Sunday, April 6, 2014

Censorship, Name-Calling, More Censorship: The Daily Kos Experience

A Madison, Wisconsin rally celebrating the Supreme Court's overturning of DOMA.

[The following essay concerns the problem of censorship at the political site Daily Kos. I wrote it after being "timed out" at the site (i.e., blocked from posting) for the second time in the space of a couple months. This second "time out" in particular that was entirely unjustified on the grounds of Daily Kos guidelines: simply put, I was censored. I wrote the piece below in complaint and posted a version of it at Daily Kos after my "time out" expired. Based on the community's reaction to my complaint, I'm now convinced the situation isn't as bad as I'd believed when I wrote it. The complaint itself, after all, wasn't successfully censored, though some Kossacks tried. The takeaway? I now feel the the complaint below goes a wee bit overboard--or at least spreads the blame a bit too widely. In fact there's a contingent of people at Daily Kos who see the same problems I do. My deriding the bulk of Kossacks for what happened was being somewhat unfair. In any event, I still consider myself a member of the Kos community and will continue writing there as long as my (very slim) welcome lasts. --E.M.]


Thesis 1: A Kossack who is in agreement with most of the political positions held by the majority of community members (the Kossack consensus) has every right to active participation in the community. Any Kossack can disagree, even strongly, with Kossack consensus on this or that particular issue without being hounded out on the basis of that disagreement alone.

Thesis 2: A Kossack who disagrees with Kossack consensus on one or another issue should not need to hide that disagreement, but should rather come forward to argue it openly. Such open and edgy debate is good for the community in the same way a free press is good for a society. In an atmosphere of free debate, strong ideas will remain vigorous by exposure to challenge and weaker ideas will lose traction. If ideas aren't particularly strong, they need to be adjusted. This is the model on which both science and democracy stay vibrant.

Thesis 3: The fact that my diary of February 23 got me "timed out" for a month, the fact that three of my entirely civil comments were successfully "hidden", is a travesty. It proves that Daily Kos standards for both "hide" and "time out" are slipshod and trigger-happy. What happened to me was not a matter of maintaining community standards of debate, but of blatant censorship.


I'm something of a bad American. Whereas my country is politically conservative and socially liberal, I'm oriented otherwise. Politically on the left, in some respects I'm socially conservative. As a Catholic besides, I've often had trouble getting on with left-leaning acquaintances, who find it hard to believe someone like me can even exist. Obviously such people know nothing about the role Catholics have played in the history of the American left.

As for the religious right, I've of course never gotten along with them.

Starting to post here at Daily Kos in 2005, I knew I'd provoke skirmishes if I ever wrote about some of the cultural or social issues that concern me. One of these has been same-sex marriage.

But here I want to make a brief caveat before going on. Some Kossacks have complained that my diaries are boring and resent having to read them. To this I say: Hey, nobody's forcing you to read anything. You're in control of your own mouse, no? So if you don't want to read my diary today, be my guest. If you don't like diaries longer than five paragraphs, why not save yourself the trouble and click your way the hell out of here? I'm not trying to hold the attention of anyone who doesn't care about the problems I raise. But in order to properly raise these problems, I'll have to present my case step by step. Which will take at least a couple pages of text.

Back to the issues at hand.

Since youth, going back to the 1980s, I've been an avid supporter of gays and lesbians in their brave march out of the closet. I've also, as a Christian, never been convinced by traditional assertions that homosexuality was a sin. But with the turn of the millennium, the LGBT community changed focus. I couldn't quite join them this time.

Same-sex marriage was something I didn't believe viable. In my view it wasn't viable on basic anthropological or cultural grounds. Though homosexuality had of course always and everywhere been part of human culture, it was exceedingly rare for any culture to recognize anything like "same-sex marriages". Though it showed enormous divergence on nearly every other aspect of human communal life, the historical record on marriage was impressively in agreement: Marriage is a relationship between male and female only. This, then, seemed to me a basic human given. As someone sensitive besides to the complex ways a culture's institutions interact, I thought any change of marriage was unwise. The push for "marriage equality" was thus a misguided one. Besides, my Church, the Catholic Church, wouldn't recognize such marriages. Secular states may rule otherwise, but secular states weren't enough to persuade me.

How I was finally convinced to lessen my opposition to same-sex marriage is where Daily Kos comes in. At the beginning of this year I decided to post a few pieces on the subject, at first just an invite to Kossacks to join in a discussion/debate at my blog. I pointed out that I was a member of the community, on the left, but not in agreement with the recent push for same-sex marriage.

I knew much of the reaction would be negative. Still, I didn't anticipate the spit storm that was coming. I won't recap it here. Within an hour or two of interacting with others at Daily Kos, during which I was repeatedly called "bigot", "troll", "asshole", "blog whore", etc., and though I kept myself from lobbing insults in return, I was put in "time out".

If the person being timed out has remained civil in their exchanges, time-out is little more than censorship. A given Kossack is judged, by a few others, to be saying things they don't want to hear, they then claim these things are against guidelines, and viola--the writer is shut off from commenting for five days.

Did I label anyone a moron or fuck-wit in that thread? I did not. Did I claim gays and lesbians were mired in evil or should be shunned from society? Absolutely not. Though some Christians on the right have such notions, I've never shared them. Just to give some idea--I was among Catholics who were positively cheered to first hear Pope Francis' remarks to the effect of "Who is [he] to judge?" gays or lesbians.

And so--what happened to me with that first post was a farce. Though the "time out" function might come in useful with people trying to cause problems at the site, i.e. trolls, I definitely wasn't in the troll category. I was inviting discussion and remained civil about it.

Still, the desire of most Kossacks that day to shut me up ASAP, to make me disappear from their screens, was palpable. The abject fear of discussing viewpoints that might feasibly be linked with homophobia has recently become a heavy taboo in America. In my view far too heavy. But I will have to return to this question later.

Though timed out I decided to try again. Since most in the Kos community were basically claiming I couldn't possibly have any valid arguments for my stance (supportive of gay rights in general but against gay marriage) I decided, when time-out ended, to come back and post a slew of these arguments--anthropological, legal, etc.

The following week, then, I returned and posted a lengthy (and too hastily written) piece explaining myself. For good measure I explained the reasons I had for not considering homosexuality sinful or perverse--for not thinking of gays or lesbians as lacking in any of the dignity human beings must be given. The question of whether gay love was right or wrong--I was way beyond that and had been my whole adult life. Of course gay love is not wrong. Gay marriage, however, was a different issue: it was problematic in the various respects I raised.

Again the reaction was largely "bigot bigot bigot"--anyone who had doubts on same-sex marriage was simply a "bigot". And we'll say it again: Bigot!

But this time there was a handful of people who engaged me directly on specifics (civil rights issues, ethical issues, legal, etc.) and in the course of the discussion that followed I was convinced by them that my stance was wrong in a few key areas. My stance was weak on both ethical and legal grounds.

I'm a humble person. I openly admitted on site, then and there, that I recognized the problems with my thinking: "You folks have convinced me. I was wrong about certain things." I didn't in any way try to shut out what people were saying to me. Had I done so, I wouldn't have benefited from the good points some of them made.

Next day I posted a short follow-up piece at Daily Kos explaining my turnaround, thanking those in the community who'd actually debated me (rather than simply say "bigot bigot bigot") and pointing out to anyone who would listen that the moral of the story was that it does no good to insult and censor people, but that honest, hard-hitting dialogue on disagreements often leads to common ground.

I had not, however, come around to a complete embrace of same-sex marriage. Rather I'd become a same-sex marriage agnostic. I still foresaw problems changes to marriage would likely bring. Even so, I'd no longer flatly refuse to recognize gays and lesbians who claimed to be married. It was a major change, and one I was glad to have come to with the help of a few sharp words from some of the sharp people here.

Three weeks passed and something I'd predicted would happen began happening in a big way. Conservative US state governments, whose constituents were far from being on board with marriage equality, began to push legislation that amounted to a cultural backlash. Kansas and Arizona came close to enacting laws allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians in public. The basis for promoting this legislation was protection of religious freedom.

As a Christian I was against the legislation. Religious beliefs could not justify citizens going to such discriminatory lengths. Still, there was in fact a need for some protection of religious freedom. Many American Christians and those of other faiths have very good and long-established reasons for refusing to admit a same-sex couple can be married. I strongly believe it is wrong to use the strong arm of the state to force these Americans to recognize such marriages if their religious traditions do not. Of course I'm aware many Kossacks disagree with me on this point. But so what? As I've pointed out, not everyone in a community has to agree on everything. One can keep discussion going while agreeing to disagree.

I thus started to think through what might work as a kind of minimal legal protection for religious Americans who, as events foretold, would soon start getting dragged into court or losing their jobs. I came up with a compromise proposal that I posted at Daily Kos expecting, again, that there'd likely be some name-calling, but still that a discussion would ensue, which is what, after all, I found valuable.

This time I was even more scrupulously careful than previously not to in any way insult other Kossacks. I would stick strictly to the issues. But the reaction was the same as before. Again all my motives were immediately suspect and skewed. As I started discussing specifics, trying to make clear that I was putting forth just a rough blueprint for a possible compromise, the steady stream of anti-Christian insults began. And I noticed, by little warning markers, that some of my comments were again being "hidden"--which in this case was clearly just a euphemism for censored.

As the badmouthing and insults were reaching a certain pitch, my comment function was suddenly blocked and remained so for forty minutes. No explanation. I hadn't been timed out but still, for some mysterious reason, couldn't comment. When it came back on, I tried to explain my thinking on the role of Judeo-Christian culture in the historical development of our concept of inalienable rights (a comment which was soon "hidden"!) and had finished typing another comment in the discussion, and was trying to post it, when I was informed by note that I'd again been timed out--this time not for five days but a month.

Needless to say I was quite pissed off. In the course of that dialogue other Kossacks could call me nearly any name in the book, could "hide" my comments on zero grounds at all--and the administrator was okay with it when I was the one kicked out for a month. Where had I been outside the guidelines? Nowhere.

I immediately wrote the administrator pointing out that this was just blatant censorship, that I'd nowhere broken community guidelines. Which remarks of mine were out of bounds? Would he please show me? He wouldn't. I requested to be reinstated. I was certainly not advocating for hate or discrimination against LGBT people, but was hoping rather to discuss a possible way to mediate the brewing storm that was coming. I got no response. I was in time-out and the administrator apparently didn't want to pursue questions of how I'd gotten there. And why should he/she? I was a Christian, after all, writing on a sensitive topic. And on any sensitive topic, Christians should just shut up, no? Didn't I see the sign: Verboten?

I don't take kindly to people who think that, just because I'm Christian, they can dismiss what I have to say or censor me for any reason at all. I've experienced this now and then over the years (in an almost ludicrously imbalanced "dialogue" with the poet Gabriel Gudding for instance). It's likely many Americans have picked up this illiberal bent because of the shallow and shabby work of the New Atheists. For followers of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, everyone's right to free speech must be respected unless you are a monotheist, in which case the most progressive thing is to erase what you say. Whatever the origin of the new tendency, however, that it exists is obvious. The speed and ease with which people now jump to censor Christians (moderate or even left-leaning Christians) has led me to keep a record of dialogues as they progress. Later, after the deletions happen, the dialogue can be reconstructed as it actually occurred--it can be saved from the oblivion "delete" enthusiasts prefer. People who censor should at the very least be on public record for having done so.

But more on this question of censorship below. First I'd like to address some of the cussedly ridiculous things thrown at me by Kossacks in that last thread. And not because I want to engage in any kind of "calling out" here. No, it's rather because I find the fast and irresponsible pigeonholing that goes on at Daily Kos to be counterproductive. At the end of the day knee-jerk name-calling only makes this community look lame. And it's rife.

One member, Lost and Found, who'd read my previous diaries and should know better, let himself characterize me like this:
This guy is a Hater Christian. The urgent message that he feels compelled to bring to the wider community is not one of love and compassion but one of bigotry, self-righteousness, and ignorance. He's an anti-intellectual zealot of the Sarah Palin variety.

As an atheist all I have to say is thank God not all Christians are like that.
Yes: As an atheist he thanks God. That's about as sensible as everything else he writes.

I'm with Sarah Palin? Anyone who clicks my moniker at Daily Kos (the easiest thing in the world to do) will see that my most recommended piece of writing ever is, yes, a post satirizing Sarah Palin. For me Palin embodies the worst of our culture. I've been wincing at her every word since her idiotic speech at the 2008 GOP Convention. And have written a good dozen pieces here and there lampooning her.

I'm a hater Christian? See my essay "Christian Homophobia for Beginners", which I've referred to several times in these Kos discussions. I think many of the folks who've attacked me here would be very surprised by what they find in that essay. In any case, doesn't basic accountability demand one check a little on a person's background before flinging grand generalizing insults at them?

Anti-intellectual? This is maybe the funniest of them. Anyone who knew me or looked into my story would see how absurd it is. Just for starters, the same week this moronic Kossack comment was thrown at me, I was working on a review of an academic study of minimalism in Samuel Beckett. Kind of thing Sarah Palin does in her spare time, right? When she's not busy memorizing passages of Hegel.

The point: People here are quick to sketch a whole portfolio of someone's life and thought as ENEMY once they notice the person doesn't agree 100% with standard Kossack doctrine. It makes me laugh as much as it makes me sick. It is shallow and pathetic.

I understand that for some of you it's much easier to take anyone who doesn't agree with you and pigeonhole them in the enemy camp. That way you don't have to really think about what the person is saying, which makes life easier. Not bothering to think about what is actually being said, you don't run the risk of yourself thinking or saying something different from the Kossacks around you. And so you can continue to play comfortably in the little politically correct sandbox you prefer without risk of debating actually difficult questions. You can avoid the rough edges of issues that don't fit snugly in the little boxes you'd like to keep them in.

Very intellectual of you, Lost and Found.

What bothered me in that last thread even more than this childish pigeonholing however was the behavior of one Christian Kossack who weighed in. But perhaps weigh in is the wrong word for what commonmass did. To weigh in one must have some weight: one must address the issues being raised.

A Christian Kossack in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, commonmass could have tried to discuss issues with me, to find common ground and explain why he thought my proposed compromise was wrong. That's what a Christian would likely do, especially a Christian on the left. In any case, he wouldn't show the kind of knee-jerk judgmentalism typical of our far right.

In any debate the initial attempts to frame the debate by one side or the other are often quite telling. Gestures and tone show much about why a person feels he's debating in the first place. What do commonmass' gestures and tone show? Is he there to discuss issues with a fellow Christian? Does he seek to show a fellow Christian a different way of seeing things?

Judge for yourself.

In the middle of my discussion with other Kossacks a photograph of two smiling men appeared suddenly in the thread with the title "Discriminate against this." It was commonmass' first post. I could see he was Christian by the tag lines under the photo.

"Discriminate against this"? The choice of words was odd because, in fact, my short essay made clear that I was concerned to prevent discrimination against both LGBT people (I was against the Arizona legislation) and religious people (my proposal was a kind of cover for them to continue respecting their traditional understanding of marriage). So commonmass was basically saying to me, from the get-go: "You are a discriminator." But why the photo? Was I supposed to be impressed that the guys pictured were handsome?

One other Kossack gave commonmass what he was looking for and wrote: "Nice-looking couple." I could see commonmass thought I was against him and his partner, which I wasn't, so I wrote:
Wish you guys well. I'm assuming you entirely disagree with my idea for finding compromise. Would be interested in what you have to say.
Now here you'd have thought, since commonmass had identified himself as a gay Christian, that he'd have found some opening to dialogue in my words. He had before him another Christian expressing good wishes for he and his partner. I wasn't, on any account, suggesting they were up to something sinful by being together. That is not how I think. So how would one expect commonmass to respond here? He replied:
[The man in the photo with me] is DEAD. If you engaged here more regularly, you'd know that.

I don't compromise with bigots.
Which I immediately felt bad about of course. But really, I hadn't known, I'd never seen either of them before. So instead of simply presenting the sad fact of his partner's death, about which I certainly commiserated, commonmass took the palm branch of my good wishes and threw it back in my face with words meaning something like: "YOU are not a regular here. What you think or say is not really of interest to KOS INSIDERS."

If you think my assessment of his tone is wrong, try to explain this snap response otherwise. I replied politely: "Very sorry to hear. I didn't know, and yes, I haven't been regularly posting here in recent years" Then I started thinking about how to address his second statement. I wrote:
As for my being a "bigot", well, it's a widely debated question on this site. I'm not. You say I am.

There we differ.
Commonmass' reply was simply: "I KNOW you are."

Which is knowing pretty much, since he'd never met me before and likely never read anything I'd written aside from that day's post. Was my little essay really inherently bigoted? Did Christians really have zero rights to stick to their two-thousand-year-old understanding of marriage? Commonmass the Christian was telling me it was so. Actually, he knew it was so. He was a Kossack after all--and part of the Kossack Inner Circle besides.

The thread only got worse from there. One Kossack tried to show I was wrong by using the old "same-sex marriage is the same thing as racial equality" argument, which I don't accept. Since my post had pointed out that one of the problems with forcing Christians to acknowledge gay marriages was that marriage in many churches was a sacrament, RamblinDave tried to lecture me as follows: "[R]acism WAS a sacrament in some churches: they believed Noah's son saw him naked and his punishment was to be father to all slaves."

This is simply flat wrong of course. Racial segregation was never given sacramental status in American churches. Dave's comment merely showed he didn't know much about Christianity. I replied: "No. The racism of such churches, regardless of their evocation of Noah, was not a sacrament. Check definition of sacrament." It was simply a matter of knowing the meaning of the term.

But here commonmass jumped in again--with a comment more or less in defense of Dave's error!
OK. I'll play. How many Sacraments do you hold? Two? Seven?

I'm an Anglo-Catholic, and hold to seven Sacraments. Though my church, officially, only to two. Many Lutherans hold three: the third being the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Have you been to confession lately?
What for fuck's sake was this? A decent Christian with commonmass' convictions may have written something like: "EricMaderLin's point about sacraments is correct. Nonetheless Dave's point about the Old Testament being used by right-wing Christians to buttress bigoted social attitudes is also correct. But this use is not a matter of any actual sacrament." Instead of this kind of comment, his gesture was almost surely an attempt to question my own fidelity to the sacraments. Commonmass knows well that some Catholics are lax in making confession; he's here trying to score "good Christian" points, brownie points really, against me in front of other Kossacks. It's pretty sordid behavior for a political discussion. More what you'd expect at an afternoon tea in the whitebread suburbs.

Whether I confess regularly or not is none of commonmass' damn business and he knows it. Such things are between myself, my conscience and my confessor. More to the point, and what really irks me, his attempt to go off on this tangent was totally irrelevant to the topic under discussion. And look how he forwards his comment: "OK. I'll play." I don't post at Daily Kos to play the Sacrament Game, commonmass. I was trying to discuss a serious issue of balancing Christian liberty with gay and lesbian rights in our very divided country. As a gay Christian yourself, I'd have thought you might have something worthwhile to say to me. My first remark to you was an honest request for your thoughts. I'm a humble person and do my best to take in what others say. Not interested in seeking any common ground with me, however, you used every instant of that thread trying to marginalize me, insult me, and characterize anything I might say as wrong in all respects. You yourself recognize how divisive this issue is in the Church and how it continues to stoke animosity between people who are, after all, united in the body of Christ. And I'm someone in the middle here, leaning closer to your side than most--someone, if anyone, you should be able to conduct civil discussion with. I've written at length explaining my strong belief that gays and lesbians have been unjustly oppressed. I've put into question relevant biblical verses, especially those in Romans 1. These verses are in our Scriptures, commonmass, the sacred texts you and I both reverence. Yet I've done my best to offer reasons why these particular verses should no longer be taken as authoritative. Consider: I'm an amateur Bible scholar and literary critic, the biblical canon is the most precious and revelatory collection of texts I know, yet I'm willing to put these verses into question for you and other gays and lesbians. And what do I get from you in return? Not an ounce of common decency.

You say you're a Christian, commonmass, but if I had to characterize your comments to me as a whole that day, I'd have to say: mean-spirited, vain, cliquish, prying, name-dropping, snotty. I mean really--Who could ever imagine a gay man behaving like this?

In university in the 1980s, I like many heterosexuals supported Gay Pride. It was a necessary step to counteract what was then mainstream society's criminal indifference to gay rights. But since the turn of the millennium the situation in America is markedly different. And myself and many other Americans have come to feel a little clarification may now be in order. As follows: Supporting Gay Pride does not mean we are in favor of Gay Arrogance.

To return to the role Christianity should play in all of this, I'd like to ask you a simple question, commonmass: Which is more important to you, your unity with fellow Christians in the body of Christ, or your unity with other gays and lesbians in the body of Gay Politics? Sexual orientation runs deep, yes indeed, but I believe Christ runs deeper. If you think He does not, then you and I really do have very little in common. Which is anyway pretty much what you used your every keystroke that day trying to show. It's shallow, pathetic, snotty.

In fact your arrogant dismissiveness, commonmass, was the most dispiriting part of my last month at Daily Kos--more depressing than any of the dumb insults or lame censorship. Because I expected a least a bit of civility from a fellow Christian, and had gotten civility from other Christians here. Wee Mama, Kascade Kat, others.

But enough typing wasted on you. More important here is the question of comments in that thread that were groundlessly deleted: i.e., censored. I mean, that's what I'm claiming here, isn't it?--that Kossacks used blatant censorship to erase what I'd written and get me timed out. And so: Repeatedly insulted myself (and not trying to "hide" the insults, which is against my principles) was I insulting people in turn? That is the main grounds for "hiding" after all--directly insulting others in the community.

Judge for yourselves.

After being timed out, I could only be sure of two of the places where my words had been deleted, and I hadn't saved backups fast enough to catch them. But as I remembered my remarks, I typed them out again in my notes as soon as the thread was over. Here's the first:
As for those of you who have been civil so far, I appreciate it. As for those who haven't, you're not doing anyone any good. If you think you can make religious objections to same-sex marriage go away simply by using the power of the state to bulldoze them, I'm sorry, but I think you are mistaken. There will be backlash, and such backlash won't be helpful for anyone.

I've tried to formulate some grounds of compromise on which to work through this cultural/religious impasse, but I see I'm wasting my time trying to discuss such things here. Compromise doesn't go over with people who believe they're 100% right.

And one more thing: As a Christian, I'm starting to tire of the steady stream of insults. A good half of you are historically too shallow to recognize the bases on which your culture stands. I'm not talking about marriage either, but about our basic concepts of individual rights, individual dignity. Your civil liberties, which you claim to be so concerned about, arose in the first place from your culture's Judeo-Christian roots. Even if you're not religious yourself, you should have a bit more respect for this history. Instead you ignore the ground of the culture whose values you think you can defend. You even scoff at it.

It remains to be seen whether I'll get timed out again (i.e., censored) for my oh-so-rude remarks here. If I do, I'll likely just quit the community altogether. Censorship of civil discourse is NEVER progressive.
Apparently this comment was somehow judged "inappropriate" or "insulting"--outside of what guidelines will accept. But where is the insult here? Is it that I dared say people at the site were being "historically shallow"? Does making that kind of remark actually offend community standards? If so, WTF? Or rather: What kind of fucking milquetoast debate standards do you people have here anyway?

As for the second deleted comment I can reconstruct, I made it in response to a Kossack who wrote as follows:
I hope the fact that I engaged with you isn't taken as an acceptance of your viewpoint. I'm just hoping something will sink in, and as a straight man I have an advantage in not being personally injured by your words.
I replied something to the effect of:
Yes, I understand that it's difficult for you to be seen even talking with me. For many Kossacks the aura of evil around me seems to make it hard for them to join in reasonable discussion. I appreciate your relative civility.
Why was this particular comment "hidden"? It's my irony, no? I'm implying that some Kossacks are so worried about keeping their political correctness intact that they refuse to engage discussion with people who disagree with them. Such an irony is apparently "against guidelines" in this touchy crowd. Is it maybe "inappropriate" irony, Kossacks? How would Jon Stewart fare in your community? Personally I suspect he'd fare pretty much like Ted Rall did. But the exile would be faster.

In fact I think a lot of you people are just a couple steps away from book burning. Really. Get the PC wing here together in one location, get them riled up by playing tapes of Rush Limbaugh, put some Bibles and other suspect books in front of them and watch them reach for their lighters.

As I've said above, I think there are definitely good people here, probably many. Probably almost a dozen. And I'm grateful for things I've learned from these folks, and for being able to share some of my satire with them back in the 2000s. My recent attempts to write here, however, have been marred by censorship and ridicule. The latter I can take. It's when people who are ridiculing me also have the right to delete my words that I feel a line is being crossed.

The fact we're engaging this debate online, rather than in print, is no reason not to hold it to liberal standards--prominent among which is the dignity of individual speech. So I'll say it again: Censorship of civil discourse is NEVER progressive.

So I was put in this ridiculous month-long "time out" because of what exactly? Because I said some people at Daily Kos had a "shallow historical perspective"? Because I implied too many people here were substituting political correctness for actual thought? WTF is that? Are most Kossacks actually adults?

The issue we were discussing was one on which the left needs to show more flexibility. I'm not the only progressive who thinks so. Many people who are staunchly pro-gay marriage, including Andrew Sullivan himself, think the LGBT community, for its own good, needs to recognize the religious rights of Americans who disagree. In one of the sharpest editorial pieces I've read on the issue, David Linker explains the problem with all those who are now repeatedly screaming "Bigot!" every time they face disagreement:
As I've made clear repeatedly in my writing, I support gay marriage and am cheered that advocates for it have made such stunning legal and cultural gains so quickly. I consider these gains to be broadly harmonious with recent legal precedents and cultural trends, as well as the deeper political implications of liberal democratic government and theological implications of Christian egalitarianism.

But I'm also troubled by the equally stunning lack of charity, magnanimity, and tolerance displayed by many gay marriage advocates.

[Some gay marriage proponents] don't just want to win the legal right to marry. They don't just want most Americans to recognize and affirm the equal dignity of their relationships. They appear to want and expect all Americans to recognize and affirm that equal dignity, under penalty of ostracism from civilized life. That is an unacceptable, illiberal demand.

As I've argued before, liberal democracy is a political theory designed to allow people who disagree about the highest human goods to live together in peace and civility despite their differences. Like it or not--and a certain militant class of gay marriage proponents clearly do not like it at all--traditionalist religious believers are our fellow citizens and neighbors, and the United States is as much their country as it is ours.

That's why the premier liberal virtue is toleration and not recognition. Toleration is perfectly compatible with--indeed, it presupposes--a lack of unanimity, or even majority consensus, about ultimate goods. It leaves the diversity of views about ultimate goods intact, forcing consensus on as few issues as possible, so that people belonging to specific regions, classes, ethnicities, and sociocultural and religious groups can build rich, meaningful lives together in freedom.
Now you may agree with Linker here or you may disagree. But I believe you would at least treat him with a certain amount of decency in discussion. My position is quite similar to Linker's. I'm not completely supportive of the marriage equality movement, as he is, but nonetheless, as I've said, I no longer feel it is right to oppose it. In my last diary here I tried to offer one possible route for making Linker's kind of liberal mutual toleration possible in a very divided country. But you Kossacks largely just put on your PC glasses, started censoring my remarks, railed against my faith, and finally got me "timed out".

In an excellent follow-up piece titled "Who are the real liberals on gay marriage?" Linker summarizes two of the major trends in the development of liberalism, a summary which might do much to explain the disconnect between yourselves and me here. Most Kossacks are obviously what Linker calls "comprehensive liberals". I am not. I'm a pluralist liberal (aka a "political liberal"). Linker:
For many advocates of gay marriage, liberalism is a holistic, comprehensive ideology with its own distinctive vision of the human good. This vision advocates the autonomy of individuals from received traditions and their liberation from constraints both external (political, social, cultural, religious) and internal (psychological), which it invariably treats as forms of oppression. . . .

In addition to holding out this ideal of individual autonomy, comprehensive liberalism demands that each individual's choice of how to live be recognized and positively affirmed by everyone else, no matter what it involves (as long as it doesn't infringe on anyone else's equally free lifestyle choice). Comprehensive liberals also tend to treat the refusal to grant this recognition and affirmation as an act of illiberalism that ought not be tolerated. Many go so far as to think that liberal governments should force the recalcitrant to comply with the liberal ideal, at least in any area of life that can plausibly be described as public.

. . .

Comprehensive liberals are not content to establish a modus vivendi between different groups of people that disagree. Rather, their goal is to convince or pressure society at large to conform to and affirm their own group's position on things.
Linker describes his own pluralist liberalism, which apparently would get scant breathing space at Daily Kos:
My own understanding of liberalism--which supports gay marriage while also tolerating religious traditionalists who reject it--grows out of a very different intellectual tradition. It derives, at its deepest level, from the classical virtue of liberality, which meant generosity and openness. This notion of liberalism underlies the idea of the "liberal arts" as a curriculum that at its best instills a sense of humility by opening a student to the full range of human experience, thinking, and feeling. It assumes that differences in life experience, psychological makeup, social class, intelligence, the capacity for introspection, and temperament will tend to produce a "natural" condition of pluralism in human social life.

Responding to this pluralistic reality--and reacting most proximately to the violence and war it produced in the theologically divided societies of 16th- and 17th-century Europe--the greatest early modern liberals (John Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, David Hume, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson) devised a form of politics that could enable a society comprising individuals deeply divided about the good to live together in relative peace and freedom despite their differences.

The U.S. Constitution was the first and is still one of the greatest practical achievements of pluralistic liberalism, establishing a series of minimal rules to enable numerous clashing factions divided by a range of interests and ideals to govern themselves freely and fairly. The Constitution itself takes no position on the highest human good; on how to pursue happiness or what it consists of; or on whether there's a God and what he might want from us. . . .

The agnosticism was intentional. Complete metaphysical neutrality might be impossible, but minimalism is both possible and desirable, since it opens up space for toleration of social, cultural, and religious diversity.

Toleration is the premier virtue of pluralistic liberalism--and a modern analogue to ancient liberality. Unlike comprehensive liberalism's zero-sum demand for recognition and affirmation, toleration upholds the ideal of "live and let live," allowing (within certain broad limits) diverse, clashing, morally conflicting ways of life to thrive, provided that they tolerate other ways of life to do the same.
It is in the spirit of this kind of pluralism that I wrote my diary on LGBT rights vs. religious liberty. The fact I got timed-out for it shows just how far from any kind of pluralist thinking this community is.

Worse than the time out itself was that I couldn't even finish that last discussion thread, and the comments I did make were subject to being deleted on the flimsiest grounds--no grounds whatever really. My sentences were erased, and finally I was shut up mid-sentence. In my own guidelines, it is what is out of bounds.

And since I've other disagreements with the community (quite frankly, its unwillingness to criticize today's Democratic party, especially the president) I'm wondering if my decision in January to come back and start writing here again was a wise one.

If I write more at Daily Kos in the future, I won't be writing on the marriage debate, believe me. But unless I hear something significant regarding the obvious censorship I've had to put up with, I may not be posting here again at all. I know many of you will just say: "Yeah, get the troll outa here! Anyone have any cake recipes?" But I'm thinking there may be some others who agree with me on the knee-jerk political correctness. And how the community, basically, is censorship-friendly. If you're out there, you might have something to say.

I won't be engaging much discussion on this diary. No matter how polite I am, people will just invent reasons to get me timed out again. Heck, they don't even need to invent reasons. Just press "censor" and the deed is done.


Susan said...

I saw your post over at Daily Kos and quite liked your thoughtfulness.

I can rarely bear the comments section anywhere on the web - most especially on political blogs either from the right or the left, so I can appreciate your martyrdom in engaging with the community.

I was a bit dismayed to read this post by Kos yesterday:

While Mr. Jackson is not the most congenial of people, Kos' inability to understand the nuances of Jackson's response and misinterpretation (willful or otherwise) of his remarks, combined with a glee in unsubstantiated accusatory rhetoric left me, well, disappointed.

I am not sure where you will find civil discourse on the web. Or off of it. This sort of discourse seems to be at a premium.

Anyway, just wanted to let you know that someone appreciated your approach to discussion.

My very best,

Eric Mader said...

Many thanks for the good word, Susan.

I wouldn't say I was martyred, but definitely a lot of folks at Daily Kos, just as at many political blogs, immediately jump to pigeonholing anyone who (even only partly) disagrees with them. Which is immature and, worse, ultimately self-defeating. Compared to my experiences there last month, however, this recent thread was quite civil, so I intend to add a word or two about it to the post above.

I wrote the above piece in disgust at having been timed out on basically zero grounds last time around. But that isn't the fault of the whole community, and my judgments above are too harsh. For any given diary, much depends on the crowd that stops by to comment.

Still, debate and discourse shouldn't exist only at the pleasure of a handful of twits who happen to be logged in. In my view Daily Kos needs to reform its censorship mechanisms. At present it's far too easy to make discourse and voices disappear.

Thanks again, Susan,

Eric Mader

Susan said...

You are very welcome.

I read quite a bit all over the spectrum of topics on the web, and I can say that civility exists nowhere.

This sort of peer pressure to conform with opinion on community blogs seems to be rife across all kinds of topics. I am unsure if it is merely human nature or a response to the nature of the world these days, but it renders dialogue virtually impossible.

I hope that you find somewhere to indulge your taste for discussion.

My best,