Warning!!! This post has nothing to do with KDE or technology. It's full of thoughts on personal freedom and other soft, gooey, social type stuff. Feel free to skip this entry if that's not your cup of tea. =)
The more people you know, the greater the odds are that you are going to know someone who is a complete jerk about things. It's a numbers game, really. So when you meet thousands of people a year and even more track you down on-line, it's pretty much guaranteed that such people will find you without you having to do much work at all. ;)
Every so often someone with a real crank on will start following me around the intarwebs posting their hallowed viewpoint on me. It seems to happen to everyone with an even moderately public profile. Usually they get stuck on one message and then post it consistently everywhere they can as some sort of therapeutic outpouring of their inner angst. Most people don't last more than a couple weeks at this, though I've had a couple of people with real commitment dog me for a year or more. It's annoying, but part of life. I have worked hard on being able to accept it, and then move on. I'm still working on it, but getting better at it over time.
I do make a somewhat easy target: besides being somewhat visible, I wear my heart on my sleeve and my mind on my .. uhm .. lapel (I guess that's where it would be if the heart is on the sleeve? ;). I don't often pull punches when it comes to what my thoughts are, and sometimes I'm actually *gasp* wrong. I spend a lot of time formulating my thoughts, so it's not a completely unearned allowance and I do try to keep my non-wrongness ratio high enough to remain respectable. Still .. I give the Angry People ample ammunition. Again, it's part of my life. I strive to accept it, and move on.
I do have one small personal policy, though: if you want to be irrational and stupid, do it somewhere other than my personal space. You can shout whatever you want from the hilltops if you wish, but you don't get to do it in my living room, my office, my blog or my inbox. I love debating and feeling out ideas and arguments that I don't agree with, but I don't have time for pointlessness.
(I have some books on my bookshelf that I utterly hate. Some of them are liberally sprinkled with notes in their margins expressing my counter-points to the author's positions. I think challenging one's self by assessing other viewpoints is important.)
So here's the $64,000 question of the day: is it censorship to delete comments from my blog that fall into the "pointless flame" category? Here's my answer:
No it's not. Censorship is when you go around removing things that are objectionable. I certainly don't hold with that concept, and so there's a lot of comments in my blog that I find quite objectionable, but objectionable material is often just another way of saying, "Ideas that run counter to my own thoughts that are expressed in a rather aggressive or even just uncomfortably open way."
When it comes to my personal space, and this blog is such a space, I'm not obliged to give people a soapbox for worthless and poorly intentioned shouting. That is part of my personal liberty, and is mirrored by your liberty as well: I do not expect you to grant me extraordinary privileges in your personal space, either.
As US Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once described the harm principle, which places a natural limit on our liberty, "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins." If you wish to disagree with my right to not let you swing your fist into my face, you can swing your fist at me from a distance in your own personal space in a show of great protest. See how it works?
Shared private spaces, such as planetkde.org or dot.kde.org, have the right to similar controls. Censorship must be avoided but filtering out vandalism is completely within the rights of the group whose private space it is.
The danger in putting limits of expression in shared private spaces is that the tyranny of the majority, something John Stuart Mill wrote about in "On Liberty" some 150 years ago, can all too easily set in. It is therefore vital for a community to come to a shared understanding, before crisis arrives, as to what the difference between vandalism of the shared space and merely objectionable expression is, and to ensure that that definition is conservative enough and respectful enough of future minority positions to avoid ever being twisted into simple censorship, especially censorship of convenience. (As in: "it's inconvenient to address that issue openly.")
In public spaces, which are by definition also shared, there is no room for managing content or expression outside of some very extreme situations (e.g. incitement to violence, or the "clear and present danger" principle might be one such situation; though even that needs to be treated extremely carefully). This is a fundamental difference between public and private (or personal) spaces, and is vital to preserving freedom in a society. Tyranny must not be allowed to find its way into either government or society's various majorities, and well protected public spaces are part of the solution.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who apparently don't quite understand how personal freedom and liberty works in a society with more than one person in it, or lack the ability to accurately discern the difference between a private and a public space. Some will try and raise the specter of censorship just because you won't let them verbally punch you in the face in your own home. There are public spaces for such behavior, though be aware that I'm not required to show up to participate. (An amazing natural answer to curtailing abuse!) In that public space the merit of your position can be weighed by one and all.
Alternatively one can raise the value of their input from worthless to objectionable (which has value, though retaining the dissident nature of the original content) and find private spaces opening up to your expression.
Why all this blathering about liberty and what not? This morning I deleted the same comment three times from my blog and ended up turning on moderation controls (temporarily, I hope) to manage the goofball who apparently feels it's their natural right to say anything they want in my space. I decided to spend my lunch time writing this entry as a (very small and not nearly as well thought out as it should be) bit of documentation as to how I feel these concepts work in a rational world. Freedom is very important to me, and I want to make it clear just where those weighty, and often difficult, lines exist for me.
Feel free to post your objectionable comments below; apologies for the moderation delay in advance. =/ However, I do understand that there is no moderation delay at all when you post on your own blog. ;)