Reflections on a doomed subreddit: ?Vale r/Chapotraphouse

r/Chapotraphouse has been banned. Even the people who posted there seem to agree this is a net good (edit: although a reader objects this is likely just them pretending to be not-mad, rather than their real position). I often disagreed with Chapo but it was the largest far-left subreddit and so by extension the largest leftwing forum unless you count Twitter. It will be interesting to see what replaces it.

A typology of online leftism

There are five main kinds of online leftism and left adjacent posting:

  1. Idealistic, often freshly minted “anarchists” with, like, four-set speeches memorised
  2. Dead-eyed tankies,
  3. Socdems with boomerish characteristics in their posting
  4. Rad lib “47 new ways of checking your privilege”
  5. “The dirtbag left”, meaning one of the above tendencies but successfully filtered through an aesthetic to look cooler.

There are other tendencies as well- breathless ISO posting, high church left-communism etc.

To varying extents, I have embodied each of these five at varying times. The interesting thing about R / CTH was that there was a place for all of those tendencies there in a weird swamp. That was oddly nice and interesting, though probably not politically constructive.

Banned for the wrong reasons

One of the major things the sub got into trouble for was statements like “kill all slave owners”. Indeed one of their mods got banned for this.

“Kill all slaveowners” isn’t even advocacy of extra-legal violence, it’s presumably just a call to institute the death penalty for slave owners. I don’t support that call because I have a consistent opposition to the death penalty for all crimes, but it seems to me that “all slave owners should be killed by the state” is a legitimate political opinion nonetheless. No one would assume a comment like “we should kill all murderers” was advocacy for extra-legal violence- why is slave owning different. Would Reddit ban people advocating for the death penalty for other types of crime? Presumably not.

I’m not saying that r/CTH didn’t deserve to be banned, just that some of the reasons they got into trouble were dodgy. It smells like the Reddit administration looking for a left-wing sacrifice to avoid accusations of bias when they took down a bunch of right-wing subreddits. Any suggestion of moral equivalency between Chapotraphouse and The Donald must be rejected.

Moralism, punitiveness and absolutism

The downsides to r/CTH were moralism and absolutism. I’ve heard allegations from people that they were doxxed for very little reason by the sub. I tend to agree with Amber on punishment- I just have a natural aversion to it and I think that’s a healthy thing for someone on the left to have. However, the culture on the sub tended to be punitive, and there was little recognition of the world’s grey palette

I suspect, but do not know for a fact, that this is part of the reason why the hosts of the actual podcast hated it so much. The sub went after friends of the show like Elizabeth Breunig- people who, while broadly in line with the left, aren’t always 100% on board with the orthodoxy (pun intended in Elizabeth’s case). The other reason the hosts hated it was no doubt that Reddit is seen as terminally uncool, so a subreddit is not a great brand association to have, given the podcast’s “cool kids” strategy for making their Patreon quintillions.

Maybe I’m just getting old and brain wormy but I sort of wish for a leftwing forum that was… nicer? I dunno if the demolition of r/CTH will get us closer to that, but hope springs eternal from the box of woes.

3 thoughts on “Reflections on a doomed subreddit: ?Vale r/Chapotraphouse

  1. Hi! I know this is not the main point you’re trying to make here, but I noticed that in the post on SSC, you wrote that you’d support doxxing a hypothetical preschool teacher who wrote “kill all f****** and refugees now”. Here, meanwhile, you presume that “kill all slaveowners” is a call for instituting the death penalty for slave owning, meaning it’s a “legitimate political opinion”. It seems to me that you’re being a little bit more charitable in one case than in the other. Personally, when I see someone writing “kill all slaveowners”, I assume that they mean these people should be killed whichever way is more convenient – that the process is beside the point, only the end result is important. (Needless to say, I don’t support slave owning or anything like it, though like you I am against the death penalty in all cases.) Cheers.


    1. Fair question. My answer is that there is no inconsistency because I am not against doxxing people working in childcare who call for the killing of all refugees and gays (as in the hypothetical) even if they do mean “via a legal process.” No assumption is being made about the process they intend.

      On the other hand, Reddit’s decision only makes sense- using their own criteria- if they assumed the call was for extra-legal violence.

      Nonetheless you may be right that my interpretation of “kill all slave-owners” was a bit naive, I will think about it some more.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pretty interesting piece. I like how you actually know what the sub was like and mentioned why it got banned. Although when asked most people on the sub would likely say slave owners deserve death in any way possible / necessary, they never explicitly advocated for that. Like you said, r/chapotraphouse was doomed to be banned a long time ago, with how fast and loose they played with the rules. Although they went too far in their absolutism, I could appreciate it most of the time, as they were unwilling to compromise on issues like fighting fascism and supporting trans rights. The sub was one of the main thing that moved me left and I will always love it for that. I agree that the sub was often angry and mean in tone, but I think that reflects the anger and powerlessness many (young) people feel with the current political climate. If this anger was harnessed in a more constructive way, it would be not a problem imo.


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