Someone against whom I carried paper left a comment I disagreed with, and rather than sticking with a basic refutation I went all out: questioned motives, brought up old arguments, put words in his mouth, the works. An hour or two later I got an email from my friend. "Wow. Next time tell us what you really think... A year and a half ago, this other blogger and said such-and-such. And when I'd pointed out his obvious errors, he'd said that. And then there was that other time. And remember when over on that other guy's blog he's said this in the comments? And...
There are quite a few blogs that have a small but very proactive audience. Some conversations in their respective "comboxes" are more intelligent and edifying than others. Two of the good examples are The American Catholic and Caelum et Terra. Generally, the people who comment at those blogs, many of them regulars, know what the hell they're talking about.
Unfortunately, there are only so many Guardians of Truth to go around. As a result, a combox often becomes the happy hunting ground, for people whose book knowledge gets ahead of their good sense, people whose opinions get ahead of their book knowledge, or your basic garden-variety troll who posts four or five consecutive comments, before he/she has their IP address blocked, and they have to sneak in from a computer at the library, or the office, or their brother-in-law's house. You can spend most of the day refuting people with limited attention spans and unlimited spare time.
Living in their parents' basements until they're forty (or being a theology professor with tenure) does have its advantages.
Blog authors with buzzing comboxes usually set up rules. Some are real sticklers for "civility." Sometimes it's disingenuous, and used as a stick to beat people over the head who aren't total sycophants for the blog owner. Sometimes it's not so much dishonest as it is... well, selective. Even I have gotten the red light from Father Z more than once, at the Mister-Know-It-All Convention better known as the comboxes of WDTPRS (one of the great Catholic blogs of all time, but come on, really...), and I have no idea why.
On the other hand, when he posted more often than he does now, Dom Bettinelli had spirited debates, but he was eminently fair and knew when to toss out the occasional troll.
It is safe to say that man with black hat doesn't get a lot of buzz in the box. (I mean, when you've said it all, what else is there? That's gotta be it, right?) But we do have a few rules here: 1) Don't dish out what you can't take, 2) Don't make claims you can't back up, 3) As I am the High Lord and Grand Master of my personal Universe, I'm the only one who can call you names; it is very rarely done, and always for your own good. And finally, 4) We call her "Mother Church" for a reason, and nobody picks on Mama.
The result is civility, without the anal-retentiveness. That's how we roll here at mwbh. Somewhere in Austin, Texas, the lights in the Darwin house will go out a little earlier than before. Darwin has escaped the Vortex.