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"trolling philosophers"
March 2, 2012 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday, I posted an article about Infanticide...

Yesterday, I posted an article about Infanticide, the tone of the discussion was good, with some very interesting contributions. Jessamyn deleted it because If you're going to make a post on this topic it needs to be worded differently from this.

I wrote to her, asking for what wording was bad.

Me:
Subject : What wording?
Message : So, I'l try tomorrow. I will paste only the title without editorializing.


Jessamyn:
The totally enraging quote. I mean I get what you were getting at, the whole thing was sort of an epic troll but if you're in a situation where people have to read the entire article to even get what you are talking about, it might be a situation where some backstory or context would be helpful to the MeFi community. This was one of those situations where the flag queue basically drove our decision, it wasn't us saying "oh MetaFilter doesn't do this well" and edciding to axe it. So, feel free to try again tomorrow, I can't really guarantee that it won't go the same way.
Please feel free to follow-up via the contact form or MetaTalk.


Very kind and helpful, the problem was the enraging quote, (Here’s the “projected moral status” you comunisti italiani pigs would get: Bang, bang. Drop in toxic waste dump reserved for left-wing contaminants.) and Jessamyn was right, this quote wasn't useful at all.

So today I tried to post it again, with a more neutral wording and adding an interesting and balanced article about the meaning of free speech in academia.

Few minutes and deleted again, by taz. But this time I'm a bit sad with the rationale behind deletion. taz said Sorry, but the combination of what seems like trolling philosophers on an extremely difficult and notoriously hot button issue plus a million flags = this just isn't going to be a good post for Mefi..

Well:

1) "trolling philosophers" is a completely unacceptable definition, that I find quite offensive too. Just because you do not agree with them, doesn't mean they're trolls. Their paper is solid, and their proposal about Infanticide have a long academic history. Infanticide is legal in the Netherlands, so just because American mentality don't get it doesn't mean it's wrong.

2) I agree it's an "extremely difficult" subject, so it's better to not talk about it at all? I hope not.

3) "a million flags" ok, majority rule (wow, great); but they had a real reason to flag this one or was just because they don't like the opinions inside? majority rule or rule of law?
posted by - to Etiquette/Policy at 5:24 AM (177 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

This is an article titled by the authors After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?, which may be trolling for anti-choice but more likely is trolling for self promotion in terms of media attention. And yes, we do respond to flags... not as an autodelete, but when they are fast and furious it's a clear signal, and these piled up rapidly.

Yesterday I waited to see what would happen, if the flags would trail off as a result of a discussion that wasn't going off the rails or turning into a rage fest at that point, and when the other guys woke up, they were basically like, yikes, once something has this many flags it's pretty much "the community has spoken," and when it's a topic that is problematical here (flame outs, account closings, long, painful Metatalk threads) under the best of circumstances, it is even more of a factor in the decision.
posted by taz (staff) at 5:39 AM on March 2, 2012


Not liking the opinions inside actually counts as a real reason for flagging.

It's why there's a choice for "other."
posted by bilabial at 5:41 AM on March 2, 2012


2) I agree it's an "extremely difficult" subject, so it's better to not talk about it at all? I hope not.

I think it's the kind of subject that can be discussed in a non-screaming-with-incoherent-rage way in academic settings and smallish groups where people at least kind of know each other.

Here? Not so much. Not that mefi has *never* done discussions about abortion well, because occasionally it has (for various values of "well"). But "this is an important subject that needs to be discussed" does not automatically make it a good post for metafilter no matter what the subject, and if people hate it and flag the shit out of it and the thread isn't going well, then it doesn't need to or get to stay up just because it "needs" discussing.
posted by rtha at 5:48 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


which may be trolling for anti-choice

That's American provincialism. Not all the world think along the pro/anti-choice dichotomy. Quiting philosopher Julian Savulescu "The arguments presented, in fact, are largely not new and have been presented repeatedly in the academic literature and public fora by the most eminent philosophers and bioethicists in the world, including Peter Singer, Michael Tooley and John Harris in defence of infanticide, which the authors call after-birth abortion." (here)

but more likely is trolling for self promotion in terms of media attention

You really can't accept the idea they really mean it, don't you? As I already said, Infanticide is legal in the Netherlands. And if find the idea Giubilini and Minerva well discussed and very human. Anyway, those two philosophers are receiving death threads, they must enjoy media attention.
posted by - at 5:49 AM on March 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


I was a little surprised to see it deleted, actually. Yeah, the authors may be trolling, but an interesting discussion was developing out of all the ways they were wrong. I guess a lot of people just have knee-jerk reactions to subject matter like that.

-""a million flags" ok, majority rule (wow, great); but they had a real reason to flag this one or was just because they don't like the opinions inside? majority rule or rule of law? "

The thing is, there isn't really any law to rule by here. Flags aren't the only reason for something to be deleted, but usually if something is flagged to hell and back the mods will follow those wishes. It can kind of suck if the reasons for flagging seem reactionary or knee-jerk, but that just means you have to be really super extra careful about posting some subjects. In the case of something this inflammatory, you almost need obfuscation.

The mods have final say here, yes, but they do their best to listen to the user base when it speaks.
posted by charred husk at 5:50 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you were gonna get yourself banned by posting one of jessamyn's emails here, it could have at least been a more interesting one.
posted by gman at 5:51 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


It would be great if we could have something more than a Potter Stewart definition of trolling around here. Writing something provocative and enraging to others, if you really believe it, does not = trolling... even if you know a shitstorm will inevitably result.
posted by BobbyVan at 5:56 AM on March 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


The weird thing here is... were there many comment deletions in the first OP? Because the conversation there seems to be thoughtful and pretty unsensationalist - pointing out that Netherlands has provisions for euthanasia for terminally ill and agonized babies*, and highlighting the link between this and Peter Singer's work in the 1970s.

That post gets deleted, and the new post goes up, apparently with more Metafilter-y wording, and immediately goes a bit kablooey. What's up with that? Time of day? Dumb luck?

* Although "infanticide is legal in the Netherlands" is simply not the case. _Euthanasia_ is legal in the Netherlands, where the subject is of sound mind and able to express their desire to die. The extension of that provision only covers babies (who cannot express a desire) who are non-viable and who would require a lethal level of pain management to be comfortable. We're not talking about being able to terminate a newborn because you don't like the way it looks.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:56 AM on March 2, 2012 [12 favorites]


(Sorry - I sometimes forget what a negative connotation the term "trolling" has and occasionally use it in the "saying something provocative to make people talk" sort of way. That's what I meant above.)
posted by charred husk at 6:01 AM on March 2, 2012


Please, tell us more about how provincial we are. I'm sure another two or three times will shame us into agreeing with you.
posted by Etrigan at 6:03 AM on March 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


It was flag-bombed because the pro-choicers around here can't ever allow anybody to equate abortion with murdering babies. There's a long and noble tradition around here of shouting down anything that conflicts with the 'enlightened liberal' groupthink.
posted by veedubya at 6:07 AM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I never said that Americans are provincials, I said that "label" to be pro/against-choice an academic article that's have nothing to do with the pro/against-choice debate, is provincial.
posted by - at 6:08 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I was disappointed to see the post disappear. I thought that the paper was an interesting read, and that the resulting discussion in the comments here was remarkably civil and quite insightful. I was looking forward to joining in. Or were there a load of GRAR-y comment deletions that I missed?

Medical ethics is almost inevitably a highly emotive field: it discusses the powers that medics should or should not have over our lives, what does or does not constitute a "necessary evil", etc. But if we're able to put our emotions to one side for a few moments, in addition to being tremendously important the ensuing discussions are fascinating. We touch on some of the topics here on MeFi occasionally: To what extent does society have a right to pressure people to get vaccinated? Should Terry Schiavo have been kept alive or had her feeding tube withdrawn? Must socialised healthcare be "rationed" and, if so, how? They can all be hot topics, but MeFi has managed successful discussions on all of these and is a richer site for them IMO. I understand that these posts were on a particularly tough topic -- and perhaps more so when viewed from the American perspective of the pro-/anti-choice culture wars -- but it's a shame that they weren't allowed to carry on.

If you were gonna get yourself banned by posting one of jessamyn's emails here, it could have at least been a more interesting one.
Yeah, publicly reproducing private MeMail or emails without permission is deemed Very Not Cool around here. I don't entirely agree with the policy, but you might want to resume this conversation with her, including an apology, asap.
posted by metaBugs at 6:14 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Simply from a moderator-quality-of-life point of view, I totally get this kind of deletion. Even the most neutrally-worded FPP on a subject this volatile is going to eventually turn nasty or complicated, requiring moderator time and attention. The original article is obviously being deliberately provocative, beginning with their title. Just because these are ideas that have, in various forms, been discussed by previous philosophers and ethicists doesn't make it non-provocative. There's a point at which deliberate provocation slides into trolling. At what point that happens exactly, I don't know, but reading the intro and conclusion to the article definitely suggests "trolling philosophers" to me.

But that said, I'll also express discomfort with what I've seen said repeatedly here:

once something has this many flags it's pretty much "the community has spoken,"

A bunch of flags should be seen for what it is -- a post that triggered something in a subset of users -- and looked at closely. But I don't think that the flag queue should be seen as some clear expression of "the community," which is both much larger and more complex than the subset who are going to hit the flag button on a particular post. Treating it this way gives too much weight to some voices over others; the flag queue simply isn't nuanced enough to use this way.
posted by Forktine at 6:14 AM on March 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Yeah, publicly reproducing private MeMail or emails without permission is deemed Very Not Cool around here. I don't entirely agree with the policy, but you might want to resume this conversation with her, including an apology, asap.

Good idea, thanks.
posted by - at 6:21 AM on March 2, 2012


The wording of the article's abstract lead the reader to place themselves on one side of the abortion debate or the other. That's inciting for, as best as I could tell, no reason but to incite.

I agree that the discussion was better than the article in that it described the ways in which it was not a very good article and I kind of thought maybe something ok would come of it.

There's a good and worthwhile discussion to be had there but rarely is a good discussion started by whacking your correspondant with a cudgel.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:25 AM on March 2, 2012


It was flag-bombed because the pro-choicers around here can't ever allow anybody to equate abortion with murdering babies.

Well, at least we now have a trolling baseline now by which to debate the relative trolly-ness of the article in the FPP.
posted by griphus at 6:28 AM on March 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


But I don't think that the flag queue should be seen as some clear expression of "the community," which is both much larger and more complex than the subset who are going to hit the flag button on a particular post.

I think it's a pretty clear expression of the portion of the community that clicked the "more inside," and that's a decent metric, though from what mods have said, not the sole metric.
posted by rtha at 6:29 AM on March 2, 2012


I think flagging is somewhat problematic as a metric because there's effectively only a 'no' button, and no real way of gauging the corresponding amount of 'yes' in the community, or indeed how representative the 'no's are of the views of the community at large.

Count me among those who thought the comments were all pretty civil and considered in the original post, and that it could have stayed. You're always going to get a certain number of people who can't get past a title, particularly when it's provocative. But really, if you're not prepared to at least try to engage a little with the topic before barfing into your bin, I think your best approach as a reader may be to not flag it, then move on.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 6:33 AM on March 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


I think it's a pretty clear expression of the portion of the community that clicked the "more inside," and that's a decent metric, though from what mods have said, not the sole metric.

You don't know that. All we know is that it was flagged to hell, and presumably those flags were not overwhelmingly "awesome post/comment".

There's no flag for "this seems to be going well and I think it might be good to keep it around a little longer and see what happens", which was what I -- someone who clicked through and read the original article -- thought of the first post yesterday. I wasn't surprised to see it deleted, though, on prophylactic grounds.
posted by gauche at 6:38 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no flag for "this seems to be going well and I think it might be good to keep it around a little longer and see what happens", which was what I -- someone who clicked through and read the original article -- thought of the first post yesterday. I wasn't surprised to see it deleted, though, on prophylactic grounds.

I think the tone of the discussion is a good gauge of whether "it might be good to keep it around a little longer." Sometimes a bunch of flags says more about the flaggers than it does about the post.
posted by BobbyVan at 6:41 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think both were bad deletions, tbh.
posted by empath at 6:46 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I think the tone of the discussion is a good gauge of whether "it might be good to keep it around a little longer." Sometimes a bunch of flags says more about the flaggers than it does about the post.

This is an inherent problem with the flag system: even if there were a flag to indicate what I suggested above, I wouldn't use it, and it's exactly coterminous with my opinion. Because my opinion is not strongly-enough held to bother clicking something twice and letting the mods know.

But also, I think it's a judgment call and that based on the mod's experience, it is probably highly likely that it would not have gone well, ultimately. Fer chrissakes, you couldn't even get people in the Breitbart thread to stop saying nasty things about a dead guy's wife.*

Katullus had a great comment about threads where there is an uneasy tension but no explicit conflict. I think the mods have a good sense of what topics are likely to have that kind of tension in this community, and it's probably the case that yesterday's thread was one of them, my own opinion about it notwithstanding.

* In fairness, I thought that the Breitbart thread went about as well as you could expect, and there were a lot of people who seemed to go out of their way to acknowledge the humanity of a guy they would probably have punched in the face if they met him.
posted by gauche at 6:55 AM on March 2, 2012


it's a topic that is problematical here (flame outs, account closings, long, painful Metatalk threads)

Does anyone care to remind me why the first two in the list are problematical?
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


it's a topic that is problematical here (flame outs, account closings, long, painful Metatalk threads)

Does anyone care to remind me why the first two in the list are problematical?


I'm out of popcorn?
posted by fuq at 7:01 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


metafilter: you comunisti italiani pigs would get: Bang, bang. Drop in toxic waste dump reserved for left-wing contaminants.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:16 AM on March 2, 2012


Yeah, publicly reproducing private MeMail or emails without permission is deemed Very Not Cool around here. I don't entirely agree with the policy

When you're talking about personal emails, then I agree. However, if you're talking about emails sent in execution of their role, discussing some aspect of site policy, it doesn't seem reasonable that there'd be an expectation of privacy in that regard.

If you write to big corporation a, and one of their employees send you a dickish letter, nobody would think there's an obligation of privacy there.

Metafilter might not be a big corporation, but the mods are paid employees, doing a job on behalf of the company. While I wouldn't personally publish an email from one of the mods without asking them first -- I think that's because I've got faith that they wouldn't reasonably witthhold permission. so it's the polite thing to do. If I suspected that they might be inclined to withold that permission, I'd probably be less inclined to ask it.

Note: my experience of Metafilter mods is that they aren't usually inclined to send dickish emails, but that might not always hold true.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:17 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


kuujjuarapik: "
Does anyone care to remind me why the first two in the list are problematical?
"

I'm no mod, but I have opinions and like to type, so I'm qualified to answer this! Flame outs tend to be problematic from a community management perspective because they're public performances; users who get agitated enough to flame out either deliberately--or incidentally, through distorted thinking--do so with actions meant to grab attention. A flurry of Obligatory Brave Exit Speech posts, lots of "defriending" on sites with that kind of setup (I suppose the Mefi equivalent would be lots of de-favoriting perhaps, or scorched-earthing the contacts stuff for users who make heavy use of that), etc. People being social critters, sides will be taken. Users B and C may like Flameout User A, and their behavior will get problematic in support. Users D and E may not know Flameout User A from Adam, but User C has always struck User D as sort of a stupid jerk, so may as well get some licks in, but User E sort of liked User A but also thinks that User B is the height of uselessness but User C is cool so THUNDERDOME. Meanwhile, mods/community managers are facepalming, and that's best-case when they're actually staying objective in whatever flameout kerfuffle is going on.

Now, from a user perspective, I'd say that losing people who are prone to flaming out in the first place is no loss at all, plus Thunderdome is entertaining in a trainwreck-at-a-safe-distance way. So, you know, popcorn. But it's very understandable why it makes mods internally whimper a little (not to mention backchannel "Goddammit, what is User A on about now? He ignored me, who wants to take the next short straw?") when it happens.

Account closings aren't really a bad thing, they're just a thing. As long as they're done quietly without drama, that is.
posted by Drastic at 7:18 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Infanticide is legal in the Netherlands.

While infanticide is not explicitly legal in the UK, mothers are rarely prosecuted for killing their infant babies. There's a recognition that it's generally a product of post-natal depression or some other imbalanced mind issue.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:20 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think this could be posted about more differently in a way that it would not immediately attract a storm of flags, and I think if it's worth posting about it's worth trying to find that approach. The topic does not need to be obfuscated, but it can certainly be distanced somewhat from the provocative framing of the key article.

It's possible that that's just not something that is going to fall into your wheelhouse, -. You have a history here of somewhat provocative or confrontational framing in your posts that makes this seem like something to let someone else run with if they choose if your primary concern is with seeing it get a post on the site rather than with being the person to post it.

> If you were gonna get yourself banned by posting one of jessamyn's emails here, it could have at least been a more interesting one.

Yeah, publicly reproducing private MeMail or emails without permission is deemed Very Not Cool around here.


This is largely the case, yeah, though to be fair we are at this point a little less concerned with it when it is a quotation of a conversation specifically about moderation and quoted with full context. Still generally much preferable to have it more of a "let's have this discussion publicly in metatalk" thing than a "welp, I'm gonna go make this conversation public unilaterally" thing happen.

Does anyone care to remind me why the first two in the list are problematical?

As much as a flameout may be an impish sort of spectator fun, it's actually a pretty crappy social dynamic, both as a one-off and, even more so, as something that's expected to happen. It's not by accident that we tried to make them not so much a thing and to discourage people baiting them over the last several years.

Account closings are neutral in principle but sometimes the result of that same sort of "here's something that's heated and getting hotter and leading to people who otherwise like spending time here feeling like they have to go away now" dynamic, also not great.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Proposal to decriminalize infanticide in the UK
posted by PeterMcDermott at 7:23 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the tone of the discussion is a good gauge of whether "it might be good to keep it around a little longer." Sometimes a bunch of flags says more about the flaggers than it does about the post.

Yep. And we know who flags stuff and what they flagged it as. And we talked about this on the mod team because we knew it might be a contentious pair of deletions.

First post was going bumpy but okay but was getting flagged so much that we felt that was a strong indication that people didn't like the post in any case. Felt the article was popular, felt the poster maybe was possibly being somewhat deliberately button pushing [still feel this, after waking up to find my MeMail in MeTa]. Sent a note with some suggestions and 26 hours later - posts it again. Okay. Thread gets a bunch of "I didn't read the article" comments and a bunch of flags. We have to basically make a choice whether we want this to wind up in MeTa because we delete it or wind up in MeTa because we don't delete it.

Does anyone care to remind me why the first two in the list are problematical?"

Flameouts just stir up bad feelings and a lot of lousy crowd dynamics that require a lot of effort and attention on our part and generate a lot of free ranging ill will among the userbase. Nearly every account closure is seen by someone or a group of someones as a bad thing that has happened on the site and is sometimes accompanied by its own set of meta-problems including a lot of fighting email [between users and to the mods] and general ill will and bad behavior in MeTa. There are a lot of "You were responsible for X leaving" arguments, allegations of bullying and "Why didn't you do more to stop X from leaving" discussions. I always feel bad when someone leaves although sometimes I think people who leave maybe just don't really fit here for whatever reason but it's our assertion that we try to make this place into a place where people can discuss topics and links and ask questions and post music with a decent set of expectations about how the place will run, so we try to hold up our end of the bargain.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:23 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks, Drastic. I guess I've been thinking about it from a community ecology perspective, in which fires, migrations and disturbance are really good for the community. I sometimes miss the social science elements of these interactions, where the HIGH DRAMA is bad for the community but the resulting absence is probably beneficial.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 7:24 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have absolutely no problem that these two posts were deleted.

I would also have absolutely no problem discussing this same topic with a more neutral framing.
posted by schmod at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2012


I guess I've been thinking about it from a community ecology perspective, in which fires, migrations and disturbance are really good for the community.

I get that side of it, though in practice you have a lot of natural migration without the fires (people just not getting what they want out of the site tend to lose interest and leave) and the prevalence of the fires themselves can encourage self-selection toward a pro-fire population and the reiteration of a bad cycle.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2012


Good deletions. Thank you, jessamyn and taz.
posted by zarq at 7:32 AM on March 2, 2012


I like the forest fire analogy. It can be extended to how it's arguably possible to over-prevent (UberSmokey) forest fires, which is great short term but long term makes the undergrowth get out of control and makes the fires all the worse when they do finally break out. But you can control undergrowth by different measures, like agent orange, and I'm pretty sure I'm losing control of the metaphor at this point.
posted by Drastic at 7:33 AM on March 2, 2012


Seems like people are talking about it in this thread just fine. And I didn't think the discussion in either of the other threads was bad. I seriously don't get the deletion unless the rule is 'no abortion threads ever'.
posted by empath at 7:34 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


downside of FIAMO, thread discussions don't get derailed so all assume it is kosher.

(personally I think the second should have stood.)
posted by edgeways at 7:37 AM on March 2, 2012


Like Forktine I find it problematical that a flood of flags becomes a reason for deletion. I'd prefer if actual actions formed that basis even if it is just in the form of a contact email. Flagging is too easy to do if one doesn't like the subject matter.

Account closings are neutral in principle but sometimes the result of that same sort of "here's something that's heated and getting hotter and leading to people who otherwise like spending time here feeling like they have to go away now" dynamic, also not great.

Also people insist on using an account closing as justification of their position. IE: "See, foobar closed their account because you all were mean to them"
posted by Mitheral at 7:38 AM on March 2, 2012


> It's possible that that's just not something that is going to fall into your wheelhouse, -. You have a history here of somewhat provocative or confrontational framing in your posts that makes this seem like something to let someone else run with if they choose if your primary concern is with seeing it get a post on the site rather than with being the person to post it.

In fact, I don't see how to be more neutral than that.
posted by - at 7:46 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


First post comes off as flame-bait. Good deletion.

Second post ... was merely a bit thin. Context? For those of us who don't follow this sort of thing, is this a new position on an old debate? Etc. Not a great deletion, but no real beef with it.

Deleting it because it's sucking up flags, though? Thin. Very thin.
posted by introp at 7:47 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


But if we're going to ask people to flag it and move on, then they need to have reason to think that their flags would be responded to. It's entirely possible that the discussion in those posts was going well because the people who were upset were flagging and then not commenting in the thread - if it hadn't been deleted, there's a good chance they would have showed up in the thread and started yelling.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:48 AM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


First post was going bumpy but okay but was getting flagged so much that we felt that was a strong indication that people didn't like the post in any case. Felt the article was popular, felt the poster maybe was possibly being somewhat deliberately button pushing [still feel this, after waking up to find my MeMail in MeTa].

Appreciate the explanation of the process, Jessamyn. In my opinion, I think that if there's some uncertainty about whether "the poster maybe was possibly being somewhat deliberately button pushing," the poster ought to get the benefit of the doubt -- especially if the discussion is going OK given the controversial subject matter. But fair enough.

Sent a note with some suggestions and 26 hours later - posts it again. Okay. Thread gets a bunch of "I didn't read the article" comments and a bunch of flags. We have to basically make a choice whether we want this to wind up in MeTa because we delete it or wind up in MeTa because we don't delete it.

I don't get this. What's wrong with forcing the flaggers into the open by not deleting the post (especially the more neutrally written 2nd post), thereby forcing them to come to MeTa if they want to complain? And if the 2nd post is getting noisy responses by those who didn't RTFA, it seems to me that the comments should be deleted, not the post itself...
posted by BobbyVan at 7:49 AM on March 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's entirely possible that the discussion in those posts was going well because the people who were upset were flagging and then not commenting in the thread

I don't think it's the case that this often happens.
posted by empath at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2012


Like Forktine I find it problematical that a flood of flags becomes a reason for deletion.

It's one of many tools that we use to determine whether to keep or delete something. It's not the sole justification but it can be a tipping point. So just to explain our thinking a bit more

- If a post is going fine and it has a ton of flags and it's showing all indications of going fine we'll let our mod judgement overrrule the flags, no question. This doesn't come up very often except sometimes in the "why didn't you delete this?" MeTa threads.
- If a post is bumpy, or is on a touchy topic or weird framing or whatever else and we're on the fence, the flags can inform our decision. This is basically what they are for so we're not just saying "I think this is good" "I think this isn't good" and acting according to our own personal feelings

We've definitely had a lot of cases where our personal opinions don't jibe with the flagging and this is often when we'll talk about things on the mod team to determine what we're going to do.

I seriously don't get the deletion unless the rule is 'no abortion threads ever'.

The rule is "This is one of those topics that tends to go badly here so please make your post with that in mind" So having the above the fold portion of your post be "After-birth abortion: why should the baby live?" even though it is the title of the article is still a dogwhistle of a post. And this is something that is completely within the poster's control.

the poster ought to get the benefit of the doubt

We have to sort of look at the big picture. So a poster with no previous MeFi history would get the benefit of the doubt. A poster who we've had a lot of back and forth discussions with about provocative button pushing posts, we're more likely to think "This user is interested in stirring up shit with this post, not sharing something neat they found on the web" and I'm not finding this MeTa thread dissuading me from that position.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:54 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Deleting it because it's sucking up flags, though? Thin. Very thin.

Flags are still more rational than delete the article because of "trolling philosophers"...
posted by - at 7:55 AM on March 2, 2012


In fact, I don't see how to be more neutral than that.

Then I would say give it a pass, yes. Not everybody is going to do a good job at every kind of post.

I don't think it's the case that this often happens.

Hard to prove definitively either way, but I am hopeful that it happens on a regular basis, actually. Anecdotally we certainly get mail from folks letting us know that (a) they're really unhappy with a thread but (b) they are staying out of it, and I've had that conversation on a more direct chatty one-to-one basis with plenty of people over email or IM or even in person at meetups sometimes as well.

A lot of people do make an effort to flag and move on, and it is something we appreciate a great deal. That we can't expect everybody to do it every time is a fact of life but not proof that most people don't most of the time.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:56 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


-: " In fact, I don't see how to be more neutral than that."

By not posting.

Give us a break with the "I made a neutral post!" crap. The philosophers make a series of assumptions (among them that a fetus --a potential, not actualized person -- has as much right to live as an actual, individual life,) and then extrapolate from them that killing newborn babies should be acceptable. Hello, Jonathan Swift. The article is total troll-bait, and the authors clearly have an axe to grind.
posted by zarq at 7:59 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I knew there was no way that post was going to stand in any form, just because of how we are and all with this--I thought the deletion reason the first time around gave sort of a false hope, and felt confirmation there was no way to have this discussion just because it's a topic way too many of us are wary of when I saw the discussion in the first thread was actually going rather well but the post got deleted anyway. So when I saw the edited attempt today I felt for the OP, because I know they were trying but I don't think they can do anything to make it something the mods/flagging people would be ok with. Like Forktine says, I totally get why there's so much wariness for sure, esp. from a mod POV--but it's still kind of a shame it doesn't seem like something we can even try to discuss. I get it, I do. Just sad to be reminded of the limitations (not that avoiding them is even necessarily possible, mind).
posted by ifjuly at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Give us a break with the "I made a neutral post!" crap. The philosophers make a series of assumptions (among them that a fetus --a potential, not actualized person -- has as much right to live as an actual, individual life,) and then extrapolate from them that killing newborn babies should be acceptable. Hello, Jonathan Swift.

That's basically Peter Singer's calculus. Is he a troll also?
posted by BobbyVan at 8:02 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


BobbyVan: " That's basically Peter Singer's calculus. Is he a troll also?"

He's the Australian philosopher who argues that disabled newborns should be killed, yes?

Yes.
posted by zarq at 8:07 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


I knew there was no way that post was going to stand in any form

Maybe I'm just being overly optimistic but I could definitely see that article being a totally fine MeFi post. Part of this would be by introducing it for what it was, a Swiftian philosophical exercise, and not having the readers going along with you until the "Aha!" reveal. To me the question is do you include the MeFi audience in the people who are going to read the title and abstract and be all outraged, or do you let them in on what is going on first, perhaps by explaining the reactions and the climate in which this paper was written, and then also link to the paper? The interesting thing is not the paper so much, but the way it's deliberately written to inspire reactions and discussion. However the MeFi post about the article does not need to be written in the same way, and it would probably go better if it didn't. I was sincere in my feeling that this would be a really interesting post for MetaFilter but I also meant it needed to be rewritten, not just had the button pushing pullquote removed from it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:08 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


> not just had the button pushing pullquote removed from it.


you asked only for that.
posted by - at 8:12 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


And she was being possibly too polite and optimistic about you making more of an effort of your own accord. If you'd written me I'd have just told you to give it a pass based on your previous posting history.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:17 AM on March 2, 2012


cortex, posting history is a very ad personam. Just show me like a neutral post should be in this case.
posted by - at 8:19 AM on March 2, 2012


Congratulations on linking to a logical fallacy article on Wikipedia! Argument won!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Posting history is what we have to work with here. I am not attacking your character as a person out there in the world, I'm addressing your actual pattern of behavior here, on this site, in posting. The best possible way to make that posting history stop being an issue is to improve it. I do not get the impression from you based on past interaction that that is something you are actually interested in doing, but I'm always willing to be surprised.

Jessamyn and I have both talked a bit in here already about how we think a more neutral, less provocative post about this could go. I am not going to actually draft up an entire post as an example, because I'm not personally interested in making a post on the subject, but if folks want to talk in detail about what they think might work we'll totally engage on that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:24 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


When I saw the article, the first thing that jumped out at me as deliberately button-pushing was the "More inside" break. The few words before the break, taken alone as a post, would have been deleted in a heartbeat. It gets tempered a little more "inside", but maybe try not to be so outrageous directly on the front page? Yes, I think it was a bad deletion, but I see why it would get flagged to hell-- by the time people click "More inside", they're already enraged and it takes a lot more effort to reverse that than to prevent it in the first place.

That is a great link in a larger post about infanticide/infant euthanasia. But as a primary link? Ehh...
posted by supercres at 8:26 AM on March 2, 2012


BobbyVan: " That's basically Peter Singer's calculus. Is he a troll also?"

I said: "He's the Australian philosopher who argues that disabled newborns should be killed, yes?

Yes.
"

The man proposes, to all accounts quite passionately and sincerely, that one of the most vile doctrines of Naziism and eugenics has a proper place in Western society.

You ask, does that make him a troll? I ask you in response: Should we care about his motivations / intention for arguing it?

Shouldn't we be more concerned that it not be considered any sort of viable argument or considered justification for future atrocities?
posted by zarq at 8:27 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's a lot of literature in both philosophy and feminism that takes a non-sentimental look at the status of the newborn and it is absolutely false that any discussion of the acceptability of infanticide is necessarily in bad-faith. It's also not the case that birth is a universal final possible bright-line for personhood for all cultures throughout history.

I make those points only to make it clear that a post on this subject isn't necessarily what a lot of people seem to be assuming it must be.

That said, because so many assume incorrectly that a discussion of this perspective must be in bad-faith, and because it involves issues that are extremely inflammatory anyway, and because pretty much most of the people in the cultures in which most mefites live very strongly perceive infants to be persons, it seems to me that it's entirely reasonable to require that any post on this topic jump through far more than the normal set of hoops in order to make it likely that the thread won't be a complete disaster.

Surely that's not unreasonable.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:29 AM on March 2, 2012 [14 favorites]


The man proposes, to all accounts quite passionately and sincerely, that one of the most vile doctrines of Naziism and eugenics has a proper place in Western society.

You ask, does that make him a troll? I ask you in response: Should we care about his motivations / intention for arguing it?

Shouldn't we be more concerned that it not be considered any sort of viable argument or considered justification for future atrocities?


Sounds like a worthwhile discussion to have. Thanks for the links - very interesting stuff. I hope no one flags them.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:29 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Neil Boortz, the libertarian talk show guy, makes it a rule that abortion is a topic he won't touch.
Is that a direction we want to go in?
My concern is that people are becoming less and less able to discuss controversial topics in a civil manner in society at large.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:30 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


you asked only for that.

I'm not sure how you get that from "if you're in a situation where people have to read the entire article to even get what you are talking about, it might be a situation where some backstory or context would be helpful to the MeFi community."

We have specifically talked to you in the past about provocative framing making your posts problematic and often resulting in their deletion. You're still welcome to make those types of posts here but it may be swimming upstream a bit. We're available to you here or over email if you'd like some assistance having your posts go better here on MetaFilter.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:32 AM on March 2, 2012


> I seriously don't get the deletion unless the rule is 'no abortion threads ever'.
> posted by empath at 10:34 AM on March 2 [2 favorites +] [!]

Thread deletions or not, abortion as a thread topic is hardly going to get any less contentious with the increasing consideration, in the wild so to speak, of adding "...and neonates..." to the existing claim "fetuses aren't babies". I can't think of any way to phrase a neutral-sounding discussion guideline if its plain un-circumlocuted meaning is There must be no mention that the goalposts for which living Homo sapiens individuals are or aren't human is being moved."

Frankly I expect "no abortion threads ever" is the way the site will go, unless the mods can agree simply to leave those threads to burn the way the Breitbart obit thread was left to burn.
posted by jfuller at 8:38 AM on March 2, 2012


This is a thread about abortion that went pretty well (in that it didn't have to be deleted and I don't think anyone got banned or timed out or flamed out). It is contentious. It probably required a mod to hover closely while it was going.

So it is a possible thing to do here, but the framing and the links need to be set up as neutrally as possible.
posted by rtha at 8:41 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of this would be by introducing it for what it was, a Swiftian philosophical exercise

Swiftian? Swift wasn't seriously arguing that the Irish should eat their babies - he was using the abhorrence of the suggestion argued disingenously to satirise attitudes to the poor that were common among his contemporaries.

I haven't seen any evidence that the authors of this paper are being disingenous and I don't see how a neutral framing of the topic could include that assumption. Are you saying that the only acceptable framing of the post would have been one in which there was an assumption of bad faith?
posted by xchmp at 8:54 AM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


Having personally brought up the discussion IRL several times about how personhood at birth is an absolutely arbitrary moral line (e.g. a 2 month premie is a baby, but if it's still in the womb is a fetus). I can honestly say that the discussion never seems to go well, and always involves so much effort to frame and qualify that it's not worth it.

Also, abortion is acceptable in part not because of personhood or lack thereof, but also because it involves the autonomy and self determination of the mother. To try and claim that the moral as opposed to legal personhood of the fetus/neo-nate is somehow contingent on not being in the mother seems a little disingenuous.

Personally I'd like to see a discussion on this, but I understand why it probably won't happen here.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:01 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


It seems that don't take those two philosophers seriously is the only way to do a neutral post about them. Know I know.
posted by - at 9:02 AM on March 2, 2012


BrotherCaine: " Also, abortion is acceptable in part not because of personhood or lack thereof, but also because it involves the autonomy and self determination of the mother. To try and claim that the moral as opposed to legal personhood of the fetus/neo-nate is somehow contingent on not being in the mother seems a little disingenuous."

Excellent point.
posted by zarq at 9:02 AM on March 2, 2012


Thanks for the links - very interesting stuff. I hope no one flags them.

That's quite the nice FPP you got here. All these well-researched, timely links to interesting content. And an interesting discussion to boot. It would be a shame if someone where to ...flag it.

10,000 favorites, unmarked and non-sequential and the post stays
posted by griphus at 9:09 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I think the deletion itself is less of a problem than taz's deletion reason. There was no reason to call the philophers "trolls" and it implies the OP is either trolling himself or is too dumb to realize what he's posting is from a troll.

Really no need for that.
posted by spaltavian at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


unless the mods can agree simply to leave those threads to burn the way the Breitbart obit thread was left to burn.


I'm really digging the 'forest fire/wildfire' metaphor. Controlled burns, firebreaks, smokejumpers.

Do the mods get pulaskis? They should.

Everyone should
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Frankly I expect "no abortion threads ever" is the way the site will go, unless the mods can agree simply to leave those threads to burn the way the Breitbart obit thread was left to burn.

I expect basically any thread about abortion to be bumpy. Not necessarily (and thankfully so) some sort of burning pile, and we have in fact had difficult-but-totally-civil discussions about the topic in the past a number of times and I expect those to happen in the future as well. I don't see a "no abortion threads ever" policy ever happening, in part because that's not the sort of site mefi ever has been and I wouldn't like a mefi that was that way.

Where we are now, and have been for a while and I think necessarily always will be, is a position where stuff that is harder to get a civil discussion going about needs to clear a higher threshold of presentation in the first place. Abortion, sure, but also police brutality, rape, the notional cat-declawing analysis, etc. Some topics stand out of the pack as being historically hard to do right, and we want folks to try hard when going there. Only for folks unwilling or unable to do that is the rule effectively "don't do that". Even at that most of the time it's actually "don't do it the way you just did it" with the hope that if they want to do it again they'll do it sufficiently differently and better that it won't keep being a problem.

And that's a functional compromise I'm comfortable with because there are a lot more people here who are likely to be able to broach any given topic sufficiently carefully than there people who aren't. Like I said upthread, not everybody is going to be great at making a Metafilter post about everything, and that's totally okay.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:13 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe the people who were disappointed to see those threads deleted will take it easier if instead they think of those threads as "put out of their misery."
posted by octobersurprise at 9:14 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Well we'd all be less upset about this sort of thing if the threads could be deleted in preview, before they've fully emerged.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:18 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


(Also, I'll note for the record that the Breitbart death thread was where I spent my entire day yesterday; it was not a brilliant showing as discussion of unlikeable figures go, but I ended up removing thankfully very few over-the-line comments and other than probably fundamentally ruining my mood for the day it went less badly than it might've. God help us when Thatcher goes, though.)
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:26 AM on March 2, 2012


other than probably fundamentally ruining my mood for the day

:(
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:31 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jessamyn: Part of this would be by introducing it for what it was, a Swiftian philosophical exercise, ...

As xchmp notes, I don't see any evidence that this was such a thing. It actually seems to be a straightforward, "we believe x,y,z" and therefore we should also believe "y" thing. It doesn't appear to be a satire or an attempt at reductio ad absurdum.
posted by Jahaza at 9:31 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm not really a fan of deleting posts because they might be heading in a bad direction. Metafilter works best when the users are assumed to be adults who are going to handle the conversation maturely. Yes, even though they aren't and won't. :P
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:32 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I lament the fact that the concept of "trolling" seems to have become corrupted to the extent that it now refers to anything that riles people up, no matter what the motivation. Making inflammatory, offensive remarks for no other reason than to get a rise out of people is trolling. Presenting controversial ideas for the purpose of stirring up debate and discussion about those ideas is not trolling.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


other than probably fundamentally ruining my mood for the day

FWIW, I'm sorry about that.
posted by gauche at 9:34 AM on March 2, 2012


God help us when Thatcher goes, though.

No worries, these gentlemen have it all taken care of.

Making inflammatory, offensive remarks for no other reason than to get a rise out of people is trolling. Presenting controversial ideas for the purpose of stirring up debate and discussion about those ideas is not trolling.

What about presenting controversial ideas for the purpose of stirring up debate and discussion and getting a rise out of people? What side of the line does that fall?
posted by octobersurprise at 9:43 AM on March 2, 2012


Gator's Rule Of Thumb
This is cool; other people will want to see it == Good post
This is important; I want other people to see it == Bad post


When I first saw the post I was uninterested but was willing to give the benefit of the doubt that it was number one.

After reading this thread (and more details about the links) I'm now convinced it was number two.

Bad post for MetaFilter.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Eh, occupational hazard. Most days aren't like that.

To some extent part of the needle-threading we try to do with the mod approach to this stuff is to try and make it so that there's a home here for any topic done well (or as well as it can be at least, it's hard to know how "guy people think was a huge asshole is dead now" can be done really well without giving it an unrealistically protracted waiting period) while also avoiding having the site be the kind of free-for-all for the kinds of aggressively negative/combative threads that would make every day a bad day for either the mods or for people looking for anything else from this site than that kind of news-of-the-terrible showcase.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2012


> ...we want folks to try hard when going there. Only for folks unwilling or unable to do that is the
> rule effectively "don't do that".

Just to be clear, I don't expect any explicit "no abortion threads" site policy--only that as the topic gets even more into Bleeding Kansas territory than it now is, which it can hardly fail to do after tagging on infanticide, none will go undeleted.


> Also, I'll note for the record that the Breitbart death thread was where I spent my entire day yesterday

Sympathy. I could not do what you do.

> I ended up removing thankfully very few over-the-line comments

If this jaw-dropper stayed, I can't imagine what the deleted ones were like. OMGF.
posted by jfuller at 10:03 AM on March 2, 2012


The original thread looks to me as if it was going quite well, and nickrussel's comment is a particularly unfortunate loss.

I think threads which are going "bumpy but OK" should be deleted for becoming not-OK (assuming they do), not for being unpopular. A lot of people simply don't want to talk about certain issues, but as long as they're flagging rather than derailing the thread, I don't see why the rest of us can't discuss them. Mefi has a long history of great threads on "controversial" subjects, and IMHO those more than make up for the occasional blow-up.
posted by vorfeed at 10:05 AM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


What about presenting controversial ideas for the purpose of stirring up debate and discussion and getting a rise out of people? What side of the line does that fall?

Trollosophy?

No, seriously, to me that's just a rewording of the concept. You're getting a rise out of people, but ultimately the purpose is to get people talking about your idea, so I say that's not trolling.

I can see though where some ideas are so inherently inflammatory that it's nearly impossible to believe that someone would be presenting them in good faith. I thought the original of the post in question (did not see the second) was a good one that raised some interesting questions, but was so very much not shocked when it disappeared.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:08 AM on March 2, 2012


Just to be clear, I don't expect any explicit "no abortion threads" site policy--only that as the topic gets even more into Bleeding Kansas territory than it now is, which it can hardly fail to do after tagging on infanticide, none will go undeleted.

For what it's worth, I do not see that happening. Topics that are important to people will not go away just because it's hard to post about them in ways that aren't problematic, or we already wouldn't have any undeleted posts about this stuff and that would've been the case for years now.

The specter of "topic x is just off limits now, I guess?" comes up often in metatalk discussions of deleted threads about x, and have for years, and it basically just doesn't follow from the evidence. Barring some kind of massive shift in the nature of the world we live in that dwarfs any concerns about Metafilter by comparison, I don't see Metafilter changing on this: stuff that's hard needs care but can be, and regularly is, posted successfully even while less successful attempts get deleted.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:13 AM on March 2, 2012


cortex: "The specter of "topic x is just off limits now, I guess?" comes up often in metatalk discussions of deleted threads about x, and have for years, and it basically just doesn't follow from the evidence. "

I/P is a good example of this. Most threads on the topic don't seem to get deleted.
posted by zarq at 10:19 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean, I look at it this way: we don't end up with fraught Metatalk discussions about the permissibility of topic x when someone makes a solid post about x that doesn't get deleted. When one is borderline in its framing or goes bad in the thread but we fight for it in some sense to stick around, sure, Metatalk; when one that some folks think should have stuck around gets deleted, okay, Metatalk. But there's not (with rare exceptions) either "hey, that terrible post got deleted, way to delete it" metatalk posts or "hey, that solid post went well" metatalk posts. Which is as you'd expect, and not a problem, that's just kind of what makes sense.

But while on the one hand it's totally fine to discuss a deletion here, on the other I feel like a lot of the time when it does happen there's this absence from the conversation of a sense of the very low actual stakes involved, the context that this is indeed just a specific post that got deleted, not some sort of Ur-post that by its living or dying decides the fate of the topic for once and all on the site. That in the mean time people have kept successfully making posts about this stuff and will by any reasonable interpretation of the history of the site continue to do so, even if some posts end up getting deleted.

The sky has never fallen and is deeply, deeply unlikely ever to fall, but all the same it feels like we have a lot of discussions in here where some folks take a rhetorical approach that basically presumes a given post was the only thing holding the sky up. It's a difficult starting point for a practical discussion about posting on a site where do-overs are generally totally fine and just about any topic can be reworked with some care even if the current incarnation got deleted.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:26 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


If this jaw-dropper stayed, I can't imagine what the deleted ones were like. OMGF.

Why would that go? You realize she wrote this, right?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:27 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


He's the Australian philosopher who argues that disabled newborns should be killed, yes?

Yes.


FWIW I find Singer to be kind of a troll sometimes myself, but his infantilism argument is not really "disabled newborns should be killed". From what I recall his argument is a utilitarian ethical argument (I'm not really fond of utilitarian ethics) about maximizing happiness and minimizing pain; he is quite literally speaking about babies that are in a tremendous amount of physical pain with no hope of anything but a short painful life. He also has an argument about the moral considerations that should be afforded to animals, and how in some cases certain animals' value could or should be higher than a person in a vegetative state or something. So often people will characterize Singer's argument as "Singer's that guy that thinks disabled people are less worthy of life than cows", which is kind of not what he's really saying.
posted by Hoopo at 10:42 AM on March 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


I hope someone else makes this into an FPP. I'm finding the MeTa conversation on the subject to be civil and enlightening, and there's very little evidence that the authors of the original article we're being disingenuous or trollish.

but I won't be doing it because I tend to get into semi-grindy debates when I push back against lefty orthodoxy or hyperbole, and posting history is apparently a factor in deletions.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:03 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: That's American provincialism.
posted by modernnomad at 11:12 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can one of the mods please delete a BobbyVan comment? Any one will do -- the poor sod's been begging to get noticed all day. Throw the kid a break already.
posted by Etrigan at 11:14 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sounds like somebody needs a hug.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:19 AM on March 2, 2012


when I push back against lefty orthodoxy

You're right. That does sound more heroic than "dicking around on the internet."
posted by octobersurprise at 11:21 AM on March 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Hoopo: "FWIW I find Singer to be kind of a troll sometimes myself, but his infantilism argument is not really "disabled newborns should be killed". From what I recall his argument is a utilitarian ethical argument (I'm not really fond of utilitarian ethics) about maximizing happiness and minimizing pain; he is quite literally speaking about babies that are in a tremendous amount of physical pain with no hope of anything but a short painful life.

Ah, but that is only a single aspect of his 'should we consider newborns replaceable' position, which is multifaceted. Read the section in this essay marked: Life and Death Decisions for Disabled Infants. He covers your point, with a discussion of spina bifida in infants. But he's also arguing here (and does in other essays) that self-awareness is a requirement for consideration of whether a newborn is a person. Since newborns are not self-aware and only will become so over time, he claims they are not actually people and do not deserve the same consideration as another self-aware creature. Also, among other things, he discusses whether infants should be killed if they lack sufficient mental capacity as well as if their death would improve quality of life for another infant or their parents. The self-awareness factor is an extension of the 'until babies are individuals they aren't people" argument.

These are utilitarian perspectives, yes. Perhaps they may be practical (?), but they revolve around a functionalist perspective which is basically a hair's breadth away from eugenics. It also (as I mentioned earlier) profoundly lacks humanity and brings to mind the worst atrocities of the Nazis.

He also has an argument about the moral considerations that should be afforded to animals, and how in some cases certain animals' value could or should be higher than a person in a vegetative state or something. So often people will characterize Singer's argument as "Singer's that guy that thinks disabled people are less worthy of life than cows", which is kind of not what he's really saying."

I agree that his arguments are not so simply reduced.

I'm (obviously) not a fan of utilitarian ethics either.
posted by zarq at 11:22 AM on March 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


FWIW, Hoopo, I didn't say all of that earlier because the mods have stated repeatedly that they prefer MeTa threads not become a deleted post's thread by proxy, and I wanted to respect that. But since you responded thoughtfully, thought I should respond in depth.
posted by zarq at 11:24 AM on March 2, 2012


What about presenting controversial ideas for the purpose of stirring up debate and discussion and getting a rise out of people? What side of the line does that fall?

Once any part of your purpose is getting a rise out of people, you're trolling. Either you believe the ideas you want to discuss have the power to make people respond, or you don't have faith in those ideas and want to push buttons for attention.

(Like Peter Singer.)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:43 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where does "I don't agree with the conclusions of this argument, but I do agree with the premises and logic, and this inconsistency troubles me, and so I will present this argument to others to see if they can resolve it" fit into the whole troll spectrum? I don't think ethical inconsistencies should just be swept under the rug because their conclusions upset us.
posted by Pyry at 11:50 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Once any part of your purpose is getting a rise out of people, you're trolling.

It seems like that net would also catch people like Matt Taibbi and Christopher Hitchens.
posted by BobbyVan at 11:51 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


"But he's also arguing here (and does in other essays) that self-awareness is a requirement for consideration of whether a newborn is a person. Since newborns are not self-aware and only will become so over time, he claims they are not actually people and do not deserve the same consideration as another self-aware creature."

...and...

"These are utilitarian perspectives, yes. Perhaps they may be practical (?), but they revolve around a functionalist perspective which is basically a hair's breadth away from eugenics. It also (as I mentioned earlier) profoundly lacks humanity and brings to mind the worst atrocities of the Nazis."

That's not utilitarian. And it's not a "hair's breadth away from eugenics". Perhaps it brings to your mind the worst atrocities of the Nazis, but then who knows what else might do the same. Pasta? Golf? Who know? Could be most anything.

I think it's pretty clear that you're not going to be among those who can discuss these viewpoints in a non-provocative fashion.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:51 AM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You made two shitty posts in a row on the same stupid article. They were deleted. Get over it. Now you've gone to MeTa to whine. Your behavior is pathetic.
posted by humanfont at 11:55 AM on March 2, 2012


well that's a bit much, humanfont
posted by Hoopo at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


From a hyper-rationalist perspective, there may be something to be said for snuffing out newborns who aren't going to thrive rather than letting them burden families/societies, but in the long term, it would seem like the people who would benefit the most from that are the people who would find it least troubling to implement: sociopaths, psychopaths, etc... I think there's a moral implication involved in putting in place selection pressures favoring sociopaths.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:59 AM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


humanfont, do you need a hug?
posted by gauche at 12:00 PM on March 2, 2012


I think what a lot of people here (I started off addressing this to zarq, but that's only because s/he is the most recent person to start saying shit about utilitarians) aren't clear on is that moral philosophy is something where you have to make a decision at the beginning whether our moral intuitions (feelings like repugnance, the sense that something is obviously wrong) are a good way to work out what is right or wrong.

It might seem obvious to some of you that they are, but there are some problematic consequences to that assumption because moral intuitions are often inconsistent both between cultures and people and also within a single individual (ie my feelings about what is wrong or right change in unpredictable ways and contradict each other); because they are demonstrably subject to psychological bias (eg we consistently discount the interests of people geographically farther away, despite the fact that we also intuitively believe that geography should have no role in morality); and because there is a kind of irrationalism involved in appeal to intuitive concepts like repugnance (aside from anything else, it is just difficult for me to have a reasoned argument with someone who thinks that homosexuality is obviously wrong).

Some moral philosophers have concluded from this that the way to respond to those problematic consequences is to abandon appeal to intuition altogether and instead construct morality from first principles. Some of them are utilitarians, but not all are, and not all utilitarians are anti-intuitives either (there are a bunch of variants on utilitarianism that arise out of the attempt to reconcile utilitarian arguments with our moral intuitions). You expect anti-intuitive moral arguments to sometimes produce counter-intuitive results; that's kind of the point of them. Sometimes those results suggest that things that are intuitively wrong are in fact permissable, like the kind of argument made here. Others suggest that the things commonly held to be permissable are in fact morally wrong. Singer, whom zarq says 'profoundly lacks humanity', actually generates a lot of these. He thinks we are obliged to give a very large proportion of our incomes to humanitarian charities, treat animals far more kindly than is customary in modern farming, and generally devote ourselves to others in a way that is certainly not customary.

There is certainly something risky about anti-intuitive moral reasoning. For one thing, it may be more difficult to avoid bias than we think, and there is an argument to be made that our intuitions, irrational and contradictory as they are, protect us from certain kinds of bias. For example, many people are prejudiced against minorities but find it difficult to act on these prejudices when face to face with a member of a minority group because their moral sentiments 'kick in'. One can argue, for example, that the problem about disabled babies is that the utilitarians in question are displaying something fairly common, a discounting of the value that the lives of disabled people have to them, which is usually tempered by the feeling that it is wrong to kill babies.

Arguments like this are often what is behind appeals to 'humanity'; ie so-called 'humanity' is probably best modelled as a profoundly irrational heuristic which nonetheless produces good results nine times out of ten. I have a lot of respect for this position when it is phrased as such, rather than as an emotive attack which is not itself respectful of where anti-intuitive moral philosophers are coming from. However, it is not as straightforward a position as all that because there is always the tenth time when the heuristic does not lead to a better moral outcome. The goal is always to get to a point where one is not relying on heuristics but is able to generate a moral response that is considered, consistent and free from systematic bias. This may be a hubristic goal, but I don't think we should be shaming the people who are going after it. In many ways these anti-intuitive utilitarians are the most morally serious of all Anglo-American moral philosophers; too often among analytic types the other sort ends up becoming a long apologia for existing ways of acting, or else, under the misapprehension that this makes it somehow more empirical, descends into ever more ridiculous and morally unserious thought-experiments. At least the Singer bunch are trying to do things the hard way, even if there are problems with their process. It's not simply not fair to call them trolls and Nazis.
posted by Acheman at 12:02 PM on March 2, 2012 [37 favorites]


I'm going to have to resist the desire to troll certain conservative message boards with ethical problems like whether removing parasitic twins, fetus in fetu, and teratomas qualifies as abortion.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:03 PM on March 2, 2012


It seems like that net would also catch people like Matt Taibbi and Christopher Hitchens.

A number of posts built entirely around "look at what he said now!" have hit the dustbin, in fact, for both of those fellows. Getting a rise out of people as a framing device is just not a great foundation for a mefi post, generally speaking.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:04 PM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Completely agree, cortex. I'm just resisting the idea that people who write with provocation as one of their objectives are necessarily trolls.

And FWIW, I don't think that this was framed as a "look what he said now!" post. This deletion isn't the end of the world... but I think the conversation we're having now is a pretty good one, so I guess some good did come of it.
posted by BobbyVan at 12:12 PM on March 2, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich: " That's not utilitarian.

If you have read the essay, then you know that he's framing his own argument as utilitarian.

He integrates each part of his argument into a that perspective, and explains how he is doing so -- even to the extent of discussing to what degree a particular scenario is or is not utilitarian, or if it is what he refers to as "total utilitarian." Are you saying that you disagree with Singer's own assessment of his position?

I'm also not saying that utilitarianism is by default amoral. If you're taking that away from my comment, then I've obviously failed to communicate my point properly.

And it's not a "hair's breadth away from eugenics".

Positing that killing a disabled newborn for the betterment of an abled one is most certainly a hair's breadth away from eugenics. In what way is it not?

Perhaps it brings to your mind the worst atrocities of the Nazis, but then who knows what else might do the same. Pasta? Golf? Who know? Could be most anything.

I think it's pretty clear that you're not going to be among those who can discuss these viewpoints in a non-provocative fashion.
"

I'm sorry, but do you have a concrete argument to make? The Nazis advocating killing the disabled because they were a burden to society. Someone suggests that we should allow parents to consider killing their own children if they are going to be severely disabled, and includes in their justification an argument that a disabled child could be a burden. There seems to be a very clear parallel there.
posted by zarq at 12:13 PM on March 2, 2012


> Positing that killing a disabled newborn for the betterment of an abled one is most certainly a hair's breadth away from eugenics. In what way is it not?

Eugenics was a state policy.
posted by - at 12:28 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Why would that go? You realize she wrote this, right?

Yes. I am aware of two online essays recently from writers with well known bylines proposing that FDR's WWII internment of Japanese-Americans was OK. Both of these essays slip smoothly and unlubed into my WHATAREYOUINSANE? category. That notwithstanding, if one of those writers is of Philippino ancestry and somebody thinks that fact makes her essay an example of "racial self-loathing" then I think I'll just slip out of the party now before I run into that person and have to shake hands.
posted by jfuller at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2012


"However, it is not as straightforward a position as all that because there is always the tenth time when the heuristic does not lead to a better moral outcome."

Very good comment, Acheman, and it's worth mentioning that the opposite to the anti-intuitive utilitarians, a moral philosophy that reasons from first principles privileging that gut intuition, leads to crap like we see from Leon Kass. So, yeah, there's really damn good reasons to be suspicious of moral reasoning that leans too heavily on supposedly innate and universal moral intuition, especially visceral ones like are being invoked in this very thread.

"If you have read the essay, then you know that he's framing his own argument as utilitarian."

I haven't read the essay and I accept on your authority that its overall structure is utilitarian. Well, that and the fact that he's a utilitarian.

But your specific example is not utilitarian and the distinction Singer is making in that example is not qualitatively different from most other arguments about personhood that don't appeal explicitly to some form of metaphysics.

"Positing that killing a disabled newborn for the betterment of an abled one is most certainly a hair's breadth away from eugenics. In what way is it not?"

Well, that may be. Except that, again, that doesn't apply to your specific example. You're making an argument in your comment. You say that Singer says X and then that X is like Nazism eugenics. Except that your description of Singer's argument is, as you point out, functionalist—so it's not utilitarian, it's not what you're saying it is when you equate it to eugenics. It may well be both specifically within the essay and more generally in that essay's argument, but it's not what you wrote.

And if you're not going to make an effort to avoid fallaciously equivocating when you recapitulate someone else's argument in order to compare them to Nazis, then it's hard to take you seriously.

I get that Singer, and utilitarians in general, apparently, get under your skin and you seem to feel that they're the philosophical foot-soldiers for the neo-Nazis who are waiting in the wings. These are touchy issues. I can see why someone would feel this way. But, you know, there's a whole hell of a lot of people who rightly would be greatly offended by your characterization and one of them happens to include myself. There's got to be a way to make your point emphatically without godwinning all over the place.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of interesting arguments happening in this thread about the nature of morality and ethics and the value of life; I really wish one of the original two threads could have remained undeleted, so that those arguments could have happened in Metafilter proper, rather than Metatalk, which tends to have a smaller crowd of readers.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:35 PM on March 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Eugenics was a state policy.
No it wasn't.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:38 PM on March 2, 2012


Thanks for the essay zarq; haven't read it yet but I had read his "Practical Ethics" book ages ago, so that's what my comments were reflecting. Without having read that article, I can say that when I've encountered Singer's shorter work and statements in news media he tends to come off as a troll. His arguments definitely require a lot of, um, prefacing when taken at face value.

Taking a Moral and Ethical Philosophy course at uni was a strange experience. One of those subjects with very interesting subject matter and great discussions that if you attempted to have with someone outside of class you'd probably come off like a psychopath.
posted by Hoopo at 12:47 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of interesting arguments happening in this thread about the nature of morality and ethics and the value of life

I would like, again, to stress that this thread needs to not become a proxy for the deleted thread. Someone can make a new post or folks can take this to MeMail.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:54 PM on March 2, 2012


There's a lot of interesting arguments happening in this thread about the nature of morality and ethics and the value of life; I really wish one of the original two threads could have remained undeleted, so that those arguments could have happened in Metafilter proper, rather than Metatalk, which tends to have a smaller crowd of readers.

Do you think the smaller crowd, or simply the framing of this particular MeTa discussion (as opposed to the framing of the FPP) has helped it be less flamey?
posted by Etrigan at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2012


Also the original one wasn't that flamey
posted by - at 12:59 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Someone can make a new post or folks can take this to MeMail

It's still not clear what kind of framing would actually stand if someone posts this again.
posted by xchmp at 1:04 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


That's the point. This post was deleted just because "trolling philosophers" and "a million flags"; but it's not very clear how it can be rewritten in a more neutral style.
posted by - at 1:07 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then leave it to someone else and stop acting like there's a magic key that someone can give you.
posted by Etrigan at 1:11 PM on March 2, 2012


This post was deleted just because "trolling philosophers" and "a million flags"; but it's not very clear how it can be rewritten in a more neutral style.

My takeaway is that it might help to not use the actual title of the article in the post because it's provocative and people who haven't read it immediately assume the worst and flag it.
posted by Hoopo at 1:11 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you think the smaller crowd, or simply the framing of this particular MeTa discussion (as opposed to the framing of the FPP) has helped it be less flamey?

I don't know if the thread would necessarily be flamey, is the thing; the original thread wasn't too bad. I think part of the reason the thread might actually be able to stand is that unlike pro-choice/pro-life, Israel/Palestine, police/police-victims, or even Apple/Google, the main question here -- "Hey what if we decided killing babies actually wasn't as bad as we thought?" -- is unfamiliar enough that most people haven't spent a lot of time actually turning it over in their minds. Maybe the very grotesquery of the question might lead to it being a more civil conversation than a lot of stuff that people already have strong opinions about.

Just for the record I have never killed a baby and generally find the little sweeties to be pretty adorable.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:24 PM on March 2, 2012


"When SCIENTIST published his article about GENERAL TOPIC in JOURNAL there was a hostile response. SCIENTIST has a history of provocative statements [link, link, link] and this just seemed like more of the same. However considering MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCE WHY PEOPLE MIGHT CARE and SCIENTIST RESPONSE has made the larger discussion interesting for REASONS"

Something like that. Your MeFi post doesn't have to be provocative itself in order to talk about a provocative topic. In fact, it's considerably better if it's not. It's also better to talk about "Yeah we know it's provocative, but it's interesting for other reasons than just having a button pushing title/abstract" That way it's crystal clear that you are not trying to pass along the provocation but actually want to talk about the general idea of intellectual freedom in the academic subspecialty that he's published in.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:26 PM on March 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


well that's a bit much, humanfont

Which part was a bit much? I stated my frank opinion about posting. I didn't accuse the poster of being the propaganda arm of the terrorists who bomb clinics, attack women and murdered doctors like George Tiller. I didn't demand the poster submit to a trans-vaginal ultrasound prior to posting further on MeFi. I didn't ask them how many altar boy rapes they covered up. I didn't publicly accuse them of being a slut, a whore, or suggest they upload sex tapes to the Internet because we all paid $5. If I'd done those things you could rightly accuse me of being over the line. However I'm not saying those things.

I'm also refusing to discuss the original subject of the FPP, which is obviously the game the poster is trying to play. I do endorse the community's right to react badly to people who try to take away or assail inalienable human rights. I think it is right to mock that individual for their ridiculous world views. Perhaps direct frank communications form community members about how outrageous and ridiculous the views are will trigger a re-evaluation of the issues and come and self-awareness of their foolishness.
posted by humanfont at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


The part about "pathetic behaviour" was a bit much. I think someone needs a nap!
posted by Hoopo at 1:30 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


which is obviously the game the poster is trying to play

I am very interested in the MeFi Mind-Reading Machine that so many users seem to have. How can I get one?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:38 PM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


I do endorse the community's right to react badly to people who try to take away or assail inalienable human rights.

Begs the question being disputed.

I think it is right to mock that individual for their ridiculous world views. Perhaps direct frank communications form community members about how outrageous and ridiculous the views are will trigger a re-evaluation of the issues and come and self-awareness of their foolishness.

"Note: Help maintain a healthy, respectful discussion by focusing comments on the
issues, topics, and facts at hand—not at other members of the site."

There's nothing wrong with "direct frank communications," but "direct frank communications" ≠ mockery.
posted by Jahaza at 1:40 PM on March 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do endorse the community's right to react badly to people who try to take away or assail inalienable human rights.


You surely must be aware that this is an absolutely meaningless statement in the context of what's being discussed. The whole point of the FPP is shedding light on different views of what constitutes an "inalienable" human right.
posted by modernnomad at 2:52 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


modernnomad, I agree with the your statement, but I would have put the emphasis on 'human.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:02 PM on March 2, 2012


Just for the record I have never killed a baby and generally find the little sweeties to be pretty adorable.

I'm sorry, Mr. Nog, but as clearly stated in the advertisement, we require someone with experience. I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:23 PM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


The linked article, by itself, is inflammatory. Why not make a better post? There's a genuine moral issue about when abortion should be ethical, and when it shouldn't. Find some other links that treat the question thoughtfully.

Abortion is a difficult subject to discuss in any rational manner, at MetaFilter or anywhere else. It generates flames like few other subjects, so the bar is set higher for a post on abortion. For any deleted post that meets the general guidelines (not a double, not spam, etc.), the answer is almost always Make a Better Post.
posted by theora55 at 3:26 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


You surely must be aware that this is an absolutely meaningless statement in the context of what's being discussed. The whole point of the FPP is shedding light on different views of what constitutes an "inalienable" human right.

The mods have the right to delete a post. Think of it like the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy. The mods acted in their rights and provided solid explanations, but that isnt enough so "-" brings the community into it. Why? So the mods will feel guilty about it? Posting a memail with bold text as evidence of how unfair it was. Come on that's like thinking that 5 minutes and a wad of sperm entitles you to compell a woman to months of morning sickness and the discomfort of pregnancy, labor and recovery. Why should the mods have to deal with the grar because of your nonsensical sense of moral outrage? Get your own womb or website of you don't like it. If you want to come to MeTa and complain about it I'm going to tell you how foolish you appear.
posted by humanfont at 3:58 PM on March 2, 2012


But the post isn't about abortion, per se, it's about an essay arguing for infanticide - which has existed for many thousands of years and continues in many western legal systems as a defence, for children with disabilities and without, and is a totally separate issue to abortion.

On preview, um what humanfont? Seriously now. Please think about what you type before you click post.

I think the second post should have stood - taz's deletion reason was disingenuous in that she assumed the essay's author was trolling. It's a topic worthy of discussion, regardless of whether you find it personally distasteful.
posted by goo at 4:06 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


publicly reproducing private MeMail or emails without permission is deemed Very Not Cool around here. ... you might want to resume this conversation with her, including an apology, asap.

How do you know - didn't get permission? Anyway, if the mods respond to a Mefite's inquiry about Metafilter moderation, they can't seriously expect that the conversation won't be shared with anyone or come up in a MeTa about a thread deletion. What possible legitimate interest would that serve? Do the mods reveal their deep, dark secrets in email exchanges about moderation to random Mefites in a way that would mortify them if it appeared on Metatalk? I don't think so. It isn't a normal, private email conversation — it's a salaried worker doing their job in a way that happens to involve sending an online message.

I don't completely agree with -'s approach with this whole thing. I would have been happy to see the second post stand, but if the mods think it wasn't going well, fine. But to suggest that - owes an "apology" for posting a MeTa about the deletion that quotes the mod's explanation for the deletion is over the top. (If - didn't quote her, he'd be attacked for ignoring the explanation!)
posted by John Cohen at 4:13 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


humanfont I'm getting the impression you think -, the Journal of Medical Ethics, and the philosophers are engaging in some anti-abortion propaganda campaign or something. They're not; this topic is actually dealt with a lot in moral philosophy and admittedly some of the arguments are tough to swallow because of our gut feelings and intuition. They might even look like reducto ad absurdum to you, I don't know, it does for me sometimes. They are quite serious though, they are not anti-abortion agents provocateurs or even anti-abortion in many cases. People familiar with this topic in academic moral and ethical philosophy might not have the same reaction to it as you did based on the way it was presented here. It's clear to me that's where - was coming from.

I don't think - looks foolish here (except maybe reproducing the email? dunno). It's been demonstrated that people here are capable of having this conversation for the most part. It's pretty clear to me so did -, and - is wondering what it will take to have that conversation on Metafilter. Maybe it's just not to be had. This MeTa wasn't a terrible way to find out though.
posted by Hoopo at 4:35 PM on March 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Do the mods reveal their deep, dark secrets in email exchanges about moderation to random Mefites in a way that would mortify them if it appeared on Metatalk?

Yes, see again my comment upthread acknowledging that quoting mod-comments-about-moderation is indeed less problematic than the most stuff the general prohibition against quoting email without permission applies to.

That said, there are reasons we still prefer even there to take a private conversation and rehash it in public rather than having it unilaterally pasted into a different context that have nothing to do with some notional mortification at having secrets revealed. Primarily it's just an issue of keeping things in context—email conversations about moderation stuff often involve multiple exchanges, and almost never start from scratch with the email, so pasting stuff from that into a thread can be counterproductive and muddle the premise of some metatalk discussion.

The simplest thing in general is to be explicit about wanting to port a private conversation into a public metatalk discussion before doing it. It avoids leaving us potentially surprised, it avoids the problem of other folks wondering if someone's reposting correspondence without permission, and it gives us an opportunity to give someone a little guidance on what will probably work better or worse in framing the discussion. It's not the end of the world to not have that opportunity, but it's certainly made for a few metatalk threads that went wobbly from the getgo.
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:40 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


If we can't discuss this kind of thing on Metafilter, what is the point of the place again?
posted by unSane at 5:24 PM on March 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


links to cool shit on the internet?
posted by Hoopo at 5:25 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


An article entitled, "After Birth Abortion" is about abortion per se.
posted by humanfont at 5:35 PM on March 2, 2012


I thought what - posted *was* a link to cool shit. Much cooler than the latest Dr Who/comic book/game link imo.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:38 PM on March 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


An article entitled, "After Birth Abortion" is about abortion per se.

What's wrong with the word "abortion"?
posted by BobbyVan at 5:42 PM on March 2, 2012


Goo said the article wasn't about abortion per se. A statement that was inaccurate given the title of the article.

What's wrong with the word "abortion"?

Abortion is a difficult topic for a FPP. The mods have provided ample explanation as to why in comments above.
posted by humanfont at 6:33 PM on March 2, 2012


I wouldn't say that abortion is a difficult topic for an FPP, per se.
posted by BobbyVan at 7:01 PM on March 2, 2012


A person's a person, no matter how small.

(Happy birthday, Dr. Seuss).
posted by 4ster at 7:08 PM on March 2, 2012


I thought it was interesting (I saw the second incarnation only), and I read all the links before I realised it had been deleted. I had stuff to talk about in the comments and was I was sad to find I couldn't.

On the other hand I was also nervous to go back to the post, suspecting that the comments thread might well be a disaster zone, and I felt sad for the mods that this was going to be their Friday night. And I agree that the philosophers, while it was a valid topic for a paper, can't have been entirely unaware of how it would be received by the wider world, and played that a little for media attention in the way they titled the paper.
posted by lollusc at 7:41 PM on March 2, 2012


A person's a person's an unhelpful tautology.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:15 PM on March 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Let's try again.
posted by xchmp at 4:23 AM on March 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


Thank you. That's a well-framed post. I hope it stands.
posted by unSane at 4:40 AM on March 3, 2012


Good job xchmp. Gold star for the day.
posted by shothotbot at 5:00 AM on March 3, 2012


Nice post xchmp!

I'm curious as to whether the more fleshed-out FPP gets fewer flags, the same amount, or more flags than the original(s).
posted by Ritchie at 6:26 AM on March 3, 2012


I also wanna chime in on the good re-posting. And I'm glad the topic gets another go around - mostly so that the original writers of the article in question can get the response they deserve.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:54 AM on March 3, 2012


Solid post, xchmp. Thanks for giving it a go.

I'm curious as to whether the more fleshed-out FPP gets fewer flags, the same amount, or more flags than the original(s).

It's gotten all of one flag at this point, and two (deleted) "oh not this again" comments. Framing matters.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Disappointed in flag flurries on a fairly civil conversation counting as cause enough for deletion. Who cares about the poster's history or their framing, or the potential volatility of the topic? If people are being babbling idiots then sure, erase the thread and shrugs all round, but the deletion of the first post seems like that bit from Agricola: 'create a desolation, then call it peace.'
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:52 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Flags are people's way of saying "This post sucks" without actually saying it in the thread. Imagine that everyone who flagged it did that instead. Would that be a better model?
posted by Etrigan at 7:59 AM on March 3, 2012


The heavy emphasis on the framing and community reaction to the post itself as a post has always been a key thing on Metafilter, going way, way back. We've sometimes kept a poor post around for a really good conversation that's gotten going within it but even that tends to be controversial and generate some understandable "seriously, you kept that around?" reactions from folks.

The post, for its own sake, is important. And especially as the foundation for sometimes difficult discussions, getting it right is important. The conversation can wait until that happens; we're not saving the world here, we're discussing stuff on a website. There's no deadline. And, as usual, here we are: someone made a more workable post, and people are discussing away in the thread attached to it.

It's fine to be disappointed with that post-centric approach to things, but it's a disappointment that applies to the long-running characteristic approach to how this place works.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Disappointed in flag flurries on a fairly civil conversation counting as cause enough for deletion.

That's not what's happening. We've discussed at length how our decision making process goes. Unfortunately taking a poster's history into account is a small but important aspect of our overall thought process.

Part of the difference between being an actual community and a "every comment/post stands on its own merits in an isolated vacuum" situation is that it's sort of our job to determine if people are or are not doing things to be deliberately problematic over time. Not saying this was happening here, but saying that part of this community specifically is that users have to pretty much prove they're not trolling for their claims of "I am not trolling!" to be taken seriously. We have a Brand New Day option for people who want to get out from under their own histories and everyone pretty much gets a chance to make a post the next day/week if theirs didn't go so well.

But this is a site where framing matters and people being able to ascertain that you're operating in good faith matters. People who have trouble with either of those things will have a tougher time here but fortunately it's a huge internet and we're not the only game in town. The very low stakes nature of this [as cortex has said above] is part of why we think this sort of thing is not only okay but actually works pretty well.

xchmp, nice job.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:10 AM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Glad to see another try. I was also disappointed to see the deletions. I understand that certain topics can become controversial and even contentious, but honestly those are the topics I'd most like to see discussed on Metafilter as opposed to elsewhere on the Internet. The dialogue here just tends to be of a higher caliber. When discussing ethics, there are always going opposing viewpoints and philosophies. And I was excited to see this posted here.

I'd read the posted piece a few days ago and had been turning the ideas over in my head. I was looking forward to hearing other people's thoughts. And, to be honest, especially hearing about people's conclusions that differed from my own. This isn't exactly the kind of thing you want to bring up at the water cooler and I looked forward to hearing the reasoning and thought processes of people who had life experiences and outlooks that were most divergent from mine. Because they might help inform my own opinions. It's easy to come to your own conclusions about issues and step up on a soapbox. But to engage in real discussion in good faith you have to assume that all sides are listening to each other even if they disagree vehemently. Challenging difficult statements can look like simple arguing, but sometimes it really is exploring. I sometimes wish that as as group we could be a little less worried about that.
posted by troublewithwolves at 8:24 AM on March 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


2 good deletions, a patient and thorough mod explanation, a solid re-post with thoughtful framing. This is how MetaFilter works best, in my opinion. Folks hopping into this MeTa with the same questions that have been addressed at length already should spend some time reading mod responses above.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:37 AM on March 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I concur this new FPP is fantastic.
posted by humanfont at 1:01 PM on March 3, 2012


I am keen to see if "-" participates, and in what way.

As per the metafilter callout, I generally agree with Gator's Rule Of Thumb mentioned above:


This is cool; other people will want to see it == Good post
This is important; I want other people to see it == Bad post


And I feel like the deleted posts were both bad posts with respect to the Rule of Thumb.

Thank you, xchmp, for doing the work to make a good post. When it is framed correctly, you give the community the space to actually communicate. When you start out with an axe to grind, everyone else brings their axes to grind as well, and all of a sudden you've got this whole axe grinding clusterfuck. This, I hope we can agree, is something we want to avoid.

posted by Freen at 9:50 PM on March 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't see the first post before it was deleted, but the discussion in it appears to have gone quite well considering the subject.


The way the initial post was framed was not ideal, and had the potential to cause problems, certainly. But those problems seem not to have been in fact occurring (okay, yes, flags, but those are invisible specifically so they don't taint the ongoing discussion). The conversation was going surprisingly well. Hardly an axe in sight.

So I'm not sure what that first deletion was supposed to be protecting the site from.

-'s second, less contentiously worded version of post was a shitstorm out of the gate. Yeah, delete that noise. (and maybe take it as some evidence that the quality of the discussion may often have more to do with the quality of the first few comments than with the FPP text itself).

So I get that it's all gray areas and judgement calls. But it does seem like we're maybe erring on the side of "delete" more often than is ideal, lately. (For some value of "lately". And some value of "ideal.")
posted by ook at 7:09 AM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


ook pretty much every point you just raised has been addressed in depth by the mods in this thread.
posted by lazaruslong at 11:07 AM on March 4, 2012


I'm sorry; I hadn't realized the discussion was closed.
posted by ook at 10:43 PM on March 4, 2012


ah hell never mind forget I ever came into this thread undo undo undo ctrl-z
posted by ook at 10:56 PM on March 4, 2012


I don;t see the point of 'discussing' abortion, really. People have their own personal views on the topic, and it's unlikely that a few threads will change these. Especially when said site is hosted in a country where people talk about these views in terms of 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice', descriptors that indicate that these views are part of a moral/ethical/political debate.

There are some subjects I avoid looking at on talkboards, as they'll either be something which has an unpleasant resonance for me and I don't want to consider them too much, or they're topics which generally are used in high-school persuasive writing arguments purely because they are so divisive and opinions are strongly held. If there are issues surrounding the latter category then it may make for a good post, but if the post comes down particularly on one side or the other then someone's going to get upset.
posted by mippy at 3:11 AM on March 5, 2012


I don;t see the point of 'discussing' abortion, really. People have their own personal views on the topic, and it's unlikely that a few threads will change these. Especially when said site is hosted in a country where people talk about these views in terms of 'pro-life' and 'pro-choice', descriptors that indicate that these views are part of a moral/ethical/political debate.

Abortion is of course part of a moral/ethical/political debate, since it's a moral/ethical/political subject as opposed to a technical one like removing the hard drive from an iMac.

It's not true that all people/s views on abortion are unchangeable, nor is it fair that culture wars in one country should stifle discussion by people in other places.

For example, I don't have a readymade opinion about abortion. I find the rhetoric of both 'sides' deeply unsatisfying, especially given the volume it's generally broadcast at. So attempting to conceptualize it philosophically as this post does (and some of the ensuing discussion does) is really helpful for me.

It also opened my eyes to the extremity of the positions of some of the advocates of both sides of the argument, which of course was the intention of the authors of the paper.
posted by unSane at 3:57 AM on March 5, 2012


It's just, on any board that I've read discussing it, particuarly American ones where the topic is generally more divisive, it's the sound of a round peg continuously attempting to ram into a square hole.

I have my own personal views on abortion, and it is not of interest to me if others disagree as long as they allow people who want and need one to take it. But then, like many matters that may invoke religious belief, I like the separation of church and state and the freedom to believe what one chooses that that provides.
posted by mippy at 8:15 AM on March 5, 2012


Ivan Fyodorovich: "I haven't read the essay

That was rather obvious from your response.

You do understand that my entire reply to Hoopo was based on the content of that essay, yes? It certainly didn't exist in a vacuum. I also clearly pointed out that the essay was more complicated than my or Hoopo's summarizations?

...and I accept on your authority that its overall structure is utilitarian. Well, that and the fact that he's a utilitarian.

But your specific example is not utilitarian and the distinction Singer is making in that example is not qualitatively different from most other arguments about personhood that don't appeal explicitly to some form of metaphysics.


The whole essay is, as he explains in depth, primarily a utilitarian argument. Parts of it are also argued from a functionalist perspective, even though Singer does not say as much outright. Value is being placed on the potential of an abled newborn over one that is disabled.

I used the essay as source material because it's Singer's own words on the subject and felt that would better represent his arguments. If you felt I was mischaracterizing or misinterpreting what he actually said then could have addressed that. As an example, Acheman had a thoughtful rebuttal upthread.

I get that Singer, and utilitarians in general, apparently, get under your skin and you seem to feel that they're the philosophical foot-soldiers for the neo-Nazis who are waiting in the wings.

On the contrary, you don't "get" me. Perhaps it would be best if you asked me what I believe, rather than trying to tell me. Please?

I feel like you're making an overarching assumption based on a series of comments I've made on a single topic. I have a problem with extremists, and I feel Singer's taking an extremist position, which I suspect is done deliberately in order to get a rise out of people. (I admit I could be wrong about that.) But I don't like the example he's using because it raises a clear, disturbing historical precedent: it's the old eugenics argument, all over again. And yes, I'm aware that the history of eugenics wasn't restricted to the Nazis. They're just the most chilling and obvious example of it being put into practice.

Oh, and for the record, I don't have a problem with utilitarians in general. Nor do I view Utilitarians all as " philosophical foot-soldiers for the neo-Nazis who are waiting in the wings." However, this is an example of utilitarian ethics presented as extremist arguments, which strikes me as seriously problematic.

These are touchy issues. I can see why someone would feel this way. But, you know, there's a whole hell of a lot of people who rightly would be greatly offended by your characterization and one of them happens to include myself. There's got to be a way to make your point emphatically without godwinning all over the place."

It is difficult to discuss practical applications of the principles of eugenics, especially with regard to infanticide of disabled newborns, without bringing historical precedent into the discussion. Are you really advocating that we ignore what happened the last time these ideas were embraced and acted upon?
posted by zarq at 9:05 AM on March 5, 2012


xchmp, great job. Thank you. :)
posted by zarq at 9:07 AM on March 5, 2012


"If you felt I was mischaracterizing or misinterpreting what he actually said then could have addressed that."

Oh, please. Either select your quotes so that they support your argument, or don't bother quoting. The absurd idea that everyone who reads your argument where you quote Singer should have already read Singer so that they will interpret your quote other than literally is easily one of the weakest defenses I've ever encountered.

"It is difficult to discuss practical applications of the principles of eugenics, especially with regard to infanticide of disabled newborns, without bringing historical precedent into the discussion. Are you really advocating that we ignore what happened the last time these ideas were embraced and acted upon?"

Did you miss the part where this wasn't a proxy thread? If you want to throw accusations of eugenics and the specter of Nazi genocide around, then I suggest you do so in the current thread where this is being discussed and see if those discussing it there agree with you that your claims and discursive behavior are reasonable and justified.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 4:20 PM on March 5, 2012


Ivan, I did not quote Singer. I (and this is the second time I'm mentioning this to you,) summarized his argument while acknowledging that it was even more complex than my summary.

I felt it would have been rude to ignore your response to me. That's why I have been replying to you.
posted by zarq at 6:15 AM on March 6, 2012


I don;t see the point of 'discussing' abortion, really.

I think can be a fascinating topic if you take the political aspects of it off the table, which is, granted, extremely difficult to do. People get profoundly uncomfortable when you talk about the gray areas between life and death and human and non-human, and sentient and non-sentient, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth hashing out now and again, even if nobody's mind changes. At the very least, thinking and talking about it can expose flaws in your own thinking about it.
posted by empath at 6:21 AM on March 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


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