A couple posts back I took the opportunity to gripe about what I thought was a ridiculous comment thread moderation decision at Econlog. It was just interesting and something I see a lot on the blogosphere: a combination of hypersensitivity while turning a complete blind eye to crudeness that's right in front of you.
Bob had an interesting comment on the thread:
"Daniel I don't think they should have deleted your comment, but there
*is* a difference in discussing someone who's not "in the conversation,"
versus talking to people who are right there. I.e. just because someone
called Ezra Klein a hack, and then you got zapped for saying something
about the people "in the room" that was milder, by itself doesn't prove
E.g. let's say you come to my house for a dinner
party, and lots of people in the room are talking about what a socialist
Obama is. Then you say, "I can't believe the fools in this house!" I
think any reasonable person would agree that you were ruder than my
However, if Ken B. were there too, I am sure he would be more annoying."
I found this fascinating because I really, really don't agree with it. Now there is one area where I could kind of agree. There is an extent to which commiserating with people about someone you find aggravating isn't really rude to do behind their back. Commiseration can be an important thing to engage in. You might even be more blunt behind the person's back, but presumably it's something you would raise more diplomatically with them if the appropriate opportunity presented itself.
That's one thing.
But is outright insulting someone (say, calling them a "political hack") better behind their back than to their face? I wouldn't think so at all. If anything I think the rudeness factor is about the same and the people who do it behind their back are more cowardly to boot.
All of this is a fine line, of course. We can have frank discussions about whether someone is convinced by evidence or ideology. Some people really are guided by ideology (shocking I know!), so you can talk about that sort of thing without being guilty of rudeness. But the sort of broad dismissivenes of saying "oh he's just a political hack" clearly isn't doing that kind of careful calculus, particularly when it's about someone like Ezra Klein.
What do you all think? Is insulting someone behind their back (genuine insulting - not just a commiseration fest) really better? That just seems foreign to me.