A quick historical reminder: we started out wanting only one rule: “Don’t be a jerk.” That was impractical, because no one (including mods) were comfortable with a principle that was so general. We wanted a message board that was different from the usual ones out there, so we said “No personal insults; if you want to flame, do it in the Pit.” Again, the concept of “no personal insults” seemed to be too braod. So, we defined it in terms of “attack the post, not the poster.” That’s where we are still today. We are trying to balance between two extremes: on the one hand, we want to allow maximum freedom of expression. On the other hand, we don’t want any flaming against other posters outside the Pit.
At the same time, we’re trying to balance between rules that are reasonably clear and yet not overly intricate and technical. Just reading the responses in this thread, we have some folks saying that the current rules are too narrowly defined, and others saying that the current rules are too vague. (Personal aside: I personally think that “attack the post, not the poster” is clear, leaves lots of room for discussions and comments, and is easy to understand and follow.)
It is surely possible to discuss a moderator’s decision by talking about the observed behaviors (that is, the posts), rather than the person. Think of general politics: one can argue against someone’s political stand without calling into quesiton their morals, their motivations, their intelligence? Think of the law: lawyers appeal decisions all the time without making any statements about the personality of the judge. Think of parenting: you tell a child that their behavior in writing on the walls is bad, you don’t say that the child is a worthless disappointment.
Anyhow, that’s the standard we’re trying to set.
And please be aware, that we’re not about to let people play legal-beagle and skirt the intention of the law simply because they’ve managed to express personal insults in round-about ways. Our basic principle is still, “Don’t be a jerk.”