A while back, I printed off a comments thread from Keith Deven’s Weblog because I wanted to see how it had gone.
Last night, I finally got around to reading it. One of the comments, which happened to have nothing to do with the matter at hand, made me think about why you’d ever want to put comments in a weblog, and the responsibilities that go along with having them.
Comments as Feedback
Suffice to say, I think the guy who made that comment was missing the point of what comments are for. When you have a weblog without comments and you post things up, you’re not opening yourself to direct argument. Arguments may be made by others who link to your post, but you’re not necessarily going to read those. If you’re happy with this situation, that’s fine: there’s nothing wrong with it, aside from the fact that you miss potential opportunities for feedback.
When you have open commenting on your weblog entries, you need to accept that not everybody who posts a response is necessarily going to agree with you. I go even further and say that often having people agree with you is exactly what you don’t want, because that closes the opportunities for learning that feedback can give.
There’s a big difference though between disagreeing with somebody and doubting the voracity of their arguments, and meanspiritedly attacking them. I can only speak for myself and my own commenting habits.
I need to digress for a moment.
My Own Motivations
I see my motivation in this world as to leave it better for me having been in it. Not that this is any kind of disinterested selflessness, far from it. I have quite selfish reasons for doing this, but as my own ethical framework doesn’t allow me to hurt others for my own benefit, I choose instead to try and further my own selfish interests in a way that benefits myself and others: I go for the win-win rather than win-lose wherever I can.
Having said that, when I comment my intentions are not malevolent. If I disagree or see holes in the argument in the post or in one of the remarks, I do so with good humour. I am, after all, a guest. Sometimes I’ll see the argument as incomplete and so I won’t understand, so I’ll ask for clarification: “That seems wrong/circular to me”, the request for clarification being implicit.
My intentions are good. I’m never preaching, never trying to convert those I’m arguing with over to my point of view. Instead I’m hoping that the argument is to our mutual advantage, uncovering gaps in our knowledge, giving us a better appreciation of how little we actually know. Our knowledge is at best imperfect.
My intentions aim towards understanding. Sometimes somebody says something based on either out-of-date or just plain faulty information, and I point out where they’re wrong. Sometimes, I can’t convince, sometimes I can, but what matters is that I’ve made the effort towards understanding.
Understanding the Intentions of Commenters
As somebody who has a weblog, the one you’re reading right now, I recognise that having comments (disabled here at the time of writing for technical reasons) opens me, my posts, and my opinions to criticism. I welcome this. I’ve a right to my opinion, and a responsibility to recognise that my opinion might, just might, be incorrect. I define opinion as anything that is not based on either perfect knowledge (which I think is impossible), or that which can be correlated with phenomena. Everything else is open to question, and rightly so.
People who make malicious comments (spammers included) are easy to spot, and we can disregard these. You’ll always have them, but they’ll always be a minority amongst the whole. But it’s important not to assume that just because somebody argues against that they are also malicious. Often this is far from the truth. You have less to fear from those who openly disagree than those agree: there are few more direct ways to solipsism than the idea that ones beliefs are perfect.