We ban it immediately
July 21, 2018 4:36 AM   Subscribe

Conversation is impossible if one side refuses to acknowledge the basic premise that facts are facts. This is why engaging deniers in such an effort means having already lost. And it is why AskHistorians, where I am one of the volunteer moderators, takes a strict stance on Holocaust denial: We ban it immediately.
posted by eirias (51 comments total) 130 users marked this as a favorite
 
Once more, to have functioning forums, we need moderators. Nothing else seems to do the job. Also, this is a good example of how “free speech includes hate speech” misses the point that hate speech isn’t so much speech as a competing signal, essentially noxious spam.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:59 AM on July 21, 2018 [119 favorites]


I knew three people with numerical tattoos, and the horror stories that came with them. I'll never forget.

Holocaust deniers and their fictional rewrite of history should be banned. It is not free speech.
posted by james33 at 5:05 AM on July 21, 2018 [30 favorites]


I'm on the moderation team of a different academically-focused subreddit, and we have similar policies. Our subreddit is large and doesn't attract nearly as much Nazi propoganda, but we do get plenty of people who stubbornly refuse to engage with facts - sometimes because they're replaced facts with racist or sexist prejudices, or even alt-right conspiracy theories.

We often ban those ones. We no longer even wait until they're real trouble on our subreddit; we'll look at their user history and ban them based on past comments elsewhere.

I used to feel uncomfortable with this. I value free debate and inquiry highly, and it seemed contrary to it. But they aren't interested in free debate or inquiry; on an academic subreddit, they don't care what can actually be supported with facts and argument so long as it disagrees with their personal prejudices or political beliefs. All they do is drag the level of discussion down. And allowing them to post their bullshit just lends credibility to their views, because they're being debated on an academic forum.

I'm a lot less uncomfortable with it now.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:08 AM on July 21, 2018 [166 favorites]


This article is a must-read. The points it makes apply not only to Holocaust deniers but to creationists and others who use “debate” as a platform to spread their bullshit. It also addresses the paradox of tolerance as described here and here. (The latter two links from this comment). I hope the ALA takes note.
posted by TedW at 5:13 AM on July 21, 2018 [37 favorites]


They’re not kidding about the volume of Nazi questions on the sub, either. I subscribe and occasionally read, but it seems like the majority of questions are about WWII and, especially, Nazi strategies.

It’s a testament to the moderation (and the shitty Nazis on Reddit) that sometimes there will be 75 comments in a thread, every one of them deleted.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:16 AM on July 21, 2018 [23 favorites]




The points it makes apply not only to Holocaust deniers but to creationists and others who use “debate” as a platform to spread their bullshit.

I used to teach High School history in Texas. Whenever a parent or someone argued that creationism should be taught alongside evolution, I told them that creationism is already a part of the Middle School social studies / world history curriculum. I leave out the fact that it's just one part of a section on creation myths.

It's been a while since I taught there, so I don't know if this is still the case.
posted by Groundhog Week at 5:30 AM on July 21, 2018 [27 favorites]


Is there a word for this kind of person who denies whatever facts that are contrary to their right-wing worldview? If not, there should be. Not necessarily a full-blown Nazi but the kind of person who facilitates them.
posted by exogenous at 5:39 AM on July 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


How timely. I just banned someone for racist JAQ-ing off.

"Why is it wrong for me to assume someone speaking AAVE doesn't have anything of substance to say? They never do."

Some people tried to answer this in good faith, but the predictable thing happened: Of course they didn't stop to examine how their personal prejudices might affect how they perceive someone's intelligence. They started JAQ-ing off about why it's wrong to be racist in general.

That's how it usually goes.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:39 AM on July 21, 2018 [39 favorites]


How timely. I just banned someone for racist JAQ-ing off.

"Why is it wrong for me to assume someone speaking AAVE doesn't have anything of substance to say? They never do."


Kutsuwamushi, my eyebrows just lifted off my face. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when people are this terrible, but I still am.
posted by eirias at 5:42 AM on July 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


Great article, thanks for posting!
posted by bile and syntax at 5:43 AM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


Askhistorians is amazing! I read it almost every day. It's true that there are a *lot* of questions about WW2, and a lot of questions about Nazi Germany that end up as comment graveyards where you can hear the tears of the moderators falling like rain

Back then I RTed this thread with "Do you think that the /r/AskHistorians mods are a bit more than fed up with questions about Hitler?"

They're doing the work of angels, anyway.
posted by sukeban at 5:47 AM on July 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


I always remind people who like to get into free speech debates with me the following information. Yes you have free speech, but that does not mean you have the freedom to avoid the consequences of your free speech.
posted by Fizz at 5:53 AM on July 21, 2018 [27 favorites]




I used to feel uncomfortable with this. I value free debate and inquiry highly, and it seemed contrary to it. But they aren't interested in free debate or inquiry; on an academic subreddit, they don't care what can actually be supported with facts and argument so long as it disagrees with their personal prejudices or political beliefs. All they do is drag the level of discussion down. And allowing them to post their bullshit just lends credibility to their views, because they're being debated on an academic forum.

I have come around in a similar way. I encounter free-speech debates on the web sometimes that radically misunderstand the nature of a university. If we really thought all ideas were created equal and thus equally worthy of representation on a campus, we wouldn’t bother with dissertations or search committees, we’d hire professors using a random number generator. (Or, you know, we might just dispense with the idea of college education entirely.) Academically focused groups by their nature must have standards for what qualifies as a legit contribution to discussion. The key to preserving free inquiry is that it should be the academics themselves, not some third party, setting the standards. This distinction is sometimes hard to explain to people with axes to grind, though.
posted by eirias at 6:18 AM on July 21, 2018 [42 favorites]


The key takeaway is for me is this: "The point of JAQing off (Just Asking Questions) is not to debate facts. It’s to have an audience hear denialist lies in the first place. Allowing their talking points to stand in public helps sow the seeds of doubt, even if only to one person in 10,000."

(And thanks Mods.)
posted by vespabelle at 6:23 AM on July 21, 2018 [87 favorites]


Here's a good instance to use some tracking/big data analysis/textual analysis: is there a very large denier community or is this a small organized cadre of trolls/wackos (or more concerning, opportunistic antisemitism, that is using the forums for financial or control purposes).

The greater world need more awareness of denier syndrome.
posted by sammyo at 6:35 AM on July 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


You cannot share a platform with somebody intent on disassembling that platform.
posted by entropone at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2018 [33 favorites]


I feel like I always have to point out that demanding or forcing YouTube or Reddit to publish something would be an actual rights violation. A government censor is not moderating Reddit content.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:51 AM on July 21, 2018 [12 favorites]


When nazi sites start allowing dissenting posts, well ..., that will never happen.
posted by nofundy at 6:59 AM on July 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Facebook insists it needs to allow holocaust denial pages to be fair and balanced. It's so gross.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 7:02 AM on July 21, 2018 [13 favorites]


One reason this works well in /r/AskHistorians is that forum is not really a discussion forum. You don't have a lot of short replies, speculations, back-and-forth discussions, dumb jokes, etc in the comments. The canonical AskHistorians comment is a long, thoughtful essay with footnotes written by an expert in the field. Often there's little or no other visible discussion, between the moderation and downvotes.

It's great! But it's not a discussion forum. The bar for posting there is remarkably high. So that makes it relatively easy to stop a Holocaust denier right at the start. I have to think it's a lot harder in a Metafilter-style free for all where you have a mix of knowledgable people, dumb jokes, and well meaning people who didn't even read the fine article before commenting.
posted by Nelson at 7:18 AM on July 21, 2018 [12 favorites]


I deleted my facebook after I started reading about this. I'm hoping that they can follow the mundane trajectory of all the social networks that came before them and go tf away.
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 7:24 AM on July 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


The mods here do police the same kind of behavior and delete posts that undermine the reason the thread in question exists, which is more or less the same thing - speech whose goal is to undo the conversation gets handled here by deletion and warnings instead of banning for the most part.
posted by eustacescrubb at 7:26 AM on July 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


When nazi sites start allowing dissenting posts, well ...

Well nothing. They could have the most enlightened moderation in the history of the Internet and it still would not ennoble their community contributions one bit.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:38 AM on July 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


80 Cats in a Dog Suit: Facebook insists it needs to allow holocaust denial pages to be fair and balanced. It's so gross.

That came up in Zuckerberg: The Recode interview with Kara Swisher. Excerpt:
Why don’t you wanna just say “get off our platform?”

Look, as abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice.

Let me give you an example of where we would take it down. In Myanmar or Sri Lanka, where there’s a history of sectarian violence, similar to the tradition in the U.S. where you can’t go into a movie theater and yell “Fire!” because that creates an imminent harm.

The principles that we have on what we remove from the service are: If it’s going to result in real harm, real physical harm, or if you’re attacking individuals, then that content shouldn’t be on the platform. There’s a lot of categories of that that we can get into, but then there’s broad debate.

Okay. “Sandy Hook didn’t happen” is not a debate. It is false. You can’t just take that down?

I agree that it is false.

I also think that going to someone who is a victim of Sandy Hook and telling them, “Hey, no, you’re a liar” — that is harassment, and we actually will take that down. But overall, let’s take this whole closer to home...

I’m Jewish, and there’s a set of people who deny that the Holocaust happened.

I find that deeply offensive. But at the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong, but I think-

In the case of the Holocaust deniers, they might be, but go ahead.

It’s hard to impugn intent and to understand the intent. I just think, as abhorrent as some of those examples are, I think the reality is also that I get things wrong when I speak publicly. I’m sure you do. I’m sure a lot of leaders and public figures we respect do too, and I just don’t think that it is the right thing to say, “We’re going to take someone off the platform if they get things wrong, even multiple times.” (Update: Mark has clarified these remarks here*: “I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.”)

What we will do is we’ll say, “Okay, you have your page, and if you’re not trying to organize harm against someone, or attacking someone, then you can put up that content on your page, even if people might disagree with it or find it offensive.” But that doesn’t mean that we have a responsibility to make it widely distributed in News Feed. I think we, actually, to the contrary-

So you move them down? Versus, in Myanmar, where you remove it?

Yes.

Can I ask you that, specifically about Myanmar? How did you feel about those killings and the blame that some people put on Facebook? Do you feel responsible for those deaths?

I think that we have a responsibility to be doing more there.

I want to know how you felt.

Yes, I think that there’s a terrible situation where there’s underlying sectarian violence and intention. It is clearly the responsibility of all of the players who were involved there. So, the government, civil society, the different folks who were involved, and I think that we have an important role, given the platform, that we play, so we need to make sure that we do what we need to. We’ve significantly ramped up the investment in people who speak Burmese. It’s often hard, from where we sit, to identify who are the figures who are promoting hate and what is going to... which is the content that is going to incite violence? So it’s important that we build relationships with civil society and folks there who can help us identify that.

I want make sure that our products are used for good. At the end of the day, other people blaming us or not is actually not the thing that matters to me. It’s not that every single thing that happens on Facebook is gonna be good. This is humanity. People use tools for good and bad, but I think that we have a clear responsibility to make sure that the good is amplified and to do everything we can to mitigate the bad.
* Here's Zuckerber's full "correction" on allowing Holocaust deniers on Facebook:
I enjoyed our conversation yesterday, but there’s one thing I want to clear up. I personally find Holocaust denial deeply offensive, and I absolutely didn’t intend to defend the intent of people who deny that.

Our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue — but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services. If something is spreading and is rated false by fact checkers, it would lose the vast majority of its distribution in News Feed. And of course if a post crossed line into advocating for violence or hate against a particular group, it would be removed. These issues are very challenging but I believe that often the best way to fight offensive bad speech is with good speech.

I look forward to catching up again soon.

Mark
And here's what I said to that in the current U.S. politcs megathread:
Here's the rub, Zuck -- advocating for violence isn't necessary, because people make (il)logical connections - some population of Others is bad, and they did a bad thing, and they're making life for Us worse because of their actions. So how do you stop those actions? Violence is one possible response, but you don't have to say "let's attack the Others," you just make them so bad, or make them less than human, that attacking them could be justified to oneself, possibly for the good of Us.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:05 AM on July 21, 2018 [24 favorites]


And that's not even getting to sowing the seeds of doubt by allowing lies to flourish.

Really, FB has no justification beyond stoking controversy to increase views and increase ad revenue.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:13 AM on July 21, 2018 [5 favorites]


I remember when that Milo Yiannopoulos stuff came up last year, he and some of the people associated with him were saying that they used hate speech not because they believed the things they were saying, but to produce effects that they wanted, like driving web clicks.

They really didn’t care what happened in the immediate exchanges they were having, because their eyes were on their own measures of success, elsewhere. If one side isn’t engaging in a conversation in good faith, there is zero chance of the conversation resolving productively for the good-faith participants.

That’s the part I didn’t get when I was younger, as it relates to “free speech” and what should be tolerated in public forums (i.e. places where multiple people gather). I assumed everyone was engaging in conversations as earnestly as me, wanting learn from or teach others, but above all, bound by facts and civility and all those wonderful social resources we’ve built up over the centuries.
posted by mantecol at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2018 [15 favorites]


Companies will never do anything to curb the hate they spread unless they think they might be on the hook for it. (Also see: WhatsApp sets forwarding limits to messages in India after several pizzagate-style incidents of mob violence.)

I haven't been on Facebook for years. When I was there, the groups were all "wacky" college jokes. I didn't realize they had actual Sandy Hook truther pages up.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:40 AM on July 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thanks for adding those Zuckerberg quotes, filthy light thief! I internally debated finding a related piece to link, but worried it might overlap with the politics megathread (I don’t follow that I’m close detail but imagine it has come up there) and wasn’t sure how much overlap is tolerated.
posted by eirias at 8:43 AM on July 21, 2018


Barack Obama, speaking at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture:

" You have to believe in facts. (Laughter.) Without facts, there is no basis for cooperation. If I say this is a podium and you say this is an elephant, it's going to be hard for us to cooperate. (Laughter.) I can find common ground for those who oppose the Paris Accords because, for example, they might say, well, it's not going to work, you can't get everybody to cooperate, or they might say it's more important for us to provide cheap energy for the poor, even if it means in the short term that there's more pollution. At least I can have a debate with them about that and I can show them why I think clean energy is the better path, especially for poor countries, that you can leapfrog old technologies. (Cheers.) I can't find common ground if somebody says climate change is just not happening, when almost all of the world's scientists tell us it is. I don't know where to start talking to you about this. (Laughter.) If you start saying it's an elaborate hoax, I don't know what to – (laughter) – where do we start?

Unfortunately, too much of politics today seems to reject the very concept of objective truth. People just make stuff up. They just make stuff up. We see it in state-sponsored propaganda; we see it in internet driven fabrications, we see it in the blurring of lines between news and entertainment, we see the utter loss of shame among political leaders where they're caught in a lie and they just double down and they lie some more. Politicians have always lied, but it used to be if you caught them lying they'd be like, "Oh man." Now they just keep on lying."
posted by bz at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2018 [45 favorites]


AskHistorians is one of my favorite places on the web, and I very much appreciate its strict moderation. And it led me to a few other well moderated sites, such as AskAnthropology and BadHistory. Keep it up, guys! And I agree that giving these folk such as Nazis any kind of platform is a mistake. Their calls for debate, and sneers when "debate" is not forthcoming, are something PZ Myers (Pharyngula) on Freethought Blogs is constantly battling. Zuckerberg is wrong; demonstrably false notions should not have a platform or publicity.
posted by MovableBookLady at 9:22 AM on July 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


Facebook insists it needs to allow holocaust denial pages to be fair and balanced. It's so gross.

Way back in the pre-internet 80s, I went to Catholic high school and wanted to start a chapter of Amnesty International at my school. I thought this would be non-controversial since Amnesty is non-partisan. I was wrong. The school administration told me that if they allowed Amnesty, then they'd also have to allow "the other side" in order to be balanced. So, like, Young Fascists of America? Or something? It was absurd. (You'll note that the school absolutely had a March for Life group and felt no need whatsoever to also allow an abortion rights group.) For some reason not calling it Amnesty International was an acceptable solution so we were able to have a Human Rights club in the end. But this concept of balance really needs to die in a fire once and for all. There can be no balance when you're taking about facts.
posted by soren_lorensen at 11:00 AM on July 21, 2018 [54 favorites]


Freedom of speech does not mean, and never meant, a right to have whatever opinion you want published in any forum or periodical you select.

Deleting tedious and offensive crap is not censorship, it’s editing.
posted by Segundus at 12:40 PM on July 21, 2018 [30 favorites]


Exactly. Do people think that newspapers are obligated to publish every single letter to the editor they receive?
posted by brundlefly at 1:30 PM on July 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


As a (now former) AskHistorians mod I can attest to both the truth of this article and the sheer amount of Holocaust deniers the forum attached in the early days. Deniers are drawn like flies to venues where they can spread their message, and they invariably poison the discourse. Joe is absolutely right that deniers are not there for debate and discussion, they are there to spread propaganda, half-truths, and confusion in service of pushing a racist lie. There can be no debate, because debate requires good faith on both sides, which does not exist when one party is simply running a playbook of strategies for disinformation (and really, these guys really do just repeat the same arguments ad nauseum, regardless of how often or how thoroughly debunked).

Having an absolute intolerance of hateful lies, however, has its advantages. I would say that the overall volume of denialism decreased (though has never stopped) as it was made clear that it would not be entertained. Having clear and consistent policies against hate speech makes things easier, not harder.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:32 PM on July 21, 2018 [27 favorites]


And just for bonus links, there's an entire (only slightly tongue in cheek) FAQ section on What Did Hitler Think About X, because there really are a lot of WW2 questions.

For those who want to enjoy AH, but are intimidated/frustrated by the high bar for answers, we collect great answers room the week into a Sunday Digest post, which you can easily lose a day or two reading.

There's also Joe's own user profile, if you want to read the acres of ink he's spilled on this subject and also get a feel for how he has the patience and passion of a saint when it comes to answering these sorts of questions.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:43 PM on July 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


I've having a lot of fun with the Sunday Digest archives. This one particularly blew my mind:

https://www.reddit.com/r/AskHistorians/comments/8piy54/why_was_christianity_able_to_convert_the_whole_of/e0bq2nk/

The answer refuses to answer, saying things like, "this is the kind of history that I am generally opposed to doing - large, sweeping generalisations...No 'one size fits all'...it reduces historical particulars, to essentialist abstractions."

Am I misunderstanding the answer, or is this person claiming that historians as a matter of principle and good practice do not attempt to find general answers applicable across a wide range of situations?

This is kind of shocking to me because every field where I've taken even a 101-level course is all about driving for generality and abstraction. They admit they're not anywhere near a grand unified theory of everything, but that's always the goal. Moreover, usually people think that they're getting closer over time and that there's some chance of ever getting there.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 9:04 PM on July 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


I've found the limits of free speech fascinating ever since I learned that Americans, en masse, did not believe in it, and got really offended when you suggested there were obvious problems with this.

So, classically, the argument has been that free speech also includes the right to be heard, and that the voice of those who aren't typically mainstream should be afforded special protection to make sure they can be heard. There's a lot to unpack here: obviously the Jordan Petersons of the world claim this right for themselves, making out that transgender people are less marginalised than people who are dicks. This doesn't really hold up now that fascism, which is designed to exploit this very aspect of liberalism, is in the world. And as far as I can tell, the philosophers calling for this kind of speech didn't appear to realise that some forms of speech are in conflict: preserving the free speech of the racist robs the 'coloured' person of theirs.

Moreover, it turns out free speech is frankly not as useful as classically believed. Free speech does not kill fascists, it doesn't stop strongmen like Orban or Putin in their tracks, it doesn't prevent state-sponsored use of force like the Rohingya atrocities. The problem has never been that people do not have all the facts to make the rational decisions, and these 19th century philosophers could not really understand a world where all the information was at people's fingertips: true, misleading and deliberate falsehoods alike.

I probably would not put it like this, though! Instead, I would argue that rights require responsibilities, and the right to free speech comes with the responsibility to speak the truth, in good faith, and allow others to be heard.
posted by Merus at 9:05 PM on July 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


and the right to free speech comes with the responsibility to speak the truth, in good faith, and allow others to be heard.

could not agree more, except who gets to define "the truth" and what constitutes "good faith"?
posted by philip-random at 10:28 PM on July 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


I'm seeing more and more similarities between the First and Second Amendments in their ability to empower bad people who want to harm others and general failure to protect those who truly need protection.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:47 PM on July 21, 2018 [4 favorites]


Is there a word for this kind of person who denies whatever facts that are contrary to their right-wing worldview? If not, there should be. Not necessarily a full-blown Nazi but the kind of person who facilitates them.

A know-nothing?
posted by jaduncan at 12:13 AM on July 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Collaborator?
posted by kokaku at 1:19 AM on July 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Exactly. Do people think that newspapers are obligated to publish every single letter to the editor they receive?

I wish someone would ask this question of the New York Times and their op-ed section.
posted by Fizz at 8:25 AM on July 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Facebook would do well for themselves and the world to hire the AskHistorians mods at enormous salaries.

(also for the meta-typo-oligists amongst us /r/askanhistorian is a marvelous link)
posted by sammyo at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


could not agree more, except who gets to define "the truth" and what constitutes "good faith"?

In practice, this is 'do you take it back when you become aware you may have fucked up'.
posted by Merus at 9:12 PM on July 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


> For those who want to enjoy AH,

So help me, I scanned this as "For those who want to enjoy Adolph Hitler, ...". Goddamn this timeline.
posted by Piso Mojado at 12:07 PM on July 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


Am I misunderstanding the answer, or is this person claiming that historians as a matter of principle and good practice do not attempt to find general answers applicable across a wide range of situations?

This is kind of shocking to me because every field where I've taken even a 101-level course is all about driving for generality and abstraction. They admit they're not anywhere near a grand unified theory of everything, but that's always the goal. Moreover, usually people think that they're getting closer over time and that there's some chance of ever getting there.


This depends to some degree on what school of historical thought one is working in; that being said, I would posit that most historians seek to complicate narratives more often than they seek to simplify them. That is, they tend to focus on the distinctions between similar cases, rather than try to elide those cases into a single overarching theory. That's not to say there aren't overarching theories, but that the discipline does not prioritize these over explaining specific historical events.

If you'd like a brief overview of different approaches to history, you might enjoy John Lewis Gaddis' The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past.
posted by thegears at 4:56 PM on July 23, 2018 [1 favorite]


because every field where I've taken even a 101-level course is all about driving for generality and abstraction. They admit they're not anywhere near a grand unified theory of everything, but that's always the goal. Moreover, usually people think that they're getting closer over time and that there's some chance of ever getting there.

not trying to be glib, but short of time travel or completely successful totalitarianism, how could the study of history ever grandly unify? We just keep getting further away from the events in question. True, there's always fresh evidence, but I imagine this tends to confuse and distort and displace "what we know" at least as much as it confirms anything. Which I suppose is why history remains resolutely in the Arts faculty.
posted by philip-random at 6:19 PM on July 23, 2018


I've found the limits of free speech fascinating ever since I learned that Americans, en masse, did not believe in it, and got really offended when you suggested there were obvious problems with this.

I obviously don't speak for all of us, but to this American, "Freedom of Speech" only means that the power to make speech illegal is a very dangerous power for a government to have because governments usually use it to stifle the dissent of people who don't have much political power. It has absolutely nothing to do with moderation of a reddit forum (or banning Nazis from Twitter or Facebook).
posted by straight at 7:34 PM on July 23, 2018 [4 favorites]


meaty shoe puppet: Am I misunderstanding the answer, or is this person claiming that historians as a matter of principle and good practice do not attempt to find general answers applicable across a wide range of situations?

I think what they're saying is that the question, as posed, has so many baked-in assumptions as to be unaswerable. There is no singular "Christianity" and there is no singular "Paganism" for comparison, and particularly not opposing monoliths of belief and practice that would carry through over many centuries and many different locales involved in the Christianization of Europe. What may have been an avenue for conversion in one time and place could have been a detriment in others; local concerns could have led to a quick embrace by one people or resistance among others. The idea of a "Christianization of Europe" is really a story of many different peoples interacting in many different ways, in many different places, in many different times.

One of the important lessons I learned modding AH was that the questions are just as important as the answers. Broad, essentializing questions like the one above can sometimes garner good answers, but it's usually despite the question, with the respondent choosing to re-frame the question to something more specific in time and place, like the Roman empire of Constantine, instead of all of pre-modern Europe. I do this a lot with questions about "Native Americans," using a stock introduction noting the term encompasses a huge number of peoples over more than 10k years and two continents. But I can then go on to tell the questioner what I know about my particular group of interest.

Broad questions unmoored from time or place actually got to be a problem in the earlier days off AH, because the lack of focus seemed to attract a flood of answers lack both depth and expertise. There's been a few permutations of the rules about them, but the general notion is that a question either needs to be grounded in a particular time/place, or else cover a very specific topic.
posted by Panjandrum at 10:50 PM on July 26, 2018 [2 favorites]


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