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Monday, September 9, 2019


I have been so upset by the tone and character of the comments section these past few days that as I walked this morning I gave serious consideration to closing down this blog, assuming I could figure out how one closes down a Google blog.  I have been especially angry at the sneering and insulting remarks of the person called Talha.  I shall remove every one of this person’s comments that I can find and ban him [?] from the blog.  If you are eager to interact with Talha, you can find another platform on which to do it.  Fair warning: it won’t be more than several months before you are the target of his contempt.

Meanwhile, I think it is worth taking some time to explain why I am upset.  First of all, let me assure Chris that I am not a snowflake who melts if someone says an unkind word to me.  In justification of Talha’s mean-spirited remarks, Chris invokes Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg!  Really?  Let us not get above ourselves!

This sort of infighting has a long, primarily religious history, in Christianity, in Islam, and for all I know in Buddhism and Shinto.  If one longs for eternal salvation and believes that every syllable of every word of revealed text is divinely inspired, then the fate of one’s soul may hang on the tiniest doctrinal quibble.  But there is no God of Revolutions who will bless us with Socialism if only we can find the correct position on the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.  There are only men and women who have made common cause in the struggle for justice.

Now, in that struggle, as I have said here before, what matters most of all is simply, Which side are you on?  Are you on the side of the exploiters, or on the side of the exploited?  Are you on the side of the oppressors, or on the side of the oppressed?  All of us who are on the side of the exploited and the oppressed are comrades, regardless of our judgments concerning tactics or the correct analysis of the facts.

In the quasi-religious version of politics that too often passes for ideological purity, it may be a matter of [figurative, never literal] life and death precisely which candidate for office you think best, or which reading of the Grundrisse you favor.  But in the real world of political action, accomplishing anything requires the solidarity of millions or tens of millions of people who have all chosen the same side of the struggle, even though they cannot even all agree on whether the sun rises in the East or the West.  It is self-defeating, not to say rude, to adopt a tone of contempt toward a comrade.

Now, the mistake I made, apparently, was to believe that all of us who read and comment on this blog are comrades in the struggle for justice in this country and around the world – not merely idle observers, but comrades.

But in the anonymous, dispersed world of blog commentators, is comradeship impossible?  Perhaps so.  I may simply be bound to earlier modes of human interaction that were prevalent when I was young.


Anonymous said...

Sounds right to me.

s. wallerstein said...

The fact that people are comrades doesn't mean that they don't insult each other from time to time.

I myself participated in a theoretically underground resistance movement during the Pinochet dictatorship (the clandestine methods were often not very clandestine) and I can assure you that comrades from time to time insulted each other. That's human nature: that's the way we are. Even in a good marriage (maybe not in yours) the couple trade insults at times.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

My wife and I have been married for many years and we’ve had our disagreements--often strong disagreements--but I can’t recall an instance when either of us insulted the other. Annoyed? Yes. Exasperated? Of course. But nothing that could be called an insult.

There’s no need for the ad hominem attacks that often creep into the comments on this blog. Vigorous argument on the merits of an issue doesn’t require insult. Insult has nothing to do with the merits of a position. And it certainly doesn’t help in convincing people to change their views, something that must occur if this country is going to move to the left in any meaningful way.

David said...

Professor Wolff,

I think you are wise to set some parameters for how people express themselves here. For roughly a decade I participated in an education blog--one that now has had, I'm told, 13 million hits. I often used my real name, and during the 2015 teachers' strike, I went on the offensive, named names, and did not post anonymously. After we finally reached agreement with the district, the CBA included a non-retaliation provision that protected all of us from the district coming after us for what we said during the strike. At least in my case, I never suffered even the slightest payback for my fervent arguments posted on the education blog.

Then, in 2016, Trump was elected, and everything on the blog changed. Trump has emboldened trolls, who have consciously tried to destroy the civil, though often passionate, conversations people have had there. (For the record, I'm not claiming that Talha is a troll. In fact, their comments are tame compared to the Trump trolls I've seen posted on the education blog.) In the months following the election, I was personally attacked and threatened. A troll said outrageous things about me and even my wife, and said he would be contacting our district's HR department about my public statements. Of course, these were empty threats, but I ultimately decided not to use my real name again on the blog.

The person who runs the education blog could have done a better job of deleting the flood of nasty comments that appeared on her blog, but she did not. And now I rarely post there, and when I do, I don't use my real name.

Chris said...

This is completely unfair:

" In justification of Talha’s mean-spirited remarks, Chris invokes Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg! Really? "

I literally made it clear that I was not defending or condemning Talhas behavior, since I didn't read what he said. I explicitly said "bracketing out" that aspect of the post....

Instead I was asking about the guidelines for acceptable versus unacceptable 'anonymous' posting, and also to what degree an internet handle was sufficiently transparent versus anonymous. From what rules and guidelines are you expecting from us. Which several other posters also inquired about.

It's perfectly fine if you want to ban x, or y, and promote z or q as future posting rules, you won't be challenged by me, but the framing of my position is completely loaded.

Chris said...

I can't see how the following can be read as a "justification of Talha’s mean-spirited remarks":

"bracketing out how offensive Talha's comments were, since I didn't see them, the first part of your claim I thought we all accepted as false? That is, one may not be using a pseudonym because they are a coward, there may be legitimate reasons for using one. This example is not analogous to Talha, but Snowden used a pseudonym to contact the press; hardly cowardly.

I also don't see the connection between a pseudonym and being polite. Why does the requirement to use a pseudonym also entail an acquirement to be polite? I'm not saying it does or doesn't, I just don't see a connection. I can at least envision scenarios where I can see anonymous behavior being both required and not being polite: e.g., Banksy."

I'm clearly inquiring, not defending.

Bill said...

Just a reminder that there are many of us here who value and learn a lot from your blog. I haven't commented in a while but I do read.

Thank you for all of the work you put into the blog.


Chris said...

Courtesy is not incompatible with vigorous discussion and rigorous intellectual honesty.

Also, we are guests at Dr. Wolff's blog and he is within his rights to delete what he will.

I saw a billboard this morning here in south Georgia that read 'Trump keeps his promises'. So there's that.

Chris from Nebraska

Jerry Brown said...

I hope you continue writing the blog Professor. I very much enjoy it and learn a lot of stuff that I would not ordinarily be exposed to and that I have not had much formal education about.

I hope to continue to occasionally comment and ask questions from time to time, but will make an extra effort to be nice about it.

Thank you for writing the Philosopher's Stone!

Boris Dagaev said...

Chris said...> [RWP] won't be challenged by me

Maybe if we do challenge the owner a bit, he will realize that is is a delusion of his that he can build a community of comrades around his blog.

Personally, I think his actions towards Talha are petty and unfair. But that's fine by me, we all are human.

What bugs me is that they are wasteful and ill-founded. They prolong a discussion that is useless to the movement the owner is trying to contribute to. And they unfortunately reveal his intellectual limitations in areas that are not relevant to political issues at hand.

Nice Nihilist said...

Well that does it for me. I agree with Prof Wolff and I think the remarks about his "intellectual limitations" are unwittingly autobiographical and can fairly be called fatuous. I'll retreat to my own blog until this blows over or the blog is shut down.

TheDudeDiogenes said...

Prof, I am sorry you feel badly. These are indeed trying times, and, I fear, will only become moreso the closer the 2020 election comes. I hope you decide to keep blogging, though - your clarity and kindness are a light in these dark times.

Boris Dagaev said...

Nice Nihilist said...> until this blows over

IMO, it won't until the owner realizes and rejects the delusion of polite comradeship on the side of the exploited. In my opinion, is it an intellectual limitation to continue to believe in that despite all historical counterexamples that have been given aplenty here recently.

Personally, I've been reading the blog for years, because I'm interested in RPW's insights into social, political, and philosophical issues.

Compared to that, his Trump-era behavioral sermons sound trifling to me. Unless his goal is to build a mutual admiration movement in honor of Emily Post.

Anonymous said...

A little history will shine a light on how "comrades" treat each other.

The famous 1872 split in the International Workingmen's Association during the Hague Conference showed that factions such as those led by Karl Marx were completely intolerant of "other viewpoints".

The way that Lenin treated the anarchists who joined his October Revolution then killed them or shipped them to Siberia when their usefulness was over or their independent streak annoyed his charitability towards his "comrades".

Emma Goldman's 1923 book My Disillusionment in Russia should be required reading for those starry-eyed souls who think "comrades" can all "just get along".

You have hit the nail on the head when you note that too many "comrades" are acting like religious ideologues far too willing to spend time splitting hairs (and heads?) over doctrine rather than actually roll up their sleeves and do anything productive to advance a socialist agenda. That's a sad fact of history. It should not be ignored. Too many paid with their lives for failing to understand where they truly stood with their "comrades".

s. wallerstein said...

By the way, there are lots of possible positions in life and on the left between the extremes of comrades and idle observers cited above.

RobinMcD said...

Just maybe the problem lies in still thinking in ways that have been out-moded by the new technologies upon which such a blog as this relies?

I’m not sure that Richard Seymour’s new book, “The Twittering Machine,” which is, he says, “about the social industry: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the political and cultural effects of the capitalist capture of social life,” will provide advice or consolation. But it might. Anyway, no need to wait for that book. Seymour has put up a series of videos at his site—
—Perhaps no. VI, which discusses how “Cyber-utopianism has lapsed into cyber-cynicism. The social industry was once the repository of democratic, progressive hopes . . .” is relevant to this discussion.

Christopher J. Mulvaney, Ph.D. said...

Several Weeks ago, when Dr. Wolff mentioned the table arrangement at City College, I thought that if I been in grad school in the '30's I would have staked out a table for Unaffiliated/Eclectic Leftists. If you're into Marx, but also Freud, or Gramsci, or Korsch, or Lukacs sit at the Unaffiliated table! Sectarianism seems to always lead to extremism and is a waste of time and energy that is better applied to the problems at hand. It also brings to mind the phrase "the narcissism of small differences." The crises confronted by the Western world over the past century all seem to be summed up nicely in the slogan "Socialism or Barbarism." It's not "Leninism or Barbarism," or "Maoism or Barbarism."

As to the quote that sparked the conversation, it is clearly a contestable statement. I think it was Jerry Frescia who mentioned Dr. Wm. Connelly, from whom I borrowed the notion of contestable claims. It is absurd to say that the meaning is obvious and if you don't get it you're perhaps a little addled. Much of political discourse is comprised of arguing over meanings. If we are here, on this blog, wanting to discuss the meaning of the crisis we are living through, we are hopefully engaging in a dialogue that leads to mutual understanding. Mutual agreement is not the goal. Our discussion will go off the rails if we are not treating each other with respect as we seek to achieve mutual understanding.

Michael Llenos said...

There are more readers of this blog than posters. What do the readers of this blog (who don't post) really come for? I think they come to this website mostly for the insights of just one pundit: Dr. Robert Paul Wolff. If Dr. Wolff wants to erase this blog website then, I gather, that is his business. If he wants to make this blog more stress free for himself (by doing away with the anonymous posting option) then I think that is also his business. We are just guests who perch here every so often. He is the one who truly owns the decision making of this blog and keeps it's sprockets going.

Brian said...

I value your blog and am puzzled by commenters who see no problem with abusive remarks. The following suggestion would entail more work for you, which perhaps would be unwelcome--but I think it would make sense to adopt a policy whereby you screen comments before they can be posted. (I'm assuming that Google blogs permit an "administrator" to exercise this degree of control, though I'm not sure.)

To my mind, a blog like this is like a salon in the living room of its host. It's not a public square, where anything goes. If people sit down and start insulting other people in the room, the host not only has the right but the responsibility to ask them to leave and not return.

Guy Tennenbaum said...

Professor Wolff,

I did read Talha’s original obnoxious comment and have been following the little drama. I wasn’t going to comment but am doing so now to say that I’m glad you wrote this latest post.

Talha is representative of the kind of person who is very smart, extremely morally scrupulous, and possessed of proper outrage at life’s many injustices, but who also thinks that their inculcation into a Marxist (or otherwise Leftist) framework places them in a position from which they can look down and sneer at those who lack their level of purity. If you’re not willing to articulate a narrow set of beliefs and opinions, then you must be condemned as an obedient and well-trained mouthpiece of bourgeois ideology.

This latest outburst showed how the mindset operates. Jerry Brown professed his ignorance as to the rationale for some bit of Marxist analysis and asked the readership of this blog to be enlighten him. Evidently, though, Jerry’s anodyne remark about about “smoking some strong stuff” was enough for Talha to lace his reply with condescension. I’m thinking, in particular, of his implication that Jerry hadn’t moved beyond a “fifth grader fairy tale” understanding of history, delivered in a I-can’t-believe-I-have-to-deal-with-this-childish-nonsense tone. It was all very snarky (Talha may not even realized how snarky it was), and Jerry replied with snark of his own. But to then reply with open insults like “moronic” and “bien pensant fool” was entirely inappropriate.

Assuming that the reason any of us comment on politics at all (or vote in elections) is to move the needle ever so slightly in our direction, then that reflexive sneering is not only unhelpful but counterproductive. It turns people off. By contrast, Jerry Fresia speaks from the same basic orientation as Talha (and also Chris) but never resorts to cheap shots, and he is my favorite commenter here, the one from whose suggestions I have most often followed up on with further reading.

That said, I have gotten into a heated exchange with Talha in the past, and when I suggested we dial it down s/he responded graciously and insightfully. Perhaps he or she can return under another pseudonym and realize that this is your blog and you can tone police as much as you want. Or he or she can go to Reddit or somewhere else

Unknown said...

I've really missed out on whatever has been happening here for only it seems a short while, and so I can't lend to much to the trouble but just wanted to say that I would hate it if this blog were to disappear. Me, along with many others I assume, come here to enjoy what the professor has to say without posting much if not at all.
Thus I just don't want you to think that the only people here with you are the ones always poised over their keyboards ready to throw out their opinion, rational or otherwise.
Please don't take this down on account of a few.

Icarus said...

Dear Professor,
I just finished watching your lectures on Marx's theory and found them illuminating, clear, entertaining and insightful. In the sixth lecture, you mentioned that you were going to close the series with an analysis on the future of socialism and it's failures in the past. Using Mark's own words you brilliantly showed the transition from feudalism to the emerging capitalist order and remarked that the seedlings of a new economic and political structure are planted in advance and begin to sprout for many decades and even centuries before they emerge in full size. Could you share your views about some of those sprouts that we see emerging in the globalized economy and how they could mark the way towards a socialists future? And also why a socialist order would not be able to form before the resources of capitalism are exhausted. The socialist economist Naomi Klein notes that climate change could ultimately steer the economy towards socialism. Do you share that belief? In a world of constantly emerging predictions about the future from all fields of knowledge it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Your thoughts are both clear and profound, truly the works of a philosophic mind. Thank you!

chrismealy said...

I've found that deleting comments (with no explanation!) is the best way to get unwelcome guests to leave. People want attention, and when you cut them off from it, they look elsewhere.