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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Debates in the blogosphere and in comment sections

Many blogs have "comments policies" and most bloggers have their own practices for when, if ever, they are willing to respond to other bloggers who disagree with posts they write. I have never promulgated any sort of "comments policy" or even talked about these issues because I try to avoid these sorts of self-referential meta-blog discussions. But sometimes they are unavoidable, and since several comment threads here have recently encompassed these issues, it seems constructive to say a few words about these matters.

I am a vigorous believer in the virtues of debate and the clash of opposing ideas. As enthusiastic a proponent as I have become of the unique value of the blogosphere, its one glaring deficiency is that many (perhaps most) bloggers (much more so on the Right, but not uncommonly on the Left) avoid interaction with any individuals or ideas which dissent from their own views, preferring to preach to choirs and/or "arguing" for their view in a harmonious, dissent-free echo chamber. For this reason, many bloggers don't even allow comments, won't respond to anyone's critiques of their opinions unless forced into it, or, most pitifully of all, allow only those comments in agreement with their views while cowardly and immediately deleting all comments which disagree.

I honestly think that this blog has some of the most substantive and high-level comment discussions anywhere. And a big part of why this is so is because there are lots of commenters here who disagree, often vehemently, with my views and with the views of many other commenters here, and they articulate their disagreements substantively and intelligently, which prompts more thinking and more debate. Virtually every comment section here contains commenters arguing why my post is wrong or why the views of regular commenters here are misguided. I'm glad that's the case and hope it stays that way. I think that knowing that your views will be subject to disagreement makes one more diligent about advancing only meritorious and intellectually honest views.

At the same time, there are individuals who come here (and everywhere else) with no intent other than to disrupt or to vent their own frustrations and emotions and who, therefore, aren't interested in (or capable of) meaningful debate. They just engage in conclusory assertions or cliched name-calling (we're "leftist Bush-haters with Bush Derangement Syndrome," etc.) and have minds that are as closed as they are boring and uncreative. I don't believe in deleting comments or banning anyone (other than for extreme acts of deliberate disruption, a standard I would apply very permissively). So I leave it to every participant here to decide for themselves which commenters are worth engaging and which ones ought to be ignored.

And I deliberately seek out debate and disagreement with bloggers who have different views than mine because I believe that doing so creates innumerable benefits. It strengthens one's own arguments to subject them to formidable critique; exposing the fallacies and inconsistencies of Bush followers can be beneficial in lots of ways; and I think the blogosphere is healthier, more vibrant and more interesting if people with different ideas are communicating with and debating one another rather than smugly ignoring each other and celebrating their own cleverness without opposition.

The unique value of the blogosphere is that it facilitates debate and disagreement so potently. Every argument is preserved; every fact can be easily checked and verified; and accountability can be compelled. In general, my view is that the more substantive debate and direct disagreement there is, the better.

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