I was intrigued by Mike’s post on NWLS’s Colloquy, particularly this aspect of the comments policy:
All comments must be worded in a respectful and scholarly fashion. The Law Review will enforce a zero-tolerance policy against any commenters who employ harrassing or abusive language, employ personal invective in the place of argument, or fail to engage in respectful, appropriate standards of discussion.
I’m with them all the way until their positive prescription; who is to judge the standard of respect due in comments? (The real emphasis in the proviso “with all due respect” is on “due.”) On the other hand, the blogosphere certainly has a reputation for harshness. So maybe Stephen Carter style norms of civility need to be enforced.
On a more theoretical level: is this restriction on the manner of speech ultimately a restriction on content? Is there a message that is censored when one cannot accuse a writer of being “an idiot,” or “utterly confused,” or “IDIOTICALLY CONFUSED!”?
I only ask the question because of an interesting colloquy at a discussion of Lidsky and Cotter’s fascinating article on Anonymous Speech. Cotter, presenting the paper, suggested that the choice to remain anonymous (or pseudonymous) is a dimension of the content of a work. I found this formulation odd initially–aren’t rules of attribution really a dimension of the manner of speech? But I gradually began to see the choice of anonymity as a way of expressing oneself. An anonymously written paper might have an entirely different effect on the reader than one that is attributed. And pseudonyms may be essential in a misogynistic society–think, for instance, of George Eliot’s choice of pen name.
Could “harshness” have a similar function? Might it be a weapon of the weak, a quick register of outrage from those too busy or inarticulate to deconstruct a post’s errors with precision and patience? Might certain sentiments only be expressible via a particularly forceful turn of phrase? Nobody likes participation run amok, but there may be hidden biases in ostensibly neutral norms of civility.