Some general “Hints to the Commentariat” were previously offered. As I mentioned then, I’d intended the tone & style of comments to be that of the old-fashioned “letter to the editor,” as to the Times (of London) in some other century. In January I briefly considered cutting off comments entirely, being distressed by a tone that was growing ugly. After Thursday’s thread, I was tempted to do this again; but have resolved on a course slightly less drastic.
“Trolls” & “foodfights” are among the terms of art, used to describe the soi-disant battle of ideas along Internet comment threads. It seems to be given to almost every partisan, to recognize trollish behaviour in an adversary. It is given to few to recognize this in an ally, or in oneself. It becomes the harder to see when the conversation is on topics apparently exalted, where the partisans imagine themselves to be defending the highest principles, & just as they are sliding into the worst kind of sectarian darkness — the kind which has left many bloody swathes through Western, & world history. At such moments, religion is transformed into a very worldly ideology, wherein the end justifies the means.
It is embarrassing (or rather, worse than embarrassing), to me as a Catholic, to look through the long history of events in which Catholicism was defended by unCatholic means. And I do not mean by physical violence in unnecessary wars, only; I mean also by intellectual & spiritual violence in many kinds, which leave a legacy of hatred whether or not directly accompanied by bloodshed. It is acutely painful, to see one’s own allies attributing to God a malice that could not come from Him, in the service of certainties that are all too human.
No word in that last paragraph speaks against genuine Catholic doctrine, teased out by reason from Revelation over two thousand years. Nor am I disowning a history, in which good & evil are necessarily entwined. The good comes from God & men divinely inspired; the evil from wilful men taking their shortcuts to what they imagine will be the good result. Least of all am I suggesting that Catholics are especially guilty, in the sectarian clashes that litter history; nor suggesting that some of the worst behaviour did not begin in reasonably justified self-defence.
Men are men, as all Christians should know, to say nothing of others; & therefore we are never to be entirely trusted. The condition of Sanctity is real, but it is also very rare, & never to be tritely assumed. The Church herself has always been sceptical of claims to Sainthood, as to claims of Miracles. She accepts & recognizes them only when they survive the most exacting investigations. She learnt to do this from both divine instruction & worldly experience: she knows that men get carried away. And her task, when her men & women have been equal to her task through the ages, has been necessarily (as T.S. Eliot put it) to be hard when people would be soft, soft when people would be hard.
My function as Author of this little website — as a kind of hack journalist set free from the constraints of contemporary media — is to write about men, events, & ideas, to the best of my ability in truth. By that I mean, truths plural in the light of the Truth singular, which I sincerely believe to hinge on Jesus Christ. My function as Moderator towards “comments” is not to censor divergent views, but to assure myself that they are compatible in tone & intention with my own exercise. I will not have this as yet another forum for “trolls” & “foodfights” — even highly intelligent trolls, intending very sophisticated foodfights.
Since Michaelmas last year, I have been proceeding with a general idea through trial & error. There are actually many attractions & even virtues in amusing pseudonyms, & wanderings off the point. They may reflect “idleness” in the best sense, where it is quite the opposite of “acedia.” Leisure is required for the free play of reason when it seeks the good, the beautiful, & the true. Reason is not a mule to be hitched to a cart, & whipped towards a precise destination. It should be, far more often than it is allowed to be today, a means of exploration. But against this, I must consider in the balance the vices that are encouraged by the use of costume identities & the indulgence of hobby horses.
It might even be that squabbles among the Commentariat attract readers to the website, & hold the reader’s attention even when he is appalled, so that I ought to encourage them for the sake of “success” — usually measured in number of comments, & number of visitors to the website, & the trendline. But with such success comes, not always but almost inevitably, the corruption of the original intention. I’d rather stick by that intention, & should the number of comments sharply decline, & the number of readers with them, then so be it.
And let me add that I have no other websites. This one is entirely devoted to my own writing & thinking, for all its flaws. And while commenters are welcome to point to my errors or their disagreements, it does not exist for the purpose of letting them argue among themselves on topics of their own choosing. There are many, many, many places in the Internet where they may do that.
I am, incidentally, myself among the guilty of the sins I have defined. For I have myself been joining in the cat herd on topics unrelated to my own posts. My motive has been sometimes to correct what appear to be egregious errors, & sometimes, to lighten the tone where it seems to be growing dark. But sometimes I just take a gleeful kick, in the smartass manner. Therefore I have decided to ban myself from making comments: for my purposes will be better served in Comments by just shutting up. If I have something to say on another topic, or in response to an especially thoughtful comment from a reader in Comments or email or conversation, I will make it into another post, & thereby open the field to comments on that topic.
No one else is banned from Comments, but I leave them free to withdraw themselves, should they rebel against either of these two New Rules, which I hereby proclaim, with the infallible authority of the High Doganate:
The first rule is, all comments to appear under real names. Those who feel uneasy posting comments under their own identities should either take heart, or take flight. I have become convinced that the use of pseudonyms on the Internet, here as everywhere, encourages unpleasant habits, & the worst of them the most subtly. Those in possession of titles may use them parenthetically, but recall that, by custom, even members of the British House of Lords use their own untitled names as their by-lines in the public prints. (Those who use their titles for that purpose are considered to be jack-asses.)
The second rule is, all remarks to be addressed in the correct Parliamentary manner, “to the chair.” That is: one is speaking before all members, & all readers, at all times; & never in private dialogue, banter or cross-talk with another member. The fact that I, in my capacity as “Speaker of the House,” have recognized a commenter, may be deduced from the fact that his comment has appeared. If it never appears, the commenter may rightly assume that his remark was ruled out of order. He may well benefit from trying to guess why. (No Speaker has the time to justify every small decision, & none can possibly avoid making the occasional mistake.)
I hope these two rules, which I intend to enforce fairly strictly, will assist in maintaining the highest standards of civility. It should go without saying that unparliamentary language (lively yes; vicious no) will be deleted, even from posts allowed otherwise to stand. And it should be assumed, as an implication of these two strict rules, that no single commenter will be allowed to dominate a long thread. On any given thread, each additional item he submits will be less likely than the one before to be recognized by the Speaker. Therefore, make your first comment count.
The Speaker in this House is a jolly fellow, happy to tipple outside Lent, & will allow some wandering if he finds it genuinely entertaining. He generally allows members to ramble on a bit, if they can complete their points without becoming tedious. But he will not permit persistent wandering from the point, & will try hard to spot & scotch gratuitous efforts to change the subject by the introduction of red herrings & other poisoned fish.
For clarity, let me mention that, on sound Parliamentary principle, I am not enforcing these rules retroactively. They come into force only with this post, & from this moment.
Finally, it follows from the above that this post opens a thread to those who disagree with my New Rules, to explain why they are wrong. But note, gentle commenter should expect only one chance to state his case (or hers, should it come to that), & must sign his own name to it.