14 July

A Manifesto: Once Again, Re-Thinking My Blog, Taking It Back

by Jon Katz

I want my compassionate and civil blog back. I miss it, and I bet many of you do as well. So I’m going to get it back from the trolls and the peckerheads.

I’ve been re-thinking my blog lately, as I often do, and I wanted to share my thoughts with you about changes I am making right now.

When I began bedlamfarm.com in 2007, I did not allow comments of any kind, either on the blog or later, on Facebook. It was always my idea to publish a monologue, the story of my life, not a dialogue, as is done on cable news.

I started permitting comments because of the rise in interactive media, and people wanted to talk to writers, get to know them, and share opinions with them.

But America has changed since I started the blog, so much of what we now all social media has degraded the very idea of listening or communicating. So I need to change too.

I fear sometimes getting sucked into something I really dislike.

Tonight, I deleted four comments.

One accused me of being a voyeur, another a thief, another of being a sexual predator, and a sociopath.

These people, I realized, were not interested in talking to me or listening to me; they were just digital sharks out trawling for blood. They are the ghouls of our time, and I’m not going to help them.

Enough.

These are not people who know me or care about me, they are the creatures we now call “trolls,” they were always around, but President Trump brought them out into the daylight.

I won’t permit their comments any longer on my blog or my Facebook page. I should have done this months ago.

I have the tools to delete and ban them, and I will use them, starting the second I post this piece.

To some extent, the decision some years ago to permit comments on the blog made me uncomfortable.

I was a book writer for most of my writing life; I worked alone and rarely interacted with readers except on carefully produced readings at book stores.

I thought it was smart to do in the digital age when everybody feels free to shoot their mouths off about anything, especially things they know nothing about.

I am doing nobody a service by giving damaged and broken people a hateful platform on my blog. Quite the opposite, I have become just another unknowing peddler of poison.

I can’t explain my every move to the satisfaction of thousands of strangers; I can only present my ideas and hope they have meaning to someone.

Over time, the trolls and ticks will go away; like all vampiric creatures, they feed off blood and need it to survive.

My moral responsibility is to look in the mirror and like what I see. I don’t like what I see when I am challenging hateful people. I don’t ever want to become them. Sometimes, I feel like I am becoming one of them.

That is not the direction I want to go in with my life.

The best defense is to be me, not to let anyone else try to define me. The heart of the troll is cold, cynicism and hatred is their vitamin. I don’t want them anywhere near my blog.

This is the challenge of our times, this intolerance and cruelty, it is much too big for me to handle and still stay creative and focused on my work.

I have to protect my creativity and peace of mind; they are the only things I really have apart from Maria with so much central meaning.

This decision to open up the blog was before the rise of cable news and extreme political partisanship and the digital revolution, which has spawned a sea change in communications.

The new technology permits people to talk to one another without restraint or consequence. It promotes rudeness, cruelty, and what has now evolved to what we call “trolling,” the willingness of people to be vicious, dishonest, invasive t and mindlessly argumentative.

I see my online home as an extension of my material hope; I don’t expect anyone online to say anything to me that they wouldn’t say in my house. That’s an easy and clear line to draw.

It has become a right and expectation to many people to be cruel or hurtful; many suffer a lot worse than me. I’m not into formal manners, but the tsunami of rudeness and cruelty no longer seems to serve any function at all, other than to wound or declaim.

Arguing with them, challenging them, making fun of them is an act of ego and stupidity, it accomplishes nothing and wastes my emotional and creative energy—shame on me for doing it. The viciousness crept on me; I was slow to see the scope of it.

The part of these new communications I love is the people who have thoughtful, often critical, positive, and challenging things to say about my writing.

That has been good for me and is valuable to me.

My work writing about the Amish has been some of the most worthwhile in my career, and I very much appreciate all the support and approval you have given me.

It is affirming and sustaining.

What isn’t good for me is the viciousness and ignorance that social media has enabled, spawned, and tolerated. This work has made me a magnet; the hateful assaults were occasional, now they are regular.

We really have a sick vein running in this country; we truly hate the different.

This trolling came to a head this spring when I began writing about the Amish. I had no idea how much many people disliked them and resented my friendship with Moise.

The Amish seem to embody the idea of “the other,” and our country is on a full-blown hate streak against “others” right now.

Somehow, the subject just opened the gates to a flood of nastiness.

Every day, I get several shockingly vicious and mindless messages, often threatening, especially when I write about my friendship with Moise.

This tendency to what we now call “trolling” began around the time the  Trump campaign for the presidency began in 2016. There were always trolls; they were never as brazen or frequent as they are today.

Since then, cruelty, stupidity, and viciousness have escalated on both sides; I get as much hate mail from people on the extreme left as I do from the army of Trump trolls gobbling up and poisoning the internet in the same way Japanese beetles eat flowers and plants.

The noise drowns true liberal and conservative thinkers. The American mind is sick and hurting/

I decided the right thing to do was to challenge these trolls, make it clear that they can’t pollute free speech, and get away with it clean and without challenge.

This was a mistake. It was not the smart thing to do. It was a waste of time. I should be exposing these hateful ideas; I should be protecting people from them, making it a safe place.

I will do that.

These assaults draw out some of the anger that still lives in me, and too often, I was challenged to defend my thinking and ideas by people who are simply intrusive, inappropriate, vicious for their own sake.

Ideas are never discussed; the dialogue is like taunts on a middle school playground.

I need to change that. It’s not good for me, or the blog, or for the many good people who are genuinely interested in ideas, even if they disagree with me.

From now on, I’m going to take a step backward. Civil and thoughtful comments are welcome; I will read them and respond to them when I can.

They are important to me.

I’m not doing battle with angry or disconnected people or trolls any longer. A particularly obnoxious woman wrote today that she got the idea that I didn’t like to argue with people who disagree with me.

The woman who thinks I don’t want to argue my ideas is correct, but only partially correct.

I don’t argue about my ideas, period. That’s not why I write. I am happy to explain myself.

My role model for the blog was E.B. White, the wonderful New Yorker writer who wrote about rural life and his many ideas from his farm in Maine.

There was no Internet, no social media.

He didn’t argue his ideas; he expressed them, and he welcome comments from readers, which came mostly from the mail.

I will never argue my ideas on Facebook or in blog posts. Ideas have a right to live and move freely or die on their own. I will absolutely not spend my life arguing with people on the Internet.

Arguing all day is not healthy for a writer; too much crap gets into my head. I don’t care what most people think of my writing; I’m not looking to defend my ideas to thousands of strangers online, many of them with bent heads.

But I do like to know what people think of what I say, like it or not.

My protest against cruelty will no longer be to argue about what I write; I will delete and ignore the hate.

The idea is to deprive it of life and oxygen, not enable it with attention. I do that to protect my writing and to protect my blog. Being accused of obsession, child abuse, and psychopathic behavior isn’t a good way to be creative.

Believe me when I tell you – and many of you know this – that I love being challenged thoughtfully and civilly. I will never delete those comments, and I will happily respond to them when I can.

But I have to stay healthy in the head if the blog is to be useful at all, and if I can survive and prosper on bedlamfarm.com in this new reality – it is my creative life, my income, my meaning in life, next to Maria.

Those who wish to comment in good faith,  question my ideas civilly and thoughtfully will find a welcome place here, and hopefully, a  peaceful place where we can talk openly, honestly, and safely.

It’s up to me to police the site, and I welcome that opportunity to make a stand truly.  I will always speak directly and honestly. I live off of mind food, and I will never delete or prohibit mind food. I will have no hesitation in rejecting the angry, the aggrieved,  and the cruel.

So this change will, I believe, strengthen the idea of my blog being a monologue, but one with a protected interactive element. Would you please tell me what you think? I don’t argue my ideas, but I am happy to explain them and listen to the ideas of others.

Give it a chance; I think you will be pleased.

The outside world is losing the ability to speak empathetically to one another. I believe in doing that. Come and see for yourself, watch the atmosphere change.

This is my blog, and I love it and care for it. I’m taking it back. Trading witty blows with creepy people is not why I started the blog, and will certainly not be how I finish it.

 

88 Comments

  1. Well said Jon ♥️ I’ve been with you since reading your books years and years ago.
    And to quote your role model….
    “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer”
    -E.B. White

    1. I’d recommend “One Man’s Meat,” a collection of his writings that inspired this blog…I can’t write like him, alas, but his kind thoughtfulness was always an inspiration..

  2. Well said, Jon. I always felt protective of you when trolls attacked, and am so glad you’ve decided not to engage them. Bravo! And as for the Amish, I was friends with a Mennonite family in rural Tennessee years back, and found the friendship to be enriching, eye-opening, and so very rewarding. We raised draft horses and “traded” with folks in their community who worked their land with horse-drawn equipment. I learned so much from our friends and treasured the relationship. They stayed overnight at our place when picking up a horse and we had a lively evening of conversation. You and Maria are lucky to have found this family, and to have been accepted into their world.

  3. Jon, I think this is wonderful and I fully support the changes you are making. I have had to sometimes had to step away from those who troll you because you are right–there is no reasoning with them. They just want to throw a punch and run back to their hiding places.

    When I work with teens in the Creative Writing Club at the school where I teach, we insist that the writer is in charge of deciding IF feedback is desired and what kind of input/feedback might be helpful. It’s all about empowering the writer.

    You are making your presence on FB a safer place–first and foremost for you & Maria. But it’s also going to be a safer place for those of us who really DO care and are grateful to read your blog posts.

      1. You are most welcome. [Aside: I see a “had to” in what I wrote that I should have caught. So be it. Was editing on the fly, tired, always harder to see things in one’s own work. I edit others better than I edit myself–at least sometimes! I often want to blame the dyslexia, which is real, but sometimes…it’s just me typing and thinking too fast.]

  4. I think you’ve made a wise decision. It’s your blog, and you get to decide how you handle those who use it as a chance to attack others or to simply amuse themselves by “stirring the pot.” Personally, I’m happy to allow disagreement and opposing views, but I always delete any comment that attacks other people, and I don’t respond to it before I do that. It makes me sad that we even have to protect our blogs like this, but as you so rightly pointed out, that’s just the way things are right now. I can only hope that society moves away from this attack mode.

  5. It’s a good thing. Your own mental health is very important and just as you taught so many, exposing yourself to crap makes you sick. I quit watching the news and stayed far from politics for the most part. Hatefulness on the web is no different. I hope you feel empowered and less impacted by it by using the good old delete button. I appreciate your blog and views. Often gives me something to think about. Cheers

  6. We all need to figure out what boundaries are necessary in order to protect our integrity and sanity. There should be no guilt in saying ‘ this is not acceptable’ and denying that intrusion into your life. I read your blog, not looking for someone who agrees with me but someone who is living his life, questioning, searching and finding the wonderful miracles that happen when we are open to them. You set the boundaries, it is your blog!

    1

    1. There is much wisdom in your decision Jon. It is a thoughtful and well reasoned decision. Thank you for sharing it. I am going to save it, to reread when I am confronted by those ruled by fear/anger.

  7. I support anything you need to do to make this a civil and safe space! I love following your musings and your family/farm journey.

  8. Good for you Jon! Life is just too short to deal with trolls, or mean people of any kind.
    I don’t comment very often as I just read and enjoy your blog, the same as I did all your books. You are a thoughtful and caring person Jon, and I’m so glad you found Maria to share your life with. Best wishes to you both.
    I found your books back in 2015 and I look forward to reading whatever you decide to write as I enjoy every word.

    Deb Witte
    Previous owner of Next Page Books in Cedar Rapids Iowa

  9. Well said! ” To thy own self be true” Cruelty seems to invade everyone’s space at some point. I applaude you for standing up for decency & kindness. Keep up your good works.

  10. Agreed. Trolls and people who argue just to be disagreeable or nasty do not add value. Your blog, your rules. Go for it.

  11. You are so right to do this. You’ve come so far and made such progress to overcome what you have. You do not need these negative people setting you back. You go!

  12. I was so happy to read this. I was feeling exactly as you stated about the changes with people commenting here. For a long time I enjoyed your blogs and looked forward to reading them. Then something changed and you put it into words perfectly. Much better than I could have. I’m happy to hear of the changes coming. Thank you.

    Have a great night!

    Sharon Johnston

  13. Jon – it fuels the trolls when they attack and write hateful messages and fuels them when they are held accountable. Never step into the ring with such types, as they love to fight. Delete delete delete — good bye – they are strangers to you and have no right to have a voice on your wonderful blog. You are reporting on your life and experiences not creating a forum for a debate about whatever they find wrong with the Amish, or whatever. It is shocking to me that people feel they can accuse a stranger (you) of being a racist, they do not know you! I think a problem with blogs, social media, etc., is readers begin to think they know the writer personally (they don’t) and it gives them the right to cross boundaries and make ridiculous comments not grounded in reality or fact. They do not deserve a voice on your blog — your blog serves a higher purpose then to give them an audience!

  14. Happy to hear this. I’m here to think and learn and sometimes share. The hate adds to a feeling that we’re in a dystopian culture, and no, it isn’t good and serves no purpose. Blog reader since 2009 I believe.

  15. Right on, Jon! I never read the comment sections previously. This is the first time I have clicked on it and did so to voice my support for your decision. Thank-you for all the energy and effort that you put into this wonderful bright spot that I look forward to reading every day.

  16. Bravo! No writer should have to put up with Trolls. I follow another writer who in his words “shoots people out the airlock” if they break the rules posted on his site and engage in Trollish behaviour.

  17. Bravo! I’ve read this blog since your first writings after reading and continuing to read your books because we had a Border Collie/Aussie Shepherd. (I do not read it on Facebook. Not a F B participant). I’m aware off your background in television., etc… this is your “diary” as much or as little as you choose to put out to the public and as a writer you write what’s on your mind and in your heart. None of us know you personally..so none of us should presume…here I am making a comment, but I was thinking that the comments are unnecessary…. you write, we read and life goes on and maybe we’ve learned a thing or two about a subject or an observation and go on with our lives…thank you, Jon.

  18. It’s your blog, dude. I feel privileged to see your insight, and I rarely read the comments because so many people have lost that concept: it’s YOUR blog, not THEIRS. It’s like a digital form of a reading. Mr. Katz is speaking; there may be time for questions later, but the ticket says JON KATZ PRESENTING, and that’s who we are all here to see.

  19. The hateful comments were instantly recognizable in the first couple of lines and I would simply stop reading. Great idea to ban them altogether. After all, it’s impossible to have an argument or fight when only one person is involved. These fools are looking for an audience so they can jolly well find that audience someplace else.

  20. I’m glad that you are protecting yourself, and your readers as well, by deleting pointless, rude, trolling comments. I’m also glad that you have decided to continue to allow comments, the civil kind, to continue. So I applaud your course of action, and I thank you for it. I appreciate everything that you share. I am fascinated by your friendship with your Amish neighbors, and I love reading about them. Thank you for sharing your world with us.

  21. Have been ‘with you’ since reading your books & rarely read any comments. Your words, your photos & following your journey are a daily gift.

    Bravo! Do what’s healthy for you.

  22. Keep writing and sharing your ideas, observations and the good works. I have ehjoy your writing, youve given me many things to think about some serious, some make me laugh, but most give me insite into friendships and your life with Maria on the farm. Seems like the haters just have to spew their hate, so yes please use that delete key.

  23. Jon–
    Books and blog–I’ve read everything you have written. And your stories calm me, inspire me, make me think, and bring me laughter, tears, and joy. No day since 2007 ends without a visit to Bedlam Farm. The ugly comments were so inappropriate. I won’t miss them. And I know you, Maria, and Bedlam Farm will be better for it.

  24. I rarely if ever read a controversial comment in your blogs. Mostly it is all praise for what you write. I assume you must delete the comments of the “trolls” and “peckerheads.” I am not a fan or friend of facebook. Are most of these cruel comments on facebook and cannot be deleted?

  25. A wise decision, Jon. Your writing is what is important to me, not other peoples’ opinions. Onward. Shelagh in Leicester, Vermont.

  26. I have never understood why people resort to calling names and writing ugly messages on someone else’s blog. If I don’t like something from your blog or anyone elses, I keep scrolling. Or if I feel the point is important, I will say what I think, but politely because I am a guest in your “home”. Rude comments on your blog would be like standing in your living room and calling you names. Mature people can get their point across without being rude, even if that opinion disagrees with yours.

  27. Jon, what a strong message this speaks! I always enjoy your writings and look forward to reading them. It is unfortunate that in this day & age what our world has become. I will quietly continue to read and enjoy your blogs. If only our world could go back to loving one another & caring for each other just because we are good human beings………. Keep blogging and I for one look forward to your many, many new adventures with your newest friends & neighbors!!!! One Love <3

  28. Jon, I could not agree with you more. I’ve found your information and postings on the Amish insightful and delightful. I’m learning through you although I’ve had connections with Amish before but not to the extent you have now. Thank you for sharing these experiences and observations with us. And as much as I hate to admit it, I scan read Daily Mail on the internet and there are days when I feel like throwing up reading the cr*p they put up there. I’ve learned a new word there, “slamming”. It seems that the world of the internet is creating a whole new language and a whole new demeanor of behaving. Anger at your fingertips, bringing people down, who would have known that there was so much anger in the world. Anger begets anger. I’m glad you’ve taken a stand on disallowing it.
    Sandy Proudfoot

  29. The analogy for me is like leaving the door unlocked and open to thieves who steal our prized possessions and trash them in the gutters and landfills. Thanks for installing some padlocks against the sad, hateful people. I love your writing Jon!

  30. I was so happy to read this post, Jon! I love your blog, especially the way you write from your heart. When something starts to feel bad in me, internally, I have to let it go, be it a person, a place, a cause, whatever. Maybe I’m a simpleton because I believe that what feels bad IS bad for me. Mean people, trolls, the angry attackers, all of them just hurt my heart. Reading about your relationships with the Amish has made my heart swell with love. That feels good. Is it our job as writers to make people feel good? I don’t think so, no more than making others feel good by living our lives in such a way that’s pleasing or acceptable to anyone else. Follow that broad and wonderful heart of yours, Jon! We will be right here with you!

    1. Way to go, Jon! I think most people who love the blog will applaud this action. I only regret you have to see the crap in order to get rid of it. Thank you for protecting your loyal readers from having to see it too.

  31. Yes, yes, yes!!!! You’ve said it so well. Thank you. Your thoughts, words, photos are medicine for me, a slice of grounded, soulful sanity in this troubled world. We need more people expressing themselves as you do here on your blog home.

  32. Jon, I think it’s a great idea! 🙂 I believe that some (not all) of the negative feedback you’ve been getting of late is written by lonely, hateful, ignorant, lazy, damaged people. It is SO EASY to sit at a computer or laptop, while perhaps doing nothing else but watch garbage on TV all day long. You are an “easy target” for these bored trolls so they unload their hurtful evil negativity on you and absolutely LOVE it when you take the bait! All they want is SOMEBODY to acknowledge them because most of their friends and acquaintances have dumped them long ago because of their constant sniping.

    Kudos for cutting them out of your life! 🙂 They need to acknowledge their own shortcomings and seek professional help, especially if they have nothing better to do…it takes time, much effort and hard work but as you and I both know it DOES work!

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