Meta: A few minor modifications to the site rules

Some modifications to the site rules.

In light of the terrible news out of Tuscon, Arizona this weekend, and in the interest of furthering civil debate here in this forum–we have made a few modifications to the site rules. Most commenters will be utterly unaffected by these.

The additions are:

3. Hyperbole can help make a point, but carried too far detracts from the conversation, specfically:

  • Anything proposing, suggesting, or even hinting at violence is out of bounds.
  • Use of inflammatory words or comparisons (“tyranny”, “fascism”, “communist”, “genocide”, “Hitler”, “un-American”) in the context of discussing transportation or land-use issues, is out of bounds.

The first item should be uncontroversial, and requires little explanation. I do not recall any past violations of that principle here–it is merely added for completeness. In national politics, though, there have been several examples of political campaigns which crossed this line, including a few notorious ads directed at one of the victims of Saturday’s shooting.

The second items might be a bit more controversial, and does merit some further explanation.

Portland Transport is not a blog about political theory or history, and in particular does not cover countries such as Germany or the former Soviet Union, where totalitarian regimes have in fact arisen. As such, discussion of Nazis, communists, and similar subjects is not a legitimate primary topic of this site. This blog is about transportation (particularly public transit) and land-use planning, with a geographic focus on the Portland, OR metropolitan area. And in that context, you’ll find utterly nobody who is a significant player in the debate advocating any such ideologies, or who can be reasonably called an adherent of them. As a result of these two facts, any invocation of terms such as “Nazi” is either likely to be off-topic, or excessively polemic rather than informative. In the context of the vast majority of political debate in the US at this time, these words only function as terms of abuse–when used in the context of (small-d) democratic politics, they are almost always intended to demean or delegitimize something or someone, and as Andrew Sullivan notes, suggests they are “beyond the pale”, and thus outside the norms of normal democratic debate. These terms generally not used to shed light on a topic. There are some cases where uses of these terms might be appropriate in a domestic public transit context (the LA Bus Riders’ Union has some noticeable Marxist leanings, for example), but the vast majority of public transit supporters in town with any influence aren’t Marxists or Nazis, and neither are their opponents.

It is permissible to focus on aspects of public transit or SOV-use which one finds distasteful–if a commenter believes that public subsidy of transit with general-fund taxes is undesirable, he or she is welcome to say so. But calling the practice “socialist” or “communist” is needlessly pejorative, and incorrect to boot–modern capitalist societies have been providing public transit to their citizens for decades, without embracing Marxism. Likewise, it’s acceptable to point out that excessive use of single-occupancy vehicles increases dependence on foreign oil and increases pollution; it’s not acceptable, however, to accuse auto commuters of “genocide” due to the unsavory nature and practices of some of the petroleum-exporting states in the world.

Feel free to discuss or ask questions.


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