Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Does James Mackenzie have a problem with alternative points of view?

James Mackenzie, the supremo of the Better Nation blog, has in a somewhat haughty (and not exactly unprecedented) manner declared that he cannot bear to continue a Twitter discussion with me that he himself initiated, solely on the grounds that I failed to concur with his own point of view. I'll repost the exchange in full here and let it speak for itself, but there are a number of things that I find utterly dumbfounding about it. Firstly, there's the automatic assumption on two separate occasions that because I didn't agree with a radical feminist text/video that he directed me to, that I must not have bothered to read/watch it. It literally doesn't even occur to him that it's possible for someone to listen to radical feminist arguments in good faith and not be persuaded by them. Then there's the apparent belief that disagreeing with radical feminism is the equivalent of racism, and can be characterised as "radical sexism". As I said at the time, it's hard to think of a more Orwellian use of language than to accuse the people who DON'T think there is any difference between male and female victims of being the "sexists"!

I really do think the way in which James brought this exchange to an end is incredibly revealing of the mindset that lies behind Better Nation's notoriously unpredictable - and occasionally suffocating - moderation policy. One useful thing to come out of this is that we now know that Jenny Kemp wasn't responsible for the deletion of JPJ2's perfectly legitimate comment on her BN thread about violence against women. My guess is that it may have been James himself and he's simply forgotten, but we'll probably never know.

James Mackenzie : (in response to this blogpost of a couple of days ago) Having moderated comments for @nationbetter, and despite being passionately pro-Yes, I do see much more hate on "our" side.

Me : Given that you moderate comments for being "otherwise dickish", I take that observation with a pinch of salt.

James Mackenzie : But I'm specifically talking about dickish comments amongst others - not sure how your comment relates to the balance thereof?

Me : The point I'm making is that the approach you take to moderation at Better Nation often IS the problem. "Otherwise dickish"?

James Mackenzie : What makes you say that? How do dickish comments, especially ad hominem, improve the debate?

Me : The absolute worst thing for the debate is heavy-handed, unbalanced moderation. A "good debate" isn't you silencing people.

James Mackenzie : What makes you think it's unbalanced? I can assure you it's nothing of the sort. Where's this coming from?

Me : I've seen examples of comments that didn't get through moderation on BN, where there was no conceivable justification to delete.

James Mackenzie : By all means show me examples of what you mean. I've got a complete record in my email of everything ever submitted.

Me : If you give me half an hour I probably can. Someone posted one on my blog a while back.

James Mackenzie : Excellent, I'd rather get this away from unsubstantiated allegations!

Me : OK, here's what I had in mind. A comment by JPJ2 that took issue with Jenny Kemp.

James Mackenzie : I'd have probably let that through, but it's much more problematic than it looks: (at this point he directs me to a post on a radical feminist blog that offers a convoluted ideological justification for the silencing of alternative points of view)

Me : So you might - just might - have blocked that comment because it's at variance with your own ideology, which others dispute?

James Mackenzie : I'd have probably let one comment of that sort through, replied with that link, and said I intended to block others.

James Mackenzie : Do you accept that that specific argument is a regular tool used to derail consideration of violence against women, though?

Me : James, are you seriously suggesting that everyone has to buy into key tenets of radical feminism before they are fit to debate?

James Mackenzie : No, I asked you a specific question about your personal view about the way the "what about teh menz" argument gets used.

Me : This is ludicrous. This is exactly what I mean. "Otherwise dickish" is code for "doesn't accept the premise of my ideology".

James Mackenzie : No, it's a genuine query. Do you accept that that particular rhetorical approach regularly derails discussions about violence?!

James Mackenzie : Feel free to say "no, it doesn't", but if you thought it did, what would you do? Let another discussion get derailed?

Me : I don't. I believe in free debate, not silencing people on purely ideological grounds.

James Mackenzie : I mean, if there are better ways to deal with that problem, great, but I'm sure it's a real problem. And yes, I'm a feminist.

Me : Dealing with what "problem"? That people, in a civilised way, take a different view on the subject to you?

James Mackenzie : So you'd accept long screeds about the inferiority of other races on your blog?

James Mackenzie : Just checking: have you read the piece I linked to? That sets out the problem. More here. (at this point he directs me to a Google search for the cretinous and belittling phrase "what about teh menz")

Me : Probably - I'd argue rather than delete. Are you now suggesting that disagreeing with radical feminism is comparable to racism?

James Mackenzie : Fair enough. I'm saying that radical sexism and radical racism are quite similar, that's all.

Me : Yes, I've read it multiple times, and the first time was ages ago. I profoundly disagree with it. Is that allowed?

Me : What is "radical sexism"? The view that domestic violence of men is the same as domestic violence of women? I'm bemused.

James Mackenzie : Of course. Just as it's permitted for people to disagree with race equality. And to publish whatever comments they like.

Me : Sure. You pontificate on what other people do, so I'm just letting you know what I think about your ideological moderation.

James Mackenzie : One of those irregular verbs: "I let you know what I think", "you pontificate", etc.

Me : Do grammatical offences fall under the catch-all "otherwise dickish" category?

James Mackenzie : No, just noting a bit of skewed language. I'd have let that through ;)

Jenny Kemp : I just happened on this conversation. Just want to clarify I had no moderation rights on the blog I wrote for BN.

Me : Thanks, Jenny. Perhaps BN ought to make clear who is doing the moderating on any given thread to avoid confusion.

Jenny Kemp : Sounds wise. I had no idea there were comments submitted but not published. Not nice to be accused of silencing...

James Mackenzie : Author or whoever posted a guest post leads, does uncontroversial stuff, the rest goes round by email. No mystery.

Jenny Kemp : I didn't have any moderation rights on that thread. Unless I am remembering it wrong - but pretty sure.

James Mackenzie : Just out of curiosity, would you have approved a comment likely to turn the discussion into "what about teh menz"?

Jenny Kemp : probably because otherwise you're accused of silencing that argument!

James Mackenzie : Although we did publish a marginally better version of the same argument from the same person.

Me : Pictish Beastie also complained of having a post deleted in that thread, James.

James Mackenzie : I have found it. It alleges bias on @jennykemp's part in a pretty unpleasant way. We moderate attacks on guests more than on us.

Jenny Kemp : glad that one didn't make it through then.

Me : I haven't seen it, but I'm a tad sceptical of these judgement calls (ie. "pretty unpleasant") based on what you said yesterday.

James Mackenzie : Oh, it's entirely subjective. But my original point stands: I see much harsher language from my side vs the No side.

Me : Yes, it is highly subjective. Which is another way of saying that your point only stands in your opinion.

James Mackenzie : Ah, I meant "what's unpleasant" is subjective. I have no doubt you could double-blind the comments and see what scores worst.

Me : I think that would be a very useful exercise one of these days - and it's possible you'd be shocked by the outcome.

Doug Daniel : hasn't something similar already been done by a university that found it's actually unionists who are the worst?

Wings over Scotland : Mark Shephard at Strathclyde.

James Mackenzie : {citation required} ;)

James Mackenzie : Also, I have no idea what the cross-blogosphere average is, I'm just going by all the BN comments.

James Mackenzie : James, you might find this interesting. (at this point he directs me to this radical feminist video)

Me : When will we see "human beings speaking out against domestic violence, irrespective of the victim's gender"?

James Mackenzie : Are you agreeing or disagreeing with his argument there?

Me : That self-styled "anti-sexist activist" is in truth profoundly sexist, as is your Orwellian notion of "radical sexism".

Me : I'm disagreeing with it. I thought that was fairly obvious!

James Mackenzie : Not really. He talks about violence against other men and boys too.

Me : Is there any reference to female-on-male violence?

James Mackenzie : You've not watched it. I give up: let's not speak again. It probably frustrates you as much as it does me.

Me : Jesus, man. I spent twenty painful minutes watching that on your request. The least you can do is engage.

James Mackenzie : So why ask me what was in the film? Did you appreciate any of it, then, or was it all some kind of misandric plot?

Me : I asked you because I thought there was a possibility - however remote - that I might have missed something vital.

Me : I just don't agree with the premise of it. I'm surprised you thought for a moment that I would.

James Mackenzie : I'm genuinely surprised that anyone could ignore the strength of his argument. I don't see how we find common ground.

Me : This is what I don't understand, James. Do you think "debate" ought to be others seeking common ground with you?

James Mackenzie : Not with me per se. Starting any debate surely means aiming to understand each other's argument as a first basis?

Me : Yes, but understanding it is not the same as accepting it. You seem offended that I don't accept your worldview.

Me : Or is the offence that it's possible to understand it without agreeing with it?

James Mackenzie : I admit I don't understand how anyone can look at violence against women in the way you do. Let's not discuss more.

Me : Why not? Because you must remain in a closed world, sealed off from other views? Explains BN moderation.

*  *  *

UPDATE : Predictably (again this is not exactly unprecedented) James Mackenzie unfollowed me on Twitter the moment he saw this post.  Oh well, at least now I can follow suit and dispense with Twitter updates branded with the mildly disturbing 'dog smoking a pipe' image!

UPDATE II : And now he's going around calling me a "misogynist".  Well, we may as well be treated to the full repertoire...


  1. The evil of feminism. All men are rapists. Only men can be guilty of domestic violence. Genital mutilation of boys is harmless etc etc.

    The most vile and perverted ideology in the history of the human race.

  2. Looks like you've discovered what some of us have known for a while - Mr Mackenzie is a nasty, intolerant hypocrite and absolutely no dissent from the orthodoxy of radical feminism, however civil, is permitted on Better Nation.

    (Or indeed on a lot of other subjects if you disagree with James, but feminism is the real hot button.)

    I've had more comments refused on BN than I could count, almost none of them in any way rude or abusive (the last one was, in fairness), and their promise that they'll return unpublished ones to you if you ask is bollocks too. I asked James for mine LAST February and I'm still waiting.

    He's a really ugly piece of work, in very much the same vein as the rest of the "Twinner" set - nice as pie as long as you agree with them about everything, hurling abuse the minute you don't. It's textbook bullying, closing down the debate with a mixture of censorship and shrieking.

    (Just seen your edit. Welcome to the Misogynist Club. I have no doubt you'll soon be escalated to "rape apologist" the minute EdinburghEye turns up.)

    The bottom line is, they're all furious because they used to be the top dogs in Scottish political blogging, and now they're irrelevant hasbeens. If they're what a "better nation" constitutes, I'm voting No.

  3. I can't stomach all that complex scaffolding that these guys build to try and justify what types of bigotry and discrimination are good and what are bad. Orwellian is a good word for it. And that high horse of his - oy veh! I stopped reading BN months ago.

  4. For the sake of balance, I should say that as far as I can remember I've never had a comment deleted on Better Nation - although that may be largely because I self-censor, and don't bother posting things that I know run a high risk of being deleted on ideological grounds.

    One thing that made me laugh was that James linked to this post (in fact he's now linked to it twice) with the following introduction - "If anyone wants to see how frustrating it is to try and debate positively with anti-feminists...". I don't want to be unkind, but I have a sneaking feeling that what he means by 'frustrating' is "but...but...there isn't a delete button on Twitter!"

    What does he think he means by "anti-feminist", anyway? I'm certainly opposed to radical feminism, but that's only one strain of feminism. Some would say that 'standard' feminism is simply a belief in the equality of the sexes, in which case I'm a strong feminist myself - although it's the wrong word for it, because equality is about two genders, not one.

    Other things I've learned today - 1. James still sees no irony in pontificating about the ghastly 'Cybernats' launching ad hominem attacks, even though he and he alone introduced an ad hominem attack ("mysoginist", "must not care for women very much") into this exchange.

    2. He also doesn't see the irony of insisting that debate means "aiming to understand each other's argument", and then making absolutely no attempt whatever to understand my own position. Instead he lazily projected his own prejudices onto my stance, ie. 'anyone who repudiates radical feminist dogma is by definition a woman-hater'.

    That offer to return deleted comments upon request is rather amusing - I imagine James thought no-one would have the gumption to take him up on it!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Better ask for my comments back then, eh? Or then again maybe I'll just no bother as the man does tend to act like a bit of a big bairn.

  7. Well I'm a woman and I think men and women are different. EQUAL but different. It's not difficult to understand the distinction is it?

  8. Can someone explain to me what a ‘radical’ sexist and a ‘radical’ racist is? If not, I’ll just have to stick with my first impression and conclude that anyone who uses such absurd terms has become so outraged at having their own prejudices challenged that all logic and capacity for reasoned argument has deserted them. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that this makes them radically incoherent.

  9. Anon: I presume James M started saying those peculiar things in retaliation for my repeated references to "radical feminism" - but of course that is a perfectly straightforward, widely-recognised term that has its own lengthy Wikipedia page. And needless to say it's not interchangeable with the term "feminism", no matter how much James would like to give the impression that his radical views represent mainstream feminist values that no reasonable person should have any difficulty signing up to.

    Incidentally, this post has made quite an impression on James - he's continued to shower me with compliments on Twitter. Yesterday I was a "misogynist", today I'm an "anti-feminist Cybernat". Jeez, we're really going to have to do something about this small minority of Yes supporters who engage in mindless ad hominem attacks on social media, aren't we? The antics of Mr Mackenzie and his ilk are damaging to our whole campaign...

  10. James, thanks for that reply. That makes sense, at least to us grown-ups.

    Just wanted to add, that I think that the Rev Stu is bang on the money here in his penultimate sentence above. I would suggest that Better Nation, and the self-appointed cyber-police who organise Twinners, are suffering from the blogosphere’s equivalent of penis envy – the interest and enthusiasm that WoS generates, rightfully belongs to them, don’t you know. Or in the words of Dads Army’s Corporal Jones, ‘They don’t like it up them, Captain Mannering’. But as Corporal Jones also understood, they do seem to like dishing it out themselves, don’t they?

  11. It seems to me that he's just one of these people who believes he is right and that you, whomsoever you are, are wrong.

    I gave up on Better Nation some time ago, as I do with most sites that moderate comments.

    It seems to me that if, like me, you don't make offensive posts (just sometimes ask awkward questions), and you have taken the time to write a comment on someone's blog, whilst you may not have the right to a reply, you certainly have the right to have it displayed.

    I apparently didn't.

    They seem to be getting more crotchety as time goes by, probably because, as the Rev Stu says, they aren't any longer anywhere near being top dogs in Scottish blogging.

  12. "whilst you may not have the right to a reply, you certainly have the right to have it displayed"


  13. Clearly you think so Fitz.

    I repeat that if you make a non offensive comment on a blogpost, whilst the writer may not wish to answer you, decency requires that (s)he should display the post.

    Of course not everyone is decent.

    People who build their arguments on flimsy foundations may not wish to see them debunked, and may feel confronted to see that every comment on their blog is in complete accord with their own view.

    When a contribution is offensive it is quite reasonable to remove it, or refuse to print it...although, on my blog I've only ever done that once, in a case where the respondent posted drunkenly and swore liberally.

  14. Rest assured, Fitz, that your unimpressive one-word reply will continue to be displayed here - a policy that I suspect you shouldn't approve of, correct?