In fact, what is antithetical to rational, intelligent discussion is: emotionally charged, poorly-considered, and dishonest discussion. The topic doesn't matter: health fads, operating systems, or taxes. I agree, many people have terrible style in their approach to political discussion - but see also, e.g. Hobbes and Rousseau for more thoughtful representatives.
Technically true. But practically speaking, I'd wager political topics lead to emotionally charged, intellectually devoid arguments (much) more commonly than others. If that's true, then this moderation should boost the general quality of HN comments and topics, which is why most of us come here in the first place. As a comparison, I was initially annoyed that simple jokes / witty remarks that were void of other content were down voted on HN. But long-term I compare it to reddit and agree with the method: I can still go to reddit if I want wit (I often do). I (ideally) come here for high quality technical content.
This may be partly because so many thoughtless people feel qualified to enter a political discussion (e.g., about basic income, or immigration), whereas they couldn't even pretend to understand real-time operating systems or functional programming enough to have an opinion.
Part of the beauty of HN is getting opinions about things that matter in the real world, from people who really think about things.
This is true, but I suspect the biggest reason is that politics is more prone to Crony Beliefs ( http://www.meltingasphalt.com/crony-beliefs/ ) than almost any other field of discussion.
You jumped to conclusion about what "matter in real world" actually means that wasn't in the comment.
There's a severe danger that you would lose. For a commentary on emotionally charged and intellectually devoid arguments about a technical subject, I give you http://uselessd.darknedgy.net/ProSystemdAntiSystemd/ (discussed at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8488235).
But that's not the whole of it, by a long chalk. There have been "the OS Wars", "the editor wars", "the archiver wars", and others. One particularly extreme example that I personally encountered was a group of people in comp.os.os2.advocacy . They did all of the petty and stupid Usenet tricks such as rudely and impatiently splitting paragraphs and sentences to reply to all of the individual words. Much of the level of "argument" was the sort of thing that I'd expect from six-year-olds in a playground: parroting, insults, and general childishness.
I didn't read the newsgroup for the better part of a decade. When I went back to look at it I was astounded to see that the group was still at it, in (as far as I could tell) the same threads with exactly the same content-free taunting and rubbish.
Going back to that newsgroup again today, and picking stuff at random, here's an example of this sort of discourse. From 2011!
Here's a comparison thread randomly selected from the 1990s.
I come to Hacker News not only for the submissions but more so for the discussion. I find as of late discussions populated with meaningless content. It seems people feel a need to communicate what they are thinking regardless of the comments usefulness.
I fall prey to this too. If my comments are short I do try to make sure they are helpful in some way. I will try to keep them on-topic and not filled with worthless opinion.
Yep. I feel like my first mistake on this site was to argue with every comment I disagreed with. Unless the comment leads to an instructive discussion, it's OK to just downvote it.
For a site that is ostensibly focused on intellectual curiosity, this is antithetical to that goal. A robust, informed discussion requires exposure to a variety of perspectives, especially ones that seem challenging or uncomfortable.
If you do not agree with a comment--so what? Either refute it or move on. Just because you are unable or unwilling to refute it does not mean that someone else will not come along after you and do so. Downvoting should be reserved for comments which are truly useless, not comments that you merely disagree with.
And, yes, I am aware that downvoting for disagreement has been promoted and accepted by some on HN, but it's wrong--at least, it is if your actual goal is to have robust, informed discussion of intellectually interesting topics.
(Wallis was a political adversary of Hobbes, in case that's not clear)