Cancel culture comes to Money Illusion?

Censoring a blog is a no-win game. Wherever you draw the line, people will complain. I’ve been reluctant to cancel people for most infractions, with exceptions such as use of the N-word or particularly offensive remarks directed at fellow commenters. (I don’t care what they say about me.) But wherever you draw the line people will say, “I notice you ban for X, but allow Y. So you think Y is acceptable?”. No I don’t think Y is acceptable. I’m just too lazy to censor everything.

I recently decided to weed out a few Russian trolls, mostly because commenters kept saying they found them annoying. But like a hardy weed, I have no doubt they will grow back.

The Russian trolls (troll?) were a weird lot, oddly disconnected from the actual blog. They accused me of being a communist, even though I was far more supportive of free markets than they were. (They support regulation in all sorts of areas.) Roughly 90% of the time when they said that I believe X, I actually believe not X. I was even accused of being a Vietnam War draft dodger—LOL. They were also stupid, insulting, hysterical, mean, pro-Putin, nationalistic, racist, authoritarian—hmm, I wonder if Trump was using a burner account?

They were also really bad at prediction—assuring me just a few weeks back that rumors of a Russian invasion were unfounded.

In my defense, I did allow the Russian trolls to post about 1000 comments. (You should see some of the stuff that I have not allowed, often far worse than what gets through .) And no doubt the few remaining Russia trolls will continue to defend Putin.

Nature is kind to us in one respect—we don’t see ourselves the way others see us. At an intellectual level, I understand that superior minds see that much of what I say is kind of stupid. But in my day to day life I am oblivious to that fact, just as when I’m at a party I’m mercifully aware unaware of how others regard my appearance, or my feeble attempt at witty conversation. God help us if we could see ourselves the way that others see us. Life would become unbearable.

I suspect that many commenters do not understand that they are hurting their own cause by writing comments that seem stupid. Not stupid in the sense of being wrong—brilliant people like Paul Krugman can be wrong—stupid in the sense of looking like they were written by a low IQ person. That really hurts their cause.

About 90 years ago, Pessoa had this to say about people pushing theories of the occult:

What I find most shocking about those teachers and connoisseurs of the invisible is that, when they write about and describe their mysteries, they write really badly. It offends me that a man can master the Devil, but not the Portuguese language. Why should tackling devils be easier than tackling grammar? Why is it that, after all these prolonged exercises in concentration and willpower, someone can, or so he says, experience astral visions, but cannot, with far less investment of concentration and willpower, have a clear vision of syntax.

Given that grammar isn’t my strong suit, I’m more bothered by people who haven’t mastered logic. If you cannot understand logic, then why should I care about your views on the nuances of foreign policy or monetary policy?

Here’s a question to think about. If you tell me that an obviously brilliant person is “stupid”, then what should I infer about your intelligence?

PS. For those who don’t read the comment section, check out this comment from a Russia troll named Nick, for a flavor of what you’re missing.



16 Responses to “Cancel culture comes to Money Illusion?”

  1. Gravatar of Mark Z Mark Z
    27. February 2022 at 21:24

    Luc Montangier was a brilliant virologist who discovered HIV. He also was an AIDs denier and homeopathy supporter. That’s pretty stupid (he had a whole lot of other stupid ideas too). Paul Krugman may be a brilliant macroeconomist, but he has also said some pretty stupid things (particularly when he writes about politics). Not just wrong, downright stupid. There’s no inconsistency between being brilliant about one thing, and stupid about another. Paul Krugman seems to agree, since he doesn’t hesitate to insult the intelligence of people who clearly have high IQs when they disagree with him. If that standard is good enough for him, it must be good enough for the rest of us.

  2. Gravatar of Rajat Rajat
    27. February 2022 at 22:14

    Whoa, yeah, I can see why you had to draw the line somewhere.
    I think you made a typo above – I think you meant to say “mercifully unaware”.

  3. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    27. February 2022 at 22:37

    Rajat, It’s more the quantity than the quality. The weeds were overflowing the garden.

  4. Gravatar of Will Will
    28. February 2022 at 01:02

    Wait, so the comments section might be worth perusing again? Hooray!

  5. Gravatar of mbka mbka
    28. February 2022 at 03:16

    Thank you Scott. It was a necessity. And yet, thank you too for having let the weeds grow for a while so we could all see the effects.

  6. Gravatar of Tacticus Tacticus
    28. February 2022 at 03:43

    That was certainly the comments thread that really seemed to signal that things had gotten weird.

  7. Gravatar of Jonathan Miller Jonathan Miller
    28. February 2022 at 07:14

    I was not one who complained, but previously I enjoyed your comment section but lately found that I needed to skip the majority of comments and that it was no longer interesting. Thank you.

  8. Gravatar of Kenneth Duda Kenneth Duda
    28. February 2022 at 07:21

    Scott, thanks for trying to weed out the trolls. They were really spoiling the comment section, which is otherwise quite good.

    One suggestion is to deputize some of your regular readers / good commenters to do some of the grunt-work for you.

    Kenneth Duda
    Menlo Park, CA

  9. Gravatar of bb bb
    28. February 2022 at 09:00

    I am really glad you did this. While the Russian trolls are very amateurish they are still very annoying. Good call.

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    28. February 2022 at 09:24

    Everyone, There have actually been three stages to the comment section:

    2009-14: Many good comments, left wing and right wing comments being roughly equally good or bad. If anything, the right was a bit ahead.

    2015-18: Fewer good comments. The rise of the alt right. Almost all of the really horrible comments came from the authoritarian nationalist right, although there continued to be some good comments from the right.

    2019-22: Even fewer good comments, with the rise of the Russia trolls.

    Of course some of the deterioration of the comment section reflects a pretty serious deterioration in my blogging, but not all. I don’t have many new ideas, and I tend to put them at Econlog.

    I am planning a major change in this blog later this year, but I haven’t yet worked out all the details.

  11. Gravatar of Randomize Randomize
    28. February 2022 at 11:39

    Echo the above. I too stopped reading the comments a couple years ago as they had deteriorated so badly.

  12. Gravatar of Aladdin Aladdin
    28. February 2022 at 21:52

    “I am planning a major change in this blog later this year, but I haven’t yet worked out all the details.”

    Well, if you ever need a web designer, shameless self promotion sometimes works 🙂 (hey, this is an economics blog so …)

    To the point, I think this comment section is better with some censorship. Almost all are, which I suppose is unfortunate because when people go too far in censorship it becomes difficult to defend a objective line.

    Not me of course, and I’ve said some pretty stupid things. The line is always below the one advocating it 🙂

    But I think the difference between “valid disagreement of opinion” and “vulgar trolling that only serves to diminish the comment section as a whole” is a reasonable line to draw.

  13. Gravatar of Andrew Andrew
    1. March 2022 at 02:28

    Trolls are trolls and you have done the right thing
    You could guaranteed find another Pessoa heteronym saying the opposite. But they are all worth spending time with. He was the Portuguese writer that should have got the Noble …. Not the unrepentant communist

  14. Gravatar of milljas milljas
    1. March 2022 at 05:39

    Nicely done. Part of this must also be that many bloggers who used to comment here are now Tweeting themselves to glory. Good posts crowd bad ones out, to your point there does seem to be a cycle.

    The political posts don’t help in absolute. Politics seems to reduce someone’s intelligence far below their potential. Not as bad as your trolls, Paul Krugman is an example of what politics can do. I only wished my intellect was as large as his. It’s like having the body and skills of Lebron James but deciding that you’d sooner be the next Ron Ficker than dominate and win titles.

    Looking forward to your new blog.

  15. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    1. March 2022 at 11:23

    Thanks Aladdin.

    Andrew, Yes, he’s one of the all time greats.

  16. Gravatar of Matthias Matthias
    5. March 2022 at 00:33

    Scott, it’s your blog, ban as you like.

    In fact, ban a few more people arbitrarily. Just to avoid any illusion that you are bound by any rules. (At least that’s was Skatestarcodex used to say they do.)

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