Saturday, August 2, 2014

Why I Don't Allow Comments

I suppose the answer to this is simple. To quote myself from a while ago, "I don't want spam or to have to hear people's dumb opinions." Personally, I think that's fair enough. Lately I've been reading statements from various individuals to the effect that they think people who have comments disabled on YouTube, for instance, have "something to hide." Yeah, I do have something to hide: your stupid opinions. I don't mean "you" personally, dear reader, because in all likelihood some of you are sufficiently sensible to not be the kind of person I'm avoiding. Rather, I mean "you" as in the angry or prejudiced or generally insecure person who likes to comment on, for example, YouTube videos.

I would love to make some hyperbolic comment like "Web 2.0 has failed," but that might be taking things too far. Nonetheless, as much as I argue in favour of discourse, that does not mean that I am obliged to offer a platform for people's stupid opinions. There are, of course, those who have sensible and constructive remarks to make. That's entirely fine. But if you want to say anything on a topic, you can discuss it on a forum or on social media, or start your own blog. Even the most feeble producers of "content" such as myself have no duty to provide that space.

I think that it's patently obvious that in innumerable cases, internet comments serve no useful purpose. I don't mean critical or discursive responses, but those which are based on mindless hostility, discrimination, generalisations and the whole host of "contributions" such as they are which, in their unironic expressions of fear manifesting as prejudice and hatred, speak volumes about the individual making the comment rather than the content under critique. I myself used to occasionally make jibes or arch remarks here and there, but now I don't. Why? Because it serves no purposes beyond justifying your own feeble compensations for inadequacy.

This is why YouTube and article comments are a waste of time, why in its current state things like 'Yahoo Answers' are a waste of time and why basically anything which allows individuals to give immediate responses is a waste of time. They allow no consideration. If they were forced to join a forum or write a blog to respond, it would pare things down a great deal because that would be too much effort. Some people blame this state of affairs on trolls and anonymity, but I believe the real reason is that there are quite simply genuinely many deeply angry individuals out there who cannot abide criticism or differences of opinion. These people have no voice in reality, because you would never meet them in real life. Why ought they to have a voice online?

My most consistent source of views is my rather exploitatively-titled article "Sherlock is Overrated" which I to an extent composed because I felt like there was a demand. I offer this kind of criticism, however, as a form of solidarity, I suppose, with other people out there who may be bewildered at how popular some of our current cultural juggernauts are. I feel that this is rather a different form of discourse to the spewing of mindless bile and hate, particularly of a sexist or racist kind. Those kinds of people, I would like to think, are not a majority - I certainly do not know any personally - but I think that nonetheless they ought not to be given a voice. I like to believe in a "live and let live" policy when it comes to differences of opinion: I can't stop people liking New Who or what have you. The exception, however, is when the people with the "difference of opinion" do not themselves have a "live and let live" policy: people who feel they must yell down the opposition as loudly as they can, who must have the last word, who honestly cannot see the world as anything other than dichotomies, biases and extremes. Why ought such people be given an inch? Some might argue they ought to be given just enough rope, as it were, but honestly I don't see the point. I believe that the propensity for comments on the internet to be abused in many cases drastically outweighs the advantages to having them.

I have never believed that the many should be punished for the crimes of the few. Nonetheless, things like limiting internet comments are not a form of punishment. As I've said, there are other platforms: take the discussion to a forum or your own blog. The danger with comment systems is the creation of echo chambers where people with these absolutist beliefs can endlessly reinforce their own opinions and confirmation biases by shouting down opponents: they in fact limit discourse rather than increasing it. This is healthy neither for individuals nor for society.

It is, perhaps, the doom of humanity that the poor examples of a few will spoil the experience of the many. We are a species of many moods, which some fail to control. Perhaps Western society in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century is such an unprecedented time of relative peace for its specific inhabitants that certain individuals are incapable of otherwise dealing with a previously less inhibited human propensity for violence and destruction. I believe we are still at war, primarily, with ourselves: some, however, have made greater peace than others. Might we hope for such a strain to die out? It seems unlikely. Perhaps it can be remedied by education: a more viable solution, albeit I daresay one with its own limitations. Enough of us, I'm sure, are capable of wielding self restraint. Those who have the patience and self-awareness to do so have the opportunity to respond in a sensible fashion. This is why I believe, for the time being, that denying a voice to hateful elements is at least a potential stop-gap. Those who have mastered themselves will find a way to contribute if they wish. Those that have not will, I suspect, in many (albeit of course not all) cases be too overwhelmed to seek alternatives, and so drown in their own silence.

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