It was Skink who came up with the notion that SJ was like hotel, and the comments were its bar. All were welcome until you annoyed the other patrons or the barkeeper, and then, well, you might be politely asked to leave. Okay, not always politely.
A few people have asked of late why it “seems” as if SJ has become a magnet for people with conservative views, together with the usual assortment of lefty libs one would expect of a criminal defense blog. And I’ve asked myself that question as well, many times, over the past few years. This started well before Trump, though he exacerbated the problem, as the criminal defense bar grew increasingly progressive and became increasingly dedicated to anger and outcomes with increasingly less concern for principle, honesty and balance.
I fought, for years, the use of language like SJW because I hoped not to inflame passions that would impair discussion. Eventually, it became impossible to ignore, or to write about, as the language lacked sufficient descriptive words. As passions burned hotter, people grew willfully dumber and the envelope got pushed over left edge after edge, I went from liberal lefty to somewhere near the middle in the minds of those who prayed at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Outrage.
Rather than hate who I was expected to hate, and use whatever rhetorical skills I could muster to put together some rationalization, no matter how logically fallacious or factually false, to demonize the bad tribe, I tried to adhere to my principles, respect facts and logic, apply them fairly to each fact pattern and go wherever it led. On the progressive left, this was not appreciated. I was a traitor to the cause. Aren’t all cops bastards? Isn’t everything racist? And don’t even talk about Darth Cheeto, who was certainly repugnant, but not always or entirely wrong.
Some of those principles involved free speech and tolerance for heresy. For those who weren’t around back then, I managed another criminal law website called Fault Lines, which offered the heterodox views of all players in the criminal law arena, from cops to defense lawyers to prosecutors to judges to immigration lawyers to homeless advocates to lawprofs. It was glorious in its recognition of smart, sound, reasoned arguments from all perspectives. It failed.
While there was a strong cohort of readers open to all views, it never gained sufficient traction to become financially self-sustaining. The reason was sadly clear: people didn’t want to read about criminal law. They wanted to read their tribe’s version of criminal law. They wanted posts that justified what they hated, who they adored, and why they were right no matter what. They wanted sweet lies and we gave them harsh reality. They weren’t always right. There were often strong reasons why they were wrong.
SJ, which continued throughout the Fault Lines experiment as I was just the managing editor and wanted the unpaid but brilliant, hard-working, dedicated and long-suffering writers to be the stars without having to suffer my shadow, remained my place to express the same lefty liberal thoughts as before, which were no longer particularly lefty. As the progressive left found new cliffs to leap off, my adherence to liberal principles became more reasonable, more rational.
In the old blog days, we used to link back and forth regularly, spreading each other’s words across a then-vibrant blawgosphere. That’s largely gone now. Blog posts took more words and effort to write and read than a twit, and required something that few really wanted to endure: thought. But I stuck it out, perhaps missing the memo that SJ should fade away.
It’s not entirely clear to me why a post will break out into the wild, but it happens. And people show up here in response to one post. Some show up to fight, what I call daytrippers who understand nothing about SJ, and after getting spanked, inform me that they’re leaving and never coming back. Others choose to stick around because they find the hotel bar, if not exactly decorated to their personal taste, not sufficiently tacky to drive them away.
Among the principles I try to live up to are free speech and tolerance*. Many of the more conservative or ideologically-inclined commenters here want to engage in reasoned disagreement, but aren’t tolerated. Many of you disagree with me. I disagree with you, too, at times, but that’s not a bad thing. Here, I try to give reasons, not just conclusions, although this blawg, to me, is an ongoing discussion, so posts are to be read in conjunction with those that came before them. Read just one post and you’re unlikely to “get” where I’m coming from.
The point is that I try to tolerate a broad array of views in the comments, with certain provisos. Don’t be violent. Don’t be overtly racist or sexist (you wouldn’t believe how many comments get trashed for this). Don’t mislead about law. Stay reasonably on topic. Don’t assume an ideological faith and work from there. This has caused more progressives than others to flee SJ, as their comments are predicated upon blind faith in ideology that fails to bear up to scrutiny.
The reason comments, as PseudonymousKid noted, “draw so many conservatives” is that they aren’t shunned here for disagreeing with me. And, indeed, they often have something valuable to offer to the conversation. Contrary to popular belief, not everybody wants to wallow in a cesspool of validation. Echo chambers get boring and many of us take no comfort in insipid agreement. And conservative voices aren’t necessarily wrong, just as liberal voices aren’t always right.
Some will read this and call bullshit on me, contending that I can’t handle disagreement because they disagree and I didn’t rub their tummy, admit my heresy and beg for their forgiveness. Others will see that I have no problem with disagreement, but either didn’t find them persuasive or found them to be blithering idiots or insufferable assholes. And since it’s my hotel bar, I get to throw out anybody I damn well please.
As I won’t throw you out for failing to adhere to any ideological orthodoxy, grab a seat and have a beverage of your choosing. If this is the last liberal bastion to welcome conservatives to the bar, so be it. And should it get out of hand, as it has from time to time, I ring last call and mop up the mess.
*My tolerance policy is that if you piss me off, you crossed the line. It is arbitrary and capricious.