The thing to understand is that HN threads are supposed to be conversations. A conversation isn't a one-way message like, say, a billboard or a PA announcement. It's a two-way or multi-way co-creation. In a community like HN, it's a multi-way co-creation with a very large fanout.
In conversation, to make high-quality comments you have to take other people into account. If you treat your comment only as a vehicle for your own opinions and feelings—if you leave out the relational dimension—then you're not in conversation. (I don't mean you personally, of course; I mean all of us.)
Conversation means being conscious, while speaking or writing, of whom you're talking to and how what you're saying may affect them. In a forum like HN it means being conscious of the range of people you may be affecting. In conversation, your utterances are not your disconnected private domain for you to optimize as you see fit. You're responsible for the effects you have on the conversation.
I know that some people will read this and think: you're censoring me! you're telling me I can't say what I think or feel! you just don't like my opinions! No no no—that's not it at all. In conversation, you do say what you think and feel, modulated by the relational sense. That is, you're guided not only by what you think and feel but also by the effect you are having, or are likely to have, on others. The goal is to have the best conversation we can have. If we get that right as a community, there's room for what everyone thinks and feels.
Look at it this way. When you're in a relationship with someone, do you bluntly blast them with whatever you're thinking and feeling on any sensitive topic between you? Of course you don't—not if you don't want to stay up all night fighting. What do you do instead? You find a way to say what you think and feel while taking into account what they think and feel. You do it genuinely, not faking it, and you find a way to show that you're doing it.
A lot of HN commenters are going to say: "don't tell me I'm in any fucking relationship with these assholes". Actually you are—that's exactly what you are, whether you want to be or not. You showed up at the same time they did. It may be a weakly cohesive relationship—not like protons and neutrons, more like bosons —but relational dynamics still apply.
If that's too strong a metaphor, try this one: conversation is a dance. When you're dancing with someone, do you only take into account how you want to move and where you want to go? Of course not; that would end the dance. And you certainly don't move in a way that is likely to rub them the wrong way—why would you? It wouldn't serve your purpose, which is to have the best dance.
Other commenters will object: how am I supposed to know in advance how my comment is going to land with others? That's impossible! Well, you can't know exactly, and you don't have to. All you have to do is take it into account. If you take that into account and get it wrong, you'll naturally adapt.
There's one other layer to this. We have to take into account not just the others who are present and how our comments may land with them, but also the medium that we're all using. On HN, the medium is the large, public, optionally anonymous internet forum, and this comes with strengths and weaknesses that shape conversation. In communication, what gets communicated is not the original message you think you're sending, but rather the information that actually gets received by other people, and this has less to do with content than we think it does. It has just as much to do with the medium. Don't underestimate this! McLuhan got it right . Internet forum comments are a mile wide, in the sense that you can say whatever you want, no matter how intense or outrageous—and an inch deep, in the sense that they come with almost no context or background that would help others understand where you're coming from.
We don't seem to have figured much out yet about how this medium works or how best to use it, but I think one thing is clear: because internet comments are so low-bandwidth and so stateless, each comment needs to include some signal that communicates its intent. There are plenty of ways to do this—simply choosing one word instead of another may suffice—but the burden is on the commenter to disambiguate . Otherwise, given the lack of context and large fanout that define this medium, if a message can be misunderstood, it will be—and that's a recipe for bad conversation, which is in none of our interests.
Can we really develop this capacity collectively? Hard to say, but I don't think millions of people have to get it. We just need a large enough subset to deeply take this in—enough to affect the culture. Then the culture will replicate.
 I don't actually know a thing about bosons
I think I get your point but my writing style often includes some degree of provocation to elevate feelings for more lively and less stylised conversation. When I write a statement, I don't mean it as a way to promote an agenda but a way to initialise a debate, I would even write things that I don't believe but are conversation starters.
It's hard to disagree that flamewars are toxic but I also believe that we should not abstain from conversation on topics with direct impact, no matter how divisive they are.
IMHO what makes the conversation low quality are the personal attacks, not general statements describing observation of a behaviour in a community. These statements are actually good starting points to tear down the status quo. They are flimsy in substance as a whole(which is the reason they are not personally offensive) but have great depth when disassembled.
For example "people are trying to downplay or outright dismiss it because of their nationalistic or political feelings" is a device to provoke re-evaluation on what happened recently. There's no reason any individual to be offended and forces the answers to be about the reasons beyond the nationalism and politics because I define these as a bad thing in the statement. It is supposed to bring up the non nationalist, non political reasons for the events by making people cautious of using nationalistic and political arguments. If the non-political and non-nationalistic reasons lack the depth it can change the minds of people who previously did not consider that shallowness.
It's like saying "tell me the reasons you bought a house that are beyond the financial ones". This is more interesting when phrased as "People these days only care about the financial gains when doing a property purchase".
The problem is that you're only referring to what's going on inside yourself—that is, your ideas about debate, provocation, liveliness, and so on. If you want to be a valuable contributor instead of damaging the container, you need also to take into account what's going on in others—not just one or two others but many, in the case of a large forum like HN. More than that, you need to take into account the medium: what a large, weakly cohesive internet forum is capable of and what it is not. If you don't do that, you'll end up hurting the commons—which is fragile—even while being sure of the rightness and interestingness of your own intentions.
Imagine someone who's into boxing showing up at a dance, say, or a concert or a lecture—who, while milling around talking, is in the habit of punching other people now and then. Nothing serious; just a light jab to the torso or the side of head every once in a while. When asked not to do that, imagine that they reply: "Actually, I disagree with your approach. I think sparring is very valuable for developing alertness and reflexes. It focuses the mind and is a good starting point for interacting directly and truthfully. The fault lies with your rules, which care only about politeness and propriety and assume that people are soft and can't take a punch. These aren't even real punches, just taps, and they are a good device for getting people to reveal what they are really like behind their facade. I believe that we should not abstain from getting to know others as they really are, and that is why my interacting style includes some degree of pugilism, to elevate feelings for more lively and less stylised interaction."
The thing is, they're not wrong. That is, nothing they've said there is wrong—but it is wrong for this context, and that is enough to be disastrously wrong, not only for them and the people they're provoking but for the whole community. In a context with a different implicit contract—like a sparring ring, or a group of roughhousing friends—it would work fine.
When we ask people not to post flamebait a.k.a. provoke others on HN, we're not necessarily telling them that what they said was wrong, or what they did was wrong. We're just saying it's wrong here. That's why I say "here" so much in moderation comments (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que..., https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...).
That word here macroexpands in two dimensions. Along one axis it means: "given the nature of a large, anonymous internet forum"—i.e. the medium we're all communicating through. Along a second axis it means: "given the specific type of site we're trying to have". We're trying to optimize this place for one thing, namely curiosity (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&sor...). The HN guidelines are a distillation of what we've learned about how we can all perform this optimization together. Since it's in all our interests to have a site that gratifies curiosity, it's in all our interests to follow them. You don't have to follow them for ethical reasons or intellectual reasons; raw self-interest is fine, if that's what gets you there.
The problem with provocation and flamebait is easy to derive from first principles: you can't provoke or flame others into curiosity. All you will achieve is to agitate them, and then they will defend themselves in a hostile and predictable way. That is the opposite of curiosity, which is an open and relaxed state. It is how we get flamewars, and (again) the problem with those is not that they are intrinsically wrong somehow, it's that they are not interesting, and thus are wrong here, given how we're trying to optimize HN.
Some of you will say "But wait! I can be provoked into curiosity. As a matter of fact, I like it when people do that. I don't take it personally, and it makes me think. Actually, that's just the sort of conversation I think we should have on HN." Yes, some people, by virtue of being neuroatypical or having done a lot of self-work or who knows why, sometimes respond to provocation and flamebait by getting more curious. But you know what? It doesn't matter, because statistically the overwhelming majority of participants on a large, open internet forum are not functioning that way—not at all—and it is their responses which determine the threads.
In other words, it's the medium again. You need to understand the medium in order to know what sort of messages to send. If your messages are firebombs, you are going to set this place on fire, even if one or two people do happen to understand the game you're playing and are up for playing it too—just as when you throw punches at a party you're going to start a brawl, even if one or two people enjoy the sparring and respond playfully.
In other words, the argument "that's the sort of conversation I think we should have on HN" is wrong, not because you're wrong to think that or because such conversation is wrong in itself, but because it can't work here and there soon won't be any HN left if people do it (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=false&qu...).
Instead, you should follow the site guidelines and play the game they describe (even if you'd rather be playing, say, rugby: https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...), because it is the only game we can play here—note that word "here"—given the medium and mandate of the site. Switching to some other game you like better isn't an alternative; the alternative is the destruction of the community (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10411333), which isn't in any of our interests.
There are other places to play more rough-and-tumble games. You'd need a smaller, more cohesive forum (https://hn.algolia.com/?dateRange=all&page=0&prefix=true&que...). Rugby teams who beat each other up on the pitch and then go out drinking together can do that because they have a shared identity and pre-existing relationships. Random groups can't do that, and large random groups absolutely can't.
Quite a few HN users, including some of the most prominent ones (and some of the best writers too), started off with a pugnacious commenting style and learned over the years to modulate that in the interest of curiosity, both in themselves and others. That's the learning curve we all have to go through here, and are still going through.
I've seen you engage with posters in this way so many times (though this reply is particularly loquacious!).
I'm always struck by how unusual that level of effort is. A typical moderator would probably just hit the 'ban' button and move on.
I do agree that mrtksn seems well-intentioned here, but even in cases where good faith seems unlikely, I've seen you take the time to explain the rules kindly and substantively.
At first glance, trying to educate bad faith posters might seem like an example of PG's "do things that don't scale" maxim. But surprisingly, I think your approach scales pretty well. You may not always succeed in changing the behavior of the poster you're replying to, but your replies have a positive and scalable impact on this community because they role model good behavior to the thousands of other people reading. And that's leadership.
The quality of the comments section here is what keeps me coming back. Without guidance, any site that allows comments becomes lower quality the larger it grows. My theory as to why has a few factors, but one of them has to do with a sense of community. The more people feel they are in a community, the more likely they are to make good faith interpretations of others comments and the more likely they are to consider the effect of what they're saying on others.
Thank you for doing your best to ensure that this feels as much like a community as possible!