Hi, I’m Mark, the editor of this newsletter. This past week, a reader left a comment on the post “Chicago’s Great Unraveling” that gave me pause. Here it is:
Listening to a couple of guys arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. They voted for this and now they're getting it good and hard. Is it me or does this particular tribe always seem to be surrounded by drama, trauma and incompetence? Be so kind as to direct me to a midsized, or better yet, large sized city where elected black democrats have made it better than they found it.
Shutting down gas stations early because degenerate savages are killing people with impunity. Barbarous incompetentence [sic].
The “Titanic” the reader is referring to is presumably Chicago. I wasn’t concerned about the angry tone or the reader’s apparent lack of hope for the city—the post itself opened the door to those kinds of responses. It was the phrase “degenerate savages,” which, to me, treads very close to some very nasty racial stereotypes.
But I wasn’t quite sure that phrase was bad enough to merit deletion, so I asked Glenn what he thought I should do. Here’s his response:
Tough call, to me. “Degenerate savages” is definitely over the line, suggesting some kind of inherent racial defect. That's textbook racism.
But it's not the N-word. Why can't someone call their political enemies a bad name, if they are so moved? I don't like being a gatekeeper on what people say.
I also think that it's valuable to know what (some) people really think. He's not alone. And he's not entirely wrong about black Democratic mismanagement, IMHO. He IS wrong, though, with the “degenerate” language. Genes don't have anything to do with it.
It's nasty, for sure. And will likely encourage more nastiness in response. It also signals that we're open to that kind of expression in the future. The easiest path here is to delete it.
Glenn then suggested we create a post about how we moderate the comments section, both in the name of transparency and in order to start a broader conversation about speech and expression. So here it is.
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Part of my job as the editor of this newsletter is moderating the comments section. If you had a comment deleted and you’re wondering who to blame, it’s me. I don’t delete comments often. If I get rid of two in a month, it’s a lot. Our rule of thumb is that we err on the side of expression rather than restraint. That said, I should explain why the very few comments I do delete end up getting tossed.
I delete things that, to me, exemplify egregiously racist, antisemitic, or otherwise discriminatory speech or tropes. To give some examples, I’ve deleted comments that refer offhandedly to black people as “monkeys,” comments stating as a matter of fact that black people are inherently intellectually inferior to white people, comments using the N-word, comments praising the Holocaust and arguing that another Holocaust would be a good idea, comments blaming this or that social problem on “the Jews,” and so on. Anything suggesting that any kind of extra-legal bodily harm should come to any individual or group gets tossed immediately upon discovery. If a comment is, to my mind, borderline, I’ll send it to Glenn and Nikita for their opinion as to whether or not it should be removed.
Two aspects of this practice require explanation. First, yes, “egregious” is a subjective term. What seems egregious to me may not seem so to someone else. Glenn is a staunch advocate for free speech, and as he says above, he doesn’t want to become a gatekeeper who is in charge of deciding what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately, I do have to be a bit of a gatekeeper, and I’m choosing to keep out the rare comments that traffic in well-worn tropes whose only purpose is to demean. I don’t want this newsletter to become a watering hole for trolls.
Second, I do have my own political, social, ideological, whateverical views, but I try my best not to let them determine what stays and what goes. Trust that I’m operating well outside of my comfort zone most of the time. But it’s not my place to decide who’s right and who’s wrong, and Glenn’s word is the last word on any matters in dispute. I’m just trying to maintain the good health of the comments section without becoming too censorious.
As long as I’m stepping out from behind the curtain, I may as well be candid about some concerns. I think the above policy for comment deletion is relatively uncontroversial, and we’re committed to using a light touch. But certain things that seem pretty heinous to me—total “instant delete” material—have nevertheless become part of mainstream political discourse.
For example, I’m rather alarmed that among a certain set of conservatives, calling anyone who supports LGBT rights a “groomer” is regarded as fair play. It’s also alarming that among a certain set of progressives, calling anyone who is even vaguely conservative a “Nazi” is considered just fine. I think it’s safe to say that, for many people, actual pedophiles and actual Nazis fall somewhere outside the circle of moral concern, and that’s really what’s at issue. When you start thinking about the other guy as a pedophile or a Nazi, you can justify doing things to him that you would never do to an ordinary person.
You could argue I’m making too much out of internet mud-slinging or that I’m being overly squeamish. I would disagree. These terms are latched onto by powerful media and political interests and disseminated out there, into the “real world,” and people act on them. These words are now part of a standard political vocabulary. We ought to grant them the weight they’re due.
So when ideas that, to many, seem utterly, egregiously out of bounds start to gain legitimacy within the discourse, do we adjust our moderation standards accordingly? Do we say, “This is just how people talk now, times change”? Or do we stick to our guns and say, “This was out of bounds yesterday and it’s out of bounds today, no matter what anybody thinks”?
I’m genuinely wrestling with that question, because it’s clear that there are certain topics that just cannot be discussed without someone feeling as though a crime has been committed. I don’t want to argue about who is worse, the left or the right. I want to know what, as a matter of policy, to do when something you regard as outlandishly terrible becomes common currency.
Glenn and John have spoken about the distinction between “using” the N-word as a slur intended to degrade or demean and “referring” to it as an object of analysis. I don’t delete instances of reference, I do delete instances of use.
"Degenerate savages" could also be applied to white people acting in the same way. Consider white Antifa. They behave like degenerate savages. Its not saying all black people are degenerate or savages. Censoring doesn't help, but makes things worse. I will be honest here in saying that I have begun to guess that certain recent city crime events are being carried out by young black men. I'm nearly always right. Why is that?
I'm perplexed as to why "degenerate" was problematic for Glenn (quoted in the post from Mark) "Savages" is more historically racially problematic, no? Anyway, Im white (well, olive, really) and we are censored. You can call white people who commit savage deeds "savages" or degenerate savages" without 5 alarm bells going off. You can call white kids little monkeys (affectionately!), but NOT black kids. "Animals." Same thing. You can talk about "my people" if you are a minority, certainly black, but if you do it as a white person - uh oh! You can have a BET but never a WET. You can have "black churches" but not "white churches." We are less free when it comes to free speech, how we name things, say things, and even, sometimes, do things. There are "black only" clubs at some colleges, I believe. Even dorms. But could you have a "whites only" club? Church? I haven't heard of one in present times. But just talking free speech - we have less of it. We may all have the same allowance, under the Constitution, but not in societal rules we live by.
I was just thinking of a quote from Jean Paul Sartre, from the scant bit Ive read from him (I was more of a de Beauvoir reader) He said, "Women have more freedom than men." It seemed odd on its face, especially since he said it decades back when women were more restricted, and since he WAS the boyfriend of the author of The SECOND Sex - Simone de Beauvoir. And there was precious little wokeness, for good or bad, inhibiting men back then. But over time, I got what he meant, or anyway, I found an interpretation that worked for me: Women were freer than men because women were free to wear the gamut of colors, patterns, fabrics, and styles, to wear dresses or pants, to make their faces look different with make up, to have long hair, to style it in a multitude of ways, to act silly, or show ignorance of a topic, or weakness, and not be judged harshly. They were free to show fear, and yes, sometimes hysteria. They were free to cry. Get it?
I find some linkage in that with the freedom of the "oppressed" black people in our culture, they who are supposed to be more restricted. They have more freedom of speech. They can rail about "the whites" this or that, but it sounds Archie Bunkerish if a white person says "the blacks". They can say the n-word in full bloom, with its 6 letters, and it's fine. We know a white person would be figuratively tarred, feathered, and run out of town (society) if they dared do so. I remember hearing a black colleague assert to me, "I call a spade, a spade!" which I wouldn't have used around her (especially since we worked with a lot of black kids and colleagues, and may have been referencing something to do with them) and then thinking, "Oh, so I guess I can use it with her." I felt I had to censor it until I got this unofficial 'permission', once she'd used it.
Anyway, just I thought I'd share. It's not something that keeps me up at night, but I find it is a thing, that white people's "freedom of speech" is not quite as free.