Thursday, July 27, 2006

Comments and commenters: minor pet peeves

The first thing I want to say, loud and clear, is that the Comment feature has proven to be a delightful surprise to me, both here and at Pyro.

I initiated it here with great, trepidations. The Comments feature was the aspect of joining Pyro that worried me most. I'd seen better folks than I driven to desperation by their Comments section.

Now, many months later, the comment sections has more often than not proven to be one of the most rewarding and fun aspects of both blogs. I've been blessed with some awfully sharp, kind, open, encouraging, challenging, and stimulating readers.

Having said that, I have picked up some pet peeves. These are the little bones in the big fish. They are the causes of whatever chagrin I feel in the endeavor. But here are the ones on my mind at the moment, in no particular order:

  1. Trolls. Phil has a great rule: Don't feed the trolls. They come in with an agenda unrelated to the post or the site or, often, anything other than their own febrile little brains. Happily, I've not seen too many, here or at Pyro.
  2. Boilerplate commenters. You know them. There have been a lot of these at both sites. They glance over a post, say to themselves, "Oh, this is about The Gifts. He's a cessationist. Here's what I always like to say when a cessationist writes about The Gifts." Then they just say it, blat. It's apparent by their comments that they haven't read the post at all. Or worse still, sometimes my buds Phil and Frank get people who evidently say, "Oh, it's Phil Johnson / Frank Turk. Here's what I always like to say when Phil/Frank writes anything." Blat. (I'll lump one more comment about them in the next item.)
  3. Lazy readers. Now, here's something you may have noticed about my style of writing. I try (note emphasis) to write in a very focused and almost pathologically cautious way. I try to anticipate how I may be read, and misread. To a small degree, this is because I am a cautious and meticulous scholar. Mostly, it is because I am motivated by fear. I hate being misread, and I especially hate it when it's my fault. I also hate when someone goes on some dumb rabbit-trail when I'm trying to talk about something I think is Important. So I try to anticipate the rabbit-trails, and cut them off.

    Well, lazy readers and boilerplaters don't notice or care about any of this. Sometimes it's sadly funny, always it's frustrating, sometimes it's maddening.

    There was one guy who took great umbrage at something I wrote. He made a comment of like 900,000 words. Now, I'm fifty years old, and wasn't certain I'd live long enough to read it all. There are other things I want to do before I die. So I glanced. Immediately I saw that he trotted out some tired old cliche that I had already specifically anticipated and responded to in the post. This immediately communicated to me that -- for me -- his comment wasn't worth a read, let alone a reply. (I suppose I could have done as done to, and just spurted a retort without actually reading it, but that wouldn't be very Golden Ruley of me.)

    The most irritating thing about lazy readers is that they commonly misread, or read very poorly, then demand that you reply to something you already covered in the article. If they would give it a more thoughtful and, dare I say, respectful read, they would learn this. But they don't. You may have written oh-so-carefully, yet they read poorly and lazily, and they feel it's your responsibility to compensate for their doltish sluggardliness.

    Now, let me be very clear. I do not include in this those cases where I really have been unclear. I'm always appalled at myself, and grateful to the commenter, when someone points out some pinheaded misstatement of mine. I race to clarify just as quickly as I can. Nor am I speaking of cases of inadvertent and non-culpable misreading -- for instance in the case of a new or ill-taught believer, or someone with a genuine learning disability.

    The folks of whom I write would insist that they fall in neither category. The problem, they would adamantly contend, is yours (mine), and it is your (my) responsibility to solve it. For them. To their satisfaction. On their timetable.

    ("Or what?", one wonders. They'll demand their money back?)

  4. Stubborn lazy readers. These are people who do all of the above, plus. Perhaps you patiently -- or not very patiently, but pointedly -- point out their oversight. Or you point out that you specifically announced the scope of your post, and their challenge is not within that scope. You've written about sovereign-grace election, and they fault you for not proving the Virgin Birth. Or you announce your intent to deal with one aspect of forensic justification, and they rail at you for not having read everything N. T. Wright ever wrote from his kindergarten years and onward. Or (as in my recent posts at Pyro) you announce that you're responding to something a particular and beloved charismatic wrote, and they pronounce that you haven't proven cessationism. And so on.

    So, as I say, you point any or all of this out, and refer them back to the post. Do they say, "Oh, right, my bad! Well, maybe you can get to my subject someday"? No, no no no. Not these folks. They either don't reply, or repeat themselves. But they're not as bad as....

  5. Stubborn and argumentative lazy readers. They're like ##4 and 5, plus-plus. They don't listen to A, but demand that you write B -- with no guarantees they'll listen to B and better than they listened to A. In fact, once you write B, they demand C.

    So, you've worked really hard to craft a clear statement of what you want to say. They skim over it like a flat stone skipping across the surface of a lake. You point this out, and ask that they re-read more slowly and thoughtfully. If they do, they'll find their answer -- if they really want an answer.

    Now, time out for a brief aside. Between you and me, who is likelier to know the contents of a post, article, essay, book? The reader, or the author? If I eat something, then challenge the chef, "You really need to put some garlic in this," and she replies, "I did put some garlic in," does it make sense for me to say, "Yeah, but you really ought to put some garlic in it?" Doesn't that make me look doltish?

    Well, that makes sense to me, but I can't tell you how many times I've gotten into this. I don't get very far in, though. When I realize, "Ooh, I have a lazy and stubborn and argumentative reader/correspondent," I bail out. Life's too short, I'm too old, and I'm a poor enough time-manager as it is to pour my life into these little patches of the Sahara. They can be someone else's Special Project. Thank God, I do have some folks patient enough to read attentively, and by God's grace I seem to do them some good, so I'll just focus my efforts on them.

    Which of course infuriates the lazy, stubborn, argumentative readers. But oh, well. Can't please everybody.

To all the above, I commend this these verses for careful consideration:

If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.
Proverbs 18:13

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 29:20

And to the rest of you, who are (praise God) the majority -- THANKS.


FX Turk said...

It makes me mad when they call me "Dan".

Other than that, after 10 years of internet apologetics, you come to expect all of the above.

BeastofBurden1 said...

James 1:19 also fits with the above verses from Proverbs.

I've now posted all three on my wall, because I need the reminder...

Phil Johnson said...

You still haven't given a proof-text for cessationism.

Nephos said...

And while you have addressed the "language" of angels, you have failed to scripturally evaluate the potential of the numerical occupancy of heavenly beings on the upper extremity of a simplistic sewing apparatus.

Failure to properly answer this question will force me to assume you are non-biblical and thus sever fellowship.

Carrie said...

So what you are saying is that chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla?

Do you actually have biblical references to back that up?

Yeah, didn't think so.

David said...

I had a really smart-aleck comment ready, but I see I've been beaten to the punch. However, I demand that you answer them, or else!

Kim said...

I'm not even going to try and make a funny retort about this post, because when I try to be funny, it generally fails.

I have caught myself being a lazy blog reader. There are so many I'd like to read, but often little time. I am learning to avoid opening my mouth -- or rather moving my fingers -- if I haven't read it carefully.

I for one am glad you opened up your comments. And I agree with you assessment that you are a meticulous and careful scholar.

Chris Anderson said...

Fifty? Man, that's old.

This post was okay, I guess, but you really should have said something about trolls.

Daniel said...

#6 could have been the stubborn, argumentative, lazy, pet doctrine promoting, theologically askew "zealot" readers.

DJP said...

If I'd known the comments on my comments on comments would be so hysterical, I might've done it sooner.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

What about those guys that just say "Good post," or "like your blog" or "Amen" just so you will check their blog. That's on my list. But then again, Frank perfected that method. There's a word he used for it, but I can't remember.

Jim said...

Good post!

No seriously, I think you have adequately expressed the frustrations of many semi-regular bloggers.

It's guys like you (in their late 40's and up) who bring some levity and balance to the many innane and useless posts in the blogosphere.

candy said...

I like "to the point" comments. I glance at the dissertations long enough to scroll, scroll, scroll to the end of them, trying to weed out a sentence or two that pertains to the subject at hand.

Scott Hill said...

Dan, did you ever write the post on "What Dispensationlism is Not"?

Oh yeah, I am with you on the commenting stuff.

DJP said...

This one, Scott?

Jeremy Weaver said...

I wonder who this post was about?

Kay said...

I'm glad I dropped by today, this is a really great blog.

Though, I sense that you probably haven't read all of the current back catalogue of Mrs Beeton, which really disqualifies you from making a clear and sound judgement.

And really, do we need all this judgement? I think some of your other commenters have really lost sight of what's important, and that's that we all love Jesus.

beepbeepitsme said...

"The Christian resolution to find the world ugly and bad has made the world ugly and bad." Friedrich Nietzsche

DJP said...

Just finished going through Beyond Good and Evil.

Nietzsche did have a gift for making inane, idiotic statements, with an air absolute assurance and profound depth.

Like that one.

(Or was your aim to illustrate point #1 above, and I missed it?)

Helen Sparkles said...

Now I'm wondering if it is about me, I asked a question you see, & it hasn't been addressed - which is fine of course, but maybe you'd outlined the scope and I asked you to go beyond it. Well I know I did so now I shall ask someone else instead, which is a shame because I wanted to hear what you would have to say, not what someone else will say. I don't know if the person who mentions judgement is serious, but if she is, I'm with her. There are too many don'ts in this posting, & it makes me a bit sad; we are all so flawed anyway.

David said...

Jeremy, this is a dispensational blog. You're not expected to understand any of it.

Libbie, as charming as you are, you're English - clearly unqualified to comment on a California blog. The rest of us Americans barely understand California.

The rest of you are just idiots.

Jason Robertson said...

Dan, did you call yourself a troll?

The Borg said...

This kind of commenter belongs in a different subcategory, but I thought I'd be a boilerplate commenter and share ;):

Those who argue with labels. It happens in every discipline. The discussion is getting simply too complex, so every philosophical/theological position is referred to by label (realist, anit-realist, post-anti-realist, critical-post-anti-realist). Now this is helpful in so far as it works as a shorthand, but sometimes any semblance of logical argument disappears and the debate turns into a commentary of a WWF match, were the competitors have names like "Dispensationalist" and "Arminian" and "Peadocommunianist".

rant over...

Maybe it just has something to do with the fact that I'm too lazy to look up the meaning of these terms.

DJP said...

Jason -- Dan, did you call yourself a troll?

I -- huh?

Donna Chua said...

"I try to write in a very focused and almost pathologically cautious way."
-- LOL, and that is probably why I enjoy reading your posts SO much. Know that your efforts are very much appreciated by this reader. =)

God bless you,