Depiction of the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo in 1380, which contributed to its decline (Wikimedia)
#AceHistoryNews – Jan.28: Longreads announced the other week their ten most popular exclusives from the year 2015 and Eva Holland’s short history of The Horde is among them. We still have a few excellent emails from Horde members that weren’t included in the first two batches of retrospectives we aired earlier this fall, so now’s a great time to air them. Here’s the reader who goes by “Craig”:
The Horde came about, in my opinion, because TNC had some very clear ground rules for commenting, rules that were not open for debate.
The biggest rule, and the one that you could sort of boil the essence of all of them down to, was that it was not a space in which to question someone else’s humanity.
In practical terms, that meant that anybody’s lived-in experiences were to be considered as real, as lived, and not up for discussion. So if a female commenter said the way women are often diminished online is through tone policing, or if a person of color said my experience with the police has often been one of antagonism, anyone who would respond to that person was expected to accept that as real, and learn from it if necessary.
TNC was never a neutral arbiter. He wasn’t looking for a commentariat who fell in lockstep with him politically, but he was looking for one that was willing to see their own privilege and listen to (and learn from) other people. No one was allowed to politely suggest to someone else that they didn’t experience what they experienced.
His space was created for people of all walks of life to come together because TNC’s rules made it come into being.
I don’t know if there was truly a triggering event for the Horde’s demise, but if there was, it was the Trayvon Martin case.
TNC wrote a lot about the case, and his writing got disseminated pretty widely, including to some of the darker corners of the internet. Martin was a catalyst for a lot of things in America, including laying some of the groundwork for what would eventually become the Black Lives Matter movement. The idea that the killing of an unarmed teenager could somehow become an issue in which people would choose political sides, like they do for abortion or Obamacare, is insane—but that’s what happened. And when TNC’s writing hit the broader internet, it attracted voices who not only didn’t know TNC’s rules, but had no interest in following them.
Our moderators did the best they could to cull their nonsense, but it was too much to ask them to do, and eventually many of us simply stopped bothering to fight them. I believe it was these voices, and not our regular conservative commenters, who brought about the demise of the Horde as we’d known it.
As a group we are, as silentbeep says, very much alive. We talk daily, and we have met up in the real world many times. But the Horde’s time at a major publication like The Atlantic was probably always going to be finite, because TNC’s talent as a writer meant that he was always going to get too big, and draw too many voices who wanted to talk but didn’t want to listen, to be able to continue the dinner party forever.
From the reader who goes by willallen2:
What I miss most about The Horde is the chance to engage with people I disagree with in a thoughtful, and just as importantly, immediate manner. There is nothing like it that I am aware of, and I have little hope that it will be replicated. The reason it won’t be replicated is because the qualities Coates brought to the table aren’t coming through that door again, in all likelihood.
Make no mistake, I had strong disagreement with him more than once (probably none stronger than with his recent analogizing of slavery with the incarceration of violent criminals, which really caused me to miss The Horde as much as anything has), but what made Coates’ salon unique was that, along with having the opportunity for immediate response, which is the primary advantage of a comments section, Coates has a deep-seated respect for observable, verifiable, fact, which one might suppose to be a common feature for people in his vocation, but I can assure you is not. If you wanted to get the attention and time of Mr. Coates, the surest way to do it was to demonstrate how the conventional wisdom, even the conventional wisdom espoused by people he generally agreed with, had the facts wrong, or had ignored salient facts.
This was the quality, I suspect, which has led to so many people, those who generally agree with him, and those who don’t alike, to criticize his work for being too pessimistic. I couldn’t disagree with this critique more. What Coates has is an absolute refusal to be sentimental, and I have a profound respect for this. His frequent (and quite uncommon in a blog) use of original source documents buttressed this quality; the world is what it is, all our gentle, warm-hearted, fervent hopes aside, and nothing is to be gained by ignoring, as Orwell put it, what is in front of our nose.
Coates combined this hard-eyed approach with a willingness to expend a gigantic amount of energy policing, and enlisting the help of others to police, the cacophonous interactions of The Horde. Imagine running a tavern where dozens of people showed up each day, energized and spoiling for an argument, and your goal is get people to slow down, think, and listen. I know I’d be closing the doors, selling the joint, and retreating to a mountain redoubt in about three weeks. The first time I encountered what Coates was doing, I thought “This won’t last long,” and I eventually marveled that it lasted as long as it did.
Was it perfect? Hell no. But in my view of the world, misery is what accompanies the expectation of anything approaching that state. It was damned valuable, and people would do well to better appreciate that quality.