This is not meant to be a statement of Official Philosophy Smoker Policy.
Some dumb asshole recently left a staggeringly ignorant and racist comment in one of our comment threads. In the ensuing discussion, the point was raised that this is the downside of permitting anonymous commentary.
I've been thinking about this lately because a little while ago, in a discussion thread concerning some content I lifted from some other blog, someone left an anonymous comment about the author of that other blog that was about 80% vicious invective (much of which was empirically false) and about 20% actual content. The person who was the topic of this comment wrote to me to ask why we would approve a comment like that, when it was so obviously a personal smear and made such a negligible contribution to the debate.
I told this person that I published the comment mostly because of the 20% of it that I thought was worthwhile. I also said that I think that sunlight is the best disinfectant. I think that there is a huge value in letting the dickheads have their say. I think there is no value at all in maintaining a public illusion that there are no dickheads, and I think there is a tremendous value in allowing the dickheads themselves to demonstrate once and for all that they have nothing of value to contribute to the discussion.
Here's an example of this sort of thing in action: when we were (mostly) celebrating the APA's new anti-discrimination policy, there was a not insubstantial subset of commenters who opposed the policy, and who articulated the following reason for doing so: since the guy who presented the petition to the APA works at Colorado @ Boulder, and that department lacks homosexuals, there must be something or other wrong with something or other. Another thing that came up was that I, Mr. Zero, must be (secretly) gay (even though I already conceal my identity), or else I wouldn't care so much about the injustices heaped on gays. I allowed this discussion to go on for kind of a long time because it served the important purpose of demonstrating that there was very, very little serious opposition to the policy.
I also think it's worth pointing out that we almost never get comments like these. I approve well over 99% of the comments we receive, and although we've had a few problems where somebody is being a real dickhead, these have been isolated and rare. If we had a problem with abusive comments or something, I would consider adopting a more heavy-handed policy. But we don't. Other people have more restrictive comment-approval policies, and these policies appear to work well for them, but ours seems to work quite well for us. Almost all our comments are thoughtful, respectful, and intelligent. The comment about how Asians are treated at Harvard and Auburn, for example, was swiftly and completely demolished.
I think we have a really great community here. And that's why I'm proud to be a Smoker.