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#6263: Corbett replies to Dannenbaum on selection criteria
Eric, I am more than happy to respond. The past few weeks have been
utterly exhausting because of this issue, and I have had many battles
with many people.
Before I even begin to address the four areas of my limits I do want to
remind people that this IS, indeed, a private and moderated list, and not a
public list as, for example, a newsgroup or usenet group is. YES. I do
read nearly every post before posting to see if it fits this list as
I have created and conceive it. That's what I take it is the primary
responsibility of a moderator. While the list is free and open to any
as receivers of the list mail, what gets posted is directly posted by me
from posts people send in wishing to post. I do have the responsibility
to decide what does and doesn't get posted.
So, here, as best I can articulate them are the criteria.
There are five categories of posts I don't post:
1. Posts that are not quite directly and immediately related to Haiti.
Thus I don't post general posts on the Caribbean, or general posts on
developement in underdeveloped nations, or general issues concerning
people of color and so on. I started this list as a place to talk about
HAITI itself. There are other places on line for the more general
2. The second limit is that posts which BEGIN being on Haiti will often
spin up the level of abstraction to a more general set of issues. This
happened recently with the issue of the IMF and the general issue of
foreign aid FOR HAITI. It began there, but soon the discussion was not
about foreign aid in Haiti, but foreign aid in general or foeign aid in
relation to underdevelopd nations.
At some point in that movement up the lines of abstraction I just stop
posting to the list and leave it to the participants to continue off-list.
I see this as quite narrowly a Haiti list. Given the hundreds, even
thousands of posts on THAT topic in a year, I just can't handle a list
of even broader proportions. Nor have I any desire to.
3. The third criterion is the ONLY one which causes me much grief, and
the one to which you refer in your post. This is the limit on PERSONAL
This is often misunderstood, or rejected by others. So, let me carefully
state the basic rule I try to follow:
**I will not post items which contain personal attacks on members of this
list in relation to posts they have made on this list.**
Before I explain why, let me be very clear as to what this says:
a. If someone on the list posts his or her view, and another
on the list disagrees with that view and attacks that
view as false, I have NO problem with that.
b. If, however, in attacking the falseness of the view, the person
does this IN PART OR WHOLE by attacking the PERSON as well as the view,
then I will not post that post. (This is what happened in
the recent post by Marx Vilaire to which you responded. In
his post of disagreement with Kathy Grey he not only attacked
the IDEAS she had, but, as I read it, attacked her personally.
I refused the post and asked for a revision to eliminate the
personal attack.) This is do EVERYTIME I see or catch such
personal attacks and will continue to do so.
c. However, I do NOT, repeat do NOT take responsibility to reject posts
offer personal attacks to:
-- persons not on this list.
-- list members who have written in more widely published
-- public figures such as politicians or journalists in their
-- groups as such.
I only refuse to post personal attacks on INDIVIDUAL list
members in relation to things they have posted on this list.
Since this is most controversial let me say just a few words about why I
do this. It is controversial in two directions: One, that I protect
anyone. Two, that I don't protect everyone.
When I began the list 5 years ago I knew I did not want to create a space
which is like the newsgroups, allowing people to just say anything they want.
In significant measure I founded the list precisely to create as space where
that sort of personal attacks and foul langauge directed at people's ideas
was not there.
On the other hand, I didn't want to not allow attacks on writings which
were much broader and more public than the lists, nor did I (nor do I)
want to enforce notions of politically correct talk, a concept which I
The flavor I wanted was a place where people could say what was on their
minds about Haiti, ask what they wanted to ask, speak their mind, and then
expect that people might vehemently disagree with the IDEAS, but their
persons wouldn't be abused for thinking and speaking thoughts others didn't
like. It has also seemed to me as a philosopher who works significantly
in the area of critical assessment of ideas, that ad hominem arguments
are also just very bad arguments to begin with.
A person might well be a bad or even disgusting person in his or her
personal habits, but still be telling the truth about what is said in
Now, what often happens is this: Person A writes some controversial
post about some Haiti-related matter, and person B believes this view
is wrong, and more than that, the view offends them. So, person
B will write a post that contains two sorts of things:
1. Perfectly reasonable attacks on the IDEAS of the other.
2. Some personal attacks as well.
Since I DO NOT edit posts (only accept or reject), I will either send the
post back telling the person WHY I won't post it. At times, if I am
really busy I won't even do that, but just delete it. I just don't have
time to fight these issues on a daily basis.
To person B this seems like I am wanting to censor their views. This is
simply not so. I am, and will continue, protecting list members from
being personally attacked for their views.
4. The fourth area of posts I just delete are what I refer to as
"me too" posts. The are posts where someone replies to another by saying
things like: "Great post, George, I agree with you very much..."
They don't ADD to the discussion with new material. I routinely detele
such posts. I do this with other posts which, on my view, simply
duplicate things we've already had without adding much, if anything, to
5. Lastly is a MOST vague and extremely rare category. I will, upon
rare occasion, find a post just generally too offensive to post. I can't
give a critrion for this that is more detailed. It is a subjective notion.
In the more than 10,000 posts over 5 years there haven't been a dozen of
those. It is NEVER the content of the post, the root idea, but the
mode of presentation that would offen here.
I come out of a philosophical tradition in regard to speech which is
extremely liberal. I don't believe in censoring ideas on the basis of
their TRUTH. Rather, when claims are made about the WORLD (in our case,
the world of Haiti) I think it is healthy and desirable to say what one
wants. If ideas are mistaken, wrong or silly, then others may step
forward and make an argument that this is the case.
John Milton, the British poet, has written well about free speech. He
argues that the best way to deal with ideas is let them be published and
then we can learn a great deal in the debate concerning their truth.
Howerver, an attack on a PERSON is not, on my view, an attack on the
truth of the idea. On the other hand, I don't want to limit speech more
than I believe I have to, thus even in protecting persons, I only protect
that speech which originates on the list and protect THOSE people from
being attacked personally for their views.
I think there is often a confusion when a post has both elements:
-- serious arguments
-- personal attacks
I reject the post for the reason of the personal attack and the poster
chooses to not face that issue, but says I reject it for the views
expressed about the issue. This is simply not so, and in EVERY case
where the offending personal attack is removed, then the post is posted,
as was the Vilaire post to which you refer. Once the offending one or
two sentences of personal attack were removed, the post was posted.
Those are the criteria I try very hard to follow. Occasionally I err and
MISS a personal attack. I don't read every post with the same care. I
dread that when I do it, since it often brings about a retaliation from the
person attacked, and often I will catch that. They I get blasted for
a double standard. The standard simply isn't doubt. Rather, the moderator
is simply fallible. Given ONE mistake, I have no intention of then allowing
a retaliation once the mistake has been discovered. Oh my, does that
get me in trouble. I can live with the trouble. I can't live with allowing
personal attacks on list members for what they believe.
I hope this clears it up. I would be happy to clarify things that aren't
clear. I don't know that I can be more specific. The limits are not up
for discussion. I founded the list with certain principles in mind and I
intend to keep those principles in place. I am most happy to try to clarify
them, but they are not intended to be rules in the sense of law. They
are an attempt to articulate principles which I follow in the best since
I can with sincerity. But ultimately the decisions are mine, and there
is always a level of subjectivity and personal judgment in the decision.