Thoughts on comments

I just scrolled through the last 200 comments left here. Out of the last 100, only three appeared to come from women and only one came from a commenter I knew to be a person of color. Of the next-oldest group of 100, there was much greater diversity, stemming almost entirely from Stephen’s post on Django Unchained, which began as a response to a post by Amaryah Armstrong at the Women in Theology blog. More broadly, it seems that commenting has seriously slowed down overall and that the vast majority of comments come from a small core group of regulars (with Jason Hills standing out as the most consistent commenter). Individual posts will draw greater attention and bring out new commenters, but it appears that those are mostly one-off events and that the new people rarely become regular commenters.

As I reflect on this, it seems that the general downward trend in commenting, punctuated by significant discussions, is probably okay. The pattern that the bigger discussions seem to draw in a more diverse group seems to me to indicate a certain degree of success in the new comment policy that grew out of Brandy’s posts on theology and gender toward the end of last year. We can do better, of course, and I hope we will. Perhaps continuing to move away from an ethos of controversy and conflict — such as we cultivated with Radical Orthodoxy, Object-Oriented Ontology, and (more recently, though more fleetingly) with Emergent types — will help with that. We will always make room for critiques of self-congratulatory white dudes with limited self-awareness, of course, but there’s no need to seek that kind of thing out — and there’s no need to constantly beat a dead horse.

Now however well it might be going in other discussion threads, it’s no secret that I’ve been frustrated with comments on my own posts, probably excessively so. I apologize if that has been discouraging or intimidating to anyone. I haven’t tended to get the kinds of responses I hoped for, and part of that stems from the fact that I’m not really sure what I’m hoping for. At the end of the day, I want the kind of intellectual community that blogging has tended to provide for me, and I haven’t been finding it. Being misunderstood (and here I would include being misunderstood by people who think they’re supporting me), or being critiqued from a point of view that seems to have nothing to say to me other than “change your views and perspectives entirely,” or being told to go read a particular book, etc. — all those kinds of responses have started to weigh on me emotionally and make me feel very intellectually isolated. It’s gotten to the point where I’m expecting to find disappointment in comments and I’m probably overdiagnosing it as a result, effectively pushing people away.

Still, I wish more people would try to “think with” my posts rather than simply “respond” to them. I wish people could pleasantly surprise me with something that in some small way advances my thought — or shows that I’ve somehow advanced theirs — rather than giving me objections to respond to. (Worst of all, of course, is when someone makes objections I’ve already anticipated, which makes me feel disrespected as well as misunderstood.) By the same token, I wish that people wouldn’t take it upon themselves to speak for me — most often, this has taken the form of jumping to normative conclusions from my critical descriptions (as in the “America as party-state” or “ontological structure of academia” posts).

I just wish discussion here could be better. I wish they could help me think and make me feel like I’m helping others think. Sometimes they do, but not often enough to keep me from feeling really discouraged and misunderstood and isolated. I wish I could get to the point where I’m not tensed up and ready to be pissed off every time I see the new comment indicator flash. But that’s where things stand for me right now, and I don’t know what to do about it.

29 Responses to “Thoughts on comments”

  1. Hill Says:

    It’s worth pointing out that your feelings on the comments here could only emerge as a result of the highs that have been (occasionally) achieved in the the comments section of this blog. Your (totally legitimate) feelings hardly make sense calibrated to blog comments generally.

  2. Jason Hills Says:

    Adam,

    A thought that you likely already had: you have been far out-posting your fellow blog authors, who tend to post on notably different subjects than you. If you wish for more diversity, you might want to encourage them to post more often. Relying just on my recollection, it seems that the posting diversity has been lessening at least on the order of the last few months.

    I feel like I should apologize for being a consistent commentator. Instead, I will apologize for causing frustration and de-railing conversations, which I try not to be guilty of, but perhaps fail too often.

  3. robotsdancingalone Says:

    I for one and FWIW would like to emphasise that your posts here, as well as your articles elsewhere (e.g. the Agamben one, which I’ve recommended a number of times), and your Zero books (just finished Sociopaths on a trip to Poland, where a friend noticing it led to a long discussion arising from the book about TV, identity and the social) have ‘advanced my thought’, and significantly. I can’t claim to speak for a community, but I know that at least in terms of myself there is a strong pattern of engagement with your arguments. I am sorry that this hasn’t been more apparent to you, but I think a combination of your ‘vigorous’ approach to comments, my working in a different discipline and my own personal pride in response to these two things, means that my engagement, whilst steady and strong, is largely invisible.

  4. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Thank you for the supportive comments. Sorry if you felt called out, Jason — that wasn’t my intention.

  5. Jason Hills Says:

    Adam, I did not feel “called out” if that means something negative. Rather, I was expressing some regret at not always being constructive, in my own estimation despite my best intentions, especially if I am a consistent commentator. Also, it would be lovely for more lurkers to join us.

    You do get very obviously frustrated, Adam, but I thank you for being “obvious” in your frustration such that it is socially navigable. It is the person who is frustrated but tries to hide it, and thus becomes a social landmine, that is a problem. We all feel, and I think a public acknowledgement is a good thing in this medium because we cannot manage it via non-verbal cues in this medium. Moreover, I think it is the imposition or projection of emotion upon others that often gets us, and always myself included, into “comment snarls.” So no, I did not feel called out.

  6. Robert Saler Says:

    One of the reasons I appreciate this blog is that it forces me to up my game if I’m going to comment. I lurk more than I speak because I really do want to comment only when I have something valuable to add, and identifying such contributions (not to mention phrasing them well) requires higher-than-average intellectual energy.

    And it’s harder than speaking up in seminar classes, since dumb spoken comments leave no written record (unlike blog comments).

  7. hrm Says:

    This blog has the perfect amount of comments. Don’t sweat it. Ok, sweat if you want to, nothing wrong with that. But, in “response,” I think you’re doing a good job on the cultivation of thinking with. really.

    Comment “slowdown” probably has more to do with FB and Twitter, anyway.

    If you allow this post, it will be the second of four attempts in the last several years that made through. That’s batting .500.

  8. seanchristophercapener Says:

    FWIW (probably about 0.2c) even when comment streams are shit, I find your (and others, but I’m speaking specifically of yours because you highlighted misunderstandings that I think have frustrated me as well; cf. the Game of Thrones post, among others) posts to be really helpful to my own thinking. So thank you. I wish I had a more constructive comment, because this probably qualifies in the vein of simple “response,” along with most of my limited comments on this blog, but I know that while I think I track with you enough to detect the mentioned misunderstandings, I often feel that as a first year grad student, I don’t have much to contribute except a willingness to learn.

    Blah blah blah, tl;dr, I’m drunk and I just wanted to say thank you.

  9. Brad Says:

    I’ve yet to get an email from Adam indicating his displeasure at the direction this comment thread is going, so seriously, somebody needs to start trolling hard or he & I won’t have anything to talk about.

  10. Josh K-sky Says:

    If you’re just going to censor people, why even have a blog? You should read Orwell, he wrote a lot about the uses of language. Also your use of the phrase “beating a dead horse” makes me think you haven’t thought very much about animal rights.

    That said, I do think you’re right that the comments could be *better*, by which I’m assuming you mean people could work on their grammar and syntax, and could make an effort towards rhyming occasionally.

  11. Josh K-sky Says:

    (Let me know if I can help you out with anything else, Brad)

  12. Adam Kotsko Says:

    It’s enough to make someone question my commitment to the First Amendment!

  13. Adam Kotsko Says:

    By the way, Jason is totally right that my co-bloggers should be posting more! My role here, as I see it, is to post consistently to build and maintain the baseline audience for everyone else’s posts.

  14. Brennan Breed Says:

    You could always use Yglesian neoliberal-ish incentives to increase quality. Have a commenter of the week and commenter of the month award, the latter of which can be redeemed for a copy of Awkwardness. Race to the top!

  15. Jason Hills Says:

    Instead, we should burn this heathen, Brennan, for suggesting such.

    (Did someone request a trolling?)

    Now for the serious suggestions: might the bring-on another blogger who would post more frequently? Maybe that didn’t occur to anyone. (Not it.)

  16. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    Why would I post more than what I have to say?

  17. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    If I was doing this to a deadline like an op ed I would expect to get paid… the writers here, aside from Adam who does it out of compulsion, are not your dancing monkeys.

  18. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Right, I do it out of compulsion, and I try to channel that energy into building a baseline audience so that whenever one of you has something to say, you will know there will be people there to read it. No one has a duty to post here, not even me. In fact, I’ve been posting gradually less as the years go by and imagine that pattern will continue.

  19. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I wasn’t talking to you. I feel like I’m being misunderstood here.

  20. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Write your own post if you want to whine about misunderstanding — I called dibs on the victim position here.

  21. Jason Hills Says:

    Anthony,

    You know the answer to your own question. If the audience dies, then the point is moot, though it may take a long time for the decline to be evident (or not, as you likely have access to your web stats). Hence, I suggested the idea of increasing authorship without requiring more out of anyone in particular.

    Adam, you like being the victim, the pressed-upon, a little too much and too theatrically.

  22. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    I’m not sure the audience we have is much worth it, tbh. I write what I do without really assuming a readership since most of our readers are either Adam-centric or evangelical Christians. But our stats are fine… Jesus man.

  23. Adam Kotsko Says:

    Sometimes one can indicate awareness of a trait like that by making fun of oneself for it.

  24. Adam Kotsko Says:

    This post honestly is a little embarrassing in retrospect, but it seems useful to remind people that I’m a human being once in a while.

  25. Jason Hills Says:

    Yes, Adam, and hence I called it “theatrical” as if you just gave us a stage whisper. (Perhaps I’ve spent too much time with thespians.) Regardless, I think there should be more humanizing as it reminds us–do I really have to say myself included–and promotes the inclusive atmosphere that you seek.

  26. Mark William Westmoreland Says:

    Anthony as a dancing monkey…that’s quite a funny image.

  27. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That’s really insensitive, Mark. Dancing Monkey Syndrome affects thousands in the US and Canada. Anthony can’t help who he is.

  28. Jason Hills Says:

    Way to be inclusive, Adam.

    #CommentPolicyWin

  29. KB Says:

    Good post. My hope is that comments will build capacity, and work to improve the posts that they relate to, so that the piece+comments are taken as a whole. By the nature of the speed at which they are usually written, it seems the fairest way to approach something written in this form, and I wonder if taking that sort of approach might help that last paragraph feel less widely true.


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