No Such Nonsense

A little of this, that and... what was I talking about again? It's TV, sports, pop culture and politics - all the stuff that really matters in life.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Rules of Discourse

Last year, I started reading Antonia Zerbisias's blog, Azerbic. Well, I tried to start. She went on a blog sabatical at the end of the summer and it looks like the blog may be officially dead now. Antonia is the media columnist for the Toronto Star, and her blog would cover all kinds of topics having to do with, well, media, writers, TV, magazines and so on. One of the most notable things about the blog was the loyal group of commenters - most every post would inspire a slew of comments. Some posts would inspire more than a hundred. For a Canadian blog not featuring celebrities and sports, that's damned impressive. Personally, I like Antonia's sense of humour and her writing style, so I was sad to see the blog dying a slow death. I was ever sadder to see the reason why.

It was those commenters, see. Over and over, a seemingly innocuous post - including a brief one about Norman Spector calling Belinda Stronach a bitch - would generate a bunch of comments and before long, somehow, the comments would degenerate into a yelling match between people on the opposite sides of the pro-Isreal, pre-Palestine divide. Some have even suggested that there was a conspiracy afoot to bring down the blog and eliminate reasoned dissent on the issue.

Okay. I know it's an important issue. Far too many people have died on both sides. That said, I don't think its an issue likely to be resolved by name-calling on a message board. But, then again, what do I know? I'm intellectually lazy.

Or so I learned this week.

Many members of Antonia's loyal audience have been spending time on Sooey's blog. Sooey was a regular commenter on Azerbic and she can be pretty damn funny. I don't quite buy into her ideology (me being a capitalist pig MBA and she being a tad on the left-wing), but I'm usually interested to hear what she has to say.

Well, wouldn't you know it - this week she posted on Israel. Oh my, the drama. Before long, one of her commenters compared Zionists to Nazis and I felt I need to respond. I so should have known better. I said that using a Nazi analogy in any context is intellectually lazy and emotionally manipulative. Then, I made a lame joke about Israel annexing Poland. So the original poster called me intellectually lazy for suggesting Israel wanted to invade Poland. So maybe I'm dumb. Or maybe my sense of humour doesn't belong in a debate about Israel. Or maybe I don't belong in a debate about Israel at all.

But I stand by my dismissal of the Nazi analogy. Never, ever, ever compare someone to a Nazi if you want to be taken seriously. Okay - Idi Amin you can compare to a Nazi but that's about it. And online? I'm with the community of bloggers who subscribe to Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies. Godwin's Law suggests that the longer on online thread is, the greater likelihood someone will make a Nazi analogy - and conventional web wisdom further suggests that the use of that Nazi analogy ends the argument and the person who used the analogy loses - whether the analogy was apt or not.

Sounds good to me.

UPDATE: Today, the comments on Sooey's blog degenerated into accusations of anti-semitism, censorship and libel. So, she ended up deleting a bunch of the comments .

There's a widely documented notion called Libel Chill. It's where legitimate journalists become so afraid of getting sued that they stop writing about certain people and subjects entirely - Conrad Black, Scientology, etc. Would this be comment chill? Comment sections make blogs more fun - sad to see how easily they can be hijacked.


  • At 1:51 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    Jennifer, I agree with your post. As I also became a reader of both blogs over the last few months and, as you well know, a participant in the comments, I thought I'd throw some thoughts together and speak to the point as a matter of principle rather than referring specifically to those examples. I'm going to suggest a few things and wonder whether you'd agree, given your unique perspective as both a commenter and a blogger.

    1. I think there are different types of blogs. Some are on mainstream sites, some are independent with a named blogger and others are independent with the blogger using a pseudonym. Where comments are included, in some cases they are moderated and in other cases all comments are posted without moderation. Lastly, in some cases the blogger interacts with posted comments and in other cases the blogger does not comment on the comments.

    I guess I'm saying there are a fair number of variables and that those variables make a difference in terms of the issues you have raised in your post.

    2. I think it is courageous of bloggers to go into controversial territory and I admire the time and energy they put into the comments, where they are moderated, especially where it's all on their own time.

    3. I think each blogger would be well served to consider a "Commenter Code of Conduct" that commenters must adhere to, be it providing a real name, valid non-anonymous e-mail address (even if not published) or otherwise. Then they can set expectations and commenters know what is expected of them.

    4. Apart from all that easy stuff, for me there is one issue that I find troubling. I don't care if people (bloggers or commenters) take on Israel. That's more than fair. But I have the same reaction as you to references to Nazis. And beyond that, when people want to bring in stuff that we all know is across the line in terms of expressing hatred towards an identifiable group, I don't think that other commenters are at fault for calling those misbehaving commenters on their words.

    If someone wants to, for example, propose some novel scientific theory on a science blog, but at the same time has published approval of other literature that holds that the Earth is flat, that affects their credibility on their pronouncements in the area of science. It doesn't go to "character" but it should call that person's veracity and thinking processes into question. I think it's fair for other commenters to question the credibility of the flat Earther.

    Now it's outrageous to slam the doors shut on the Middle East debate with ill founded accusations of anti-Semitism. One can be a critic of Israel and not be anti-Semitic. One might also in good faith hold the view that the idea of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish People was either a mistake or an injustice to the Palestinians and not be anti-Semitic in holding those views.

    BUT, if a commenter repeats terrible slurs about Jews, I think that commenter is entitled to be told that he has no credibility to weigh in on the Middle East debate. Full stop. That shouldn't be so hard.

    I guess I'm saying that sometimes some of the Israel critics are actually expressing anti-Semitic views. They appear to me to prey on good faith passionate discussions that take place in good faith by dedicated bloggers and their commenters and, in my view, try to get their hateful views legitimized and sanitized. I think it's fair for a commenter to argue the case for that view even if others don't share that view. But it seems to me that the act of arguing that view is out of bounds and rather than the hate speech being attacked the person who characterizes the speech as hate speech is put on eh defensive.

    The same would hold true for commenters with demonstrably Islamaphobic attitudes.

    Somehow, in my experience, it appears that if Commenter A wants to attack the credibility of one or two particular commenters (B and C) given their own published words, or the sites that they link to, A becomes the bad guy-a libeller or a hurler of smears against B and C. I don't think that's right or fair. I actually don't really understand the thought process that goes into standing up for B and C.

    5. Libel chill would be a bad thing. But at the same time the Internet is regulated, albeit loosely, by all the laws we have in relation to defamation, libel and criminal offences. People shouldn't think that what they know they can't published in a newspaper can be published online. I don't think that conclusion is true. People need to be more careful with their words when they post certain comments. If you want to link to a site that arguably is hate speech under our Criminal Code, you may get called on that act. I don't think that's a bad thing-the law is there for good reason.

    6. I think when the comments are moderated and the blogger comments on the comments (or edits or deletes selectively, applying discretion), it's fair as part of the comment back and forth for Commenter A to ask what's up with Commenter B's comment. Really in those circumstances the blogger's discretion is as meaningful as the content of the initial post.

    7. In fairness to everyone-commenters and bloggers-this is all novel territory and no doubt people of good faith will work their way through it.

  • At 2:14 p.m., Anonymous sooey said…

    hey jennifer. i appreciate your very fine analysis. i'm not a pro so i still get sucked in to the comments instead of just letting them be. my rule, i guess, is if i feel someone is taking advantage of my comments section to intimidate me - i'll delete that commenter. i enjoy yours and arthur decco's exchanges. get down. readers like it. that's the whole point - right? being read.

  • At 4:35 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    I'm going to add that there is a difference between someone calling the Israelis Nazis, offensive as that may be, and referring (directly or by link) to Jews as an identifiable group in a negative way. One is an argument that is badly reasoned and perhaps bad faith, but probably legitimate dissent. The other is simply hateful, whether legal hate speech or not.

    I think that situation is worsened where the blogger is anonymous, the commenter is anonymous and the linked rogue website also is anonymous. Nobody is accountable for their words in such a fact situation, absent the practically impossible outcome of the police actually prosecuting for hate speech, which is exceedingly rare and very tough for the Crown to prove.

    Those are the facts behind today's dispute-since sooey has posted, I might as well refer to that dispute.

    I don't quite understand why sooey and I couldn't debate this point without rancour, but I would argue that this site is well across the line of legitimate dissent or free speech:

    I think it is a scary thing when people can Google blogs, even anonymous blogs like yours and sooeys, and turn up these links. It has an effect that I fear is legitimizing and sanitizing.

    So if someone posts such a link (and you can make it an offensive link regarding any other group-it doesn't have to be Jews), I would have thought that where the blogger deletes some comments and edits others, that such a link would be culled. But if it's not deleted, I think it's fair for others to go after the person who chose to post the link. It's not a smear at all. And I think it's fair to ask the blogger why discretion seems to be falling on the side of the person who posts the link.

    Is it about free speech? Is it about concerns that people hurl the label of anti-Semitism irresponsibly such that one should err on the side of allowing it in? Is it loyalty to a friend? Perhaps it's hard to run these blogs and people just don't appreciate criticism?

    I don't know. What does seem evident though is that the slur was allowed and that I was then not allowed to fight back. The (deleted) posts by way of rebuttal are completely inoffensive and I stand by them. I think if they had come from you rather than from me sooey probably would not have objected.

    Why do I say the last statement? I think there is a growing undercurrent that those who battled with the other blogger referred to in your post are the ones being held responsible by sooey and others for whatever the other blogger has decided to do with her blog. I don't think that's accurate or fair. But I suspect that is why sooey is so angry.

  • At 4:45 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    One more thing on topic from The Star's online edition:

    Holocaust denial is NOT a crime in Canada. When it is part of defined hate speech then it is a crime (although as I said it is virtually impossible to obtain a conviction).

    As more and more information and opinion exchange moves online, and the portion of that information which derives from the blogosphere continues to grow, I think bloggers are going to have to continue to wrestle with issues like this-do you let a link to the zundelsite in? Or do you refuse? If you let it in, do you allow other commenters to call the person who posted the link a hatemonger? Or is that a prohibited smear?

    Interesting times.

  • At 9:44 a.m., Anonymous arthurdecco said…

    Geez, you do get hot and bothered, don't you?
    I don't want to be accused of dwelling on the personal, rather than the ideological, so let's dig in, shall we?
    Of course you did not suggest that Isreal has designs on Poland. That was my own silly hyperbole - meant to highlight the absurdity - and yes, laziness - of using a Nazi analogy in this context. In mentioning Poland, Wagner and the death camps, I was attempting to point out the ridiculousness of using a Zionists=Nazis short-hand.
    My point - and I accept that I may have been obtuse - is that as soon as you raise a Nazi analogy - even if you mean only to draw a comparison to one aspect of the Nazi ideology - you necessarily include all the rest of the ugliness. You dredge up all the unspeakable things that Naziism represents - the evil that dwells in the heart of man.
    You argued that Zionists are the new Nazis - and buffeted that arguement by claiming that they are 'evil with a heroic media face.' If you can agree that using a Nazi comparison is loaded and even, as I said, emotionally mainipulative, you must be able to see that throwing out the term Nazi carries a lot of baggage. If I call someone a Nazi, it is unlikely that they are going to think I am merely saying "Hey, you're awfully good at hiding your misdeeds with propaganda." Calling a group the new Nazis implies a heck of a lot more - and you know it. It implies a quest for world domination and a cold-hearted plan to wipe an entire race from the face of the earth.
    Let me clear: It could be true for all I know. Maybe there are Zionists out there trying to destroy Palestine. Maybe they do believe they are superior beings. But, I have seen no proof of this (possibly because the information has been 'contained' and I am willfully ignorant). And when you blithely call Zionists Nazis, I am disinclined to consider any proof you offer - because I do not accept your analogy.
    I eagerly await your angry rebuttal.

    Posted by Jennifer


    I would have replied on sooey's blog but she cut off comments on the thread before I was able to read your response to my response to your original shallow criticism. lol

    And my response this time is not angry. (Incidentally, I'm very rarely angry when I blog. It’s more that I'm impatient with the smugness and ignorance my posts elicit from the usually obtuse respondents.)

    Your point is noted. Zionism is not exactly like Nazism. As I previously stated on sooey's blog, I was being intentionally incendiary and provocative in order to make the point that what is happening in Palestine follows the form of the Nazi's intentions regarding the Jews and other minority groups they wanted removed from their societies.

    Whether you stack them in cattle cars and transport them to gas chambers OR build 9 meter walls with guard towers around them so that you can then starve them, steal from them, beat, bully and murder them or not is unimportant. What is important is that the intent is the same – to rid yourself of those you consider a blight on your society and by doing so expropriate their land and assets by using whatever means are available to you. (In the latter half of the 20th century, it became impossible to murder whole villages of Palestinians as was done in the late ‘40’s by groups like the Stern Gang without the world rising up in outrage.) The methods used now by the Zionists are different though the results the same – the resources owned and/or controlled by the indigenous peoples have been taken over by their jailers through illegal and violent means.

    You said, “My point - and I accept that I may have been obtuse - is that as soon as you raise a Nazi analogy - even if you mean only to draw a comparison to one aspect of the Nazi ideology - you necessarily include all the rest of the ugliness. You dredge up all the unspeakable things that Nazism represents - the evil that dwells in the heart of man.”

    This was my intent – to dredge up all the unspeakable things that Nazism represents – the evil that dwells in the hearts of man.

    I cannot emphasize this point enough. The evil that is modern Zionism is EXACTLY the same evil that filled the hearts of those behind the crimes of Nazi Germany. And the sooner we in the rest of the world understand that, the sooner we can get on with repairing all that is broken about Israel and its inordinate and unreasonable control over world events.

    Tell me – do you think that Iran should be bombed over its insistence to build nuclear power plants? (Because you know they have done NOTHING illegal in their attempts to develop nuclear energy, don’t you?)

    That’s where things are going, Jennifer.

    I would prefer your voice was raised in protest against such an action – not assisting the war-worshipping sociopaths in their criminal enterprises by attacking those of us who see clearly what is about to happen if we don’t stop these monsters soon.

    You had said near the end of your post: “Maybe there are Zionists out there trying to destroy Palestine. Maybe they do believe they are superior beings. But, I have seen no proof of this (possibly because the information has been 'contained' and I am willfully ignorant).”

    If you were sincere you could do worse than to do some research. And no!, the sites I’m about to refer you to are NOT anti-Semitic. I am not an anti-anything except anti-evil.

    Have a look at:

    These should be enough to get you started.

  • At 6:26 p.m., Blogger Jenster said…

    I've published Decco's post - including the links - based on his assurance that they are not anti-semetic. I have not yet been to any of them. I can't say what their ideology or agenda may be (though I have some guesses). In the spirit of open discourse and avoiding comment chill, I've let Decco words stand.

    That said, I'm not sure what these websites could possibly say to convince me of Decco's position. First off, I have difficulty giving credibility to online sources. I don't even single-source Wikipedia. And second, call me naive (and shallow, and smug, and ignorant - oh wait, I think Decco already did), but I just don't buy the idea of a vast Zionist conspiracy to destroy Palestine and eliminate all Palestinians.

    Are their extremists on both sides? Clearly. Is it possible that some Zionists even hold the views Decco accuses them of? Sure. Does supporting the right of Israel to exist and to keep suicide bombers from the streets of Tel Aviv mean one necessarily approves of their tactics in doing so? Of course not. Can one sympathize with the plight of the Palestinians while deploring the terrorism used in support of their cause? I hope so.

    I have no answers for Israel and Palestine. I would like to believe they can learn to live in peace. But, the history is not promsing here.

    Decco notes that it would be impossible to execute entire villages of Palestinians without the world rising up in protest. Sad that the world apparently did not feel the same about Darfur.

  • At 6:41 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    There is a tremendous difference among those links!

    The first one in my view espouses anti-Semitic hatred. The website is anonymous and acknowledges that some have claimed that linking to it in Canada is an issue. (jenster, that's not directed at you.)

    The second and third in my view are legitimate political speech.

    The fourth expresses anti-Semitic hatred-here is one little gem from it that cites the Protocols of the Elders of Zion--Decco, do you actually believe in the Protocols????! Surely not.

    "The 1914-1918 war was the first war of nations, as distinct from armies; the hands that directed it reached into every home in most European, and many non-European countries, This was a new thing in the world, but it was foretold by the conspirators of Communism and Zionism. The Protocols of 1905 said that resistance to the plan therein unfolded would be met by "universal war"; Max Nordau in 1903 said that the Zionist ambition in Palestine would be achieved through "the coming world war".

    The fifth is also legitimate political dissent, even if incendiary.

    I'll punt on the last one-it's a clipping service with tons of links-some look legitimate and others don't.

    Decco, do you really not understand the difference between saying in effect that the Jews have all the money and power and control the world, on the one hand, and criticizing Israeli policy, on the other hand? (And tons of variations in between no doubt.)

    jenster, I agree wholeheartedly with your post that I just saw as I was typing this. I'll take a closer look later.

    Bottom line: prospects for Middle East peace are grim, but there is always hope when people are committed to it. My issue? That Israel's unpopularity is being used as cover for an ancient demonic hatred most recently expressed in a profile way by Mel Gibson. Right here in Canada even. And that those who believe in good "progressive" causes and are committed to social justice are so angry at the Right (which they identify with Israel)-or blind-that they do not see or pretend not to notice what is occurring.

  • At 6:18 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    More importnat, how did you get a Gmail account in order to use their blogging function?! I tried but a Canadian cell phone didn't seem to work.

  • At 9:25 p.m., Blogger Jenster said…

    I don't remember having to give phone number - but maybe I did. I just signed up on blogger. No magic that I can recall.

  • At 6:01 p.m., Anonymous RC said…

    thanks, I think I figured it out--no entries yet on the awards show last night?!


Post a Comment

<< Home