July 16, 2017

"Tone policing (also tone trolling, tone argument and tone fallacy) is an ad hominem and antidebate appeal based on genetic fallacy."

"It attempts to detract from the validity of a statement by attacking the tone in which it was presented rather than the message itself. In Bailey Poland's book, [Haters:] Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online, she suggests that tone policing is frequently aimed at women and attempts to derail or silence opponents who may be lower on the 'privilege ladder.'... In Keith Bybee's How Civility Works, he notes that feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, and anti-war protesters have been told to 'calm down and try to be more polite.' He argues that tone policing is a means to deflect attention from injustice and relocate the problem in the style of the complaint, rather than address the complaint itself."

From the somewhat Wikipedia article on "Tone Policing," which is a term I feel as though I'm hearing about for the first time. Here's the context where it came up.

The Wikipedia article is kind of badly written. Am I tone-policing Wikipedia? But Wikipedia itself tone-polices its writers. Everything's supposed to be edited into sober neutrality. 

Tone-policing is just about the same thing as what I've been calling "civility bullshit." (It's my observation that calls for civility are always bullshit. It's always because of what you are saying, because if the civility enforcers agreed with you, they'd be celebrating your passion.)

I want to stress that men get tone-policed too. The most tone-policed person in the world is Donald Trump. 

And I want to connect this to something I wrote about yesterday: that NYT op-ed arguing that speech that comes in the wrong form — like Milo Yiannopoulos, but not Charles Murray — should be understood as "literally a form of violence" and suppressed.

Form is part of expression. I like this passage from Justice Brennan, dissenting in the case that upheld the FCC's power to censure the radio station that played George Carlin's "Filthy Words":
My Brother STEVENS [writing for the majority]... finds solace in his conviction that "[t]here are few, if any, thoughts that cannot be expressed by the use of less offensive language." The idea that the content of a message and its potential impact on any who might receive it can be divorced from the words that are the vehicle for its expression is transparently fallacious. A given word may have a unique capacity to capsule an idea, evoke an emotion, or conjure up an image.... Mr. Justice Harlan, speaking for the Court [in Cohen v. California], recognized the truism that a speaker's choice of words cannot surgically be separated from the ideas he desires to express when he warned that "we cannot indulge the facile assumption that one can forbid particular words without also running a substantial risk of suppressing ideas in the process."

81 comments:

Lucien said...

But behind the tone policing idea is the idea that if you anoint yourself as a member of a "marginalized" group, then it's OK to shout down or violently suppress speech that you don't like (which will always be oppressive hate speech), because asking you to accept the rights of others to speak is imposing an oppressive tone policed code of civility on you.

But it only works one way, because for your opponents to silence you in the same way would be "punching down" in a racist/sexist/homophobic/islamophobic/ableist/ageist (viva intersectionalism!) manner.

rhhardin said...

I was first policed on SJW matters on content. Tone policing is a late arrival for when content has become too obviously correct.

Unknown said...

The anti Trump side has been lectured to regarding their tone. They've been told to sit down, shut up and calm down. Both sides try to control the other's tone. One's best bet is to be smart about one's own tone, if possible.

Gahrie said...

she suggests that tone policing is frequently aimed at women and attempts to derail or silence opponents who may be lower on the 'privilege ladder.'.

Perhaps on the Left, but we on the Right deny the existence of such a privilege ladder. It's pretty much the foundational difference between the Left and the right today. It is also why everyone on the Left is determined to be a victim today, because that is how you rise on that ladder of privilege.

rhhardin said...

A friendly use of offensive words defeats tone policing.

rhhardin said...

The ladder of privilege has a 250 pound weight limit.

madAsHell said...

intersectionalism

I keep hearing this word in the talking points....even Chelsea Clinton...and I don't know how intersections relate to politics. I finally resorted to dictionary.com, and found this......

intersectionality - the theory that the overlap of social identities contributes to the specific type of oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.

It's a dog whistle for snow flakes.

Martin said...

It is certainly not the case that criticism of "tone" only comes from one side. Just about everybody does it. The idea that it is all used by "the privileged" against those fighting against "privilege" is risible on many levels.

In oral communication, "tone" is certainly part of the message and is often intended as such... on face-to-face, body language and facial expressions as well.

Yes, complaints about tone may be insincere and meant to distract, and people may perceive a bad "tone" when none is intended or even when an impartial observer would not agree. But that all is just part of that thing called "life."

I question the motivation and honesty of those raising it at this time. Seems to me it's just another way of the politically correct left to tell everybody else to shut up.

bagoh20 said...

Hey bitches, E = fucking MC squared, so bite me.

bagoh20 said...

I'm tone deaf, but I know tone sign language and I'm using my finger to communicate my tone right now.

Zach said...

Yes, but many of the people who complain about "tone policing" are psycho. They can't rephrase their arguments in a lower register because their entire brand of politics revolves around freaking out and intimidating people into giving them what they want.

Once written, twice... said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sebastian said...

"I want to stress that men get tone-policed too." Which white man has ever tone-policed any BLMer? In reality, the tone-policing is all a one-way whine directed against men.

"The most tone-policed person in the world is Donald Trump." Exactly. You're gonna need a tone-policing bullshit tag.

"And I want to connect this to something I wrote about yesterday: that NYT op-ed arguing that speech that comes in the wrong form — like Milo Yiannopoulos, but not Charles Murray — should be understood as "literally a form of violence" and suppressed." Milo's "tone" is very much part of his message, as Brennan would have noted correctly, but he is a provocateur, hardly a violent "hater."

As the NYT data point shows, even the left's "they're trying to tone-police us" arguments are made in bad faith.

Not too many libs like Brennan left.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Once written, twice... said...

No, she deletes you because you crossed the line. There is no return. If you must continue to interact here, delete your account, change your tone (ha), and come back as somebody else.

Paco Wové said...

Remember when two black women took over Bernie Sander's Seattle rally, and Bernie and everybody else present meekly acquiesced? Would it have been "tone policing" to tell the two of them get off the stage?

Zach said...

And there's a simple, content neutral argument for tone policing. It improves the tone!

If you want reasonable people to discuss an issue and reach a compromise, you have to maintain a tone that reasonable people can stand.

Tellingly, the people who raise objections to tone policing in principle (as opposed to specific applications) are radicals. They reject compromise and discussion, because they already have the answer they want. They reject being reasonable in principle, because that isn't consistent with a perceived need for radical change.

Being ugly and nasty is a tactic. If you're an extreme minority, what you want most from the reasonable majority is for them not to show up. So you make the public spaces intolerable for the majority, and only your faction shows up!

Mary Beth said...

It's a fight between people who want a rational argument and people who are only willing to have an emotional one.

JLScott said...

When Gabby Giftords was shot (along with 18 others, 6 of whom were killed) by an apolitical grammar nut, we were treated to weeks of lectures on tone. A month after Steve Scalise was shot (along with 3 others) by a deranged leftist activist we're suddenly admonished to not dare mention tone.

Who's surprised?

Eleanor said...

Remember when Michelle Obama said she might not vote for Hillary Clinton in 2008 because she didn't like her tone?

rhhardin said...

The SS, Stimme Staffel. (voice squadron)

YuriG said...

Here's an example of tone policing, a.k.a. civility bullshit:

"For everyone else, try to be responsive to the post, don't make personal attacks on other commenters...."

Clyde said...

Ultimately, it comes down to one simple thing: Nobody likes an asshole. People who are rude, loud and obnoxious are assholes, whether they are being that way for political reasons or just because that's what they are.

mockturtle said...

What you really mean is come back and march in right wing lockstep. This is the reason there are almost no liberal commenters here. And those who do show up get chased off.

Nonsense. Those who are 'chased off' are those who insist upon dominating every thread and relying on tu-quoque responses rather than addressing the topic. Cookie is an avowed leftist who has at least the respect of most of us here even though we don't agree with the majority of his opinions.

Angel-Dyne said...

...he notes that feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, and anti-war protesters have been told to 'calm down and try to be more polite.'

I'm skeptical that anybody has actually used the words "be more polite" to contemporary "feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, and anti-war protesters". It sounds anachronistic, as if it were being used to evoke earlier Civil Rights protests and their critics. Or else it's a quaint euphemism for "unhinged screeching and violence aren't persuasive".

He argues that tone policing is a means to deflect attention from injustice and relocate the problem in the style of the complaint, rather than address the complaint itself."

That can be true, but it's used that way on every side, and always has been. And this particular complaint about deflection is also used as a deflection itself, by people who can't rationally defend their positions from rational disagreement. In the writer's own terms, it is used as a means to "relocate" the problem from the deficiencies in the original position to the act of disagreement itself, rather than defending the original position, or examining its weaknesses. (See also, "Anybody who disagrees with my claims is trying to silence me".)

Lem said...

I don't like Althouse's tone.

Lem said...

tone policing sensitivity training. A seminar.

Char Char Binks said...

It's civility bullshit bullshit. Tone matters, and while tone policing SOMETIMES is used to shut down debate, sometimes it's a legitimate response to a tone that shuts down debate. And it's hardly BLM dindus and feminists who suffer most. Witness the struggle session they forced on spineless, nutless Evergreen State College president George Bridges, not only policing his tone, but his posture and gestures.

Kevin said...

intersectionality - the theory that the overlap of social identities contributes to the specific type of oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.

I am victimized, therefore I am.

Renée said...

Althouse and Glenn Reynolds are on the same wavelength. Tone policing came up this morning on link at Instapundit to a post by Campus Reform -- NYU librarian laments 'fatigue' from 'presence of white people.

Brookzene said...

(It's my observation that calls for civility are always bullshit. It's always because of what you are saying, because if the civility enforcers agreed with you, they'd be celebrating your passion.)

Categorically wrong.

Jeff Teal said...

Tone policing is a way of minimizing the righteousness of the feelings that generate the tone.So the policed appear to have no right to their anger.Over my life it has been used against me way too often.And all it does is make me angrier.

Jeff Teal said...

Especially in some situation where I have been the victim of a crime such as assault.Imagine just how Paula Deen felt when her language impropriety resulted in her firing from The Food Network- for a reaction to robbery and assault.

rhhardin said...

Kant, "Von einem neuerdings erhobenen vornehmen Ton in der Philosophie."

On a Newly Arisen Superior Tone in Philosophy.

Char Char Binks said...

"magine just how Paula Deen felt "

Sure, a black man held her at gunpoint, and he could have killed, but she may have later called him a nigger.

Richard said...

intersectionality - the theory that the overlap of social identities contributes to the specific type of oppression and discrimination experienced by an individual.

This is not the correct meaning of intersectionality. The correct definition is that all “oppressed” people must support each other on every issue in order to present a united front in opposition to the “white man”.

Sample Commenter said...

When passionate anxiety is all you have, you are certainly going to be resentful of people asking you to lay out your evidence and logic and to calmly respond to objections.

Sample Commenter said...

Over my life it has been used against me way too often.And all it does is make me angrier.

Not a person who should have any power over anybody else.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Renée,

You did notice that Althouse and Reynolds were both responding to the same post, right?

mockturtle said...

I am victimized, therefore I am.

Well done, Kevin! The problem with victimhood, though, is that victory can at best be Pyrrhic. Victimhood is not the route to empowerment or respect. But, then, it's all some people have.

rhhardin said...

The newest owners of this secret are, finally, those who have it in themselves but unfortunately cannot express and universally communicate it through language. If there were knowledge of the supersensible (from a theoretical point of view, this alone is a true secret) that is indeed possible to reveal to human understanding from a practical point of view, such knowledge drawn from the understanding, as the faculty of knowledge by means of concepts, would nevertheless be far inferior to the knowledge that, as a faculty of intuition, could be immediately perceived by the understanding. For, by the first procedure, the discursive understanding must expend a great amount of labor to analyze its concepts and then arrange them according to principles, and it must climb many difficult steps, in order to make progress in knowledge; instead of this labor, an intelectual intuition would immediately present the object and grasp it all at once. Whoever believes himself to be in possession of intellectual intuition will look down on the former procedure with contempt; and, conversely, the very ease of such an emloyment of reason is a powerful lure to boldly assume a faculty of intellectual intuition and likewise to recommend that philosophy is best founded on it. This can easily be explained from a natural propensity of human beings toward selfishness, which reason observes in silence.

Kant ibid.

Yancey Ward said...

You need a "neutrality bullshit" tag, too.

Kevin said...

Your right wing commenters directly attack me and constantly make racist comments about Obama. But you delete my comments because I refer to your conservative majority as Hillbillies. Somehow that is beyond the pale in your book.

You keep bringing this up as if it hasn't been addressed already. And I've seen Ann address it with you, so I don't understand your ongoing issue.

Ann is looking for thoughtful discourse here. You might post something thoughtful, and other people might respond thoughtfully. That would be great. You might post something thoughtful, which may eventually break down into name calling. That is unfortunate, and we should try to self-police.

However when you start your post by calling a wide swath of people names, your post is NOT thoughtful and NOT intended to create thoughtful discourse.

Ann therefore has every right to delete it. You are free to post your thoughts without insulting people. Unless insulting people is the only reason you post. Then you are free to go elsewhere.

Bad Lieutenant said...

Once written, twice... said...
Bad Lieutenant wrote

"If you must continue to interact here, delete your account, change your tone (ha), and come back as somebody else."

What you really mean is come back and march in right wing lockstep. This is the reason there are almost no liberal commenters here. And those who do show up get chased off.
7/16/17, 11:39 AM

No, what I really mean is what I said. If you need more help...Dial it down to 10.

Yancey Ward said...

Categorically wrong.

Yet empirically correct.

Kevin said...

Victimhood is not the route to empowerment or respect.

Victimhood contains the nifty little idea that one cannot have empowerment or respect due to their status in life. I am not empowered or respected, because I am a victim. Therefore, working to become empowered or respected would be a waste of time.

It's both a virus and an anti-virus that keeps the host in an inactive state. Ironically, those who seek to attack their "oppressors" are called activists.

Seamus Cooney said...

The idea that tone, diction, rhythm, etc. cannot truly be separated from the meaning of an utterance is a familiar one in modern poetics, dating at least to Olson and Creeley, c. 1950. It's frequently expressed as "Form is always an extension of content." Not a new idea, of course. Shakespeare would have agreed.

clint said...

"...feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, and anti-war protesters have been told to 'calm down and try to be more polite.'"

I think mostly my side has been asking them to stop the actual violence -- smashing windows, setting cars on fire, blocking roads and dragging people from their cars, assaulting people trying to assemble for a speech, shooting Congressmen -- minor stuff like that.

Larry J said...

Leftist: You racist, bigot homophobe nazi! Shut the fuck up! I hate you! I wish you'd diw!

Conservative: I don't hear any love in your vioce!

Leftist: You're trying to silence me!

Conservative: Whiner

mockturtle said...

Kevin explains: Victimhood contains the nifty little idea that one cannot have empowerment or respect due to their status in life. I am not empowered or respected, because I am a victim. Therefore, working to become empowered or respected would be a waste of time.

Reminds me of this guy: Teen says tattoo covering half his face makes finding a job difficult

Hari said...

There is interest in restricting the manner in which Trump can speak (insisting he stop using Twitter and communicate only via the press) and there is interest in restricting what Trump can hear (not using his family to listen to what the Russian lawyer had to say; not using his daughter to sit at the G20 summit and let him know what he missed while he was speaking with Putin).

Even from the Right there is pressure for Trump to stop Tweeting. As Scott Adams notices, hypocrites like Ed Rollins say Trump should have had low level people sit in any meetings where dirt may be discussed. It's okay to get your message out and it's okay to get information in, just do it through the proper filtering mechanisms.

An acceptable form of communicating was how Hillary handled election night: she sent a messenger out to make her pre concession speech, rather than speaking herself Trump never would have done it that way. Hillary was so far removed from direct communication that she had Huma send her emails to Anthony to print out hardcopies.

I think this displays a certain type of privilege and eliteness that Trump doesn't share. Trump doesn't want to speak or listen through hired help. He wants to do it himself or with and through his family. And that is driving his opposition crazy.

Achilles said...

Leftists are sad they are getting the smallest taste of the shit they have been dishing out for decades.

Once written is by percentage easily the most racist and abusive poster on this forum. Almost all of his comments include the term hillbilly.

But this is followed by whining about personal attacks and racism.

The opposite of thoughtful.

Sample Commenter said...

Over my life it has been used against me way too often.And all it does is make me angrier.


Everyone is an asshole but me.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

clint,

Yes, that's it. We'll be content as long as you stop vandalizing and looting and burning shit up and assaulting people and robbing them. 'Kay?

The equivalency some people make between "alt-Right" protesters and antifa protesters is just surreal. One of these engages in extensive property damage and theft, with a hefty side of assault. The other doesn't.

TestTube said...

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, "In this world, Elwood, you must be" - she always called me Elwood - "In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant." Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

--Elwood P. Dowd

antiphone said...

Once written is by percentage easily the most racist and abusive poster on this forum. Almost all of his comments include the term hillbilly.

The h word is indeed offensive to many in the Appellation community and should not be used in polite society. Also, consider the implications of terms such as clodhopper, hick, yokel, hayseed, "country cousin", bumpkin, peasant and even boor and try "folks" as an alternative.

tcrosse said...

It's not wise always to bust the chops of the person whose finger is on the Delete button.

Fernandinande said...

he notes that feminists, Black Lives Matter protesters, ...'calm down and try to be more polite.'

Very rarely, which is why "Hey, hey, hey... THIS IS LIBRARY!" is newsworthy.

JaimeRoberto said...

BLM would have won more friends with a little tone policing. Instead of crying racism whenever someone said all lives matter, they should have said something like, "Of course all lives matter, but incidents x, y, and z make us feel like our lives don't matter." Maybe you could say I'm content policing, but in my mind's ear, whenever I hear the cry of racism, I hear a screeching tone.

Big Mike said...

The h word is indeed offensive to many in the Appellation community and should not be used in polite society.

@antiphone, I assume you meant "Appalachian." My late father liked to refer to himself as a "hillbilly," and at the time he retired he was a direct report to the CEO of a major corporation. He had come a long way from the small farming community where he grew up, but he loved country music all his life and enjoyed vacationing at Lake of the Ozarks. I'm old enough to have demonstrated for civil rights back in the 1960s, and the person you mention reminds me of the white racists we confronted (or vice versa) back then. Replace "hillbilly" with the n-word, and his posted comments could have come from any George Wallace voter fifty years ago.

antiphone said...

Replace "hillbilly" with the n-word, and his posted comments could have come from any George Wallace voter fifty years ago.

Replace "leftist" with commie, pinko, bastard and the same applies. Intent and context give words different meanings.

tcrosse said...

Intent and context give words different meanings.

In the context under discussion, Hillbilly was used, broadside, as a gratuitous insult. It is more graceful to keep one's insults, where necessary, precise and to the point. It is said that a true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally impolite.

Marc Puckett said...

When it finally dawned on me yesterday that someone had been 'banned', I was apprehensive that perhaps Chuck had finally crossed the line-- so was relieved to see him commenting earlier today.

antiphone said...

In the context under discussion, Hillbilly was used, broadside, as a gratuitous insult.

I get that.

It is said that a true gentleman is one who is never unintentionally impolite.

I don't think you call someone a hillbilly to be polite. Neither do I think you call a person with a Polish family background "low IQ" and "dumb as a rock" to be Presidential.

Kevin said...

Neither do I think you call a person with a Polish family background "low IQ" and "dumb as a rock" to be Presidential.

Everyone knows Trump loves the poorly educated.

tcrosse said...

To do so is to be intentionally impolite.

Kevin said...

I was apprehensive that perhaps Chuck had finally crossed the line

Maybe we should use the term "crossed over" to denote they no longer inhabit this realm.

The Godfather said...

In many of the instances of "tone policing" highlighted in this post, the term "policing" is inapt. "Police" generally implies the imposition of state compulsion -- such as the prosecution of Lenny Bruce for obscenity. In most cases, what we're discussing is not prosecution but criticism. If I say that BLM activists shouldn't scream at (say) Hillary Clinton for daring to say "All lives matter", I'm not threatening them with prosecution; I am saying that they shouldn't reject a perfectly valid way for someone to agree with their position. Of course, BLM could say that they succeeded, because Hillary apologized for saying "All lives matter". I could counter that she isn't the President, Trump is. "How do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mister Death?"

Much of what is being called "tone policing" seems to be tone CRITICISM, and those using the "tone" could be well advised to consider the criticism. We live in a democracy. If you want the government to do something, insulting the people who comprise the majority of the electorate may not be a winning strategy.

And don't knock hillbillies -- a country boy can survive ("I had a good friend in New York City. He never called my by my name, just "hill billy"). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cQNkIrg-Tk

Unknown said...

I can't understand how an introvert would have gotten that much negative feedback. If you're being introverted, why would people attempt to police your tone etc.? It suggests to me that just as people who claim to "hate drama" tend to have the most drama around them, that she's not actually all that introverted.

Ken B said...

This seems like transparent bullshit. Objecting to exaggerated statements is not a fallacy. if I object to "your bill will kill millions" I am both tone policing and right. Examples abound.

Jeff Teal said...

You know I would value some people's comments more if I thought that they had ever seen their own reflection in a mirror.(see comments above).BTW I am a person with vaguely Asiatic appearing features who has worn glasses for 90% of my life.My ancestry is a little of what Liz Warren claims-but my mother went through the entire claims process- and we are all registered.

mtrobertslaw said...

Well, Ann let's put your theory to the test. Do you recommend dispensing with "bullshit civility" in disputes between lovers? If no, why not? If yes, how do you think that will work out?

Sample Commenter said...

Neither do I think you call a person with a Polish family background "low IQ" and "dumb as a rock" to be Presidential.

What if they are "low IQ"? Are you implying that there is something about Polish people that requires special protections in public discourse?

Sample Commenter said...

He should have used "cracker" instead of "Hillbilly." I tried to explain. Precision in language is important. While "crackers" are pretty much all white, it's not a term traditionally used to describe a distinct population one is born into.

Sample Commenter said...

The h word is indeed offensive to many in the Appellation community

That's hysterical. Who knew there was a community dedicated to name calling?

Tim Gilliland said...



mtrobertslaw said...
"Well, Ann let's put your theory to the test. Do you recommend dispensing with "bullshit civility" in disputes between lovers? If no, why not? If yes, how do you think that will work out?"

Sorry but I think this is a false analogy. There is no "bullshit civility" in disputes between lovers. If they do, they don't love one another. mPeople find it easier to be civil with strangers. With affairs of the heart feelings are foremost and every argument personal.

All's fear in love and war.

Tim Gilliland said...

So from other comments I take it that the "Once Written" guy got banned?
Watching some commenters is kind of like watching a guy dance on the edge of the cliff at the grand canyon. You want to scream at him to stop, you cannot tear your eyes away from the spectacle and when he goes over you shake your head and mutter that he was asking for it...

mtrobertslaw said...

RE: "'no civility bullshit'" in disputes between lovers" I take it then that ad hominem attacks on your lover, as well as on her parents and sisters, are approved tactics in these kinds of disputes.

Ann Althouse said...

"Well, Ann let's put your theory to the test. Do you recommend dispensing with "bullshit civility" in disputes between lovers? If no, why not? If yes, how do you think that will work out?"

I have never been talking about bullshit civility. Civility is fine and I don't call civility bullshit. What I'm am calling bullshit on are the calls for civility. I think they come from people who want one side, which they don't agree with, to tone down their passion. It's not mutual, and these same people don't ask people they agree with to tone it down. But when people who have a good relationship adopt a friendly tone among themselves, I don't think that's bullshit. There can be sincere civility, and I think that's very nice! So you have misunderstood me, and I'd appreciate it if you would remember how I'm using my term and get the words in the right order.

Ann Althouse said...

Quite aside from lovers, there are many work and social situations where people manifest civility. But that doesn't normally involve people telling other people to be civil. It's just people behaving within the social culture according to norms they have internalized. If someone becomes too rude, there will be social pressure on that person to behave better, but there wouldn't be speeches on the value of civility. Civility would be a prevailing value and people would find ways to keep that value alive and functioning. People would be learning from others, setting an example, enjoying the benefits of a functioning culture, and motivated to be accepted within in.

mockturtle said...

You're right, Ann. I'm surprised there hasn't been a government program to promote civility.

samharker said...

So civility is bullying.