistent (I know none from the top of my head) and gender-neutral nouns do not exist either (not for people).

  3. invivoMark says

    I strongly believe that the best discussions on the Internet happen where there is robust moderation. I support your comment policy, and will do my best to adhere to it if I comment in the future.

    I also appreciate you bringing the topic up. Analyzing and re-assessing one’s language and attitudes is always valuable. My own views are still always changing, and are informed by these discussions.

  4. says

    Sig Invivo and Fractal – thanks!

    “Dick” as gendered insult? Been a while since I thought about that. If we divide genital configurations from gender, it could be taken as a “genitaled” insult instead, heh. Not sure where I fall on that. Even in English most insults involve a very problematic root meaning and I just haven’t decided to jettison the raft of those words yet. I might, eventually.

    On fool: In English we use synonyms to evoke different connotations. I actually do avoid foolish most of the time because it’s close enough to a synonym for stupid, but it’s hard to discuss this issue (what I’m doing specifically on these posts) without using some kind of stand-in. Foolish usually comes up in English as an antonym to wise, which is about judgment rather than ability. A smart person can be unwise.

    I imagine in Czech the equivalent of wise could be a pure synonym for intelligent, but in English they’re separate concepts. (In D&D they’re different ability scores!) Wisdom is a kind of discernment that is more intuitive or basic, like “common sense,” and could be possessed by the completely uneducated. Foolishness, as its opposite, would be neglecting common sense, or while possessing it, choosing to ignore it. Asinine literally means “like a donkey” and I usually hear it connoting as unreasonable or absurd. Again, not necessarily unintelligent.

    That’s all I can bring for the moment, gotta jet back to work…

  5. Jazzlet says

    Makes sense to me, and since you and Siggy brought it up I have been trying to adhere to the principles, and surprising myself by actually stopping and thinking about what I write more carefully, so you are having some influence outside of this space.

  6. GerrardOfTitanServer says

    >fool, noun
    >1 : a person lacking in judgment or prudence
    >[Example] Only a fool would ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.
    >1. a silly or stupid person; a person who lacks judgment or sense.

    The first definition matches my prior understanding of the first. To me, I think a foolish decision is bad decision making not because of lack of ability. There’s plenty of smart people that make very poor decisions, like not getting vaccinated.

    I never even associated “foolish” with people with mental disabilities at all until I read these comments here. After reading these comments and consulting some dictionaries, I see how it could be read that way. The second definition above is clearly ableist. I still think no native English speaker actually reads it that way, but hey – if I learn that using the words “fool” and “foolish” does contribute to the same culture of demeaning those with mental disabilities, I’ll stop using it too.

  7. lochaber says

    I still don’t quite understand the reasoning behind some of this, but I’ll try to be more conscious of the language I’m using. If I do use those words here, it’s likely more of an oversight than an intentional disregard. I don’t comment here a whole lot, but I’d appreciate it if (when?) I do slip up and use some questionable language, that some one corrects or reminds me. I’ve no interest in unintentionally harming others, and for those who’s bad behavior I do intentionally want to insult, I imagine I can find some other ways to insult their behavior without causing undue stress to third parties

  8. says

    I get few enough comments I can moderate each one individually, so I’ll handle that lochaber. It’s probably the only sensible way to do it because as the autocrat of this joint, my judgment is the one that matters the most, heh.

  9. lanir says

    I had some thoughts about this post and the earlier one. I started to comment on the other post but I’m not sure I was your target audience.

    As mentioned, the attitude is the real problem. Those can change though and some amount of language policing can be a part of that. The evolution on attitudes towards gay people seems like it might be a useful example. Unfortunately that’s the end of my useful discourse on that topic though, I’m not the right person to comment on what role language policing played in that change.

    I think you can easily replace any accusations of craziness by saying something is nonsense. It has a number of benefits, including singling out the action or statement and not the person. If someone makes a lot of nonsense statements then you can talk about them being dishonest or buying into a tapestry of nonsense (ex. Qanon) rather than attack individual statements (ex. “pedophilia” is a political party). And let’s be honest, if you were tempted to call someone crazy it was because they were talking a lot of nonsense. I hope this doesn’t seem like a counterproductive word swap. I’d like to think this more accurately represents the reasons we might lean towards using this sort of ableist language in the first place while avoiding any sort of finger pointing or shaming.

    I’ve known people who identify as being dumb*. I didn’t consider them to be that way but I never had the sort of sustained relationship with them where I could meaningfully address that. I know what this looks like and I know exactly why it’s bad. But I still fuck this up sometimes and I’ve never found a very good replacement word that means “your idea is garbage and isn’t based on the real world” that I can use as easily to describe a smartass like Bill Maher as I can around people with learning disabilities.

    While I don’t think there’s enough back and forth here to make a big dent, the language you’re exposed to affects how you express yourself. So if we’re all exposed to a little less of any particular language it just means we’re that much more likely to use it less ourselves.

    * If you’re not sure what it looks like when someone identifies as being dumb, it’s very similar to people who identify as being fat. It has degrees. Some have been abused about it and told that one quality makes them less worthwhile as a person. It doesn’t, of course. That’s just a really disgusting lie their abusers tell them. But once something like that is internalized it’s very difficult to uproot the idea. It can be very harmful and it can bring you down even when nothing else in your life is going badly. And when you do have other problems to contend with it can promote depression and similar feelings that get in the way of doing something about any of it.

  10. says

    Language isn’t dead and we still get new words, so what’s needed are new words that get the same frustration with people across without the history of ableism behind them. I’ve been trying to use “maga” as a replacement. There are also perfectly good words like “ridiculous” and “buffoon” that are just more appropriate a good number of times.

  11. Hj Hornbeck says

    The great thing about insults is that there’s a bazillion to choose from. I’m in the camp that “dick” is a gendered insult, so I just substitute “ass” when I don’t want to put any brain cells into it. If you do put some effort into it, the results can be spectacular. For me, that’s one of the strongest arguments in favour of clearing problematic words from your vocabulary: it makes you a better writer.

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